Tag Archives: Iran

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!!!


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.’”

Think Progress on preconditions for negotiations

A recent piece on the ThinkProgress blog offers a very critical take on the views expressed by US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Graham had declared in a Fox News interview that he would like the US to “tell the Iranians, no negotiations, stop enriching, open up the site on the bottom of the mountain, a secret site. Then we will talk about lifting sanctions. You are not going to get to enrich uranium any more, period.”

Ali Gharib, national security reporter for ThinkProgress, characterized this as a “curious take on what it means to negotiate” and argued: “Graham’s position prompts one to ask: What’s the alternative to negotiations, since Graham is proposing pre-conditions that Iran would never meet?”

It is not clear if this is always Gharib’s view when it comes to preconditions for negotiations. A few days before he posted the piece on Graham, he wrote about the EU condemnation of Israel’s settlement policies. While he also noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas had “rebuffed” Israeli offers for talks without preconditions and was insisting on an Israeli settlement freeze, he didn’t highlight the continued Palestinian insistence on preconditions as particularly problematic. Indeed, since the piece concluded by noting that the “international community and the U.S. consider the settlements ‘illegitimate’” and that there had been many calls for “halting settlement activity,” the implication was that the Palestinian insistence on preconditions was ultimately justified.

The persistent obsession with the barely two percent of West Bank territory taken up by Israeli building beyond the so-called “Green Line” since 1967 has long been skillfully fed by the Palestinians and their supporters, who understand very well that the myth of the “ever-growing settlements” is an easy sell to audiences around the world eager to blame Israel for the lack of a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By contrast, there is precious little interest in the fact that ever since former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was left without a response to his far-reaching proposals in 2008, the Palestinians have done everything possible to avoid the resumption of negotiations. Insisting on preconditions has been part of their strategy.

Blogger Michael Koplow has an interesting post on this subject – even though his title “The Pitfalls of Preconditions” already indicates that he starts from the assumption that the Palestinians actually do want to negotiate. Koplow argues that the Palestinian “preconditions gambit” is a “negotiating mistake” and he points out:

“the Palestinian Authority committed the crucial mistake of setting preconditions before coming to the negotiating table. As every first year law student required to read the seminal negotiation treatise Getting To Yes can tell you, setting preconditions to negotiating is a tactic that almost always fails. The book’s very first lesson is not to bargain over positions as it is inefficient, damages the relationship between parties, and leads to bad agreements. Tactics such as setting preconditions and refusing to negotiate until they are met are fated to backfire if the objective is to reach an agreement, as the other side is likely to dig in and paint the refusal to negotiate as evidence of bad faith. Over time, the party setting the preconditions will become hostage to the perception that it has no interest in reaching a deal, and will then be forced to maintain its principled position even when events on the ground put it at a disadvantage or give up credibility and leverage by dropping its demand entirely. In short, setting preconditions before agreeing to negotiate an agreement is rarely going to be a winning strategy.”

However, at the end of his post, Koplow notes:

“The question is whether the PA actually wants to have serious negotiations at this point in time or is just looking to win a p.r. battle with Israel. If it’s the latter, then setting preconditions makes sense since it highlights Israeli settlement activity […] If the objective is to actually negotiate though, Abbas and Erekat need to wake up to the fact that setting preconditions is a terrible negotiating strategy that is fated to fail from the start.”

It is noteworthy in this context that by now, the list of Palestinian preconditions includes not only another freeze on construction in the territories Israel captured in 1967, but also the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and the official recognition of the pre-1967 lines as basis for negotiations, implying their acceptance as a legitimate de-facto border.

Taken together with the repeated Palestinian rejections of serious offers to enable them to establish a state, this growing list of preconditions points to the conclusion that it’s not the Palestinians who “need to wake up to the fact that setting preconditions is a terrible negotiating strategy that is fated to fail from the start” – it’s the politicians and pundits who lazily ignore every indication that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in a negotiated two-state solution which would require them to give up on the fantasy of a “right of return.”

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.

The Lede news on Israel and Ahmadinejad

A few days ago, Robert Mackey devoted a long post on his New York Times (NYT) blog The Lede to the old and often rehashed controversy about how best to translate a phrase used by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a speech for a “conference” anticipating a “World Without Zionism” back in October 2005. Mackey was apparently thrilled that Israeli minister Dan Meridor acknowledged in a recent Al Jazeera interview that in this specific speech, Ahmadinejad had not issued a straightforward statement about Iran’s intentions to “wipe out” Israel.

