Tag Archives: UN

Yes, Israel will be blamed

Maybe it’s a bit late in the new year to make predictions, but anyone still looking for a safe bet might want to agree with an anonymous European diplomat who reportedly told his Israeli counterpart towards the end of last year that Israel will lose “the blame game” if the current peace negotiations end in failure. According to a Ha’aretz report, the European diplomat also threatened Israel with “a deluge of sanctions” in case “the negotiations with the Palestinians run aground,” irrespective of the reasons for the failure to reach an agreement.

For the Palestinians, this is of course good news – though it’s really just more of the same: after all, the UN has designated 2014 as “Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” and a number of events decrying “the unprecedented historical injustice which the Palestinian people have endured since ‘Al-Nakba’ of 1948” have already been held at the organization’s headquarters in New York. The UN’s willingness to show “solidarity” with a people that has rejected a state of their own for 65 years illustrates that the anonymous European diplomat quoted above is merely following the long established practice of rewarding the Palestinians for their refusal to come to terms with the re-establishment of the Jewish state.

It seems that the Palestinians intend to stick with their rejectionist stance. In a candid interview with Asharq Al-Awsat , the Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki recently boasted that the Palestinians “previously said no 12 times to the Americans” and he proudly declared that they were “prepared to continue with this when it comes to our principles.” Among these “principles” is apparently the refusal to accept the fundamental idea that a peace agreement will establish two states for two peoples. When asked what the “most intractable” issue in the negotiations was, Al-Maliki replied:

“This is the issue of recognizing the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. This is a sharply contentious issue. It would be dangerous to recognize this because this would mean our acceptance of the dissolution of our own history and ties and our historic right to Palestine. This is something that we will never accept under any circumstances. Acceptance of this would also raise fears about the fate of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in Israel. They are already second-class citizens, so how will they be affected by the Judaization of the state? This also raises questions about the [Palestinian] refugees and the right of return. So this is something that we absolutely cannot accept.”

This short statement provides an excellent illustration of the fantasies that underpin some of the central Palestinian negotiating positions. The most notable point is arguably the admission that recognizing Israel as the Jewish state implies acknowledging the millennia-old Jewish history in the region, which according to Al-Maliki would be tantamount to “the dissolution” of Palestinian history and the resulting claims. While Binyamin Netanyahu demonstrated in his Bar-Ilan speech in June 2009 that it is perfectly possible to stick to one’s own history and still concede that the present time requires difficult compromises, Al-Maliki is providing here a rare admission that Palestinian history is too flimsy to back up the Palestinian narrative of being an “indigenous” population that is fighting for their ancient rights against a foreign intruder.

The second noteworthy point is Al-Maliki’s worry about the “fate of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in Israel.” The PLO has always upheld the fiction that it represents all Palestinians, whether they want it or not, and wherever they reside, even if they are citizens of other states. Therefore, it probably doesn’t matter much to Al-Maliki that not all Arabs in Israel define themselves as Palestinians, and that even those who do are apparently not very enthusiastic about living under Palestinian rule. Indeed, as a recent poll showed, even among those who like to complain loudly about being a minority in the Jewish state, many prefer this status to being citizens in a Palestinian state.

Finally, there is Al-Maliki’s point about the “refugees and the right of return.” Apparently he feels that recognizing Israel as the Jewish state would somehow complicate the demand that millions of descendants should “return” to the places that previous generations of Palestinians left to escape the war fought on their behalf against the fledgling Jewish state. While this demand is anyway completely unrealistic, Al-Maliki reaffirmed – as many Palestinian officials have done before – that the Palestinians would continue to insist on this imaginary “right” to turn the Jewish state into yet another Arab-Muslim state.

An even clearer rejection of the two-state solution and a negotiated peace was conveyed in a recent New York Times op-ed by former Palestinian Authority minister Ali Jarbawi.  Under the title “The Coming Intifada,” Jarbawi started out by claiming that the Palestinians have long wanted a state of their own and were eager to see the peace negotiations succeed. However, according to Jarbawi, the Palestinians made a “strategic mistake” at the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993 when they supposedly conceded “78 percent of the land of historical Palestine.” Jarbawi probably knows full well that this argument is as good as if a former Israeli minister were to claim that Israel conceded Jordan to the Arabs, but he needs this fictitious concession to justify the very real rejection of any realistic two-state solution.  According to Jarbawi,

“Israel’s current conditions for a Palestinian state would shatter Palestinians’ basic demands for liberty and independence. The promised Palestinian state will be nothing but a shadow entity completely ruled by Israel. And the price that is being demanded for this state is so exorbitant that the Palestinian Authority cannot sell it, nor can the Palestinians accept it.

