Tag Archives: Arab world

Quote of the day

“The person who comes out of all this looking smartest is Samuel Huntington. His book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ was widely and unfairly trashed as predicting an inevitable conflict between Islam and the west, and he was also accused of ‘demonizing’ Islam. That’s not what I get from his book. As I understand it, Huntington’s core thesis was that while good relations between countries and people with roots in different civilizations are possible and ought to be promoted, civilizational fault lines often lead to misunderstandings and tensions that can (not must, but can) lead to violence and when conflicts do occur, civilizational differences can make those conflicts worse.

The last few days are a textbook example of the forces he warned about.”

Walter Russell Mead, The Middle East Mess Part One: Over There. I’m really glad that Professor Mead has seized this opportunity to remind us of Huntington’s important book and to highlight his view – with which I fully agree – that the “Clash of Civilizations” has been unfairly maligned. I think there can be little doubt that many of the negative reactions to Huntington’s book were motivated by a “political correctness” which took it for granted that it was the West’s responsibility to prevent a “clash of civilizations” — and part of this prevention was to decry Huntington’s analysis.

As I have pointed out previously, one of the best illustrations of this mindset was provided just a few days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine reportedly declared: “We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs.” According to Vedrine, such a clash was a “huge […] monstrous trap” that had been “conceived by the instigators of the assault.”

In a way, the notion of the “monstrous trap” also seems reflected in Mead’s observations – but importantly, he makes clear that this is first and foremost an inner-Islamic issue:

“Unfortunately, Islamic radicals are deliberately hoping to promote a clash of civilizations in the belief that a climate of polarization will strengthen their political power in the world of Islam. Attacking the embassy in Cairo is an effort to push Egyptian opinion in a more radical direction, but the radicals hope that this is part of a larger push that will bring them to power across the Islamic world. Like Boko Haram in Nigeria, which hopes to provoke a religious war with the Christians partly in order to achieve power in the Muslim North, radicals use the prospect of a clash of civilizations to further their own cause throughout the troubled Islamic world.

The US and more generally the west (including Russia, so perhaps I should say the ‘Christian world’ instead) has tried several approaches to this situation and so far we haven’t been happy with the results. Confrontation, reconciliation, cooperation: there are good arguments to be made for them all, but in practice none of them seem to make the problem go away.”

There is a simple explanation why it is so hard to make this “problem” go away: Islamic radicals have more popular support among Muslims than western commentators and analysts like to acknowledge, and hostility to America and the West is enormously popular throughout the Arab and Muslim world. As Husain Haqqani recently emphasized in his excellent commentary on “Manipulated Outrage and Misplaced Fury:”

“At the heart of Muslim street violence is the frustration of the world’s Muslims over their steady decline for three centuries, a decline that has coincided with the rise and spread of the West’s military, economic and intellectual prowess.”

Haqqani goes on to argue:

“Once the Muslim world embraces freedom of expression, it will be able to recognize the value of that freedom even for those who offend Muslim sensibilities. More important: Only in a free democratic environment will the world’s Muslims be able to debate the causes of their powerlessness, which stirs in them greater anger than any specific action on the part of Islam’s Western detractors.

Until then, the U.S. would do well to remember Osama bin Laden’s comment not long after the Sept. 11 attacks: ‘When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.’ America should do nothing that enables Islamists to portray the nation as the weak horse.”

 

Quote of the day

“One needs to look no further than the Hamas constitution to see the protocols of the Elders of Zion baked into the text verbatim. Egyptian TV shows profligate conspiracy theories thick with vast webs of shadowy individuals, often Zionist, who are responsible for every misfortune that befalls Egypt.

These beliefs should not be dismissed as fringe, or just explained away as cultural relativism. The public powerlessness at the hands of powerful conspiratorial others breeds victimhood, xenophobia and hate.

These beliefs are just as toxic and noxious as racism, yet they receive far less attention. While the ugliness of racism is spotted and condemned, these beliefs are often seen as kooky and tangential. This complacency is dooming generation after generation, whether in their countries of origin or newfound Western homes, to a culture of victimhood and irresponsibility. How can I be to blame for the misfortunes that befall me if there is always someone else, hiding behind a curtain of secrecy, to blame?”

Jewish conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism, an excellent guest post by Joel Braunold at Harry’s Place; also available at Braunold’s blog and at Ha’aretz.

I couldn’t agree more with Braunold’s view that the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that are so popular in the Middle East are too often ignored, and the very real poisonous effects they are having are generally underestimated. I’ve repeatedly written on conspiracy theories; one of my older JPost entries, entitled “Ugly lies and ugly truths”, includes several examples of commentaries that do explain the crucial role of conspiracy theories – here are the relevant paragraphs:

“It has long been one of the Arab world’s favorite memes: whenever there is any criticism of anything Arab, respond with criticizing or blaming the US and Israel. One of the most memorable examples of this reflex was provided a few years ago in an interview conducted by a Swiss magazine with the editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera. Back then, in December 2006, Jeff Weintraub highlighted this interview as an example for the widespread Arab view that Israel is really the root cause for all the Middle East’s problems.

Weintraub argued that “when mass delusions come to occupy such a central role in a political culture, they have real effects, and generally pernicious ones. Furthermore, by dint of endless repetition, this delusional world-view is coming to take on the status of ‘common sense’ in western discussions of the Middle East as well.”

Fast forward a few years to January 2011, and you have a choice of articles that read like a sequel to Weintraub’s observations.

In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens commented on the various conspiracy theories that recently circulated in Egypt. He argued that “the ultimate source of Arab backwardness […] lies in the debasement of the Arab mind. When the only diagnosis Egyptians can offer for their various predicaments – ranging from sectarian terrorism to a recent spate of freak shark attacks at a Sinai beach resort – is that it’s all a Zionist plot, you know that the country is in very deep trouble.”

In Tablet Magazine, Lee Smith focused on the widespread tendency of Western media to uncritically report even the most absurd accusations leveled against Israel as if the charges were based on well-established facts. In his conclusion, Smith argued:

“[The] Arabs are not winning an information war against Israel, nor anything else for that matter. Rather, the stories and lies they tell to delegitimize the Jewish state are part and parcel of the war that they have been waging against themselves, and with stunning success. The tragedy is that everyone knows where the Arabs are heading, because the signs of failure and self-destructiveness couldn’t be clearer—poverty, violence, despotism, illiteracy, mistreatment of women, and the persecution of confessional minorities, like Egypt’s Coptic Christian population. The Western journalists and NGOs who repeat and credential these lies are doing no honor to either the values of their own society or those of the Arabs; they’re merely helping a culture kill itself.”

The problem is that it’s not about values: ugly lies about Israel will remain popular wherever it seems advantageous – ideologically, politically, or economically – to suppress ugly truths about the Arab world.

