Monday, March 29, 2010

Chag Sameach Pesach!

Next year in Jerusalem!


I can rant with the best of them.
This muqawama propaganda is getting old and smelly, like three day old shwarma in the summer. You have no understanding of the reality of Israel or Israeli life.

The Palestinians fought a war with the Jews in ‘48, and they lost. They fought many wars, the recent just a year ago, and they keep losing them. You think we Jews are going to be ashamed of rebuilding our country after 2000 years of exile, or of defending our people from aggression? You’re out of your mind.

Israeli Arabs are full citizens in the State of Israel. Not only do they have access to full benefits, like any Jew, but they don’t even have to do national service – army or volunteering – like every Jew does! That’s two or three years of the life of every Jew in Israel that is devoted to the security and improvement of the State, and every Arab can choose not to do it.

There have been Arabs in Likud and Arabs in Kadima and Arabs in Meretz! You have no idea what you’re talking about. There are what, 10 or 13 Arabs in the Knesset. This is a Syrian blog. In Syria, bloggers who write against Assad are dragged out of their beds and thrown in jails or murdered. In Israel the Arab MPs say the worst things about the State. Of course we don’t agree with it, but the entire society respects their right to say it. Jewish soldiers die so that Israeli Arabs can have the freedom to say anything they want. And why should normal Israeli parties join in alliance with crazy radicals who preach the destruction of the state? They are like dinosaurs that no one listens to. Young Israeli Arabs reject their hatred. A new generation of Arabs is growing up in Israel that is tired of killing Jews and trying to destroy the country. They just want normal lives, to be part of the State, and they will get it, because that’s the kind of place Israel is – a country that is responsible to its citizens.

Yes there is discrimination against Israeli Arabs, and there is also discrimination against Russian Jews and Ethiopian Jews and so on. Israel was founded by over 100 cultures, coming together in refugee camps, working from nothing to create the miracle that is the State today. Everyone is working to decrease discrimination, to increase opportunities for Arabs and Haredi Jews and other disadvantaged groups.

Arabs in annexed Jerusalem were given a choice of Israeli citizenship or permanent residency status. With small exceptions, most chose permanent residency. They can vote in local municipal elections but not in national. Still, any Arab in Jerusalem with permanent residency can become an Israeli citizen. All they have to do is fill out the paperwork. For 20 years now, very few want to do this, and it’s their choice. They have access to all services, just like citizens – only they can’t vote in national elections. Their permanent residency permits CAN NOT be revoked, unless they leave Israel for over 5 or 10 years, I forget which one. And even then they can fight in court to get their residency back. This is like in any other country. If I get permanent residency in the USA and leave for 10 years, I won’t have residency anymore.

Palestinians in Yesha suffering Apartheid? Are you insane?! They are living like kings! They have a higher standard of living than any other Arabs anywhere in the Middle East. I’ve “been there myself” and seen it myself also. Palestinians near Ramallah are building huge villas. There is no such thing as “Jew-only” roads. There are Israeli only roads that were built to go around villages, because when Israeli cars used to drive through Arab villages in the second intifada they were shot. The roads were built to decrease friction and violence, and they work, just like the security barrier. Since the security barrier went up in 2006, there has not been a single homicide bombing, thank G-d. When there is no terrorism Israel relaxes the security.

The West Bank economy grew 7% last year, more than any Arab country. All Jews ask from them is to not kill Jews. Is this so difficult? Just stop the violence, stop the killing, and you can have everything. The Jews should accept aggression and murder of their people?

The basic fact is that the Jews of Israel worry more about the welfare of their fellow Arab citizens than any Arab dictator worries about his own people. The Egyptians are rioting because they don’t have bread! When did Israeli Arabs riot because there wasn’t bread? The Syrians send terrorists all over the region – Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan. The Lebanese are in civil war for 40 years. The Saudis are raping little girls, killing anyone who doesn’t agree with their fundamentalism and spending billions of dollars spreading hatred and extremism. And you want to talk about Israel?! Who gave you the right to even open your mouth on this subject?!

And the very idea of foreign Jews establishing a homeland in Palestine, somebody else’s country, is of course a racist idea.

Israel IS and always WAS our homeland. Check your Quran. We don’t need anyone’s permission to rebuild our country, and certainly not from people trying to kill us. You have 22 Arab countries and that’s not enough? What have you done with these 22 Arab countries? What have you built? What is the great Arab invention over the last 100 years? Seven million Jews created a country that sends rockets to space, that has astronauts. Who was the last Arab astronaut? How many rockets did Egypt, with 70 million people send to space? What do you have to be proud of? Al Qaeda? Wake up! Your hatred for the Jews is eating away at your souls.

You talk about Israel? In the first 50 years of Israel’s existence, it took in millions of poor Jewish refugees from all over the world (including Arab countries), built a modern, democratic state and defended itself from invasion by “great” Arab powers like Egypt and Syria. And after all this, the Israelis are turning to themselves and saying, what can we do to help the Palestinians. How can we integrate Israeli Arabs better into the State? How can we work with other countries in the region to improve access to drinking water, to quality medicine, to increase economic cooperation.

What have you Arabs done in this time? Killed one another? Gave permits for Europeans and Americans to pump your oil? Created a few fat billionaires that are living in Europe? Look what the Arabs have done with Palestinians who found themselves in your countries! Jordan killed 20,000. Syria killed 40,000. Kuwait and UAE made them into slaves and kicked them all out when they supported Saddam. The Arabs prevent Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria from owning land, even from leaving the refugee camps! You treat your own “brothers” like dogs, and you talk about Israeli Arabs, who have the highest standard of living for any Arabs anywhere in the Middle East?!

7,000,000 Jews are living in the middle of 350,000,000 Arabs. Look what the Jews have created, a paradise, a democracy, a high tech economy that everyone wants to copy. This was during 70 years of Arab boycott and war against the Jewish State. And what have the Arabs created in their hatred and jealousy? 9/11 is your big victory?! If not for Osama Bin Laden then no one in the West would know that Arabs existed!

If you had two brain cells you would set aside your hatred and try to learn from the Jews, to understand how they created the most egalitarian society in the region while being mercilessly attacked again and again by your “brave” Arab martyrs.

But no, you can’t even do that. You keep repeating the same old propaganda. There are 22 Arab Muslim states on tens of millions of kilometers of land, but 1 Jewish state, in a tiny piece of land is too much, it’s unbearable, it’s a cancer in the Arab body, it’s the end of the world! Maybe the cancer is not the Jews. Maybe the cancer is inside your mind and inside your heart.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Good Shabbos!

I shall sing hymns and weave melodies, for my soul longs for You.
My soul desires Your shelter, to know all Your mystery.
(The Rebbe taught this niggun on Simchas Torah, 1961.)

An-im Z’miros B’shirim E’erog, Ki Eilecha Nafshi Sa-arog.
Nafshi Chamdah B’tzeil Yadecha, Lada-as Kol Raz Sodaecha.

אַנְעִים זְמִירוֹת וְשִׁירִים אֶאֱרֹג כִּי אֵלֶיךָ נַפְשִׁי תַּעֲרֹג
נַפְשִׁי חִמְּדָה בְּצֵל יָדֶךָ לָדַעַת כָּל רָז סוֹדֶךָ

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Asking the Right Questions

I read something on DailyKos several years back by a prominent progressive that stuck with me. I don’t have the exact quote, but it went something like, “you can’t believe that truth can come from outside yourself and be progressive”. I don’t know how many would stand by this statement. I think back on the many mistakes I’ve made in my life, some terrible choices which I made believing they were right at the time, and I can’t but reject this statement outright.

There is something to be said for acknowledging our own human limitations and accepting the possibility that, while absolute truth exists, what we perceive as truth, and what we insist is truth at any given point, may not be so. I think this is self-evident by how our perception of truth changes over the course of our lives.

By the definition I believe is widely accepted, and which I accept, G-d represents the most fundamental, absolute truth there is, because nothing exists but Him. Judaism, as a system of tools for Jews to connect and relate with G-d, is founded on and reflects the idea of G-d representing, or existing as, absolute truth.

So, when someone like me, who knows myself to be fallible, attempts to connect with G-d, it is with the knowledge that I have a limit to my capacity, to my abilities as a human being, and a desire to receive something from outside myself - something good, pure and true - which I can not on my own achieve.

There is a Chassidic saying, “the more you, the less Him”. You can’t fill a cup already full of self, of ego, of hubris and arrogance. A little humility goes a long way. Some of us have had the benefit of humility imposed on us (i.e. beaten into us) through circumstances in life. There are only so many times a person can claim to be perfect, and experience a disaster that breaks their life into pieces.

One can’t help but think, after such an event… Maybe I’m not perfect after all. Maybe I’m not always right. Maybe I don’t know everything. I still believe in absolute truth, in purity and perfect goodness, but it is clear I am not its source. If it is not inside of me, then it is outside of me, and the search for truth begins.