Since Meridor also pointed out that, irrespective of the precise translation of this specific phrase, Iranian officials have made plenty of vicious statements about their hopes and intentions to see Israel’s demise, it’s a bit puzzling what exactly prompted Mackey to rehash the old controversy about the most accurate translation of the 2005 speech. It seems that the message Mackey wanted to get across is summed up in this paragraph:

“Although there is general agreement now among translators and scholars that Mr. Ahmadinejad did not commit his country to the project of destroying the state of Israel in that 2005 speech, the phrase that was wrongly attributed to him then remains so firmly rooted in the popular imagination that it is frequently used as evidence of Iran’s genocidal intentions.”

The spin here is of course that if it wasn’t for this one mistranslated expression from a speech back in 2005, there would be precious little “evidence of Iran’s genocidal intentions,” and there isn’t really any reason to think that the Iranian regime is committed to destroying the state of Israel. It’s apparently just one big misunderstanding as far as Robert Mackey of The Lede is concerned.

But historian and acclaimed author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen – who has written a book about genocide and “eliminationism” – is arguably a bit better qualified on this subject. In a recent commentary on the controversy about the accusations of German Nobel laureate Günter Grass against Israel, Goldhagen wrote:

“Israel has been existentially threatened for its entire existence and continues to be so today, both by states that wish merely to defeat it or to have it relinquish the West Bank (Gaza it already gave back), and by states, often supported by their publics, that wish to destroy it and eliminate or exterminate its Jews. Why does Grass fail to mention that Iranian leaders, and not just Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have routinely threatened to destroy Israel and kill Jews, and occasionally even hinted that it could be done with nuclear weapons? As the ‘moderate’ former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani explained already in 2001, ‘the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.’ Why does Grass fail to mention that the Iranian leaders speak of Israel using Nazi-like language and metaphors, of cancer and pestilence which must be utterly eradicated? Do I have to say that such speech has been shown to be the rhetorical prelude to genocide?”

To quote just one news item from earlier this year that illustrates Goldhagen’s point:

“‘The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed,’ Teheran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday. Khamenei addressed thousands of worshipers attending a Tehran University prayer service marking the Fajr celebration. […]

Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, said that Iran has helped Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas in their fights against Israel. The crowd met the statement by chanting ‘Death to Israel.’”

There are of course plenty of similar Iranian statements. A few years ago, Jeffrey Goldberg responded to efforts like Mackey’s by compiling a list of relevant statements by Ahmadinejad;  the ADL also offers a list of Ahmadinejad quotes; Elihu D. Richter and Alex Barnea have compiled a timeline of statements by Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders from 2000-2008; and Wikipedia has  a relevant entry that also includes Ahmadinejad’s statements on the occasion of Israel’s 60-year-anniversary in 2008:

“‘Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken. Today the reason for the Zionist regime’s existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation.’

Ahmadinejad also stated that Israel ‘has reached the end like a dead rat after being slapped by the Lebanese.’  Later, he said: ‘The Zionist regime is dying,’ and ‘The criminals imagine that by holding celebrations (…) they can save the Zionist regime from death.’ Ahmadinejad also stated that ‘They should know that regional nations hate this fake and criminal regime and if the smallest and briefest chance is given to regional nations they will destroy (it).’”

To the Mackey-minded, that probably sounds like a polite call for regime change – if it’s not a mistranslation, anyway.  Needless to say, if any Western or Israeli politician talked about the Iranian regime in this way, it would be a totally different matter…

By now, the callous attempts to downplay the viciousness of Iranian threats against Israel have often been countered with evidence showing that the Iranian rhetoric not only echoes the way the Nazis talked about the Jews, but also fits well-researched findings by genocide scholars who “have identified hate language and incitement—notably the use of dehumanizing medical metaphors—as predictors, promoters, and catalysts of genocidal agendas in Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Sudan.”

Perhaps NYT Lede editor Robert Mackey would claim that he is unaware of this research; indeed, the fact that he has written a lengthy post trying to argue that it’s only due to one mistranslated phrase from a 2005 speech that Iran is accused of genocidal intentions could be taken as ample evidence that his feelings about the subject are much deeper than his knowledge.

* * *

 Cross-posted from my JPost blog.