These pockets of land would be demilitarized, and Israel would have control over the borders, skies and natural resources. To get this, Palestinians must give up the right of return of diaspora Palestinians, and publicly declare that Israel is a Jewish state. This is a toxic cocktail perfectly mixed to produce a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation, and the Authority as well — if the latter accepts these Israeli demands and yields to American pressure.”

Jarbawi’s article is arguably an important read, because it shows a former Palestinian minister declaring once more quite openly that a demilitarized Palestinian state comprising most of the previously Jordanian-occupied West Bank and Egyptian-controlled Gaza is simply completely unacceptable to the Palestinians. Unintentionally, Jarbawi also illustrates how Palestinian propaganda works: while he clearly says the Palestinians would violently reject any realistic two-state solution, he also deviously claims that it’s their shattered hopes for a two-state solution that would result in an explosion of violence – and he can probably expect quite a bit of sympathy for this “explanation” from his New York Times readers.

Just from the past few weeks, there are plenty of additional examples illustrating that the Palestinian leadership is also preparing its own public for the failure of the current negotiations and the possible resumption of violence. Some senior Palestinian officials who are close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have recently called the current peace talks “futile,” advocating instead a return to “all kinds of resistance.” Barely two weeks ago, Abbas was listening and applauding when his Minister of Religious Affairs gave a speech urging jihadis fighting in Syria to turn to Jerusalem:

“Whoever wants resistance, whoever wants Jihad, the direction for Jihad is well-known and clear… Those who send young people to Syria or elsewhere to die for a misdirected cause must stop and understand that Jerusalem is still waiting. Jerusalem is the direction, Jerusalem is the address.”

A week later, the official Facebook page of Fatah publicized a clip that shows members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades vowing that they will “turn Tel Aviv into a ball of fire.”

Tel Aviv Fatah threats

Palwatch screenshot

But it’s not just in the UN “Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” that Palestinian rejectionism and calls for violence are politely overlooked and even rewarded. If the negotiations don’t produce any results and the Palestinians once again resort to terrorism, they can count on the UN and much of the international media to get plenty of attention and sympathy for their continuing efforts to blame and delegitimize Israel.

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First published at my JPost blog; also at the Polish blog Listy z naszegu sadu

Netanyahu and the fundamentals of peace

Under the title “Netanyahu the fundamentalist,” David Landau grimly predicted in a recent Ha’aretz column that “History will damn the Israeli prime minister’s obsessive demand for the Palestinians to commit heart and soul to the idea of Israel as the ‘Jewish State’ as a precondition for peace.” Needless to say, this was not the first Ha’aretz article opposing Netanyahu’s stance – and needless to say, blaming Israel in general and Binyamin Netanyahu in particular for the lack of peace is always a crowd pleaser for the audiences Ha’aretz caters to.

But Landau’s piece was so weak and contradictory that it only helps to make the case for Netanyahu’s demand.

At the beginning of his column, Landau notes that the “United Nations spoke of a Jewish state and an Arab state back in the 1940s. That was the accepted vocabulary ever since the principle of partition made its appearance in the 1930s. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, uses the same vocabulary today.”

If it was true that Abbas “uses the same vocabulary today,” it should hardly be a problem for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

However, Landau then goes on to explain that

“Abbas can never extend recognition to Israel as ‘the Jewish state,’ because there are close to 20 percent of Palestinians among Israel’s citizens and the recognition that Netanyahu demands of Israel as ‘the Jewish state’ would be considered, in Palestinian opinion, a betrayal of them.”

Landau probably knows all too well that the problem is not just “Palestinian opinion,” but rather the fact that the PLO claims to be “the sole legitimate representative of the entire Palestinian people” – which, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, includes Israel’s Arab citizens (irrespective of the question whether they regard themselves as Palestinians and want to be represented by the PLO). It is important to realize that Palestinian advocates have even used this claim to argue that a Palestinian state is not all that desirable since it could only represent its own citizens and not Palestinians who are citizens of other countries, including Israel. Similar notions about statehood requiring the Palestinians to give up on various claims and all sorts of imaginary “rights” are reflected in the views of many “one-state” proponents and in the vicious anti-Israel propaganda of sites like the Electronic Intifada.

Unfortunately for Landau, the fact that the Palestinians oppose the recognition of Israel as the Jewish state because they insist on representing Israel’s Arab citizens doesn’t really show that it is Netanyahu who is the “fundamentalist” here…

After all, there are plenty of states that define themselves in no uncertain terms as the nation state of a particular group, and as far as I know, nobody has yet thought of withholding recognition because there may also be minorities in this state that do not identify as part of the nation. Moreover, when we look around in the region, Israel is for sure the best place to live when you belong to a minority. Like minorities everywhere – including in Europe – Israel’s Arab citizens may have reason to complain about various disadvantages, but most are arguably better off than if they lived in a neighboring state as part of the Arab majority. In this context it’s also interesting to note that Palestinians don’t seem to have similar demands and claims towards Arab states with sizable Palestinian populations. Is it acceptable that Jordan is the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” when at least two thirds of its population is Palestinian? Well, maybe Jordan doesn’t count, since it has already a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian queen… And indeed, we do know that the Palestinians didn’t demand a state while the West Bank was annexed by Jordan and Gaza was administered by Egypt. One could almost think that the Palestinians only start to have problems when Jews are involved.