This journey changes everything. It changes the questions you ask. Instead of asking how to make prayer meaningful to “me” and the things “I” believe in, one starts asking, the meaning is already in the prayer, how do I learn how to discover and appreciate it? Instead of asking, what role does G-d serve in my life, one asks, what purpose do I serve in a world that G-d created?

Instead of wondering whether G-d exists, and struggling with this problem, today I wonder whether I exist, under what conditions and for what purpose I exist, and struggle with this problem.

Palestinian Identity and the Jews of Israel

I've spent a lot of time with Palestinian Americans who grew up in the first intifada. Palestinians are not evil, they simply look at their reality and read the tea leaves. Palestinian culture, society, economy and polity cannot peacefully resist Israel, but more specifically the Jews of Israel. I write this not to pat ourselves on the back, but because it is the reality and the Palestinians feel it viscerally, desperately.

Jewish identity washes away the purpose of Palestinian existence. This is why the denial of Jewish origins is gaining so much strength in Palestinian and Arab circles. They have all these theories - the Torah is not the true Torah, we're really all Khazars or Turks or Russians, we're not the REAL Jews, look at our skin, our eyes, our hair... as though, if the REAL Jews came, they would relinquish the land without a question.

Palestinians in 1900 didn't question Jewish identity. They didn't think they had to - Jews were a defeated, vanquished people since 500 years before Islam. Not vanquished by the Romans; Arabs are too educated for such an explanation. Islam has an entire tradition about the the sins of Israel and the withdrawal of G-d's support for the Jews. In two thousands years, whoever conceived, in Arab lands, that the Jews, a nation of subjects, would become their own masters and reconstitute their nation in the Levant?

A secure, vibrant Israel means a renewal of traditional Jewish culture, combined with Western hypermodernity - remarkably, for Jews the two are not mutually exclusive. Palestinian society has been reeling under this dual pressure since masses of Jews first set foot in the Levant. Without their culture - particularly land culture - the Palestinians are just a bunch of nouris (Bedouins, a derogatory term - migrants without roots). This is not a war over religion, but identity, and identity is something no "peace process" or political agreement can secure.

I once had an extended conversation with a close Palestinian friend, who I trusted on these matters, about the Islamification of Palestinians. It's not just the youth, although it is most pronounced in the youth. You can see it in the clothing. The young women don't wear a traditional Palestinian head dress, like a smadeh, they opt for hijab. There is little to no interest in traditional embroidery or working the land; everyone wants to leave for the cities, Europe, etc. The ethics and values of a hard working, agrarian people are being swept aside.

The young are turning their back on traditional Palestinian culture. To them, to be a Palestinian is to be a failure. For that matter, with today's last gasps of Pan Arab nationalism, to be an Arab is to be a failure. They cannot synthesize tribal culture and modernity, and they are shamed by their backwardness. With Islam, there is hope. With Islam, they don't have to tie themselves to the land or to the tribe. Islam is a native, legitimate force. Islam can adapt to modernity, and Islam was always intended to holistically supplant local tribal culture anyway.

Without Palestinian culture, however, Palestinians have no connection to the land, and no reason to fight for it. Israel - the dual pressures of Jewish culture and modernity - is the attacker on Palestinian identity. Without violent resistance to Israel, the Palestinians will cease to exist.

Recent years have highlighted the insurmountable divisions within the Palestinian nationalist movement, and this has been the general focus of media coverage. What is rather more important, however, is the cross-generational continuity in overall Palestinian strategic thinking. Where in the Palestinian discourse is there discussion of the failure of 40 years of armed conflict, and another 60 years of communal violence before that? When has a prominent Palestinian voiced resignation to exist without "struggle"?

Whether "moderate" or "fundamentalist", Islamist or secular, the Palestinian leadership, for all its divisions and corruption, is committed to existential war against the Jews of Israel, in stages. On this, there is unity. This war is about identity. This war IS their identity.

Peace, partition and normalization will only quicken the loss of Palestinian identity. Perhaps that outcome will result in peace, but we should be honest about it, and prepare for the Palestinians to fight tooth and nail all the way to cultural extinction.

The Sick Horse

If you read two things today - the first being this post - make the second A Middle East Without American Influence? by Lee Smith. Choosing select quotes to sell you on reading this important piece is difficult, as so much of it is exceptional. I'll simply wet your appetite:
In the middle of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Henry Kissinger airlifted arms shipments to Israel in order to guarantee an Israeli victory that for a time had seemed uncertain. Kissinger's strategic intention was to show the Arabs that as long as Washington stood behind Israel, there was no way they could ever defeat the Jewish state. If they wanted concessions from Israel, they would have to petition the Americans for it, a prerogative that made Washington not merely a great power but a power broker. By breaking the Arabs, the United States made itself the regional strong horse.

Of course, with those arms shipments, Kissinger meant to drive home another lesson as well, this one to Israel—in effect, that Washington held the power of life and death over the Jewish state and that Israeli leaders had best keep in line. This arrangement—Israeli strength and Arab weakness—secured what some have called the Pax Americana of the Middle East. After Egyptian President Anwar Sadat jumped from the Soviet side to the American one after the '73 war, our regional hegemony was never again seriously contested—until now.

Our position in the region depends on every actor there knowing that we back Israel to the hilt and that they are dependent on us. Sure, there are plenty of times we will not see eye-to-eye on things—differences that should be resolved in quiet consultations—but should any real distance open up between Washington and Jerusalem, that will send a message that the U.S.-backed order of the region is ready to be tested. And that's exactly what the axis of resistance is seeing right now.

Bingo. Read the rest. The Strong Horse is on my wish list, and it should be on yours. Yaacov wrote today of Obama, that "his lack of understanding of the world is so comprehensive he doesn't recognize that the folks feeding him data and interpretations are inept."

You had to be there...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Lolcats is a cult for photophilic cat-owners. Here's a hyperactive sister-site.
Membership is open to all furious felines. It can get obsessive.

Caption contest, anyone?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

George Friedman Responds

I sent some feedback to George Friedman, of Stratfor, in response to his analysis of the US-Israeli rift, which I discussed earlier today. Much of it was cobbled together from my already published thoughts, so I won't post it here. Mr. Friedman responded:
Dear Mr. Shikhman:

Thank your for your thoughtful letter. I am moved to reply quickly to it as it raises an important point that I find many Israelis don't grasp.

The United States is currently involved in two wars, with almost 250,000 people deployed in various capacities overseas fighting these wars. I have two children, one in the Army and one in the Air Force. Each has seen their share of combat.

The United States is trying create a situation in which some sort of coalition governments can take root in the two major theaters and allow us to withdraw our troops--and my children--from these wars. It is the judgment of some that some leverage could be gained if Israel were to engage in talks with the Palestinians right now and forgo new construction. We do not expect a settlement, and it might make hardly any difference at all. But it might potentially help and given that, we have asked Israel for help. We have asked them not to choose this time to build settlements and to move forward to talks. This the Israelis have refused us. Whether this is part of Jerusalem or part of the Jordan valley doesn't interest Americans. The issue is whether it could potentially, in some distant way, shape an atmosphere that might relieve our military burdens and save the lives of some of our children. Build later and build to your hearts content. But right now, don't build and talk to the Palestinians.

I will concede to you that it is unlikely to make much difference, but then Israel wasn't asked for much--just to put off some construction for the time being. It couldn't hurt, it might help, and we weren't asking for much.

Israel has come to the United States many times in time of danger asking for help and the United States helped. Now the United States has asked something of Israel in a time of American danger, and the Israelis not only said no, but justified it with justifications that seem trivial to us in the face of the wars we are fighting.

All of this was of course made clear to Netanyahu. His answer was no. We have almost 5,000 dead and we asked for help and Israel said no.

I am not sure whether the Israelis understand the context of the request and its purpose. Obviously, it cannot be stated openly as what little effect it might have would be wasted. But Israel is a smart country. It can figure it out. I do not know what will happen in the future if Israel asks the United States for help. I think the scars left by this will remain.

Your letter is thoughtful and reasonable. I just wanted to share with you how this all looks from the standpoint of an American whose children go to war.

My very best to you,
George Friedman

Mr. Friedman is writing as a father with children in harm's way, and I respect that. A lot of young men are in uniform at this moment, however, and not just US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. An American President is creating the conditions for a new bloodletting in the Levant that someone else's children will have to contain. I don't have kinderlach yet, but why must my friends and family in Israel risk their lives, and for what, exactly? So that Obama can enter the Arab "Jew-bashing" club as a member in good standing? I'll repeat what I wrote to Friedman:
That the Palestinians, with Iranian guidance, are now planning a new Intifada to exploit the US-Israeli rift is proof that American pressure on Israel has destabilized the region, and has not brought peace negotiations, much less peace, any closer.
The Americans have a way of pocketing Israeli concessions and pretending as though they never happened. Netanyahu accepting a two state solution was a concession from the Israeli right. Netanyahu issuing a 10 month building freeze in Yesha was an enormous concession from the Israeli governing coalition. Framing Israeli building in Jerusalem as an emotional issue for Obama(!), while accepting that it has no strategic value, generates its own disturbing questions.