Defending Günter Grass at +972

The hope that “Grass’s poem could be the gift that keeps on giving” – expressed by Mondoweiss contributor Annie Robbins – has so far been fulfilled in the sense that the controversy that erupted immediately after the publication of the “poem” is still raging on. And while there has been much  withering criticism, Mondoweissers were right to hope that the aging Nobel laureate would find defenders for his unpoetic promulgation of old antisemitic tropes.

As Yaacov Lozowick wrote in a recent post on Mondoweiss:

“they fit comfortably into ancient traditions of Jew-hatred, and thus their potential significance shouldn’t be shrugged off. It’s important to keep in mind that the free and pluralistic society of the West also harbors such ugly forms of thought.”

But while the enthusiasm of the Mondoweiss crowd for Grass’s pathetic “poem” was entirely expected, it is arguably revealing that the supposedly more high-brow +972 magazine has turned out to be no less enthusiastic.

First +972 contributor Yossi Gurvitz set out to “pick apart” the charges of the Israeli Embassy in Berlin that Grass’s “poem” echoed European traditions of antisemitism. Gurvitz proceeds to list Grass’s claims about Israel and asserts that they are entirely accurate – to get a taste of his ignorance and his utterly pathetic modus operandi, consider this point [emphasis original]:

Is Netanyahu considering wiping out the Iranian people? Considering some of his statements, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

Gurvitz concludes triumphantly:

“The truth is never anti-Semitic. There was no blood libel here, no anti-Semitism, no claim of children’s blood used for ritual purposes.”

No, Yossi Gurvitz, Grass made “no claim of children’s blood used for ritual purposes” – but the people who made this claim in the Middle Ages felt that “it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

Gurvitz concludes expressing the hope:

“The good thing which may come out of this affair is that people may learn to discount screeches of anti-Semitism from Israel with a sigh of ‘there they go again.’”

So just for the record: at +972, it would be a “good thing” if the world shrugged off Israeli complaints about antisemitism when Iran’s leaders refer to Israel as a “cancer” that must be removed, or when Islamists spread the most vicious lies about Jews.

The next praise for Grass at +972 came from Larry Derfner in a post entitled “More power to Gunter Grass for ‘What must be said’.” Derfner was at least sober enough to note a few reservations, but ultimately he also concluded:

“Gunter Grass told the truth, he was brave in telling it, he was brave in admitting that he’d been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager, and by speaking out against an Israeli attack on Iran, he’s doing this country a great service at some personal cost while most Israelis and American Jews are safely following the herd behind Bibi over the cliff.”

In yet another post, Derfner offered “A further defense of Gunter Grass,” arguing that given Grass’s record (with which Derfner doesn’t seem too familiar), one has to conclude that

“Grass is not an anti-Semite or hater of Israel – he’s a liberal friend of the Jews and of Israel who wants this country to turn away from all the things liberals naturally dread – extreme nationalism, militarism, ethnocentrism, paranoia – the very things, unfortunately, that Israel has come to stand for.”

 There are two particularly striking aspects to the defense of Grass at +972:

First, it is remarkably unsophisticated – informed first and foremost by the approach: have ideology, will comment. Both Derfner and Gurvitz look at the “poem” in isolation, oblivious of the very relevant context of complex German debates about “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” [i.e. coming to terms with the past].

Secondly, just like Grass, the +972 writers – even though they are Israelis – don’t seem to think it’s worthwhile to consider Iran’s conduct and the threat that Iran already poses for Israel through proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas, and they are equally uninterested in the Iranian regime’s vicious rhetoric about Israel. But as historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen emphasized in his analysis of the Grass poem:

“In demonizing Israel, there is a widespread practice in Germany, also perfected here by Grass, of ignoring the context in which Israel exists and acts. That context is that Israel has been existentially threatened for its entire existence and continues to be so today, both by states that wish merely to defeat it or to have it relinquish the West Bank (Gaza it already gave back), and by states, often supported by their publics, that wish to destroy it and eliminate or exterminate its Jews. Why does Grass fail to mention that Iranian leaders, and not just Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have routinely threatened to destroy Israel and kill Jews, and occasionally even hinted that it could be done with nuclear weapons? As the “moderate” former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani explained already in 2001, “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.” Why does Grass fail to mention that the Iranian leaders speak of Israel using Nazi-like language and metaphors, of cancer and pestilence which must be utterly eradicated? Do I have to say that such speech has been shown to be the rhetorical prelude to genocide?”