Given Landau’s reference to the fact that the “United Nations spoke of a Jewish state and an Arab state back in the 1940s,” we might also recall – as Israel’s UN Ambassodor Ron Prosor recently noted – that “General Assembly resolution 181 (II) dividing the British Mandate over Palestine referred to the creation of a Jewish State 25 times.” It didn’t mention a Palestinian state because at the time, only few had ever heard of a “Palestinian people.” Even today, official Palestinian documents insist that “Palestine is part of the large Arab World, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab Nation.”

Yet, Israel’s “fundamentalist” Prime Minister is willing to acknowledge that nowadays, the Palestinians regard themselves as a people that should have a state of their own. At a recent meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, Netanyahu said: “peace is premised on mutual recognition, of two states for two peoples, of the Palestinian state for the Palestinian people mirrored by the Jewish state for the Jewish people.” Admittedly, he also mentioned the f-word, adding: “I think that’s fundamental for any peace”…

But while Netanyahu probably can’t say anything that would cause his left-wing critics to let go of their convenient bogeyman, Haviv Rettig Gur has recently argued – rightly, in my view – that Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians make peace with Israel as the Jewish state must be understood in the context of the well-documented Palestinian demonization of Israel as fundamentally illegitimate and evil.

As it turns out, not even a veteran Israeli dove like Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin can argue on a Palestinian website in favor of the demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Baskin writes that he can’t quite understand why the Palestinians would find it so difficult to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But it’s not so hard to explain: the two major components of Palestinian identity are the very recent secular one which depends almost exclusively on implacable hostility to Israel, and the religious one which is based on centuries of Islamic imperialism and supremacism. Acknowledging that an ancient people like the Jews have any rights in their historic homeland will inevitably undermine both the secular and the religious component of Palestinian identity.

Two states for two peoples is a nice-sounding formula, but unfortunately, it’s not clear that the Palestinians have a strong enough identity to really feel as a people that can pull together for the difficult task of building a functioning state. Of course, Gaza is already a statelet, and the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the rule of a Palestinian administration that is recognized by most UN members as representing the Palestinian state. The bizarre make-belief quality of this UN recognition may well carry over to any future “peace” agreement; yet, since it would mean the end of Israel as we know it – and the end of Israel as the Jewish state – to absorb the Palestinians on the West Bank as Israeli citizens, I’m all for a solution that would somehow resolve the problem of Palestinian statelessness.

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First published at my JPost blog on October 25, 2013

Who will tell the truth about the Masharawi tragedy? [updated]

A heartbreaking picture dominated the world media last November, just a day after Israel launched its “Pillar of Defense”-campaign to stop the barrage of rockets from Gaza. The picture showed a grief-stricken young father in Gaza holding the shrouded body of his baby son.

The Washington Post was among the newspapers that featured the photo prominently on its front page.

WaPo Gaza baby Fpage

 Twitter screenshot

Unsurprisingly, Hamas was quick to also distribute the photo, adding rather ridiculously: “Where is the media coverage of Israel’s crimes in Gaza[?]”

Hamas Gaza baby

Twitter screenshot

But while the media generally agreed with Hamas that it should be taken for granted that Israel was to blame for the death of the baby, blogger Elder of Ziyon pointed out that there were many reasons to question this supposed “fact.” However, the BBC would have none of that: while it devoted several reports to this tragic story because the bereaved father was employed by the BBC’s Gaza office, it firmly dismissed all doubts, insisting that baby Omar most likely “died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.”

Months later, the BBC continues to feature this story – despite the fact that by now, a UN investigation has concluded that baby Omar Masharawi (also spelled Mashhrawi or Misharawi) was indeed killed “by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” As BBC Watch notes, the relevant UN report has been published four days ago, and the BBC hasn’t yet gotten around to issuing any correction to its original stories. The same is probably true for most of the mainstream media that prominently featured this tragic image and the related story – and even if corrections were issued, they wouldn’t be given the prominent and dramatic coverage that the original received. The grief-stricken father in Gaza holding the shrouded body of his beloved baby son will inevitably become part of the “lethal narratives” that are spread eagerly by mainstream journalists who have long embraced the notion that Goliath Israel is cruelly oppressing and killing the Palestinian David.