No, Mr. President. If Netanyahu must forfeit his job to say those words, then so be it. This is why he was elected, to lead the sovereign state of the Jewish people. At the point that Israel is being asked to make concessions that infringe on the status of Jerusalem, not even for a tangible benefit, but merely to placate the emotional whims of an American President, any legitimate Jewish leader, any responsible Prime Minister of Israel says "No, Mr. President."

Turkey as Israel's Replacement?

Silke boils down Stratfor's analysis: Israel you better behave or the US will replace you by Turkey. It's an empty threat. Israel suits the American need of balancing the western Middle East better than Turkey every could, for one reason - due to its demographics it is, reliably, at the historical and practical limit of its power projection.

The Turks have dominated the region for hundreds of years. The last thing the US wants to do is empower a resurgent Islamist Turkey, with an economy that dwarfs the rest of the Middle East (17th largest in the world), to reassert itself. That creates the exact conditions the US wants to avoid - a regional hegemon that can consolidate landmass and threaten US interests.

The US needs Israel to contain Egypt and Syria, and protect the Jordanians from both. In the American playbook, Turkey would be useful as a counter to Iran (and Russia), but it does not seem eager to take on this role. The Turks understand that Iran is currently driving the geopolitics of the Middle East - incidentally, driving out American power. The winning position is to act as mediator between the Arabs and Persians, leveraging their mutual antipathy to assume influence over both.

Fundamentally, no one is challenging Turkish sovereignty, the way multiple states and international institutions are with Israel. The Turks are secure and growing, if slowly. They don't depend on the US the way Israel does, by which I don't mean aid, but the broad industrial base necessary to ensure national survival in wartime. They can afford to (re)build their own empire on their own terms.

By the way, the same goes for Egypt and Syria as well. Both nations are at historical lows, geopolitically. Capability drives intent: 70 million starving Egyptians may be fighting for bread today, but 70 million well-fed Egyptians can be raising an army tomorrow.

Israel is a lamb among sleeping lions.

There is no replacing Israel in the US alliance system, and any such talk is rubbish. Obama wants regime change in Jerusalem to a government more pliant to American sensitivities; no one is seriously contemplating displacing Israel. An Israel without a great power backer will not shrink its ambitions, but will use its operational freedom to boldly assert itself in ways it is currently constrained from doing, the way it did in '67 and '73, when Israeli tanks were positioned on the gates of Damascus and Cairo. The Americans want that kind of capability, but only under their control.

The last American President to make similar demands of Israel was Clinton; Netanyahu faced off with him and lost, bringing Barak to power. We'll see.

BiG Productions

I'm starting to like these guys. This video was created for the One Israel Fund, but never used in a marketing campaign. It's a bit outdated, but still interesting.

IDF Search and Rescue: Haiti from BiG Productions on Vimeo.

Wait a minute. Are these the same radical, extremist, ultra-fundamentalist settlers that are savagely colonizing the West Bank out from under the helpless Palestinians? How is it possible that such human beings, who risked their lives crawling into collapsed buildings to rescue black people they don't know in a distant corner of the world, could also engage in brutality against Arabs in their back yard? Let those conflicting narratives simmer for a bit.

I've never seen this level of production quality in pro-Israel or pro-Yesha videos. It is refreshing to see the work BiG is churning out. I'm tired of watching Israeli hasbara promoting Israel's beaches and naked women. Do we really want the Jewish State to be engaged in pimping Jewish women? What happened to"There shall be no indecent women among the daughters of Israel"? Fine, it's an ideal - and I include indecent Jewish men, here, as well - but is the opposite of that ideal worthy of promotion as ideology, or as a counter to another ideology? Does Bar Rafaeli - who I don't think is even that attractive - single-handedly negate Palestinian territorial claims to Jerusalem? And if she doesn't, is it because she isn't sexy enough? If the Arabs bring forth a sexy Palestinian, do they win the war for "hearts and minds pants"?

Perhaps more specific to the marketing campaign itself, unless you're a teenage boy or a horny goat of a man, you'll see right through this glossy mirage for what it is - dishonest, propaganda. At some point, we have to explain our positions plainly, with confidence in the justness of our cause. We can't get away from dealing with the core issues through sex appeal.

US-Israeli Interests and the Obama Intifada

Stratfor came out with two sluggers this morning. The first is free, and examines the nature of stress in the US-Israeli relationship, along with the fundamental convergence of interests between the allies.

Incidentally, Stratfor deals with the accusation that US support for Israel contributes to anti-Americanism in the Arab world.
The fundamental problem with the theory is that Arab anti-Americanism predates significant U.S. support for Israel. Until 1967, the United States gave very little aid to Israel. [...] In 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai while Britain and France seized the Suez Canal, which the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdul Nasser had nationalized. The Eisenhower administration intervened — against Israel and on the side of Egypt. [...] In spite of this, Nasser entered into a series of major agreements with the Soviet Union. Egypt’s anti-American attitude had nothing to do with the Israelis, save perhaps that the United States was not prepared to join Egypt in trying to destroy Israel.

The point here is that the United States was not actively involved in supporting Israel prior to 1967, yet anti-Americanism in the Arab world was rampant. [...] In fact, it is not clear that Arab anti-Americanism was greater after the initiation of major aid to Israel than before. Indeed, Egypt, the most important Arab country, shifted its position to a pro-American stance after the 1973 war in the face of U.S. aid.
The analysis continues to the rift in US-Israeli relations:
In the area called generally the Middle East, but which we prefer to think of as the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush, there are three intrinsic regional balances. One is the Arab-Israeli balance of power. The second is the Iran-Iraq balance. The third is the Indo-Pakistani balance of power.
These regional balances are self containing, and self limiting. The US has an interest in maintaining them to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon that can threaten American interests. The problem is that, currently, "Two of the three regional balances of power [Iraq-Iran, India-Pakistan] are collapsed or in jeopardy." The US is stretched to the limit in containing and managing the fallout.

Israel, then, like the Iranians, Russians, Germans, Chinese and other regional powers, is using American distraction to rearrange its geopolitical environment. In the case of Israel, this challenge to the existing regional equilibrium is apparently new building in Jerusalem.
There is very little Israel can do to help the United States in the center and eastern balances. On the other hand, if the western balance of power were to collapse — due to anything from a collapse of the Egyptian regime to a new Israeli war with Hezbollah — the United States might find itself drawn into that conflict, while a new intifada in the Palestinian territories would not help matters either. It is unknown what effect this would have in the other balances of power, but the United States is operating at the limits of its power to try to manage these situations. Israel cannot help there, but it could hurt, for example by initiating an attack on Iran outside the framework of American planning. Therefore, the United States wants one thing from Israel now: for Israel to do nothing that could possibly destabilize the western balance of power or make America’s task more difficult in the other regions.

Israel sees the American preoccupation in these other regions, along with the current favorable alignment of forces in its region, as an opportunity both to consolidate and expand its power and to create new realities on the ground. One of these is building in East Jerusalem, or more precisely, using the moment to reshape the demographics and geography of its immediate region. The Israeli position is that it has rights in East Jerusalem that the United States cannot intrude on. The U.S. position is that it has interests in the broader region that are potentially weakened by this construction at this time.
This is perhaps the most tenuous point in Stratfor's analysis, or of the American strategic view, since Israel has been building in Jerusalem for 40 years. Describing such building as having "strategic" implications is quite a stretch. It also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, and this is crucial. By focusing on building in Jerusalem as a strategic issue, the US is giving others - including the Palestinians, Arabs and Iran - the ability to leverage it as a strategic issue. It is the US which first framed Israeli building in Jerusalem in the context of Palestinian recalcitrance. The Palestinians happily accepted the equation, never having been dealt such a strategic card before.

The question becomes, why is the US now treating Israeli building in Jerusalem as a strategic issue, when it never has in the past? It appears likely that, in the face of a flailing sanctions and containment campaign against Iran, the Obama Administration stirred a tempest to push Israel's policy establishment on the defensive and prevent any unilateral action against Iranian nuclear sites. Preventing Israeli airstrikes appears to have become the dominant American concern in the central and western Middle East.

The second analysis is paid content, and discusses Iranian attempts to exploit the rift in US-Israeli interests through a new Palestinian Intifada.
In the past, STRATFOR has received reports of Iranian officials reprimanding Hamas officials in Damascus for attempting negotiations with Fatah, preferring to keep the two factions split. Now, however, Iran appears convinced that Palestinian reconciliation will not lead to the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis in the current tense atmosphere.

The overall goal is thus to exploit the breach in the U.S.-Israeli relationship to reunify the Palestinian leadership and encourage Israeli military action in the territories that would further undermine Israel’s diplomatic efforts in building a coalition against Iran. While this is by no means an intifada, or popular uprising in the traditional sense of the word, it does point to another potential crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations that would consequently complicate U.S. designs for the region.
Wonderful. Can we call it the Obama Intifada? That the Palestinians, with Iranian guidance, are now planning a new Intifada to exploit the US-Israeli rift is proof that American pressure on Israel has destabilized the region, and not brought peace negotiations, much less peace, any closer.