The fall of Assad and the end of the Cold War

Guest post by AKUS*

 In a quiet office overlooking the Potomac River we can imagine that an old man lifts a glass to his lips and toasts himself.

As he no doubt  grimly watches the carnage in Syria on Al Jazeera, Henry Kissinger is witnessing the culmination of the strategy he put in place 40 years ago to end Soviet and then Russian influence in the Middle East. Starting with his shuttle diplomacy in 1973 at the end of the Yom Kippur War, the Soviets have gradually lost every foothold they had in this geopolitically critical region. Now the Russians are about to be expelled from Syria with the imminent fall of Bashar al Assad.

Although the Soviet military had in large part left Egypt in 1972, possibly to mislead Israel regarding Sadat’s intention to start a war in 1973, a substantial number of Soviet advisors remained until the Yom Kippur War[1]. As part of the peace agreement with Israel engineered by Kissinger, the US agreed to provide Egypt with billions in aid and military equipment. While Egypt viewed US aid as a win gained by its partial success in the war, Kissinger saw it as leverage to successfully wean Anwar Sadat and the Egyptian military from remaining Soviet influence through the supply of superior Western weaponry and military training to replace the outdated Soviet equipment the Egyptians lost in the war. Responding to the combination of peace agreement and aid, Sadat is reported to have said: “Soviets can give you arms but only the United States can give you a solution.”

Egypt has been a key state in the Middle East since at least the end of WW II. Under Nasser, who came to power in a coup in 1952, Egypt steered away from “colonial influence”. After a variety of Western misadventures such as the 1956 Suez Campaign led by Britain and France, Egypt came ever deeper within the Soviet ambit in a “non-aligned” strategy intended to play off the USA and the USSR against each other to Egypt’s benefit.

Nasser’s apparent success led to uprisings against colonial powers in other Arab countries. Egypt became a political and ideological leader for Arab countries and Nasser’s pro-Soviet bias was viewed with concern by the USA. As his influence grew, Nasser attempted to create a vast Pan-Arab federation with the abortive United Arab Republic (UAR), combining Egypt and Syria into the UAR for the brief period between 1958 and 1961.

But even though the UAR proved short-lived, it was clear that the Arab world swung between Cairo and Damascus when it came to political leadership, and in both countries the Communist party made strong inroads until crushed by Nasser in Egypt and the Ba’ath in Syria (which led to a split among the Ba’athists and the rise of the Ba’ath in Iraq). Nevertheless, in Cairo and Damascus Soviet influence greatly exceeded that of the USA, and aid and weapons flowed from the USSR in unprecedented quantities to both countries. Leveraging Egypt away from Soviet influence would be an enormous setback to Soviet aspirations in the Middle East.

Looking around the region in the early ‘70s, Kissinger would have noted that another significant area of Soviet influence was Iraq. The Soviets had established close relations with Iraq after the murder of Faisal II, essentially a British puppet ruler, in 1958. The Iraqis saw the Soviets as an effective counter to their former colonial rulers. Increasing ties with the USSR demonstrated that they were shedding their colonial past and dependence on their former rulers. In a similar manner, Gaddafi’s Libya welcomed the Soviets who were expelled from Egypt in 1972. Soviet influence extended from Baghdad to Tripoli. Western countries stopped arms sales to Libya, which only increased Soviet influence following a large arms deal in 1975. This influence continued to a greater or lesser degree until Gaddafi was finally toppled last year.

From the point of view of an American strategist desiring more influence in the Middle East, the geopolitical situation was made worse after the decisive defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. With the USA clearly supporting Israel, the Soviets were able to expand their influence even further by replenishing the destroyed weapons of Egypt and Syria. The British continued to supply Jordan, the third major opponent of Israel in the war and the remnant of Churchill’s Palestinian strategy, but the Iraqis, too, swung deeper into the Soviet camp. The USA was able to retain influence only through the Saudis and the Gulf petro-states (and for a time in Iran until the Shah was toppled in 1979).

Things began to swing in the USA’s favor when Kissinger and Nixon managed to move beyond containment of the USSR in the West through NATO to encirclement in the East via the opening to China. Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 while pretending to be ill during a visit to Pakistan. This could be viewed as the first real step to reducing the influence of the Soviet Union by providing China with a second super-power with which to do business, economically and politically.

Still, the Soviets continued pressing in the Middle East. Their ultimately disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to support a Marxist government against the mujahedeen indicated that they, in turn, were establishing an Islamic bulwark from Syria, through Iraq, and into Afghanistan against the USA that could also exert pressure on the Saudis and Gulf states. The role of the USA in equipping and supporting the Afghan fighters in order to oppose the Soviets is well known, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the invasion. The last Soviet troops were pulled out of Afghanistan by Gorbachev on February 15, 1989. The withdrawal of the Soviet Union had begun. The first step to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the retreat from Eastern Europe, long a goal of US policy, had been taken. The Middle East beckoned.

Kissinger was always at hand as various additional dominoes began falling in his favor. His shuttle diplomacy in 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War wrested Egypt from Soviet influence, for example. Still, not everything went his way or could be planned for – Syria and Iraq remained in the Soviet and then Russian sphere. Libya was a setback, and he could not have anticipated the role of Afghanistan in curbing Soviet and Russian ambitions. Nevertheless, the enormous influence of Egypt in the Arab world was sufficient to reduce the Soviet role in the area significantly and expand the arc of US influence from the Saudis to the border with Libya. The French kept Libya’s western border controlled through their influence in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

If his goal was to push the Soviets back into Russia, Kissinger was able to influence US policy in the Middle East even after he left office as unexpected opportunities presented themselves.

Iraq, despite all its complexities, had the advantage, from Kissinger’s point of view, of offering a new opportunity to push the post-Soviet Russians further out of the Middle East. The development of a strong group of senior advisors in Washington who envisaged the fall of Iraq post 9/11 as leading to a more democratic Middle East – that is, a more Western-leaning Middle East – added leverage to Kissinger’s attempts to complete the Middle East puzzle. Out of office, but wielding considerable influence as an advisor, Kissinger met regularly with G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as Bob Woodward later reported [2]. It is not difficult to imagine that neocons leading the charge on Iraq such as Richard Perle, Doug Stief, and Rumsfeld were influenced by this grandmaster of the global game in developing their ideas about the centrality of Iraq in the Middle East.

Kissinger continues to argue for the centrality of Iraq. As the debate over withdrawal raged in Washington, Kissinger argued for maintaining US influence in Iraq, highlighting its geopolitical importance in an article in the Washington Post on February 3, 2010 [3]:

“Yet while Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude on our consciousness. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will not alter the geostrategic importance of the country even as it alters that context.

Mesopotamia has been the strategic focal point of the region for millennia. Its resources affect countries far away. The dividing line between the Shiite and the Sunni worlds runs through its center — indeed, through its capital. Iraq’s Kurdish provinces rest uneasily between Turkey and Iran and indigenous adversaries within Iraq. It cannot be in the American interest to leave the region as a vacuum.”