All this is of no concern to the +972 contributors whose blog is generously supported by the New Israel Fund. But if this kind of ignorant writing that reflects only disdain for the concerns of mainstream Israelis represents a “New Israel,” I for one appreciate the old Israel all the more.


A reader has drawn my attention to a Cif Watch post that documents a Twitter exchange with Yossi Gurvitz, but also links to a piece on “The Jewish problem” published by Gurvitz on +972 in September 2010. Some of the gems to be found there:

“Israel is itself becoming the problem of the Jews. It is, almost singularly, responsible for creation of a new anti-Semitic myth, that of “dual loyalty”. […] Zionism is a parasite, feeding upon anti-Semitism; it cannot exist without its mirror image (anti-Semitism, of course, can do quite nicely without Zionism). One only has to watch the eagerness with which anti-Semitism, or semi-anti-Semitism, is covered in the Israeli media: maybe now all of those Jews, living the good life abroad, will come to their senses and say we were right all along.”


Since there is now also a heated debate about Israel’s decision to declare Grass persona non grata, I should mention that +972 didn’t fail to opine on this issue thusly:

“Now Interior Minister Eli Yishai has declared Grass to be persona non grata while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has accused the German author of being ”willing to sacrifice the Jewish people on the altar of crazy anti-Semites for a second time, just to sell a few more books or gain recognition.”

Yishai and Lieberman are the two most outspoken racists in the Israeli government, so if one of the ways to know a person is by his enemies, I’d say Grass is looking pretty good.”

But if one of the ways to know a person is by his admirers, we would have to note that according to press reports, Grass was warmly praised by Iran’s state-owned English-language television, which declared: “Never before in Germany’s postwar history has a prominent intellectual attacked Israel in such a courageous way… Metaphorically speaking, the poet has launched a deadly lyrical strike against Israel.”

Similarly, Iran’s Deputy Culture Minister Javad Shamaqdari stated in a letter to Grass: “I read your literary work of human and historical responsibility, and it warns beautifully.”

No doubt the Iranian Deputy Culture Minister would also like the +972 posts in defense of Grass – in fact, come to think of it, he might like quite a bit of their output…


By now, there have been many excellent articles criticizing Grass; I would like to quote here just a very recent one by Bernard-Henri Lévy, who opens his piece by highlighting some issues that are too often neglected by those who like to obsess about Israel:

“There is North Korea and its autistic tyrant, equipped with a by and large operational nuclear arsenal.

There is Pakistan, armed with warheads — no one knows how many, nor precisely where they are located, nor what guarantees we have that they will not, one day, fall into the hands of groups linked to Al Qaeda.

There is Putin’s Russia, which, in the space of two wars, has accomplished the exploit of exterminating a quarter of the population of Chechnya.

There is the butcher of Damascus, whose body count so far is at 10,000 and whose criminal stubbornness threatens the region’s peace.

There is Iran, of course, whose leaders have made it known that their nuclear arms, when they will have acquired them, will serve to strike one of their neighbors.

In short, we are living on a planet where candidates for the most officially pyromaniac State, openly aiming at its own citizens and the surrounding populations, threatening the world with conflagrations or disasters unprecedented in decades, are by no means lacking.

Yet here is a European writer, one of the greatest and most eminent, for he is Nobel prize laureate Günter Grass, who has nothing better to do than to publish a poem in which he explains that there is only one serious threat hanging over our heads, and that this threat comes from a tiny country, one of the smallest in the world, one of the most vulnerable as well and, by the by, a democracy: the State of Israel.”

What ‘never again’ means for Günter Grass

In an awkward, cliché-laden “poem,” German Nobel laureate Günter Grass has announced to the world that he had to break his silence about an issue that has burdened him for too long: even at the risk of being labeled an antisemite, he simply had to sound the alarm about the terrible threat to world peace posed by Israel…

There is already a huge outcry against Grass’s strange poem, and many of the responses refer to the last time Grass broke a very long silence – and also caused a huge outcry: In August 2006, shortly before the publication of his autobiography, Grass revealed in an interview that he had served in the Waffen SS.

That was a truly sensational revelation given the fact that Grass had carefully cultivated the image of a moral authority who was always ready to admonish Germans that they had to face up to their Nazi past. Unsurprisingly, Grass is now again alluding to Germany’s dark history, but he does so with a twist that has become quite popular: by now, many Germans and Europeans seem to feel that they can claim to have learnt the often invoked “lessons” of the Holocaust so much better than the Jews – and in particular so much better than the Jews in Israel.