Portions of these reports were republished with permission of STRATFOR

UPDATE: Yes, I did forward the free Stratfor piece to Andrew Sullivan, and yes, he did put it up. Of course, in his choice quotes, he ignored Stratfor's dismissal of his charges that this nation's pro-Israel stance generates anti-Americanism in the Arab world, which was, until so very recently, his main gripe. At least the thousands of people who read the actual article won't have problems connecting the dots.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The One Israel Fund: Introduction

I'm short on time, so my detailed comments will have to wait. However, I'd like to get your impressions sooner rather than later. Most of you watching this video are not familiar with the work of the One Israel Fund, and that's precisely what this video tries to address. Don't spare criticism, preferably of the constructive variety.

Building Bridges - Bridging Gaps: One Israel Fund from BiG Productions on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Israeli Imperative: Divide and Survive

Silke points out an exceptional article in The American Interest:
As a continental power, rich in material resources and human capital, the American way of war has been characterized by the application of overwhelming force to exhaust adversaries, followed by the distribution of massive aid to reconstruct conquered societies and put them on the path toward liberal democracy and market economics. This approach has fit America’s material conditions and ideological convictions, particularly its founding declaration that all people have an unalienable right to a life free from foreign rule.

Israel’s geopolitical predicament and founding ideology are very different. While Jewish law commands that “you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”, the Zionist state exists first and foremost to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. As a tiny country, Israel can only defeat its more numerous adversaries by breaking them into manageable pieces, or by behaving so that already broken pieces stay that way. Indeed, its geopolitical predicament mirrors that of the original Hebrew polity. It was the unity of hostile empires—Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman—that doomed ancient Israelite kingdoms. When its neighbors were divided, the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths did rather well.

So, while America is free to frolic around the world, reshaping the affairs of smaller nations to promote its ideals - democratic government, market capitalism and the centrality of American security to the stability of the international system - Israel has more limited ambitions:
Israel’s strategy [divide and survive] can at best only manage the conflict; it can never solve it.
Right. Israeli policy is geared towards conflict management, not conflict resolution, as that resolution would necessarily either involve the Palestinians becoming ardent Zionists, or their political, military, demographic and cultural capitulation to the Jews.

I'm not certain I accept the author's point that American policy is altogether different. Where Americans have the capacity for regime change, or a rogue state's "behavior modification" they do so. However, when the American capacity falls short of the effort required for conflict resolution - the Soviet Union, China and today's Iran come to mind - then divide and conquer, and morally fuzzy conflict management of the type seen throughout the Cold War, is considered quite acceptable.

The Arabs are Israel's Soviet Union, China and Iran put together, and then another Iran to boot! In that sense, conflict management has worked fairly well for the Jews of Israel, if not for the Arabs. It also means the Jews have to be unified and strategically clever until an opportunity for conflict resolution presents itself, at least more so than the Arabs.

What would Pinchas do?

Before we fix Jewish women, we should fix Jewish men.

So, there are you are, at the retaining wall for the Temple courtyard, about as close to the Holy of Holies as a Jew can get these days, davening Shacharis (morning prayers). You hear something from the other end of the mehitzah (separation between men and women) - possibly women reading a Torah scroll (it is a custom that women not do this when men are present).

Unwittingly, perhaps out of curiosity at first, you focus on that sound, that irritating kernel of imperfection in your environment, how it's forcing a loss of your concentration in tefilah (prayer), draining the holiness from your avodah (service). You would protest verbally, but you're already into Psukei Dezimra (after which no other speech other than prayer is permitted), and anyway the women never listened to you when you asked and demanded this in the past. It gnaws at your mind as you begin the blessings preceding Shema (a very significant prayer for which absolute concentration is needed). How could they allow such a thing in this place, you think to yourself. I'm almost at the Shema, and I can't even focus. This is against Halacha (Jewish law). It is indecent. Someone has to do something! So you ask yourself, tzadik (righteous person) that you are, what would Pinchas do?
When a sentence is carried out after the due process of a trial and conviction, there is less of a need to dwell on the motives of the judges and executioner: they're going by the book, and we can check their behavior against the book. But the motives of the zealot who takes unilateral action are extremely important, for his very qualifications as a zealot hinge upon the question of what, exactly, prompted him to do what he did. Is he truly motivated to "still G-d's wrath", or has he found a holy outlet for his individual aggression? Is his act truly an act of peace, driven by the desire to reconcile an errant people with their G-d, or is it an act of violence, made kosher by the assumption of the label "zealot"?

The true zealot is an utterly selfless individual -- one who is concerned only about the relationship between G-d and His people, with no thought for his own feelings on the matter. The moment his personal prejudices and inclinations are involved, he ceases to be a zealot.
Whoever it was that thought themselves a zealot by throwing chairs at people, they were arrested a short time later.

The Obama Intifada: Wag the Dog?

It's getting ugly.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Arabs throughout Jerusalem burned tires and threw rocks at border guards. An Israeli policeman was shot in East Jerusalem. What do we hear from the Obama administration? Silence. This is the Obama Intifada. It is he who has suggested that the Palestinian Arabs have legitimate grievances, that Israel is the victimizer, and that the United States will stand aside and allow violent atrocities by Arabs to go forward without comment. He wants this Intifada, and he's got it.

The Obama Intifada will serve a dual purpose: it will knock health care off the front pages, and it will provide a "crisis" for Obama to solve. If a few Jews get killed, Obama doesn't truly care. What's a few eggs if you're frying up a socialized health care omelet? What's a few Jews if you can win another Nobel Peace Prize?
Precipitating a crisis always creates risks. The Administration may have wanted a measure of "regime change" or reshuffling of the Israeli cabinet to bring Kadima into the governing coalition. If that was the case, they failed:
The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis' initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu. (Another 17 percent blame Shas leader Eli Yishai.)
Perhaps the Administration considered some side benefits of distracting the media, and a wary public, from an upcoming, unpopular vote on transforming American healthcare. Whatever their intentions, what they've done instead is give the Arabs a blank check to kill Jews.

From the perspective of Hamas and the no less violent, if more politically astute mainstream of Fatah, all they're doing is putting into action, on the streets, American's radical policy of rejecting Jewish rights to build in Jerusalem. Yes, history has shown that Palestinians - the ones that count, with the guns - will generally kill Jews if given a convenient opportunity, but there is something more here we should consider.

The Palestinians will change nothing by killing a few Jews in Jerusalem. Drawing Israel into a bloody confrontation, however, and reaping the political rewards of a "disproportionate" Israel response, as we've seen in the past, can change everything.

This is the lesson each act of Palestinian terrorism and war over the last 50 years has taught us: Every defense of Jewish life has come at a political cost for the State of Israel. Moreover, this cost is exacted by Israel's "friends", not its enemies. Obama has given the Palestinians cover to reap a political reward from violence and murder and, contrary to popular conception, they have no intentions of letting a golden opportunity slip past them.

Hope and change, meet world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Palestinian Strategy: A look back

Back in 2002, Stratfor published the following, excellent analysis of Palestinian strategic thinking, and how it fit into regional trends. It was offered as a free intelligence analysis at the time, the kind they urge subscribers to pass on as a way of increasing their membership, so I'm not breaking any copyrights that I'm aware of.

As the United States undergoes a rather public and acrimonious process of review regarding Israel's role in the American alliance network, it is worth looking back at how the geopolitical environment, core motivations and dynamics driving the Israel-Palestinian conflict have changed since 2002, and how they have not. Enjoy.

The Palestinian Strategy
24 June 2002


It is difficult to see the strategy behind Palestinian tactics. Suicide bombing has clearly become a mainstream Palestinian tactic, one that makes the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip unlikely to the point of impossibility. It not only locks Israel into a war-fighting mode but also eases diplomatic pressure on Israel to make a settlement. The Palestinians know this. So why have the Palestinians adopted this tactic?

The answer lies in what must be a fundamental strategic shift on the part of the Palestinians. They no longer see the creation of a rump Palestinian state as a feasible or desirable end. Rather, despite the hardship of an extremely extended struggle, they have moved toward a strategy whose only goal must be the destruction of Israel. Since that is hardly likely to happen any time soon, the Palestinians must see forces at work in the Islamic world that make this goal conceivable and not just a fantasy.


Embedded in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli war is the fundamental question: What is the ultimate Palestinian strategy? We see the tactics unfolding daily, but it is neither clear what the Palestinians expect to achieve nor what strategy links these tactics to their ultimate goal.

The suicide bombing campaign, involving both Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs, a unit of Fatah, is a well-defined and well-coordinated, mainstream Palestinian movement, not an errant action by splinter groups. Certainly, the Palestinians do not expect to be able to defeat Israel militarily by conducting suicide attacks. Nor do they expect to succeed at driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. To the contrary, the Palestinians are quite sophisticated managers of Western public opinion, and they understand that the suicide attacks decrease the probability of such an outcome, regardless of Israeli response.