Moreover, Kissinger identified radical Islam as a new and dangerous player that must be dealt with, and raised the question to what degree US success in Iraq will affect the war against radical Islam:

“Nor is it possible to separate Iraq from the conflict with revolutionary jihad. The outcome in Iraq will influence the psychological balance in the war against radical Islam, specifically whether the ongoing withdrawal from Iraq comes to be perceived as a retreat from the region or a more effective way to sustain it.”

Although the overall outcome of the war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan may not be all that Kissinger would have liked to see, from one perspective the USA achieved a greater aim – the USSR and then Russia was eliminated almost entirely from the Middle East. Except in one country – Syria.

With the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the last domino owned by the Russian inheritors of Soviet influence in the Middle East is being pushed over. It is clear that the Western powers are supporting the rebels directly or through proxies such as the Saudis, while Russia and China refuse to allow direct intervention.

The Russians are also past masters of the great game, and realize that they have nothing to lose by continuing their support for the Assad regime. If, through massive force of arms, Assad remains in power, they will retain their foothold in the only country in the Middle East where they still have influence. If, as appears increasingly likely, he falls, they will have lost nothing by supporting him since it is clear that they will be sent packing by the rebels whom they refused to support in the early going. (The Chinese expect to be able to come in as neutrals and reap their share of the gains whoever wins, simply by supporting neither side until a resolution is reached.  They after all, care nothing for either side and possibly score points with undesirable but powerful leaders around the world for demonstrating reluctance to engage in regime change).

If the Russians are pushed out of Syria, the old man in Washington will see the fulfillment of the grand design he set in motion 40 years ago. From Cairo to Beijing, Kabul to Baghdad, he has helped move the pieces on the board with one major goal in mind – the removal of the Soviets, and then Russia, from influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When Syria, the last domino, falls, his strategy will have been fulfilled.

His time is almost over, and it will need a new Kissinger to devise the strategy to win the emerging multi-player global game – the USA versus the Chinese thrust for Asian hegemony, and the world against radical Islam’s global ambitions.  We have already seen Leon Panetta touring South East Asia, and the increasing awareness of the threat of what Charles Krauthammer has termed the “Islamic Ascendency”, as opposed to the increasingly meaningless “Arab Awakening”.

Perhaps while Panetta was encouraging Kissinger’s old enemy, the Vietnamese, to join an American alliance, Kissinger also smiled grimly at the strange way in which his actions in the Vietnamese conflict and its resolution almost 40 years ago have played out. But that game, and dealing with Islamic radicals, is for others to take care of.

He can toast himself while thinking that his work has been done. With the fall of Syria and the eviction of the Russians, the Cold War will truly be over.

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* AKUS is an Israeli-American who gained so much notoriety as a critic of the Guardian’s Israel coverage that he was banned from the site and is now free to channel his energies into occasional contributions for CifWatch. This is his first post for The Warped Mirror – with many more to come, hopefully!


[1] http://russiapedia.rt.com/on-this-day/july-18/ In July 1972, a large number of the Soviet troops left Egypt. They, however, belonged to the regular forces who, by 1972, had already fulfilled their mission and were dismissed, while the Soviet military advisors resumed their service in Egypt and the flow of military supplies to Egypt not only did not cease, but was increased.

[2] In 2006, it was reported in the book State of Denial by Bob Woodward that Kissinger was meeting regularly with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to offer advice on the Iraq War. Kissinger confirmed in recorded interviews with Woodward that the advice was the same as he had given in an August 12, 2005 column in The Washington Post: “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.”

A very short history of antisemitism

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is widely admired as an eminent intellectual and a great writer. His most recent article provides an excellent example of his remarkable ability to bring the crucial aspects of a complex subject into sharp focus. Writing about the widely criticized decision of a German court to effectively outlaw the circumcision of male babies or children, Sacks addresses the broader context and outlines in just a few sentences some of the salient features of European antisemitism:

“I have argued for some years that an assault on Jewish life always needs justification by the highest source of authority in the culture at any given age. Throughout the Middle Ages the highest authority in Europe was the Church. Hence anti-Semitism took the form of Christian anti-Judaism.

In the post-enlightenment Europe of the 19th century the highest authority was no longer the Church. Instead it was science. Thus was born racial anti-Semitism, based on two disciplines regarded as science in their day: the “scientific study of race” and the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel. Today we know that both of these were pseudo-sciences, but in their day they were endorsed by some of the leading figures of the age.

Since Hiroshima and the Holocaust, science no longer holds its pristine place as the highest moral authority. Instead, that role is taken by human rights. It follows that any assault on Jewish life — on Jews or Judaism or the Jewish state — must be cast in the language of human rights. Hence the by-now routine accusation that Israel has committed the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide and crimes against humanity. This is not because the people making these accusations seriously believe them — some do, some don’t. It is because this is the only form in which an assault on Jews can be stated today.”

The observations offered by Sacks here are all the more important because nowadays, we tend to think of racism and bigotry as somehow “primitive” resentments that are fed by ignorance and a lack of education. But Sacks is obviously right to point out that historically, antisemitism was justified by the elites – first the Church, and then by “science.” Indeed, it was the effort to introduce a pseudo-scientific racial component into the debates about Jews in Germany that motivated the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to use the term “antisemitism” instead of Jew-hatred.

Obviously, the assertion that contemporary antisemitism has found a new source of moral authority by utilizing the language of human rights will be denounced most loudly by those who view Israel as a serial perpetrator of monstrous human rights violations that fully justify singling out the Jewish state at the UN and in political campaigns.

In this context, it is interesting to consider the writings of Anthony Julius, author of the widely acclaimed book “The Trials of the Diaspora,” which provides a comprehensive history of antisemitism in England. In a short excerpt of the book, Julius argues that in the past few decades, socialist agitation for revolutionary transformation has been replaced by NGO activism:

“A human rights discourse now dominates politics; there is a powerful human rights ‘movement’. It is the new secular religion of our time. […] This new ‘human rights-ism’ accords great value to the United Nations – notwithstanding its inability to enforce its decisions, and its refusal to make practical demands of its members to be democratic or respect the human rights of their citizens. […]

This is, in any event, a post-left, one reconciled to the impossibility of revolutionary transformations […] its transitional demands have been resurrected in the shrill discourse of human rights and their ‘abuses’. The new militant is not the party sectarian but the NGO activist.”

It was of course exactly this kind of militant NGO activism – with the Jewish state as its preferred target – that prompted Robert Bernstein, the founder and long-time chairman of Human Rights Watch, to “publicly join the group’s critics” and denounce its obsessive focus on Israel. Eventually, Bernstein decided that it was best to start all over again, and he founded a new organization named Advancing Human Rights.