Indeed, the idea Grass is hawking now is quite popular: Remember the controversial Eurobarometer poll of fall 2003 that revealed that 59 percent of EU citizens regarded Israel as the greatest threat to world peace? Back then, embarrassed European officials tried to dismiss the poll as some kind of aberration, but that was quite plainly not what it was, because other polls showed similar results. To quote just one example: A BBC poll published in March 2007 revealed that Israel was viewed as the country with the most negative influence in the world, and interestingly, Germany was the European country with the largest percentage of respondents who viewed Israel in these terms: 77 percent of Germans rated Israel’s influence as negative — even in some Muslim countries, Israel actually fared slightly better.

While it has been documented that there is a clear correlation between sharply critical attitudes towards Israeli policies and a propensity for antisemitic views, Grass has of course tried to shield himself against accusations of antisemitism by announcing that he was fully expecting them, and by emphasizing that he feels a strong connection with Israel. But many of the reactions to his bizarre “poem” show that this hasn’t quite worked. One excellent example is Josef Joffe’s comment at Zeit Online, where Joffe argues (in German) that Freud would have been pleased with this demonstration of long-repressed resentments bursting out.

I think Joffe outlines a dynamic that I have tried to explore in an essay I wrote some five years ago after Grass revealed the long-kept secret of his service in the Waffen SS. I argued there that efforts to come to terms with Germany’s Nazi past – and the many cases of European collaboration – gave rise to a “grand narrative” that structured history in terms of victims and perpetrators.

In the prism of this “grand narrative”, Germans – and, to some extent also Europeans – related to Israel primarily as the state of the victims who had survived the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis.  But eventually, Germans and Europeans began to regard also themselves as victims of the Nazis, while the Jewish state – that had become an “occupying power” after its victory in the Six-Day-War – was increasingly often criticized as a perpetrator.

Taken to the extreme, the resulting inversions are all too familiar: Gaza is the Warsaw Ghetto, Israeli soldiers are the new Nazis, and the Palestinians are the new “Jews”, i.e. victims.

Even if only a minority embraces this inversion fully, everyone knows that it exists and that it has been legitimized by countless intellectuals and public figures – and the perceived exculpatory appeal of this inversion is certainly enormous.

Günter Grass would likely object to the idea that he is among those who demonize Israel as a Nazi-like perpetrator. Yet, he does so quite clearly when he refers to a possible Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program as a potentially genocidal crime that can be anticipated. His “poem” is his attempt to avoid any German “guilt” for this “crime,” since Grass worries Israel could use German-manufactured submarines to strike Iran. This concern stands in stark contrast to Grass’s apparent silence about the role of German companies in facilitating Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately, Grass demonstrates in his poem that the meaning of the pledge “never again” is very different for the historic perpetrators and their victims: for the former Waffen SS recruit, the most important thing is to be never again seen as a perpetrator – and since he firmly believes Israel is eager to launch a devastating attack on Iran, he has no doubt who should be blamed as the perpetrator.

It is revealing that it apparently matters little for Grass that Iran is led by a Holocaust-denier who has repeated the most vicious threats against Israel over and over again, or that a regime-allied analyst would pen a long-winded article to explain “The Fiqh [Islamic Jurisprudence]-Based Reasons for the Need for Israel’s Annihilation.” For Grass, Ahmadinejad is just a “loudmouth” who oppresses his people – the very same people that, in the view of Grass, faces a genocidal threat from Israel just because somewhere in Iran, there may be a “suspected” atom bomb.

The longer one ponders the curious fact that Grass doesn’t think it worthwhile to wonder if Iran’s theocrats might be as eager as the Nazis were to make good on their threats against the Jews the clearer it becomes: his claim that he feels connected to Israel couldn’t be more hollow – he knows nothing about Israel, and he has no idea what “never again” means for the people that his former comrades worked so hard to wipe out. His most urgent need is to think of Israel’s Jews as dangerous: potential perpetrators of a Nazi-like crime.

As a young man at the end of the war, Grass was clever enough to get rid of his SS uniform before he could be captured, but it seems he never quite got rid of what he learned about the Jews while he wore the uniform: “Die Juden sind unser Unglück.”