The lack of strategic clarity stems from the murkiness of their ultimately incompatible goals. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's public goal, and the foundation of all third-party peace efforts, is to create an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza. There are, however, two other possible goals: to reclaim all of the lost territories and create a Palestinian state throughout the former Palestine, not incidentally destroying Israel, or to reconcile the two goals and create a hybrid of a smaller Palestinian state as a springboard for broader operations aimed at ultimately defeating and occupying Israel.

The Palestinians' current tactics are only slightly compatible with a strategy aimed at creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. For this to be their goal, the Palestinians would have to believe that the bombing campaign will drive a wedge between the Israeli government and the Israeli public who will demand an end to the war and willingly give the Palestinians an independent state in return, overriding any security considerations of the Israeli government. The Palestinians observed a similar process take place over the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Possibly they believe they can achieve the same end on a much grander scale through this campaign.

Were this the goal, it would suffer from two serious defects. Historically, bombing campaigns designed to drive a wedge between the public and the regime have failed. When delivered from the air -- as in the Battle of Britain or the bombings of Germany, Japan or Vietnam -- they did not succeed, even at much greater numbers of casualties than are likely to be experienced in Israel.

The Palestinians must be aware that bombing campaigns against the homeland tend to fail. They also know Israeli sentiment very well and are too sophisticated to believe this campaign will result in a groundswell in Israel demanding negotiations. Quite the contrary, it is likely to freeze Israeli public opinion in an intransigent mode.

But even if the suicide bombings forced Israel to capitulate on creating a Palestinian state, a Palestine consisting of the West Bank and Gaza would be an untenable solution, and the leadership knows it. First, a consensus would never be reached, and someone would object sufficiently to organize new attacks and undermine any agreement.

Second, a small Palestine would be economically and militarily untenable: It would never be free of Israel's orbit. Therefore, Palestinian nationalism could accept a small Palestine only as an interim measure on the way to a greater Palestine. Most important, the Palestinians know that the Israelis are completely aware of this and therefore are not going to reach a settlement with Palestine on something that cannot be guaranteed: the complete cessation of warfare and an absolute commitment to accept the permanence of Israel. Which still leaves the question of why they are waging this type of campaign.

One explanation is that the Palestinians no longer believe a solution to their problem is attainable on a local basis. This means they do not believe they can reach their goals through negotiations with Israel sponsored by third parties, such as the United States. Rather, they believe now that their goals can be reached only in the broader context of a transformation of the Islamic world and a redefinition of the relationship of the Islamic world not only to Israel but also to the West in general.

From the Palestinians' standpoint, their fundamental problem is hostility or indifference on the part of Islamic states and Arab states in particular. Jordan has been actively hostile to Palestinian interests after Arafat almost overthrew the Hashemite monarchy in 1970. Egypt's peace treaty with Israel has kept it from redefining its relationship to Israel while paying only rhetorical attention to the Palestinian issue. The Syrians have supported factions of the Palestinian movement, still dreaming of annexing Palestine into a greater Syria. Other, more distant states have been more bellicose but no less ineffective. The Palestinians' fundamental problem of being isolated from Arab resources and power enables Israel to act against them without real concern for its other frontiers. Therefore, the Palestinians cannot hope to win.

The needed transformation of the Islamic world will take a long time to achieve. On the other hand, from the Palestinian point of view, time is on their side. Given that all quickly attainable solutions leave them in an unacceptable condition, they have nothing to lose by playing for the long-term solution. Given Palestinian psychology, a long-term strategy of enormous proportions is politically more viable than short-term strategies that cannot deliver genuine solutions. They can either capitulate or continue to struggle, but a small Palestinian state would not satisfy their needs. Nor could it preclude the continuation of war by Palestinian rejectionists and therefore would not be accepted by Israel. The Palestinians' only hope is a redefinition of the general geopolitics of the region.

It is in this sense that the ongoing suicide campaign must be understood. Having accepted that no political settlement in the smaller context of Israel and Palestine is possible, the Palestinians have accepted a long-term strategy of unremitting warfare using whatever means is available -- for now, suicide bombers -- as the only alternative. The price is high, but given the stakes, their view is that it is worth it. It follows that the Palestinians will accept reoccupation by Israel and use that reoccupation not merely to drain Israeli resources but also to create an atmosphere of war designed to energize the Islamic world for a broad redefinition of relationships.

The suicide bombing campaign cannot be intended to achieve any significant short-term goal. First, it is not likely to generate a peace movement in Israel --quite the contrary. Second, it locks the United States into alignment with Israel, rather than driving a wedge between the two. Finally, it creates an extreme psychology within the Palestinian community that makes political flexibility all the more difficult. The fervor that creates suicide bombers also creates a class of martyrs whose sacrifices are difficult to negotiate away. The breadth and intensity of the suicide bombings force us to conclude that the Palestinian leadership is focusing on a long-term strategy of holding the Palestinians together in a sense of profound embattlement, transforming the dynamics of the Arab world and then striking at Israel from a position of strength. In short, the Palestinians think that time is on their side and that sacrifices for a generation or two will yield dividends later. If they wait, they will win.

Here Palestinian strategy, intentionally or unintentionally, intersects with that of al Qaeda, which also is committed to a radical transformation of the Islamic world. Its confrontation with the United States is designed to set the stage for this transformation, enabling the Islamic world to engage and defeat the enemies of Islam.

For al Qaeda one of the pillars of this confrontation is the Palestinian question, which it defines as the recovery of Islamic land usurped by Israel, a tool of the United States and Great Britain. For al Qaeda, the Palestinian question represents the systematic repression and brutalization of the Islamic world at the hands of both Christianity and the secular West. Israel is merely the most extreme and visible dimension of Western injustice. Palestine is, at the same time, a primary means of energizing the Islamic world. The ongoing injustice of the Palestinian situation combined with the martyrdom of the bombers creates, in al Qaeda's view, both a sense of embattlement and religious fervor with profound political consequences. Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs are powerful recruiting tools for al Qaeda.

If the Palestinians have adopted the long-term strategy we described, then al Qaeda is the means of achieving their geopolitical end. If the precondition for the defeat of Israel is a transformation of the internal politics of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the rest of the Arab world, then al Qaeda is currently the only force fighting toward this end. In the same way that Arafat's generation aligned itself with Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser, Arab socialism and the Soviet Union in an attempt to find a geopolitical lever to destroy Israel, so today's generation has to look for geopolitical salvation among Islam's religious fundamentalists. Al Qaeda is the only group operating effectively at the moment and therefore, by default if not by intention, al Qaeda is serving the Palestinians' interest and vice versa.

For al Qaeda, a Palestinian settlement would be politically and morally unacceptable: Morally, it would represent a betrayal of Islam; politically, it would defuse a critical, energizing issue. Any agreement that would accept the permanent loss of territory to Israel would increase the power of accommodationists in the Islamic world. Al Qaeda needs an ongoing confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis to serve its ends; the Palestinians need tremendous pressure brought on the Arab world to serve their interests. The Palestinians also need a transformation in the Arab world. Here the two interests coincide. Israel, then, becomes a foundation of al Qaeda's political strategy in the Islamic world, as well as a test bed for tactics and military strategies.

Palestinian strategy makes no sense except in the context of alignment with al Qaeda. We need to be very careful here. We are not saying that there is deep cooperation going on between the Palestinians and al Qaeda although we would be very surprised if representatives of the two entities have not met and coordinated at times. Rather, what we are saying is that the goals of the Palestinians and those of al Qaeda have converged. Whether this was by design or by the logic of their situation is not really relevant. What is relevant is the convergence not only of tactics but also of a strategic and geopolitical perspective. Unless the Palestinians undergo a profound change of goals, they need al Qaeda to be successful to aid their own success. Al Qaeda is helped enormously by Palestinian behavior. If not a word had ever been exchanged --which we doubt -- the interests would still have converged. And the alliance that grows naturally is the most powerful one.

This means that no real peace process is any longer possible and that Israel can expect to be under constant pressure from the Palestinians. Then the question is, can Israel define a strategy for containing the Palestinians without simultaneously inflaming the Islamic world? More important, can the U.S.-Israeli relationship survive when what Israel must do to suppress the Palestinians flies in the face of American coalition-building in the Islamic world? Of course the Palestinians may hope to provoke a response from Israel that the United States cannot tolerate. However, this is not 1973. Israeli dependence on the United States is much less today than it was then, and therefore U.S. influence on Israel is much lower. Second, the United States is not likely to break with Israel when the trigger is suicide bombing -- not what the Palestinians want to hear, but it is exactly what al Qaeda would want.