Yet another revealing feature of the “human right-ism” of recent years is that since Israel is its favorite target, antisemitism is usually either ignored or even excused as understandable “anti-Zionism” or entirely justified “criticism” of Israeli policies.  Needless to say, such views have been eagerly embraced by Arab and Muslim regimes. In this context it is also important to see that the observations of Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks about Europe’s Jew-hatred are equally valid for the Muslim world.

Just like the medieval church legitimized Christian anti-Judaism, Muslim religious texts, including the Koran, provide plenty of “justifications” for Jew-hatred, and Jewish communities under Muslim rule experienced not only the indignities associated with their subordination as “dhimmi”, but also outbreaks of violence and communal persecution.

Even in our times, Muslim scholars see nothing wrong with rehashing quotes and passages from Islamic texts that incite hatred of and violence against Jews. And while it is often emphasized that Nazi-style antisemitism is “just” an import in Muslim countries, it has been championed right from the very beginning by influential Muslim leaders, most notably the notorious Haj Amin Al-Husseini – also known as “Hitler’s mufti.” Nowadays, there are Muslim leaders like the very popular cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi who combine traditional Islamic incitement against Jews and praise for the Holocaust. In an Al-Jazeera program in January 2009, Qaradawi declared:

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption […] The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.”

As Mark Gardner and Dave Rich have documented on the basis of Qaradawi’s writings and statements:

“Qaradawi personifies the combination of theological anti-Judaism, modern European antisemitism and conflict-driven Judeophobia that make up contemporary Islamist attitudes to Jews.”

Yet, Qaradawi is widely regarded – and indeed admired – as the “Global Mufti.” The fact that this “Global Mufti” of our times is an avowed Jew-hater who is a fervent believer in a divinely ordained battle between “all Muslims and all Jews” is clearly of no concern to the champions of “human right-ism” who would eagerly mobilize to denounce any Christian or Jewish leader espousing views even remotely comparable to the ones Qaradawi has long been preaching.

The Global Mufti: The Phenomenon of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Bettina Graf, Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd (20 July 2009).

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day

Rubin: In view of all this, how to explain the great optimism of the Western media beginning with the Arab spring in January 2011 concerning the prospects of the democratic-revolutionary movement — the dawn of a new glorious age?

Laqueur: I wish I had an answer. To read now the comments of the correspondents of the New York Times reminds one of Alice in Wonderland. They were so utterly mistaken. It is probably unfair to single out one specific newspaper because the illusions were so widely shared even by the experts. In part, the roots of the misunderstandings were, of course, psychological. For so long, reports from the Middle East had been negative and depressing: autocratic governments, riots, terrorism, corruption, civil wars, and so on. And now suddenly, there was this great, intoxicating promise of freedom and progress — a beacon of light to the whole world….

There was a total misreading of the Egyptian situation and the prospect and the reasons should be examined very, very carefully.”

Barry Rubin, An Interview with Historian Walter Laqueur on the Arab Spring.

Laqueur may be right to argue that it would be important to critically examine the pre-dominant “Alice-in-Wonderland”-reporting and commentary on the so-called “Arab Spring,” but there is little reason to think that there will really be serious efforts to do so – not least because a more realistic view of the Middle East would shatter some of the most cherished media “narratives” about the Arab conflict with Israel.

However, the BBC did have an investigation of its “Arab Spring” coverage, which reportedly uncovered only relatively minor shortcomings. By contrast, we will probably never know the findings of the 2004 Balen Report on the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the BBC fought – and won – a long and costly legal battle to keep the report from being published.

 

Palestine politics at the Olympics

The upcoming Olympic Games in London mark the 40th anniversary of the massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorist during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. But there won’t be any official commemoration, and it’s not hard to figure out why. As Jennifer Lipman put it:

“It seems clear that the IOC [International Olympic Committee] is worried about rocking the boat, angering Arab nations by honouring men who were killed by Palestinian terrorists. It’s afraid to take Israel’s side; it does not see it as a gamble worth the cost.”

To be sure, the Olympic Games are supposed to be apolitical, but the IOC’s refusal to commemorate the attack during the Munich Olympics is inevitably political. And the message is clear: the IOC accepts that up to this very day, Arab – and indeed Muslim – nations are unwilling to tolerate anything that would imply a condemnation of terrorism against Israeli Olympic athletes.

Lipman argues that this ultimately violates the Olympic charter, which “is clear on prejudice, namely, that ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.’”

But the anti-discrimination provisions of the Olympic charter are probably not taken too seriously when it comes to the world’s only Jewish state. As one example, consider the fact that the National Olympic Committees are organized according to regions and that Israel is a European member, while Palestine is an Asian member.

It seems that the discriminatory dynamics at work here are similar to the one at the UN, where Israel was for decades the only UN member state excluded from a UN regional grouping because the Arab states opposed Israel’s membership in the Asian Group, which would be the appropriate geographic regional group.

Interestingly enough, a recent Reuters report mentions that “the Palestinians compete in Asia and Israel are affiliated with European sports bodies,” but no explanation for this curious fact is provided. Perhaps it would be inconvenient to acknowledge that Israel was originally a member of the Asian Games Federation, but was excluded in 1981/82, when this organization was succeeded by the Olympic Council of Asia – which, incidentally, has its headquarters in Kuwait City and is currently chaired by Sheikh Fahad Al-Sabah.

True, this exclusion of Israel looks a whole lot like Apartheid in the most literal sense – but since it keeps the world’s only Jewish state apart from the Arab and Muslim states that are staunchly opposed to any “normalization”, it’s a “politically correct” form of Apartheid that is tolerated by the UN and the IOC, and is hardly ever even mentioned in the media.

Judging from some of the media reports that have been published in the run-up to this year’s Olympic Games in London, there is every reason to expect more of this “political correctness.”  Both a recent BBC article and a Reuters report follow a similar recipe: Let’s pretend it’s all about sports, while not missing any opportunity to uncritically echo the Palestinian “narrative” and give Palestinian sport personalities ample opportunity to voice their political views – and obviously, all this without even hinting at the unique Palestinian contribution to Olympic terror.

Consequently, Palestinian judoka Maher Abu Rmeileh simply has lots of reason “to be proud as he will carry the Palestinian flag at the opening ceremony on July 27.”

The recent BBC article on Rmeileh (Rmelleh) opens with the claim:

“After struggling to pursue sport for years because of the impact of the conflict with Israel, Palestinians now have a rare chance to celebrate success.”

Abu Rmelleh is presented as “modest” and is quoted as saying:

“I’m so happy to be representing Palestine. And it’s great that I’m from Jerusalem, the capital.”

Immediately following this quote, there is a subheader that reads: “Transcending politics”

Here’s one example of what the BBC means by ““Transcending politics:”

“For the past two years one man has been behind the promotion of sports in the Palestinian territories – Jibril Rajoub, former head of security for the Palestinian Authority, now President of the Palestinian Football Federation and of the Palestinian Olympic Committee.