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog

Iran’s proxy war against Israel

The ample media coverage on Israel rarely addresses the fact that Iran has long supported the jihadist war against the Jewish state.  Yossi Klein Halevi spelled this out very clearly in an article in March 2008, where he argued that even in Israel, there was too little awareness and acknowledgment of Iran’s central role in the constant attacks on Israel:

“The jihadist war against Israel has shifted from one front to another–suicide bombings inside Israeli cities until 2004, Katyushas on Haifa in the north in 2006, and now Katyushas on Ashkelon in the south. All are battles in the same war. So far, it is a war without an all-encompassing name, and that linguistic failure reflects a larger Israeli failure to treat this as a unified conflict.”

But recently — and perhaps not coincidentally — both Hezbollah and Hamas have acknowledged the support they receive from Iran.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah emphasized in a recent speech that his group has received “all possible forms of moral, political, and material support from the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1982. In the past, although we didn’t lie about this, we only told half of the truth. We said we have moral support and political support, but when we were asked about material, financial, or military support, we kept silent.”

Similarly, Gaza’s Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stated during his recent visit in Iran that “the Palestinians are under occupation and the Islamic Republic of Iran has faithfully heeded their appeal for help.”

Interestingly, both Haniyeh and Nasrallah claimed that Iran’s support came without any strings attached – all too obviously an attempt to counter criticism that they were puppets of their sponsor. But the fact of the matter is that Iran has helped Hezbollah to build a militant mini-state within fragile Lebanon, and while Palestine is not yet a state, Iran has already helped Hamas to develop Gaza as a military base.

Both Iranian proxies have already demonstrated that for them, Israeli territorial withdrawals are simply a reason to boast about victory – and hold out for their ultimate victory, which they define in exactly the same terms as their Iranian sponsors.

Old truths about appeasement in the Middle East

When I recently followed a link from a tweet by Jamie Kirchick, I came to an almost 10-year-old post by Jeffrey Goldberg in Slate. While the piece focuses primarily on a controversy with New York Times columnist Robert Wright who objected to the description of Sadam Hussein’s massacres of Kurds as genocide, Goldberg also explained why he supported invading Iraq. I think some of his points should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the Middle East, not least because some of Goldberg’s observations remain very relevant even though — or perhaps because — they are based on reporting he did before 9/11.

So here are the most relevant passages:

Wright takes issue with my claim that a successful invasion of Iraq would cause America to be respected in the Middle East, rather than loathed. He writes that many people will loathe us even more in the event of an invasion, and that they are “the kind of people who will work hard to kill lots of Americans.” Wright argues not infrequently against the use of military force to defeat terrorist groups and terrorist regimes because such use of force will lead to more anti-American terror.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I spent some time in a madrasah, a Muslim religious seminary, near Peshawar, in the Northwest Frontier Province. The madrasah was populated by mainly Afghan and Pakistani Pashtun boys, and they were quite feverish in their support for Osama Bin Laden, whose attack on America was still more than a year away. After staying at the madrasah for a while, I drove across Afghanistan, ending in Kandahar. I wrote this experience up for the New York Times Magazine, which published the story under the headline “Jihad U.”

[The piece, published in June 2000, is actually entitled “Inside Jihad U.; The Education of a Holy Warrior,” and makes for very worthwhile reading – particularly in view of the fact that it was published more than a year before the 9/11 attacks.]

Shortly after it was published, Robert Wright, in Slate, posted the following: “On Sunday the New York Times Magazine had a spooky piece about Pakistan’s thousands of madrasahs, schools that immerse boys and young men in Islam and often have a militant bent. Reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, visiting one of them, asked the students, ‘Who wants to see Osama Bin Laden armed with nuclear weapons?’ The reaction: ‘Every hand in the room shot up.’ “

“This is a reminder,” Wright continued, “of what a bad idea it was for Clinton to launch that cruise missile attack on Bin Laden in retaliation for the African embassy bombings. […] the cruise-missile strike in Afghanistan was self-defeating: It no doubt guaranteed Osama Bin Laden 10 new recruits for every terrorist who was killed.’ “

When I first read Wright’s comments on my article, two thoughts crossed my mind: One, I was glad someone noticed the piece (this was before Sept. 11 of last year, when virtually no one cared about madrasahs or the strange goings-on in Kandahar). The second thought that crossed my mind was: This guy’s got it exactly wrong.