This is precisely the crisis both the Palestinians and al Qaeda want to create. Al Qaeda hopes to use U.S. commitment to Israel as a tool for political mobilization in the Islamic world, since the United States cannot accept the destruction of Israel and nothing less can satisfy the needs of the Palestinians. The forecast, therefore, is for pain.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Inventions of Ignorant Jewish People

I got into somewhat of a tussle here, and had Shlomo Sand's "The Invention of the Jewish People" (it does not deserve an Amazon link) thrown in my face. At some point, I had meant to write about this book in a serious way, with footnotes, backlinks, and the like. Perhaps I still will, in which case, consider this a first draft, written in the heat of the moment, because I could not resist. Just so there are no misunderstandings, then, let me clarify that I fully intend to rephrase and annotate certain portions of this at a later time, as life permits.

Before I begin, let's remember that Shlomo Sand, by his own admission, is not a historian of Jewish history, and has no credibility to write about Jewish history in a professional capacity. The conclusions he reached in this book have been ignored by his Israeli colleagues - those who are competent in Jewish historical studies - as political, and not supported by the historical record.

Next, we should establish that the historical information Sand relates is not earth shattering. Sand asserts that the Jews as an ethnic/racial group were not purged from Judea by the Romans, that the Jews of today do not racially reflect the Jews that were expelled, and that this voids their historical claims to the land. He further asserts that early Zionists used this contrived (according to him) history of Jewish expulsion, and the promise of return to the land, as an emotional weapon to rally Jews in support of the State of Israel in the 19th and 20th century. By targeting this attachment that Jews have to the land, by pointing out that they are not racially the same Jews, and thus their claim to the land is illegitimate, Sand hopes to convince Jewish Israelis to destroy their state.

First, the history. The Romans destroyed Judea not once, but twice. The first massacre was in 70 C.E., when many of the cities, including Jerusalem, and notably the Temple in Jerusalem, were leveled, their urban residents either butchered (between 1-1.5 million) or taken as slaves back to Rome (several hundred thousand).

With the destruction of Jerusalem, and the collapse of the religious and political authority that rested there, the religious leadership was reestablished in Yavne. Thus began a centuries-long process of developing Rabbinical Judaism as a necessary substitute to Temple service.

Around 60 years after the first destruction, the Romans instituted new edicts, forbidding Jews from living in Jerusalem, placing restrictions on Jewish religious worship, etc. Again, the Jews rebelled - the Bar Kochba Revolt. By the time it was put down, another half million to a million Jews were dead, 50 fortified towns and a thousand village had been razed by the Romans.

Having twice committed and lost vast sums of men and material to pacify a Jewish insurrection, the Romans refused to allow any Jewish political or religious leadership (often one and the same) in what had once been Judea, and went about essentially purging the land of its Jewish identity, including renaming cities. Through both wars, the land was emptied of vast numbers of people - the Romans had killed 2 million people in total, many others understandably fled the genocide. Irrigation, commerce, agriculture, the things that enable a nation to function, all fell apart. A few primarily religious and insular communities remained, particularly around the cities of Tzvat, Tiberius, Hevron and Jerusalem, and continued in relative isolation for centuries. The focus of Jewish communal and religious life shifted to the unharmed, unified and wealthy Jewish communities in the Diaspora - Mesopotamia, Egypt's Alexandria, Arabian Peninsula, Rome itself, and eventually Spain.

That more or less covers the Dispersion, and is the authoritative history as confirmed both by Jewish Talmudic and modern academic scholarship. Shlomo Sand's assertion that the Jews were not purged from the land, but that they melted wholesale into other nearby peoples and eventually accepted Islam has no foundation, whereas it has been documented that, after the destruction of Judea, twice, swells of Jewish refugees poured into Jewish communities throughout the ancient world. Did individual Jews and Jewish villages in the region the Romans named Syria Palaestina accept Islam, by sword, coercion or free will in the ensuing thousand plus years of Islamic expansion? Without a doubt yes; Several Palestinian villages to this day have a tradition of being converts to Islam from Judaism. The overwhelming majority of Jews remained Jews, however, and the centers of Jewish authority and population shifted to the Diaspora.

Sand says that the Jews of today are not racially the same Jews as those which were dispersed by the Romans, and thus have no claim to the land. Curiously, he ignores genetic research showing that Ashkenazic Jews of central and eastern Europe are more related to Palestinian Arabs than either are to any other people. Instead, he quotes sketchy research on a Jewish kingdom of Khazaria that existed for a short time in the Caucasus during the Middle Ages. The largely Turkic people, the Khazars, situated on the borders of Islam to their south and Christendom to their north, chose to convert to Judaism in order to maintain independence from both. It appears that only the ruling class converted however, and the kingdom existed for only a few decades before being overrun by the Slavs.

Furthermore, and this is a point I wish to stress, the Jews are not a race. Jewish lineage is maternal, yes, but genetics (what was once termed "bloodline") are not a criteria of importance in determining Jewish identity, as conversion enables anyone to become a Jew. Compare this to the Aryan race, if such a thing exists, into which one is either born or not. Accordingly, throughout the centuries, countless people have elected to join the Jewish people through conversion, from nearly every society among which the Jews have lived, including from within the Roman legions themselves.

I would argue, somewhat incontrovertibly, that the very notion of "race" is a relic of Western racial purity studies, nonsensical in all but the widest definition imaginable. Every people experience genetic inflows and outflows - there is no such thing as a "pure race", and never has been - the Japanese being perhaps an example of the most genetically isolated that a population can get. The very association of "purity" with a particular "race" is, to me, another strange Western invention whose origins I would be keen to study. The Jews are not a race - there are black, white, brown, yellow and purple Jews - and we have never defined ourselves as such. We accept converts, no matter their origins. You'll never hear a Jew educated in basic Jewish law complain about "diluting the bloodline" by accepting converts.

To the contrary, what we Jews are is grouping of tribes. Semitic tribal laws related to affiliation are quite different from notions of race invented in the West. As an example, when a woman of one tribe marries a man of another, she takes his tribe, or, rather, that tribe absorbs her. From that point on, she is bound by the specific characteristics of that tribe.

There was a time when Jews identified themselves by tribe - Benjamin, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, etc. - and were geographically situated based on their tribal lands in Israel. Due to a complicated history, the ten northern tribes were forcibly evicted and scattered by an Assyrian king throughout his empire. Some believe Kurdish Jews are a remnant of one of those lost tribes. As a consequence of this tragic saga, today we are no longer certain who belongs to which tribe, though we are certain the matter will be resolved with the coming of Moshiach.

Jewish converts don't need to be genetically similar to other Jews in order to claim a right to return to the land. Upon conversion, they are "in the tribe", as it were, and are immediately afforded the spiritual and historical connection to the land that every other Jew inherits by birth.

The land of Israel is a spiritual inheritance to all Jewish people, no matter if their Jewish origin is birth or conversion. This is not a fact contested by any Jewish religious authorities, and never has been. Whether the Jewish people survived through direct lineage or conversion, or both, is irrelevant. What is important is the unbroken record of history and scholarship of Jews from the destruction of Judea to the founding of the State of Israel. Through two thousand years of dispersions, the Jewish people survived, and have returned to lands in which their last national project was extinguished by war and genocide.

Shlomo Sand's book is a prime display of ignorance - including about the basic foundations of the author's own Jewish identity - which enables the abuse of history for political ends. Predictably, this invention of ignorance has been seized on by some as one more convenient weapon in their battle against the Jews of Israel, a war so brutal that even history is considered an acceptable casualty. Sadly, this work has also found an audience in some elements of the Jewish community, including individuals prone to revisionist ideologies that unburden them of responsibilities to their fellow Jews, and to their faith. A blind man leading the blind off a cliff.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meet the "New Left": Like the "Old Left", but against Peace

Most of us have heard about the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarah neighborhood of Jerusalem. To my knowledge, after the Jordanians occupied the East Jerusalem post 1948, they evicted all Jewish residents from those sections of the city which they controlled. Through some combination of squatting, Jordanian property allocation and UN refugee resettlement programs, some numbers of displaced Arabs were then housed in what were once private Jewish homes, which had been forcibly cleansed of their Jewish residents by the Jordanians, or which emptied during hostilities.

After Israel liberated East Jerusalem in 1967, the status of Arab residents living in these Jewish properties was taken up by the Israeli courts, following petitions by the Jewish property owners or their descendants. After some decades of legal bickering, the courts established that the properties did belong to their Jewish owners. However, in a decision striking for its sensitivity and attempt at compromise, the courts ruled that the Arab families could not be coerced to leave, but were expected to pay rent to the property owners henceforth. So long as the Arab families continued rent payments, their right to remain in the properties was inviolable.

After some time, quite recently, whether out of pride, a desire to establish their claims to the properties, or a belief that the courts would not compel them to leave - perhaps all three - the Arab families in one or more properties failed to pay rent. After a protracted legal struggle, the owners convinced the court to evict the families. Whatever the Arabs believed would happen, in the absence of a rent payment, the eviction orders were carried out and they were left on the street.