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I wrote about this tragic incident in late November last year, when the Washington Post’s ombudsman Patrick Pexton (whose term just ended) responded to the controversy about the front page photo. His article included a callous dismissal of the rocket barrage from Gaza, which Pexton compared to “bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind.”

According to Pexton, the photo of Jihad Masharawi mourning his baby son was selected for the front page because everyone at the Washington Post felt that it “went straight to the heart, this sobbing man who just lost his baby son.”

Of course, the rocket was fired with the intention to create such a scene in Israel.

Pexton also argued that “an effective photograph…moves the viewer toward a larger truth” – though he didn’t make entirely clear what he had in mind. But he also linked to a related Washington Post article on “The Israeli-Palestinian politics of a bloodied child’s photo,” which featured three images: the first on the left is the photo that was the controversial choice for the Washington Post’s front page; the one in the middle is an injured Israeli infant, and the third photo is again from a boy killed in Gaza who was rushed to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital just when Egypt’s Prime Minister was visiting there with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

WaPo Gaza-Israel child victims

Washington Post screenshot

Commenting on the three images, Max Fisher argued:

“Each tells a similar story: a child’s body, struck by a heartless enemy, held by those who must go on. It’s a narrative that speaks to the pain of a grieving people, to the anger at those responsible, and to a determination for the world to bear witness. But the conversations around these photos, and around the stories that they tell, are themselves a microcosm of the distrust and feelings of victimhood that have long plagued the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Whatever story Max Fisher thought the three photos were telling and whatever uplifting contemplations he intended to offer, the plain truth is that all three children were victims of rockets shot by Hamas and other Gaza terrorists. The plain truth is also that they hoped that only Israeli children would be injured or killed by their rockets, but they knew that if they wouldn’t quite succeed and some children in Gaza got killed by their rockets, nobody would hesitate to blame Israel for it.

After all, everyone knows that the strikes of the Israeli Goliath kill, while the attacks of the Palestinian David are merely “bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind” – and who cares that every Israeli strike that kills a Palestinian child or civilian is considered by the Israeli military and the vast majority of the Israeli public a tragic event, while every Palestinian “bee sting” that kills an Israeli child or civilian is considered by Palestinian terror groups and their supporters a reason to cheer and celebrate.

The Washington Post’s Max Fisher certainly doesn’t care about this well-documented fact, as his not-so-subtle exercise in equivalency illustrates: “a child’s body, struck by a heartless enemy” implies after all that just as Hamas is a “heartless enemy” to Israel’s children, the IDF is an equally “heartless enemy” to Palestinian children.

As far as Fisher is concerned, this is the “story” told by the three images he comments on. But it is of course he who is telling a story about heartless enemies wounding and killing innocent children. I doubt that Fisher will take the time to revisit his story and ponder how much – or rather how little – sense it makes once we know that each of the children shown in the photos was a victim of Palestinian fire.

Fisher focuses mainly on arguing how terrible it is that there are controversies about such photos and the stories they supposedly tell. But as this example illustrates so well, it is always people who tell stories about images, and it indeed matters a lot what stories they tell – because facts matter if we want to understand reality.

Of course, when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (and the broader Arab and Muslim world), focusing on facts and their proper context isn’t all that fashionable.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

In the end, quite a lot of media outlets reported the UN finding that the son of Jihad Mashrawi was most likely the victim of a Palestinian rocket. However, as J.E. Dyer rightly points out in her excellent and detailed analysis of several incidents that were falsely blamed on Israel (“Oops – The IDF didn’t kill Baby Mashrawi (and other things that didn’t happen during Pillar of Defense)”), this incident showed once again that media organizations that care about their reputation should be considerably more careful about vetting their sources and verifying the details of events they report on.

The perhaps most impressive correction for the Masharawi incident was published by AP, which had taken the widely published photo of the mourning father back in November.

However, the BBC was extremely reluctant to correct its story. Similarly, the Washington Post’s Max Fisher doubled down on his earlier false equivalence that implied there was no difference between Hamas and the IDF. Accordingly, Fisher now wrote in his new post on the subject:

“But, as I wrote in November when reports suggested that an Israeli strike had killed Mishrawi, does knowing which military’s errant round happened to have landed on this civilian home really determine the larger narrative of one of the world’s thorniest and most complicated conflicts? Does assigning blame for Mishrawi’s tragic death, awful as it may be, offer us any real insight into who holds the blame for 60 years of fighting? And is partitioning blame really going to serve either side particularly well?