His latest initiative is an annual football tournament to commemorate the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’, the Palestinian name for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced. […]

‘Sport transcends politics,’ Mr Rajoub says, but he is also aware of its political message, seeing it as ‘a peaceful means of exposing Palestinian suffering’.

It’s not the first time that the BBC quotes Jibril Rajoub: as I noted in a post on the “Palestinian blood and soil fixation,” a BBC report about a World Cup qualification game from July last year quoted Rajoub as saying:

“Palestinian blood, Palestinian flesh, the Palestinian national anthem on Palestinian territory. It’s good. It makes me feel proud.”

Apparently, nobody sees anything wrong with that if it’s the President of the Palestinian Football Federation and of the Palestinian Olympic Committee who says it. I guess it would be a whole different story if a German official said it: German blood, German flesh, the German national anthem on German territory…  Even if you substitute French, English , or any other nationality, it doesn’t sound much better.

But as it turns out, the President of the Palestinian Football Federation and of the Palestinian Olympic Committee sometimes sounds even worse (or maybe that’s just me?): During a recent event for the first Forum for Arab women sports journalists, Rajoub declared to the roaring applause of the audience:

“Normalization with the occupation is impossible, impossible, impossible, with no exceptions…
I understand by normalization that the relationship between me and you will be normal, that we’ll play [sports] together and there will be a joint program. I say: There will never be normalization in sports. Next time we are prepared to bring the Executive Committee in helicopters… so they will see no Jews, no Satans, no Zionist sons of bitches. Come by helicopter and go back by helicopter.”

Well, there won’t be any journalist who would ask Mr. Rajoub how he feels about the Palestinian terror attack during the Munich Olympic Games 40 years ago. But perhaps the sympathetic media coverage of all things Palestinian and Palestinian sports in particular will bring some donations that would allow the President of the Palestinian Olympic Committee to realize his vision of how best to avoid the awful sight of “Jews, … Satans, … Zionist sons of bitches.”

And perhaps, if Mr. Rajoub attends the London Olympcis, somebody will arrange helicopter transportation for him to avoid any encounters with the local “Jews, … Satans, … Zionist sons of bitches?”

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

Here is a gripping piece remembering the Munich massacre and, importantly, emphasizing its grim legacy that is usually left politely unmentioned: Gerald Seymour “The horrific legacy of Munich ’72: I was there the day Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes.

(via @RichMillett)

Update:

The BBC article I linked to ends with a section that describes “the Israeli occupation” as the “biggest obstacle of all” for Palestinian athletes. As an example, the BBC refers to

“the case of Mahmoud Sarsak, a footballer from Gaza, detained by Israel as he set off to compete in a match in the West Bank in 2009. […] Israel says Sarsak belongs to the Islamic Jihad militant group and is a threat to national security, an allegation Sarsak denies.

In the Israel-Palestinian conflict, even the beautiful game can turn ugly.”

Sad, isn’t it?

Well, Sarsak has just been released, and that’s how he was welcomed back home in Gaza:

“senior Islamic Jihad officials were present during a welcoming ceremony for him in Gaza City on Tuesday, and one of the group’s leaders, Nafez Azzam, praised the soccer player as “one of our noble members.”
Later Tuesday, as Sarsak approached his family home in the Rafah refugee camp, dozens of Islamic Jihad gunmen fired in the air from SUVs and motorcycles. Women waved black Islamic Jihad banners from nearby homes and streets were decorated with huge photos of the player.”

Update:

As Adam Holland just reports on his blog, the BBC actually published a piece on Sarsak’s release and his return to Gaza, failing to mention that Islamic Jihad acknowledged him as a member: “It seems that BBC had a predetermined idea of the story they wanted to report and didn’t let the facts interfere with it.”

 

Cheering Assad for Palestine

The English version of Al Akhbar – a site that has been aptly described as the “Lebanese address for the red-green alliance of leftists and Islamists” – published this week a post that provides an excellent example of the delusions induced by full-fledged Palestine derangement syndrome.

The author of the post is Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a former assistant professor of political science at the Lebanese American University and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center (CMEC), where she was billed as a “leading expert on Hizbollah.”  She now has a blog named “Counter-hegemony unit: A propagandist-in-chief’s war on intellectual imperialism and pursuit of a resistance episteme.”

Yes, it sounds promising – and her post in Al Akhbar doesn’t disappoint. She begins by arguing that the divisions caused by the Syrian uprisings have led to the formation of an “anti-interventionist ‘third-way’ camp,” and she then explains why this is a most dreadful development [my emphasis]:

“Third-wayers, comprised of intellectuals and activists from academia, the mainstream media and NGOs, support elements in the home-grown opposition, reject the Syrian National Council (SNC) on account of its US-NATO-Israeli-Arab backing, and reject the Assad leadership on account of its repression of dissent and its alleged worthlessness to the Resistance project.

While the third-way camp is anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine in orientation, this hardly constitutes a political position. The Palestinian cause has become deeply etched in the Arab collective subconscious and has even become an increasingly pervasive slogan in western liberal activist discourse. Now the real litmus [test] of Arab intellectuals’ and activists’ commitment to the Palestinian cause is no longer their support for Palestinian rights, but rather, their support for the Assad leadership’s struggle against the imperialist-Zionist-Arab moderate axis’ onslaught against it.

Supporting Assad’s struggle against this multi-pronged assault is supporting Palestine today because Syria has become the new front line of the war between Empire and those resisting it. The third-way progressive intellectuals are failing to see the Syrian crisis through this strategic lens. They have shown an inability to “take a step back from the details and look at the bigger picture,” to quote Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.”

And no, you don’t have to read the whole thing, it goes on and on like this – a great illustration of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the anti-Zionism-anti-Americanism-fixation that is a core tenet of the leftist-Islamist alliance and its pro-Palestinian activism.

It seems that Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit is blissfully unaware of the appeal of this ideological fixation among the “pro-Palestinian” crowd. Under the title “A deafening silence,” he writes in his recent column:

“During one year, the secular Arab nationalism of Bashar Assad has spilled more innocent blood than the Zionists have in decades. This Arab tyrant, who in the past was the darling of Arab Knesset members, is massacring his fellow Arabs in a way that Israel never did. Arab cities are being bombed, Arab women are murdered, Arab children are slaughtered. An Arab society is being shredded, and an Arab state shattered into fragments.

Despite all this, the The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel is not demanding that the United Nations intervene to stop the bloodshed. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is not petitioning the International Criminal Court in the Hague to put the war criminals on trial. Large Land Day type demonstrations have not been called. Protesters who take part in mass marches every October aren’t marching. Arab students who mark the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 aren’t coming out against the Syrian Nakba of 2012. Israel’s Arab minority and its anti-Zionist left are watching as thousands of Arab are massacred – and are standing idly by.”