I left Pakistan and Afghanistan believing that America had done nothing to alienate the Taliban or these madrasah boys: Their hate was independent of American action. In fact, these fundamentalists owed the United States their thanks: It was the United States that supported them during the fight against the Soviets; the food many of them ate came to them courtesy of USAID, and many of the men I met who spoke English learned their English from American teachers, funded by American taxpayers. Their hatred of America, I realized, was rooted in their culture, in the theology of Islamic supremacy, in their jealousy and rage at American success.

I also noticed another emotion present in these men: contempt. They were contemptuous of America and Americans; they found us weak and unmanly, they found our culture corrupt and perverted, and I don’t have to tell you what they thought of American women.

It was after a couple of months in Pakistan and Afghanistan that I began to realize that these forces of Islamic fundamentalism had already declared war on us; that there was nothing left for us to do but fight them; and that by not fighting them, we were convincing them we were without virtue, strength, or courage.

Robert Wright took a different message away from my reporting: The best thing to do would be to leave these people alone and hope they go away. But what he failed to understand is that we provoked them by not provoking them.

Of course I recognize that an invasion of Iraq will cause some people to hate us more than they already do, but I also recognize that their hatred of America will not dissipate—and that their contempt may intensify—if we do not take strong action against Iraq.

This past weekend, at a conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, I had the chance to talk about these issues with two men I admire very much: Bernard Lewis, the scholar of Islam, and Ali Salem, the dissident Egyptian playwright. Lewis told me the following: “Sept. 11 was quite obviously supposed to be the opening blow in a series of attacks. These attacks have not happened because our enemies were shocked by the forcefulness of our response. This is connected to the way they have viewed our society, and now view our society. They were expecting a soft, ineffectual response, a few misdirected cruise missiles, perhaps. And they were met with much more force than they expected, which is why they are running.” He went on to say that America is more or less powerless to turn hate into love, but that it still possesses the means to turn contempt into fear.

As for Ali Salem, when I put the same issue to him, he quoted a Bedouin proverb: “You beat the dog to scare the lion.” I asked him to apply the lesson of this saying to American behavior in the Middle East. He mentioned, like many people mention in this context, the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut 20 years ago. The American response to the murder of 241 Marines by Hezbollah was to run away, to flee Beirut in terror. […]

“This is the root of your problem,” Salem said. “You should have flattened Beirut.” I must have appeared surprised at the ferocity of his response—he is a well-known secular humanist—because he said, “Yes, I, Ali Salem, the great liberal, says, kill your enemies.”

Obviously, these observations are very interesting in the context of the interminable debates about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but they are also relevant for current debates about the effect of the so-called “Arab Spring” on Hamas. There is a lot of speculation that Hamas may be “mellowing,” but I’m afraid this is not very likely when the points made by Goldberg are taken into account while reading the recent interview by Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of The Independent, with Gaza’s prime minister Ismail Haniyeh:

With the old certainties in the Middle East suddenly upended after a year of revolutions, it seemed more legitimate than ever to wonder how Hamas saw the region’s affairs developing. Haniyeh agreed to see me because there was a message he wanted heard.

We met in his office in Gaza City. […] Behind him hung the Palestinian flag, its colours reputedly drawn from the work of the 13th-century Arab poet Safi al-Din: “White are our deeds, black are our battles, green are our fields, red are our swords”.

I had hoped that what he wanted to say would be a call for reconciliation and that he would see the revolutions of the previous 12 months as an opportunity to start a blank page in relations with the Israelis. There had been signs that compromise was in the air. […]

But what I found was not a man seeking to reach out the olive branch. It was a man who had seen how the Middle East had been reshaped and who now believed – or so he said – that his version of the Palestinians’ destiny might now be on the point of being realised.

“The Palestinian cause is winning,” he told me. “With the Muslim Brotherhood part of the government [in Egypt], they [the Egyptians] will not besiege Gaza. They will not arrest Palestinians. They will not give cover to Israel to launch a war. Gaza was a main reason for the Arab Spring. It was people’s anger at the regimes that co-operated with Israel and did not recognise the government here.

“Israel is disturbed by this. It knows the strategic environment is changing. Iran is an enemy. Relations are deteriorating with Turkey. With Egypt, they are really cold. Israel is in a security situation they have never been in before. The Palestinians are winning more than anybody else due to what’s happening in the Arab countries. That will come out clearly in the future.”