It’s difficult to see how knowing whose rocket or missile killed Mishrawi would resolve the larger questions for which that debate is a proxy: responsibility for continuing the long-term conflict, for sparking the latest round of fighting in November, and for the Israeli and Palestinian civilians who suffer as a result. But these are notoriously thorny debates. As with so many protracted geopolitical conflicts, neither side comes out looking as angelic or demonic as its partisans might wish. In many ways, something as isolated as a single photo of a wounded or killed child offers a purer, cleaner, lower-risk way to talk about issues too messy to engage with directly. […]”

While this is pure nonsense on several levels, I will for now just note that if Fisher wants to see Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza as a “military” just like the IDF, he would have to hold them both to the same standard – which means he would have to deal with the fact that Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups intentionally target Israeli civilians and are jubilant if they manage to kill or maim them. The fact of the matter is that there wouldn’t be any photos of wounded or killed children from Gaza if Palestinian terror groups stopped using the territory they control as a launching pad for mortars, rockets and terror attacks on Israel.

Ali Abunimah and the Islamist reign of terror in Mali

The reign of terror imposed by armed Islamists gangs who seized control of northern Mali has been widely reported. Last spring, these groups took advantage of the destabilization that followed a coup in the country that was once considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies. In the areas they control, the Islamists proceeded to not only ruthlessly destroy ancient Muslim mausoleums that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but also to impose their brutal rule on the defenseless population.

Under the rather restrained headline “Mali: Islamist Armed Groups Spread Fear in North,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) has provided a fairly detailed report of the atrocities committed by the Islamists. According to HRW’s senior Africa researcher,

“The Islamist armed groups have become increasingly repressive as they have tightened their grip over northern Mali … Stonings, amputations [i.e. Sharia-sanctioned mutilations], and floggings have become the order of the day in an apparent attempt to force the local population to accept their world view. In imposing their brand of Sharia law, they have also meted out a tragically cruel parody of justice and recruited and armed children as young as 12.”

In December, the United Nations Security Council sanctioned an African-led military intervention in Mali; however, the deployment of these forces was only in the planning stage when Al-Qaeda linked groups recently made further advances. Following an appeal for urgent military aid from France by Mali’s government a few days ago, France promptly intervened to support the efforts of Mali’s armed forces to push back the Islamist advance. According to a Reuters report, “France’s intervention immediately tipped the military balance of power,” enabling Malian government forces to retake the town recently seized by the Islamists.

Reuters also reported that “a spokesman for al Qaeda’s north African arm AQIM urged France … to reconsider its intervention. ‘Stop your assault against us or you are digging your own sons’ graves.’”

This is how veteran “pro-Palestinian” activist Ali Abunimah commented on this development on Twitter:

Abunimah France Mali

In another tweet, Abunimah opined: “François Hollande must have gotten permission from Obama before declaring France’s glorious little war in Mali.”

Apparently, for a progressive “pro-Palestinian” activist like Ali Abunimah, there is nothing wrong with the reign of terror and destruction imposed by Islamists in Mali – but when a western country helps the armed forces of Mali to drive the Islamist terror groups back, it’s time to express outrage.

Since Abunimah is a regular Al Jazeera contributor – both for the website and as a studio guest – one could wonder if this is the kind of “nuance” that the New York Times editorial board had in mind when it warmly welcomed the news about the planned launch of Al Jazeera America.

Update:

This was also cross-posted at Harry’s Place.

In the meantime, some of Ali Abunimah’s fellow progressives have been active:

 AAs fellow progressives1

 AAs fellow progressives2

In case you wonder who Anjem Choudary is, here are a few lines from his Wikipedia entry (but there is much more…):

“Choudary is a vocal critic of the UK’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has praised the terrorists involved in the attacks of 11 September 2001, and 7 July 2005. He believes in the implementation of Sharia Law throughout the UK, and marched in protest at the Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy, following which he was prosecuted for organising an unlawful demonstration. He was also investigated, but not charged, for his 2006 comments regarding Pope Benedict XVI. Choudary receives little support from the mainstream UK Muslim population and has been largely criticised in the media. The French Interior Ministry has also permanently banned him from entering France.”

 And according to a report in the Egypt Independent, Jama’a al-Islamiya has also called for protests at the French embassy against the intervention in Mali.

Update2:

To round out the picture, it’s worthwhile noting that Iran’s Press TV reacted already back in December to the UN Security Council’s approval of an intervention in Mali with an article entitled “Mali new prey to West imperialist quest.”

Last but by no means least, the blog “Africa is a country” has a detailed post on the unfolding events in Mali, which includes also a paragraph that nicely summarizes who is opposing the intervention:

“Not everyone is in favor of the intervention. Let’s count some of the more vocal opponents—Oumar Mariko, Mali’s perpetual gadfly; French ex-Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who argues that it would be better to wait for the lions to lie down with the lambs; Paris-based Camerounian novelist Calixthe Beyala, plagiarist who argues that those Malians who would prefer not to live under a crude faux-Islamic vigilantism suffer from a plantation mentality; and some truly reprehensible protesters at the French embassy in London, who refuse to believe that most Malians are Muslims and don’t need religious instruction from Salafists. It’s hard to imagine a leakier ship of fools.”