The Sheikh Jarah evictions have become a cause celeb for the radical Israeli left, battered as they were in the last elections and badly needing a focus around which to rally. Weekly protests have followed, attracting from a handful to as many as three hundred protesters - quite tame, even by Israeli standards - but receiving widespread coverage in Israeli media, and growing international interest. The most recent demonstration came just days ago, and involved the following communique:
There is a New Left, and it is not a left that is content with peace talks; it is a left of struggle. There is a New Left that knows that there are things you have to fight against even when they are identified with the state and even when they are sanctioned by law. There’s a New Left that knows that this struggle will not be decided on paper, but on the ground, on the hills, in the vineyards, in the olive groves. There’s a New Left that is not afraid of settlers – even when they come down on us from the hills, masked and armed. This left does not succumb to political oppression by the police, nor does it care what Ma’ariv writes about it.

There is a New Left in town. This left does not want to be loved, does not dream of filling town squares and does not bask in the memories of 400,000 demonstrators. This left is a partnership of Palestinians who understand that the occupation will not be stopped by missiles and bombs, and of Israelis who understand that the Palestinian struggle is their own.

The New Left links arms with Palestinians in a cloud of tear-gas in Bili’in, and with them, bears the brunt of settler violence in the South Hebron Hills. This left stands by refugees and work immigrants in Tel-Aviv and fights the Wisconsin Project [privatized “welfare-to-work” program]. This New Left is us, all of us.

All those who came here tonight; all those who dared to cross the imaginary line separating West and East Jerusalem despite the threats and intimidation  -  we are all the New Left that is rising in Israel and Palestine. We are not fighting for a peace agreement; we are fighting for justice. But we believe that injustice is the main obstacle to peace. Until the Ghawis, the Hanouns and the El-Kurds return to their homes, there will be no peace; because peace will not take root where discrimination, oppression, and plunder exist. There is a New Left in town and this left stands with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah tonight, and it will continue standing with them until justice overcomes fanaticism.
The communique goes on to describe the "New Right" in predictable, demonic terms, and to vow resistance and victory. I don't know what the "New Right" thinks about itself - for that we'll have to wait for a "New Right" to issue its own press release - but I do know, from this point on, what the "New Left" in Israel thinks of itself, in its own words. What they've written here is fairly boilerplate leftist/socialist "direct action" drivel - they're against downsizing the welfare state, for better integration of immigrants, etc. - save one important point. This "New Left" no longer has a strategy for peace.

The peace movement in Israel, the one that culminated in the agreements of Oslo and Oslo II, and in the final attempts to reach a permanent settlement at Camp David, Taba and Annapolis, was largely driven by the promise of the left - a promise of peace. Once the Palestinians got what they want - self rule in the territories of Shomron, Yehuda and Gaza - a Jewish State of Israel would, after 50 years of war, finally achieve the security its neighbors had for so long denied it. The promise of "two states" was envisioned as a grand bargain, an end of conflict that would usher in a new age of safety and prosperity for the Jews of Israel, and not coincidentally, for their Arab neighbors. The promise faltered at Camp David, limped to Taba, then got on a bus in Jerusalem and was blown to pieces by a half decade of Palestinian violence.

The left, eyes glazed over by the tantalizing prospect of peace, had been mugged by reality, but was determined not to stray from its vision. It has promised the people of Israel peace, and would not allow the Palestinians to have a say in the matter. The torch was passed to the center-right, now in power under Sharon, which had no hesitation for unilateral steps, particularly those which forced the Palestinians off balance. Through the long political battle for the Gaza Disengagement, intended to be rapidly followed by evacuation of a dozen Jewish villages in Yesha, the left held on to the promise of peace. Even as large swaths of the Israeli population began to understand, and to vote accordingly - with the 2006 Lebanon War killing off Disengagement and the 2008/09 Gaza War extinguishing life from the "Two State" formula - the left remained unswerving in its commitment to peace, no matter how steep the price had risen, until now.

On this day, in this communique, the "New Left" has abandoned its commitment to achieve peace for the Jews of Israel. The "New Left" no longer cares for peace talks, nor peace agreements. It is a movement forged in the desperation of its circumstances - its core ideology, that peace is attainable for an acceptable price, has been discredited. The "New Left" is out of big ideas, emptied of pragmatic solutions; it has lost the will and intent to fight for Israel's geopolitical future, to work within the state for the security and prosperity it once promised Israel's inhabitants. On this day, the "New Left" has declared its intention to fight for the ideological vanity of its members, for the admiration of international elites, for the cameras, for a bleak nothing.

On this day, the "New Left" went mad from a nervous breakdown and was committed in Sheikh Jarah. Life will go on.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Good Shabbos

Yerushalaim ir shalom (Jerusalem of Peace), Baruch Nachshon.

No Apologies: The Double Standard on Israel

The Economist's Democracy in America Blog confirms what many of us have always known - yes, there is a double standard when it comes to Israel. Moreover, this double-standard is considered legitimate by Western intellectuals.
Western countries hold Israel to a different standard than they do Congo because they see in Israel a rich, Western-like, European-descended country. We in Europe and America judge Israel harshly not because Israelis are the Other, but because they're unusually like us. Does Israel really want to be judged by the same standard we use to judge Omar al-Bashir? Now that would be anti-Semitism.
Take aside the most obvious difference between Israel and the rest of Western civilization - the Jewish State is surrounded by state and non-state actors which seek its destruction, in the way that Luxembourg or the great State of Illinois aren't.

Two thoughts come to mind. First, the notion that non-"European-descended" nations should be held to a lower standard than Western nations, simply because they haven't mastered indoor plumbing, is blatantly racist. Such double-standards enable and legitimize true atrocities and genocides.

Second, the issue is not so much that Israel is held to a different standard as Sudan and China, but that it is held to a higher standard than France, Germany, Britain and the United States! Quiet assassinations of Israel's terrorist enemies, with no civilian casualties, draw immediate international condemnations and front page headlines, while American and European aircraft and drone strikes against suspected Islamist extremists rack up innocent dead by the hundreds, with mere hand wringing. The Americans responded to the gruesome murder of two private military contractors in Iraq by reducing the city of Fallujah to rubble, causing thousands of casualties among the enemy and civilian population, not once, but twice. Meanwhile, Israel is expected to absorb thousands of cross border rocket attacks on its civilian communities or risk being dragged to the Hague for war crimes.

We finally agree that there is a double standard - just not on the one that matters.

Peace Upon the Land

The Operation the Rebbe references, Peace for Galilee, was launched by the IDF in 1982 to rout Palestinian terrorist training camps situated across the Lebanese border. For more than a decade, ever since the PLO's expulsion from Jordan following the events of Black September, 1970, Palestinian terrorists had been crossing into Israel from Lebanon to carry out attacks on civilians. Entire families were butchered, and "proportionate" Israeli reprisals, consisting of airstrikes and commando raids, did not stem the attacks.

The IDF succeeded in driving most of the PLO to Tunis but, lacking clear political direction, did not complete its operational objectives, and was forced to set up a buffer zone on Lebanese soil. The forces guarding this buffer became a target of Hezbollah, resulting in hundreds of casualties over 18 years of occupation. The buffer zone was subsequently evacuated by the IDF in 2000.

One of the things I've appreciated, since before I really became involved with Chabad, has been the Rebbe's commitment to and concern for the preservation of life. As a Jewish leader, speaking to Jews, his focus is clearly on Jewish responsibilities and obligations, grounded in a Jewish perspective and Jewish law. Yet, he makes it a point, again and again, in a time of war, to emphasize that a decisive course of action, as advocated by the military command, would have resulted in fewer lives lost on all sides, Jews and non-Jews, referring specifically to the Sabra and Shatila tragedies as a terrible consequence of indecision.

In our age, it has become fashionable to speak of peace, and with regards to Israel, to demand that it makes peace with its neighbors, even if that means it ignore acts of aggression planned and directed against it. Such is the convoluted state of affairs, that it is not enough for a threat to exist; Israel must actually wait to be attacked, it must allow its citizens to be murdered, in order to scrape together sufficient legitimacy to defend itself.

This is an immoral approach that cynically produces the very bloodshed and suffering it claims to avoid. The first priority of a nation is the preservation of life for its inhabitants. A strong State of Israel, and one blessed with the means to defend itself, thank G-d, must categorically ensure the sanctity of life for its residents. It is immoral and counterproductive for it to do otherwise, for whatever blood is spilled in the short run will secure future generations from being victims to violence, on both sides, Jew and non-Jew.

Instead, by not dealing decisively with threats, and allowing deterrence to erode in the face of relentless attacks, only a continuation of mass violence and suffering has been experienced, and can be expected. But where "the strongest army in the Middle East" achieves decisive victory, whether against Egypt, or Jordan or Syria, deterrence is created and peace follows. Let it be a cold peace, but one that has not endangered the lives of Jews, Egyptians, Jordanians or Syrians in several decades.

Where Israel is decisive, the lives of Jews and non-Jews are saved. And where Israel is indecisive, as the Rebbe says, "casualties are falling", G-d forbid, on all sides, and with no end in sight.