Shavit then goes on to argue that the failure to protest the slaughter in Syria reveals the hypocrisy of the anti-Israel crowd:

“But the Syrian tragedy has serious ramifications for Israel’s anti-Zionist community as well. The inability of this community to directly confront Arab evil undermines the moral basis for its battle against Israeli evil. Its unwillingness to demand that universal values be upheld in Hama and in Homs pulls the rug out from under its demands that universal values be upheld in Ramallah and Nazareth. Its silence when faced with the butcher of Damascus makes its condemnations of the State of Israel sound hollow. […]

Communism in the West was destroyed in the 1950s because it tolerated Stalin’s bloody dictatorship. Tolerance in the face of Assad’s bloody murderousness is liable to have the same effect on Arab-Jewish radicalism in Israel.”

I sure wish Shavit was right – but I doubt it. After all, the oppressive and brutal nature of the Assad-regime was never really in doubt, and the same holds true for Libya’s Gadhafi or the Iranian regime.

Yet, in 2010, a large delegation of Israeli-Arab leaders – including Knesset members – met with Gadhafi to affirm that they are “part of the Arab world” and to share with him their “problems.” One of the problems was apparently that Israeli-Arab Knesset members couldn’t visit all the Arab dictators and autocrats – which, as one of them fumed “angers us and violates our basic rights.” But as everybody knew, Gadhafi, ever the humanitarian, had already formulated a solution for all those terrible problems and human rights violations: get rid of the Jewish state and replace it with “Isratine.”

To be sure, there was a bit of embarrassment a year later, and all of a sudden, some members of the delegation felt it was time to come forward with some less glowing impressions from their visit.

Yet, there is also MK Haneen Zoabi, who reportedly said that in her view, “Iran’s role in Palestinian affairs was ‘more useful’ than that of regimes like Jordan and Egypt, in that Iran stood more firmly ‘against occupation than a lot of the Arab countries. This is our interest.’” She also reportedly believes that Iran’s quest for nuclear arms is to be welcomed since the specter of “Mutually Assured Destruction” would be the only way to curb Israel’s aggression.

These were the views Zoabi expressed in spring 2009, and she probably didn’t like it very much that a few months later, crowds of Iranian regime opponents used the Khomenei-ordained “Quds Day” – when Iranians are supposed to show their support for the Palestinian cause – to chant “Na Gaza, na Lebnan, jaanam fadaaye Iran” (Not Gaza nor Lebanon, I give my life for Iran).

But of course, the Iranian regime prevailed with its unrestrained brutality, and its well-practiced thugs can now afford to help Assad suppress the Syrian uprising.

Who cares as long as Iran’s role in Palestinian affairs is “useful”…

Palestine ÜBER ALLES!!!

UPDATE:

A piece published today by the British writer and researcher Shiraz Maher provides yet another example of the same ideological fixation for the British politician and Viva Palestina campaigner George Galloway. Maher notes that Viva Palestina’s most recent “aid” convoy to Gaza was scheduled to pass through Syria, but that apparently nobody in the organization thought of “aiding the tens of thousands of Syrians who have been systematically tortured, abused, or displaced in that country.” As Maher points out:

“This is boilerplate hypocrisy for Galloway who has spent his career in obsequious servitude to any tyrant on condition that he has money, is anti-Israel, and anti-Western. In Iraq he famously told Saddam Hussein, ‘Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability – a man who arguably killed more Muslims and Arabs than any other leader in the region. But Saddam is no more, so on to the next. In Iran, where President Ahmadinejad crushed the ‘Green revolution’ Galloway has showered the regime with fawning praise and unfettered encomiums. In Damascus, where no political parties are allowed, where no elections take place, and where human rights are a mere fantasy, he told a handpicked audience, ‘Syria is lucky to have Bashar Al-Assad as her president.’”

(h/t Martin Kramer)

Another very relevant piece is a previous article by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, where she sets out to explain, or rather justify, “Why Hezbollah Supports the Assad Regime.” Her central point is that

“Syria’s strategic value does not merely lie in its arms’ supply role [for Hezbollah], but derives from its status as the Arab linchpin of the resistance front, or to borrow Nasrallah’s words, “the only resistance regime in the region”. On balance, “the Syrian leadership can be credited with the preservation and maintenance of the Palestinian cause,” for Hezbollah. So indispensable was the Assad regime to Palestine that Nasrallah boldly declares: “the continuation of this Syrian position” (and by implication, the preservation of the regime), is “the precondition to the continuation of the Palestinian cause.” Accordingly, any threat to the regime’s security and survival is a “danger” not only to Syria, but to Palestine and — considering its role in ending the Lebanese civil war — to Lebanon as well.”

(h/t Bella Center)

The relatively short article published in Al Akhbar is supposedly only part of a larger “study” that, according to a note at the end of the piece, “was originally published by the Conflicts Forum.” However, following the link only leads to the homepage of the notorious organization and a “page not found” notice; a search on the website also fails to turn up the piece. Could it be that Saad-Ghorayeb’s unabashed shilling for Hezbollah and Assad was a bit too much even for the conflict-promoting Conflicts Forum?

Anyone unfamiliar with this organization should check out the excellent exposé by Hussein Ibish and Michael Weiss, who point out:

“Conflicts Forum, which received $708,000 from the EU between 2007 and 2009, is the brainchild of Alastair Crooke, a former long-serving British intelligence agent and adviser to the former EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. In recent years Crooke has emerged as the leading Western champion of Arab and Muslim extremists and anti-Western regimes. Conflicts Forum, in other words, does not seek to resolve conflicts but rather exacerbates them. […]

Most of the publications on the Conflicts Forum website reflect official Iranian ideology and foreign policy, including articles explaining ‘Iran’s commitment to the Palestinian cause,’ attacking the Palestinian Authority, strongly supporting Hamas, celebrating the ‘principled foreign policy of Ayatollah Khamenei,’ and casting the Arab Spring as an Iranian-style ‘Islamic awakening.’”

The Nakba at Harvard

Already last week, Palestinian activists were gearing up to mark the Nakba by intensifying their efforts to prolong it: Sa’ed Atshan, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate who is a proponent of the so-called “one-state solution” that aims at Israel’s abolition in favor of a bi-national state, drew up a petition to organize “Palestinian-Americans, Palestinians living, working, and studying in the United States, and Americans in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle” in support of a demand for the resignation of Ziad Asali,  the widely respected president of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). In Atshan’s view, Asali had betrayed the Palestinian cause by accepting an invitation to an event hosted by Israel’s US Ambassador Michael Oren to mark Israel’s Independence Day.

I have already devoted a post to this incident and quoted at length from Asali’s impressive response. But Atshan’s pathetic petition is also worth looking at in detail, because it provides such a good example of the kind of pompous and dishonest Nakba rhetoric that is designed to prolong the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hope that this will lead to Israel’s delegitimization and its eventual absorption in a bi-national state.