The “truly reprehensible protesters at the French embassy in London” mentioned here are obviously the ones pictured above.

 

Molad – or: what’s wrong with the Israeli left

In a post entitled “Confessions of a lapsed leftist,” I tried to explain more than a year ago why my lifelong allegiance to the left had begun to crumble. Of course, many Israelis who had supported “Peace Now” in the 1990s and who had hoped that the negotiations at Camp David and Taba would result in a peace agreement went through a similar experience in view of the fact that the Palestinians chose to respond to Israel’s offers with the long and bloody “Al Aqsa”-Intifada.

The historian Benny Morris has repeatedly described the unfortunate learning process that many of us went through, most recently last fall in a long interview with Ha’aretz. The problem is that Israel’s left – which represented the peace camp – has not been able or willing to go through the same learning process. As a result, there are lots of politically homeless people like me in Israel, and I think the dizzying proliferation of new parties over the past few years is at least in part a reflection of this widespread homelessness.

Personally, I can’t say that I find any of the new options attractive or politically convincing and sound, and it is perhaps for this reason that I felt particular frustration when I recently discovered that a new left-wing Israeli think tank that had been established a year ago is apparently resolved to continue the left’s head-in-the-sand-approach. The two posts I wrote about the new organization were first published in The Algemeiner and on my Jerusalem Post blog; they are cross-posted below with some minor changes. Continue reading

UNdoing International Women’s Day

Just in time for International Women’s Day on March 8, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has apparently decided that one of its most urgent concerns should be blaming Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for “degrading” the living conditions of Palestinian women. That’s perhaps a good occasion to highlight what the CSW prefers to overlook – so here are just a few of the “degradations” women elsewhere in the Muslim and Arab world have to endure.

Let’s start out with this report about a new survey on how the so-called Arab Spring has affected women in the region:

“In honor of International Women’s Day, Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, asked a cross-section of female scholars, activists, business executives, journalists, politicians, and officials to comment on how women have fared in the Arab uprisings. The answers, especially from women living in the thick of it in Middle Eastern countries, are depressingly negative–and sometimes scathing.”

Then there is the recent report that Afghanistan’s president Karzai has endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by a council of Muslim clerics that has been characterized by activists as “a giant step backward for women’s rights in the country.” In addition to severe restrictions for women’s freedom of movement, this “code of conduct” reportedly allows a husband to beat his wife as long as there is a “Shariah-compliant reason.”

While Karzai has claimed that the clerics “did not put any limitations on women” and that the “code of conduct” simply reflects “the Shariah law of all Muslims and all Afghans,” his endorsement of the document has been interpreted “as part of his outreach to insurgents like the Taliban.”

At this link you can watch a clip from 2009 showing Taliban beating a young girl; and here’s a clip that documents the fate of a woman in Sudan who was accused of having violated Islamic standards of decency by wearing trousers under her full-length overcoat.

UPDATE:

Walter Russell Mead notes that Egypt marked International Women’s Day “by condemning the 1978 UN Convention Against Gender Discrimination as ‘incompatible with the values of Islamic sharia.’” Mead adds: “Need we tell you that the political forces behind this tastefully timed pronouncement were those empowered by the so-called Arab Spring?”

Dead Syrians and settlement construction

Where would you have to go to read that the Russian and Chinese veto of a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the bloody violence in Syria was “the same” as a US veto of a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction cast in February 2011 ?

“America was simply providing diplomatic cover for a systematic violation of human and civil rights by its regional ally. So there is something hollow about condemning Russia and China for doing the same.”

Welcome to the world of +972, a left-wing Israel-Palestine blog that “wants to sound the alarm on a Jewish state it believes is destroying itself.” Israelis don’t take much notice of the English-language publication, but outside of Israel, there is of course a large market for everything that is “critical” of the Jewish state. To amplify this criticism a bit, the German Heinrich Böll Stiftung supports +972 in the context of the foundation’s “differentiated and pluralistic agenda” in Israel, and since one of +972 co-founders has been awarded a scholarship by the British Council, he is currently busy “criticizing” Israel in London.

Of course, “criticizing” Israel also often means “criticizing” US support for Israel, and that’s what Noam Sheizaf is presumably hoping to do when he equates the Russian and Chinese veto – widely expected to embolden Assad to intensify his brutal crackdown on the Syrian opposition – with the US veto that prevented the umpteenth condemnation of Israeli settlement construction.

The US veto that Sheizaf decries as “providing diplomatic cover for a systematic violation of human and civil rights” was cast almost exactly a year ago, and it’s worthwhile to re-read the AP report from back then, because it ends by noting:

“Several countries took themselves off the list of co-sponsors of the final draft [of the resolution condemning Israel] including Syria, which didn’t think the resolution was strong enough, and Libya which wants a single state for Israelis and Palestinians.”