A friend and reader emails me,
You can't take a religious approach to war. The political dimension has to be taken into account. We can't allow generals to run amok on the battlefield, doing whatever they want. Military leadership is beholden to political leadership. The politicians must determine the scope of the war, and have the flexibility to adapt it as necessary.

I'm not sure what "a religious approach to war" means. What the Rebbe does is to highlight the cardinal responsibility of any state, and in particular a Jewish State, whose Jewish leaders are bound to uphold Mosaic law - to preserve life. Other nations and non-state actors, in contrast, may not interested in preserving life, but in achieving political ends. The Rebbe categorically rejects a such an approach to war, which places life secondary to political objectives. He implores us, and the Israeli leadership, to view the waging of war through the prism of pikuach nefesh - preservation of life, on all sides.

Once the sanctity of life is established, and its defense becomes the primary rationale for waging a war of self defense, the focus shifts on how to best do so, in a way that avoids casualties, including among the enemy. Far from allowing military commanders to "run amok" on the battlefield, the political leadership must instruct the military to achieve the necessary objectives in a way that reduces bloodshed in its implementation, and secures life in its outcome.

Then, once the military campaign begins, the political leadership must resist foreign pressure and allow the completion of military objectives it set. As has been demonstrated just recently in the Lebanon and Gaza wars, hesitation and indecision passed on from the political to the military command cause a vital loss of momentum, threaten the lives of forces engaged in combat, and display weakness that is ceased on by the enemy to prolong the conflict. The resulting stalemates ensure a continuation of suffering, on both sides, and the likelihood of further loss of life on an even greater scale.

Far from demanding a "religious approach to war", what the Rebbe is urging constitutes basic common sense and accepted military doctrine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fallout: The Snub to end all Snubs

A collection of (largely) American reactions to Israel's cutting the rug from under Vice President Biden on his trip to Israel this week.

Mondoweiss is ecstatic:
The Netanyahu insult to Joe Biden is the greatest thing that ever happened. It has woken a lot of people up, maybe including Joe Biden, who is streetsmart, and will allow the mainstream press in the US to finally question the special relationship and what it is doing to the American interest.
Or, the American media could question how Obama could screw up the "special relationship" so royally, and what he can do to get the peace process back on track. Here's a selection of responses from NYT's Room for Debate: Israel's Challenge to the US that basically say just that.

The face-saving leaks begin:
People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.
That sounds serious! Of course, everyone knows that Islamic extremists are barely containing themselves, peacefully biding their time for one more excuse - just one more! - to retaliate against 150,000 American combat forces currently occupying two Muslim countries, as American drones attacks pile up civilian bodies in a third. Jews building homes in Jerusalem, three thousand miles from Afghanistan, will break the camel's back, as it were. Right.

Juan Cole rants off the cuff:
Obama's Mideast policy lies in tatters this morning and US credibility as a broker of any future settlement was deeply wounded. [...] Obama is in real danger of seeing his allies lose respect for the United States once they see that Israel can treat him in this humiliating way with impunity.
That's pure comedy. Israel is just about the last country on earth to humiliate Obama, and mildly. The "snub" list now stretches through Europe, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Venezuela, even Cuba! Oh, that insolent Israel, daring to build apartment buildings in its national capital.

Stephen Walt is consistent:
America’s “special relationship” with Israel has insulated the latter from the consequences of its own follies. The original Zionists faced a more challenging environment and usually acted with great adroitness, consistency of purpose and imagination, while their successors in recent decades have been able to misbehave in part because Uncle Sam was always there to provide support and diplomatic cover.
There is truth in this. Leaving Hezbollah and Hamas intact were acts of folly. Israel dealt more permanent blows that positively transformed its geopolitical space when it had no "great power" backer to constrain its actions. I'd like to get back to Walt some other time, as I'm examining something he once wrote.

Finally, Andrew "Assisted Suicide" Sullivan:
Cut off loan guarantees, suspend aid, threaten to remove the UN veto. But none of this has a chance to happening except the latter. The Congress won't allow it - because the GOP's Christianist wing wants a greater Israel to hasten Armeggedon and because the Democrats are so scared of AIPAC.
Yes, that and 63% of the US population, and an increasingly unpopular President that probably still wants to get something, anything, done in the Middle East and hopefully will have learned some lessons about carelessly pushing around allies.

NewsFlash: Israel is not America's Bitch

On Vice President Biden's trip to Israel this week, coming on the heels of a widely heralded agreement by Israel and the Palestinians to resume indirect negotiations, with support from the Arab League, European Union and other less consequential actors, the US Administration received a rude awakening.

No sooner had Biden landed than information was leaked that some obscure tentacle of Israeli bureaucracy in charge of one aspect of a building permit process gave its approval to a building project in Jerusalem, planned many years prior, and with several years to go before construction actually begins. In other words, an announcement of no practical consequence, except to drive home to the Americans a simple message - we are not your bitch. Understandably, American bewilderment and fury ensued.

You see, it was a mere year ago, in the wake of Netanyahu's scraping together of a new government, that the Obama Administration, without holding consultations with the Israelis, out of self-indulgent hubris, barely concealed distaste for Israel's electoral right-wing turn, and pursuing a strategy of engaging the Muslim masses, stood before the world and demanded that Israel relinquish its claims to Shomron and Yehudah, and most egregiously, to Jerusalem. Just a year prior, at AIPAC's 2008 Policy Conference, Obama had pledged that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." The sense of betrayal on Israeli streets was palpable.

At the time, stories surfaced of despair in Jerusalem, of Netanyahu feeling under siege, cursing Obama's Jewish Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, and sweating bullets over the pincer a popular American president had put him in. The Palestinians, who had been eager to continue negotiations where Olmert left off, found no reason to do so, seeing as the Americans were walking Israel down the concessions plank at gunpoint. The Europeans, themselves surprised by America's sudden turn of face, joined in the fray, linking EU-Israeli trade negotiations to the peace process and passing a resolution that all but recognized Palestinian sovereignty in all territories liberated by Israel in 1967, including a divided Jerusalem.

Instead of cowering to American and international pressure, unprecedented as it was, the Israelis spent the next six months helpfully wrestling Obama's man Mitchell to a standstill, agreeing in November to a temporary settlement freeze in Yesha, while formalizing unrestricted Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. This point was recognized and understood by Mitchell: "The Israelis are not going to stop settlements in, or construction in East Jerusalem."

What a difference a year makes. Support for Israel in America has surged to near record heights, while Obama is tanking in the polls domestically, juggling massive deficits, double-digit unemployment, unpopular health care legislation, a looming Democratic slaughter come fall elections and the escalation of the Afghan war with no end in sight, all the while being manhandled by Tehran's mullahs and being shown the middle finger on Iranian sanctions by the combined forces of China and Russia. Who is sweating bullets now, Barry?

After first attempting to bring down Netanyahu's government, and failing at that, then wrangling from the Israelis a gesture meaningless to the Arabs, but one that begins the process of delegitimizing Jewish rights and property in Yesha, the Americans send in the proverbial clowns - Joe Biden et. al. - to consolidate their gains and prepare for another round of tough diplomacy, known in common parlance as "more Israeli concessions". Oh, and in case the Israelis were still thinking to stave off another holocaust at the hands of Iranian nukes through a preemptive strike, well, America won't allow that to happen, the preemptive strike, that is.

And so, from deep within the annals of Israeli bureaucracy - I wouldn't give Netanyahu credit for such a stroke of competence - a careful response emerged, one that pointedly leveraged sovereign Israeli rights in Jerusalem, not merely uncontested, but accepted by the Americans just months earlier, with the Administration's present weakness. Israel will continue build in its sovereign capital, per its legitimate rights and existing agreements. As if the point wasn't clear enough, it was clarified in a timely manner, by helpful, unnamed bureacrats:
Some 50,000 new housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line are in various stages of planning and approval, planning officials told Haaretz. They said Jerusalem's construction plans for the next few years, even decades, are expected to focus on East Jerusalem.
Any questions?

Crude, provocative, undiplomatic, but effective. The Israelis are approaching a pivotal moment, where, remarkably, they have regained leverage over all other parties. The Americans are weak, burdened at home, stretched abroad and, presumably, not looking for a major fight with a popular ally so close to elections. The Palestinians in Ramallah are content, having reached an agreement with Israel on containing Hamas, eliminating checkpoints and ensuring economic growth. The Arabs are nervous over Washington's inability to confront Iran, and are terrified that an outbreak of Palestinian violence will be popularly leveraged by Tehran and its regional proxies to further destabilize Sunni Arab regimes.

With a strong, growing economy, relative peace on its borders and neutered foreign pressure, it is Israel's turn to shine. How long the calm will last is anyone's guess. Used properly, the next six months will give Netanyahu the breathing space to formulate a coherent strategy for ending the conflict outside the traditional, dead-end scope of "two-states". At the very least, members within his center-right coalition must begin floating and debating, openly, concrete policy proposals. Anything less would be a tragic waste of a golden opportunity.

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