In this context it is crucial to emphasize that, while Atshan likes to present himself as a Quaker-educated humanist and progressive, he is utterly opposed to Jewish self-determination in a Jewish state and has therefore no interest in Palestinian self-determination in a state that would exist alongside Israel. As a Harvard Ph.D. candidate with several prestigious fellowships and a lecturer in Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts University, he can be expected to know full well that the Nakba narrative he presents in his petition is nothing but crude propaganda designed to instill a Palestinian sense of grievance that cannot be assuaged unless the world’s only Jewish state is abolished:

“More than 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their historic homeland during the Nakba in 1947-48. These were our grandparents, our parents and their grandparents. Everything was stolen from them – from all of us. Our hearts have been carved out by this monumental crime that has never really ceased. The Nakba continues to this day with daily expulsions, home demolitions, and the constant death that rains on our people without mercy by a state with the most powerful military machine in the Middle East, the same state that Asali celebrated!

We are all baffled, stunned, and left feeling betrayed by the images of Asali posing with smiles in a suit next to Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. in what amounts to a celebration of the greatest wound in the Palestinian psyche – a boundless collective pain that we pass on from one generation to another in hope of redemption, of justice, and the restoration of our dignity as native sons and daughters of Palestine. […]

During this month of May, […] we grieve and remember the ongoing Israeli campaigns to extricate our roots from our homeland and erase our Palestinian Christian and Muslim heritage from the land; […] we renew our commitment to continue the good fight for justice and freedom; and […] we once again lift our hearts with hope and dreams of being at last acknowledged as human beings with entitlement to the full range of human rights accorded to the rest of humanity […]”

When Atshan addressed the One-State Conference at Harvard in early March, he emphasized that academics were able to draw on broad knowledge in their analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, Atshan of course knows full well that in its historic context, the Palestinian Nakba was a very minor “catastrophe” occurring at a time when many millions of refugees all over the world were displaced and dispossessed by war and the drawing of new borders. Atshan also knows full well that, except for the Palestinians, all these refugees found themselves thwarted if they attempted, like the Palestinians, to demand that the clock be turned back; and of course he also knows that while most refugees were eager to get on with their lives, Palestinian and Arab leaders rejected the opportunity to create a state for the Nakba refugees and cynically chose to maintain them as pawns that would play a useful part in the long-term efforts to undo the establishment of Israel.

Likewise, Atshan knows full well that the Arab League and its member states demonstrated that it was not just the Jews of Europe who needed a refuge, but also the Jews who had lived throughout the Middle East for some two millennia.  And while the Jews living in Arab countries were forced to flee their ancient communities decades ago, Atshan of course knows that up to this day, the fate of other minorities in the Arab Middle East is similarly precarious – as this unsettling account of the situation of Christians in the Muslim Middle East illustrates all too well. Atshan therefore must know that by advocating a “one-state solution”, he is advocating returning the Jews to the status of a vulnerable persecuted minority.

Given his quest to turn back the clock,  Atshan obviously perceives a committed proponent of a negotiated two-state solution like ATFP president Ziad Asali as a political opponent – and in true McCarthyist fashion, Atshan calls not just for Asali’s resignation from the ATFP, but for the “severance of all ties to Ziad Asali by ATFP and all Palestinian organizations.” [Emphasis original!]

Right, get the guy blacklisted, and if you succeed, call it a great (Harvard-style) progressive victory for the Nakba…

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

 

A state for everybody who needs one

I think I’ve made a startling discovery: The eminent political philosopher and public intellectual Michael Walzer is a Revisionist like Jabotinsky – at least when it comes to his views about the rights of a people to have a state of their own.

Writing in the Huffington Post series “Liberal Zionists Speak Out,” Walzer describes the central tenets of his own Zionism under the title “The State of Righteousness.”

“It is first of all the emotion-laden belief of someone who grew up during World War Two that the Jews need a state, and that this need is so critical and so urgent that it overrides whatever injustices statehood has brought. We still have to oppose the injustices with all the resources we can muster, but we can’t give up the State. So I participate vicariously in Israeli politics by supporting my social-democratic and peacenik friends. I want the state to be as good as it can be, but above all I want it to be.

My Zionism is also a universal statism. I think that everybody who needs a state should have one, not only the Jews but also the Armenians, the Kurds, the Tibetans, the South Sudanese — and the Palestinians. The modern state is the only effective agency for physical protection, economic management and welfare provision. What the most oppressed and impoverished people in the world today most need is a state of their own, a decent state acting on their behalf. I feel some hostility, therefore, toward people who want to ‘transcend’ the state — and I am especially hostile toward those who insist that the transcendence has to begin with the Jews.”

By coincidence, I came across Walzer’s piece on the same day I read an article by Oren Kessler who explored the legacy of Benzion Netanyahu’s political views for his son Binyamin Netanyahu. Since the elder Netanyahu was a follower of the Revisionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky, Kessler outlined Jabotinsky’s views and quoted from his famous “Iron Wall” article published in 1923:

“To Jabotinsky, a Jewish home in Palestine was justified by events past and present. The Romans had expelled the Jews from their homeland two millennia prior, condemning them to an eternity of wandering and depending on the sufferance of other peoples. Virtually every inhabitable corner of the globe was populated by someone, he wrote, and the Jews had historical, spiritual, and emotional ties to one land alone.

‘[S]elf-determination does not mean that if someone has seized a stretch of land it must remain in his possession for all time, and that he who was forcibly ejected from his land must always remain homeless,’ Jabotinsky wrote in his best-known work, the 1923 essay ‘The Iron Wall,’ which remains central to Revisionists’ ideas about Israeli defense policy to this day. ‘Self-determination means revision — such a revision of the distribution of the earth among the nations that those nations who have too much should have to give up some of it to those nations who have not enough or who have none, so that all should have some place on which to exercise their right of self-determination.’”

While Jabotinsky’s Revisionism is nowadays usually described as promoting hardline right-wing positions, his idea that there should be “a revision of the distribution of the earth among the nations” arguably reflects solid left-wing principles of fairness: those who have plenty “should have to give up some of it to those nations who have not enough or who have none, so that all should have some place on which to exercise their right of self-determination.”

One noteworthy aspect of the kind of national self-determination advocated by Jabotinsky here is that he obviously has no sympathy for the blood-and-soil nationalism that became so devastatingly popular among right-wing and fascist groups and that, unfortunately, is also a dominant theme in Palestinian nationalism. Instead, Jabotinsky’s call for a “revision of the distribution of the earth among the nations” ultimately reflects the same principle as Walzer’s liberal “universal statism” which envisages a world where “everybody who needs a state should have one.”