Haniyeh did not mince his words, blaming the West and particularly the United States for having tried to keep the people of Gaza trapped even when they sought to play by the rules set by the international community. “These people asked us to have elections and respect the result of elections, and we did. We did what we were asked to do. Anybody who asks for democracy to be introduced should respect the results of democracy.” […]

The Israelis, he claimed, had “tricked” the West into thinking they would willingly do anything for the Palestinian people. It was “20 years” of negotiations that led to “nothing” as the “Israelis don’t want to see the Palestinian people get anywhere”. When he talked about the Israelis, the smile vanished. His eyes narrowed, and the air of stillness around him, previously reassuring, seemed suddenly intimidating.

He was particularly angry when he railed against the Israelis’ blockade on goods going in and out of Gaza. This was enacted in September 2007, after Hamas won the brief but brutal civil war against Fatah that saw street-to-street fighting consume the territory. […] Haniyeh has spent most of his life in Gaza. […] This may help to explain the strength of the Hamas leader’s feelings about what Palestinians call the “the siege”. […] With anger in his eyes and voice, Haniyeh leaned forward and – seemingly forgetting about the Holocaust – declared that the blockade was “the biggest crime that modern history ever witnessed”. Gaza simply wanted to be treated fairly, he insisted. “We want to live like the rest of the world. To have rights. To have a state.”

Stated in those terms, it seemed a reasonable aspiration. But what of Hamas’s past use of suicide bombers? Had resorting to such a tactic not discredited the organisation from being part of any long-term policy settlement as the Israelis, and the Americans, maintain?

His response was blunt. They were not “suicide operations” but “martyrdom operations”, he said. “We only did this because there’s bloodshed done by the Israelis. It is a reaction to F16s bombarding people, killing people, women and children. They continued targeting Palestinian civilians and that’s what pushed the Islamic fighters to do this kind of operation.”

Yet he also declared (illuminating the dilemma Hamas sees itself facing over how far to go in limiting armed struggle): “The Europeans and Americans have said the martyrdom operations are why Hamas has been put on the terrorist list. But now these operations have stopped. Did they then remove Hamas from the list of terrorist organisations?

“We do not launch wars,” he concluded. “We are people resisting occupation.”

Any doubts about what exactly Haniyeh means by that can be resolved by watching the relevant parts of Haniyeh’s speech on the occasion of the 24th anniversary of the establishment of Hamas in mid-December.


‘Islamic Guidance’ on what to read

Remember the absurd story about a stray dog sentenced to death by stoning by a rabbinical court in Jerusalem for the crime of being the reincarnation of a long-dead lawyer? It was eagerly picked up by various international news media including the BBC, where it quickly became the most read story of the day – even though at that time, the obviously nonsensical story had already been retracted.

But hey – why do even the most rudimentary fact-checking when you can run with an utterly bizarre story that shows Israel and Judaism in a bad light?

Now what do you think are the odds that the same media outlets that picked up the dog nonsense and published it as a newsworthy story about Israel will pick up this report from the “Spotlight on Iran” summary for the last week of November published by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center?

“Book of the Year” at 13th book fair in Khorasan Province:

How to Eliminate Israel

How to Eliminate Israel, a book written by a group of religion students from the religious seminary in the city of Qom, was displayed last week at the 13th book fair in Khorasan Province

Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohammad Ebrahim-Nia, head of the author team, said in an interview given to RASA News Agency that How to Eliminate Israel was awarded “Book of the Year” in the category of books dealing with the “soft war” at the fair where it was displayed. The 180-page book was published in 3000 copies on behalf of the General Department of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Khorasan Razavi Province.

The book is divided into seven chapters which discuss the “characteristics of Israeli thought”, the crimes of the Israeli people, warnings given by the Quran to Muslims regarding the Jews, their weak points, and ways of dealing with them. In addition to up-to-date translations of relevant verses from the Quran, the book includes pictures of Zionists associated with the themes of the cited verses and relevant statements made by Jewish thinkers, Ebrahim-Nia said.

He noted that the content and title of the book are based on religious rulings issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, who ruled that the elimination of the State of Israel is a religious duty similar to other duties imposed on Muslims. The verses of the Quran which discuss the Jews are always applicable, he said, and there is no other people about which the Quran warns the Muslims as much as the Jews, who even now continue their crimes against the Muslim nation. […]