No doubt the principled stand of Assad’s Syria and Gaddafi’s Libya was appreciated back then by many of Israel’s “critics”.

Sheizaf of course knows full well that the settlement construction that the international community enthusiastically wanted to condemn yet another time has long been restricted to the major settlement blocs which every peace proposal has envisaged as part of Israel, in exchange for land swaps. It is also well-known that the built-up areas of the settlements “gobble up” less than 2 percent of the pre-1967 West Bank territories, including East Jerusalem.

Yet, Sheizaf still thinks that a veto preventing a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction is somehow comparable to a veto that prevents serious pressure on a tyrant who has been busy for months killing, imprisoning and torturing his own people. At the same time, Sheizaf himself points out:

“Estimates put the total number of casualties since the protests [in Syria] began at around 7,000, possibly more. This is not a civil war – it’s mass murder.”

But apparently, in the world of +972, stopping this mass murder is not really more important than condemning the construction of a few additional buildings in an already built-up neighborhood – in both cases, Israel’s “critics” will see “a systematic violation of human and civil rights.”

While I don’t have any illusions about a post-Assad regime being in any way less hostile towards Israel, I still wish the Syrians that the UN and all the activists that are so eager to fight for human rights when Israel is accused of violating them — even if it is just by building — would be as energetic and engaged when it comes to murderous atrocities that can’t be blamed on the Jewish state.

UPDATE:

Over at +972, Noam Sheizaf doubles down with a post on “American veto history: Protecting occupation, apartheid.” He refers to my post here as a “strange blog post, which in the usual spirit of right-wing propaganda, accuses me of opposing the UNSC resolution on Syria myself.”

In response, I have submitted a comment that has not yet been approved, where I write:

As the author of “this strange blog post”, I would like to know on what basis you justify your claims that I accuse you “of opposing the UNSC resolution on Syria myself.”

I don’t-because I don’t think that you oppose the resolution. I simply point out the undeniable fact that your post suggests an entirely inappropriate equivalency between the US veto against the umpteenth attempt to condemn Israeli construction in settlement blocks and the Russian/Chinese veto that is widely seen as a “license to kill” for Assad.

One additional point re. my supposed “right-wing” inclinations: So far, I haven’t even once (in my 30+ year life as a voter) voted for a party to the right of Labor. I’m not sure what I will vote in the next election, but writings like you publish here simply tell me that this is not the left I used to support.

A left that ignores all relevant context in order to argue that the US is really not much better as Russia and China is not a left I want to be part of.

Quote of the day

We come together today after a year of turmoil in the Middle East. Great challenges stand on the horizon.

People are demanding dignity and seeking liberty after generations of oppression. Extremism threatens fragile societies. Human rights continue to be trampled. Unrest has shaken the foundation of the political order from the straits of Gibraltar to the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea.

And what issue has this Council deemed the most pressing in its monthly debate on the Middle East?

Surprise, surprise…the status of municipal building applications in the West Bank.

In the last two monthly briefings by the Secretariat, barely a square inch of Jerusalem or the West Bank was left unexamined. Yet, entire Middle Eastern countries where people are being killed, repressed and tortured daily continue to go without mention.

[…]

How many times have members of this Council – and many others – repeated this statement: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the central conflict in the Middle East. If you solve that conflict, you solve all the other conflicts in the region.

Today one would ridicule that statement. It is obvious that Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, and many other conflicts in the Middle East have nothing to do with Israel. The constant repetition of the statement does not make it true.

And how many times have members of this Council – and many others – repeated: settlements are the primary obstacle to peace. The repetition of the statement also does not make it true.

The primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. The primary obstacle to peace is the so-called “claim of return.” Let me repeat that: the major hurdle to peace is the Palestinian’s insistence on the so-called “claim of return.”

You will never hear Palestinian leaders say, not even here in this Council, “two states for two peoples”. [...]

You won’t hear them say “two states for two peoples” because today the Palestinian leadership is calling for an independent Palestinian state, but insists that its people return to the Jewish state. This would mean the destruction of Israel.

The idea that Israel will be flooded with millions of Palestinians will never be accepted. The international community knows it. The Palestinian leadership knows it. But the Palestinian people aren’t hearing it. In a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion last November, 90%, and I repeat, 90% of Palestinians said that they would not give up the so-called “claim of return.” This gap between their perception and reality is – and will remain – the major obstacle to peace.

Since the Palestinian leadership refuses to tell the Palestinian people the truth, the international community has the responsibility to tell them the truth. You have a responsibility to stand up and say that the so-called “claim of return” is a non-starter.