That the Jews needed a state should hardly be controversial given the long history of antisemitism in Europe and the Christian world. Similarly, Jews who lived in the Muslim world usually had to accept the second-class status of dhimmitude, and there are plenty of examples that document arbitrary persecution and anti-Jewish violence throughout the centuries. Eventually, it was the Arab League that provided yet more proof that the Jews did indeed need a state of their own when the organization proceeded in early 1948 to draft laws that, by singling out Jews for discriminatory measures, were reminiscent of the infamous anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws of the Nazis.

It is important to realize that the Jews who felt they needed a state – that is to say, the Zionists – wanted a state mainly for the reasons Walzer lists when he says:

“The modern state is the only effective agency for physical protection, economic management and welfare provision. What the most oppressed and impoverished people in the world today most need is a state of their own, a decent state acting on their behalf.”

By contrast, most Palestinians had, and continue to have, markedly different ideas about why they would like to have a state. The Arabs rejected the UN partition plan in 1947 because for them, a state alongside a Jewish state in Palestine was not worth having – in other words, for them, territorial demands and notions of basically feudalistic ties to land took precedence over all other considerations.

While this understanding would usually be thought of as right-wing, Palestinian demands are nowadays most ardently championed by the left – even if Palestinians openly describe their hardly progressive views. One of the most striking examples is an article by Ahmed Khalidi – a Senior Associate Member of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and former advisor for the Palestinian peace negotiators – who explained the Palestinian ambivalence about statehood in a 2007 Guardian article aptly entitled “Thanks, but no thanks”:

“But statehood as such is a relatively recent addition to Palestinian aspirations. The main Palestinian impetus after the disaster of 1948 was that of ‘return’; it was more about reversing the loss of Arab land and patrimony, than the fulfilment of classical post-colonial self-determination, via statehood.

Driven into national concussion by the catastrophic forced displacement of 1948 and up until the mid-1960s, the sense of a separate ‘Palestinian’ national identity all but disappeared. This ‘lost consciousness’ was only reversed by the emergence of Fatah under Yasser Arafat in the Arab diaspora in the late 1950s.

It was only after the 1967 debacle that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanising force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future.

Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state in Palestine (ie the West Bank) were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause. This was certainly not an exercise in institution building, land acquisition and state building by stealth, as in the Zionist movement before 1948. After the 1973 war, Fatah’s leaders turned to the notion again. This was largely the result of a realistic reading of the balance of power and a recognition of the limits of what force, on the part of the Arab states or Palestinian irregulars, was likely to achieve. Eventually, in 1988, Arafat himself backed the idea of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as a historic compromise […]

Today, the Palestinian state is largely a punitive construct devised by the Palestinian’s worst historical enemies; Israel and its implacable ally, the US. The intention behind the state today is to constrain Palestinian aspirations territorially, to force them to give up on their moral rights, renege on their history and submit to Israel’s diktats on fundamental issues of sovereignty.”

Khalidi concludes his piece by arguing that “Palestinians could simply continue to say no to a state that does nothing to address its [sic] basic needs. Either way, it’s hard to see how Israel can win this struggle in the long term.”

For Khalidi, the idea to prevent Israel from “winning” is apparently still crucial, and when he mentions Palestinian rights, territorial “aspirations” remain a central consideration. Khalidi also suggests that the Palestinians might be best off “by demanding equal civil rights to those of the Jews themselves” – not from the government of a state of their own, but from Israel, which, by granting those rights to millions of Palestinians, would of course cease to exist as a Jewish state.

The tasks of a modern state listed by Walzer don’t seem to figure much in Khalidi’s thinking and in the way he views Palestinian aspirations.

It is also noteworthy that the views and positions expressed by Khalidi are widely shared by most of the so-called pro-Palestinian activists campaigning for the Palestinian “cause” in the West – which means that most of them don’t campaign for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but focus instead on delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish state and on insisting that the Palestinians should have “equal civil rights to those of the Jews themselves” in a state that would do away with Israel as a Jewish state.

Palestinian ambivalence about a state of their own is rarely taken into account when pundits ponder the reasons for the failure of the peace process. Arguably, this is not only because it is always easy and popular to blame Israel, but also because it is fairly awkward to acknowledge that there is little that can be done about this ambivalence:  the price of a Palestinian state alongside Israel would indeed mean giving up the “anti-Zionist” struggle that Khalidi rightly describes as so central for Palestinian national identity; at the same time, Palestinians have little reason to believe that they would then get “a decent state acting on their behalf,” because unfortunately, neither the Palestinian experience with Fatah or Hamas nor the experience in other Arab states encourages such hopes.

 

Quote of the day

“we took to the road in an effort to see the country afresh. Beginning two years ago, […] we spent days and nights with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh, Russian immigrants in Ashdod, Palestinian Israelis in Nazareth, Mizrahim in Yerucham, Bedouin in the neighboring unrecognized village of Rachma, settlers in Kfar Etzion and Palestinians in Beit Jallah. We travelled to Efrat, Uhm el-Fahm, Tirat Carmel, Ein Hud, Haifa and Jerusalem. When the summer protests produced tent camps across the country, we visited them from Kiryat Shemona in the north to Dimona in the south.

Through these travels, we observed a great and growing discrepancy between the way Israeli politics and society are discussed, at home and abroad, and the way they operate for real. The dichotomies that so many of us have for so long believed define the country – Ashkenazi vs. Mizrahi, Jew vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, center vs. periphery, native vs. immigrant, left vs. right – no longer reflect the complexity of Israeli society. There are commonalities in values and in visions that have gone largely unnoticed, and in these things that we share one find seeds of a common future characterized not by conflict, but by community.

One commonality, often overlooked, is a shared wish to be part of the world in which we live, and take responsibility for it. […]

Everywhere we found Israelis who believe that the ability of each of us to live a good life depends upon the ability of our neighbors to live a decent life. […] We are unwilling to accept that to get ahead, others [must] be left behind. To most of us, social solidarity matters, just like salary.

We found that, alongside disgust for the politics of today, there is great thirst for a new sort of politics of tomorrow. […]

For those able to look with a careful eye, a future is unfolding that is more decent than we usually allow ourselves to see. The truth is, it takes no great act of imagination to envision an Israel at 100 that is decent and sustaining for all Israelis, at peace with its neighbors and at home in the world.”

Noah Efron and Nazier Magally, At 64, Israel’s future is brighter than you might think.

While I largely share the observations and the resulting optimism in this article, I’m afraid I have one reservation: Israel always wanted very much to live at peace with its neighbors, but so far, our neighbors didn’t want. The developments of the past year provide little reason to think that this will change any time soon – and it may not even change soon enough for Israel’s 100th anniversary. The Islamists now taking power in much of the Middle East will not be easily dislodged, as the example of Iran suggests. And there is little reason to think that the rule of the Arab Islamists will prove more beneficial than the rule of the Iranian Islamists. The observation that many Israelis believe that “the ability of each of us to live a good life depends upon the ability of our neighbors to live a decent life” is arguably also applicable beyond Israel’s borders – and our neighbors will not live a decent life under Islamist rule.