Yet, many around this table who never miss an opportunity to tell Israel what it has to do for peace –conveniently lose their voices when it comes time to tell the Palestinian people about the basic compromises they will have to make for peace.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prosor at the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, January 24, 2012.

Making a mockery of human rights

There is a straight line from the UN’s obsessive focus on condemning Israel to the cynical decision of the Arab League to appoint “the world’s worst human rights observer” as the head of its mission to monitor violence in Syria.

As UN Watch noted in a report on the first few years of UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) operation:

The 47-nation body has condemned Israel in 80% of its country censures, in 20 of 25 resolutions. The other 5 texts criticized North Korea once, and Myanmar four times.  The Council has ignored the UN’s other 189 countries, including the world’s worst abusers. While Darfur was addressed several times, these resolutions were non-condemnatory, often praising Sudan for “cooperation.”

This dismal record is hardly surprising in view of the fact that even the worst human rights violators are eligible to serve on the UNHRC – while the world’s only Jewish state is excluded, since the Arab and Muslim states will not admit Israel as member of the Asian regional group: I’ve called it Apartheid, UN-style.

Yet another illustration of the limitless hypocrisy that is so commonplace at the UN was the recent nomination of Syria to two committees dealing with human rights, and the approval of this nomination by the UNESCO Executive Board.

After making a mockery of human rights for so long, the Arab League probably couldn’t imagine that anyone would notice how cynical it is that its mission to Syria is headed by the Sudanese General Mohammad Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi:

Dabi may be the unlikeliest leader of a humanitarian mission the world has ever seen. He is a staunch loyalist of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity for his government’s policies in Darfur. And Dabi’s own record in the restive Sudanese region, where he stands accused of presiding over the creation of the feared Arab militias known as the “janjaweed,” is enough to make any human rights activist blanch.

If past experience is any guide, it is unfortunately not really true that human rights activists always “blanch” (or blush) when human rights abusers play human rights defenders — and given the composition of the UNHRC and some other UN human rights groups, Dabi is actually not such an unlikely leader for a “humanitarian” mission.

Unsurprisingly, the Arab League’s intrepid human rights monitor from Sudan told reporters after his mission’s first day in Syria “that the observers had seen ‘nothing frightening’.”

There were always victims of human rights abuses who had to pay a painful price for the mockery that was made of human rights – this time, it may be the turn of the Syrians.

 

Anti-racism, UN-style

As a follow-up to my last post about the UN, it’s worthwhile highlighting a new report by Anne Bayefsky on the UN’s Durban III proceedings. Some of the contributions listed by Bayefsky include:

• The foreign minister of Tunisia, co-chair of one of the roundtables, said that the Durban anniversary provided an opportunity “to highlight…first and foremost, the Palestinian people” so as to avoid “exacerbating intercultural tensions.”
• The foreign minister of Iran ranted about “the racist Zionist regime” while proclaiming the DDPA [2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action] to be “one of the richest record of achievement of humanity in today’s world against racism.”
• The Lebanese minister of foreign affairs denied the meaning of anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is not known in the Arab world because Arab nations are Semitic.” He then manifested his own anti-Semitism by objecting to the “Jewish character of Israel” as “contrary to any vision of a future based on peace and tolerance.”
• The Syrian UN ambassador complained about “unpleasant practices in our region” – by which he didn’t mean his own government’s habit of butchering its people – but “the racist concept of a ‘Jewish state of Israel,” “the Facist racism of Israel” and “the mass racist violations by Israel.”

Durban III was also a golden opportunity for countries to attack the West, undermine democratic freedoms and play dress-up as a human rights advocate.

• The deputy foreign minister of Cuba railed against “subjugated” Palestinians and against institutionalized racism “in Europe and North America.”
• The Islamic Republic of Mauritania hailed Durban’s “significant achievements, in particular, condemning slavery,” and Mauritania’s stellar record of following Durban’s directions – despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are enslaved in Mauritania and that its government jails anti-slavery activists.

The Saudi Arabian “undersecretary for multi-relations affairs” never showed up, but, in an extraordinary breach of protocol, the UN uploaded his “speech” to the Durban III site anyway.
Here are the words of the world’s leading practitioner of gender apartheid and the country which criminalizes public displays of religion other than those of Islam: “Islam calls upon us to refrain from offending other religions and faiths;” “the Kingdom established…agencies that call for the spread of human-rights culture;” “freedom of speech should never be used as a tool for injustice;” and “the highest degree of racism and discrimination…the clearest illustration of such comprehensive racial discrimination lies…against the Palestinian people.”

But according to Bayefsky’s report, it wasn’t just Israel that was singled out for censure – as the other well known big-time racist power, the US was also taken to task for its abominable conduct.

That sounds like “mission accomplished” for the anti-racists at the UN.