Tag Archives: Juan Cole

Bad taste at the Guardian: Coleslaw with a pinch of Polonium

Under the memorable headline “Making Cole-slaw of history,” Martin Kramer documented some years ago just how hilarious it is that Juan Cole calls his blog “Informed Comment” (and for “Cole-slaw”-fans, there is in fact a rich archive of additional helpings).  However, it’s apparently no joke that Cole, who is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, encourages the readers of his blog to send him money because “Informed Comment is made possible by your support.”

 In any case, it’s arguably hardly surprising that editors at the Guardian are fans of Juan Cole, and when the professor recently vented his displeasure at Mitt Romney’s visit in Israel, the Guardian secured Cole’s “kind permission” to cross-post the piece on its Comment is Free (CiF) site.

The Guardian made a minor change to Cole’s original title – which read on CiF: “Ten reasons Mitt Romney’s Israel visit is in bad taste” – and added a sub-title: “The Republican presidential hopeful is holding a fundraiser and playing war enabler in Israel – it’s wrong on so many levels.”

The astonishing claim that Romney was “playing war enabler in Israel” is taken from Cole’s reason #7, which reads in part:

“Romney is promising his donors in Jerusalem a war on Iran. When George W Bush promised his pro-Israel supporters a war on Iraq, it cost the US at least $3 trillion, got hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, destabilised the Gulf for some time, cost over 4,000 American soldiers’ lives and damaged American power and credibility and the economy.”

Of course, Cole’s link to an AP report does not show Romney “promising his donors in Jerusalem a war on Iran” – indeed, why should this blood libel be different from all the other invented accusations against blood-thirsty Jews over the centuries?

What Cole is claiming here is plainly that Romney’s “donors in Jerusalem” want a war on Iran, just like the “pro-Israel supporters” of George W Bush wanted and got an incredibly costly and bloody war on Iraq. It’s really just another version of a paragraph from Article 22 of the Hamas Charter:

“They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. […] There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.”

The day after the Guardian featured Cole’s fantasies about Israel’s insatiable appetite for bloody wars and its mysterious ability to get the US to fight them, it was time for a Guardian-sponsored rehash of Al Jazeera’s pathetic attempts to revive rumors about Yasser Arafat’s death.

Some four weeks earlier, Al Jazeera had announced with great pomp and circumstance that it had conducted an “investigation” that pointed to poisoning with radioactive Polonium; however, conspiracy theories about Arafat’s death have been around ever since he died in November 2004, and even the specific claim that he was poisoned with Polonium is nothing new. While Al Jazeera’s new program succeeded in unleashing a veritable “orgy of conspiratorial theorizing” – with Israel as a favorite target – the people behind Al Jazeera’s “investigation” are apparently hoping to get yet more mileage out of this story, and the Guardian seems only too willing to provide a platform to the assorted conspiracy theorists.

There have been already countless reports and commentaries refuting the Al Jazeera “investigation,” but it’s perhaps worthwhile to add one particularly interesting testimony on Arafat’s death from a long and fascinating Atlantic report that was published in September 2005 under the title “In a Ruined Country: How Yasir Arafat destroyed Palestine.” One of the people interviewed for this report was the Palestinian billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri; here are the relevant parts of the report:

“Talk of Arafat’s last illness makes al-Masri sad again. “Every morning I used to go see him and give him the medicine because he would not take it from anybody else,” he remembers, looking moodily out over his lawn. “Yeah, and I never thought he would die.”

“How long did you know that he was sick?” I ask.

“For the last year. Last year in September he told me he doesn’t feel well. So, and he felt that something was not right, and it looks like he had the same symptoms again, but the last time he had enough immunity. Yeah, he knew.”

I am struck by al-Masri’s use of the word “immunity,” which is a word characteristically associated with aids. Rumors that Arafat died of “a shameful illness” spread quickly through the West Bank and Gaza. […] The Palestinian leadership denounced reports that Arafat was a homosexual as lies spread by Mossad, the Israeli foreign-intelligence agency. Accounts also circulated that a secret agreement had been reached between the Israelis and Arafat’s heirs, stipulating that the truth about Arafat’s fatal illness would not be released, the Palestinian leader would be buried in Ramallah and not in Jerusalem, and the wanted men who had accompanied him in his captivity would not be pursued by Israeli forces.

“He knew that it was the same disease that he had a year ago?” I ask. Al-Masri nods his head.

“Same symptoms,” he answers. “But look how strong he was. I mean, when Abu Mazen came,” he says, referring to Arafat’s longtime deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, “we brought him from one bed in his small room to a bigger room where we could sit. I sat on the bed. Abu Mazen sat in front of him and Abu Alaa sat in front of him. He said, ‘Ah, Mazen.’ His face was very red, and you know that he was very sick, but he wants to show that he was still in control of the details with Mazen, you know? He said, ‘I have this flu, ah, ah. I have this flu. Came and went to my stomach.'”

There is another very interesting part from the meeting with al-Masri in this report:

“The money he [Arafat] spent to buy the loyalty of his court, al-Masri gently suggests, could easily have paid for a functioning Palestinian state instead.

“With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.”

But if you don’t have good intentions and don’t really want to reach a solution, you can always blame Israel – as is regularly done on Al Jazeera, the Guardian, and Juan Cole’s blog…

Not only on Land Day: the Palestinian blood and soil fixation

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

This is a statement by Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian football federation, quoted in a BBC report about a World Cup qualification game from July last year.

Given the fact that soccer often brings out fierce nationalistic sentiments, this statement by the president of the Palestinian football federation is perhaps not particularly noteworthy.

However, the theme of blood and soil is unfortunately quite dominant in Palestinian nationalism – though the vast army of activists who agitate for the Palestinian “cause” online in English are doing their dedicated best to create a “narrative” tailored to politically correct Western sensibilities.

The image below – used as an illustration in the Wikipedia article on the Palestinian Land Day – perfectly visualizes both the blood and soil fixation of Palestinian nationalism and the carefully constructed message of the supposedly peaceful character of Palestinian activism: In the colors of the Palestinian flag, this poster for Land Day includes a beautiful flower sitting on a layer of green, rooted in black soil, fed by a blood-red river, releasing a blood-red tear or a drop of blood.

Land Day goes back to events in 1976, when Israeli government plans to develop the Galilee required the expropriation of land. Some 30 percent of the land was Arab-owned, but Arab communities were also among the intended beneficiaries of the development plan. Yet, there were violent protests and riots, and in the ensuing confrontations with Israeli security forces, six Israeli-Arab citizens were killed.

As a Jerusalem Post editorial on the 25th anniversary of Land Day in 2001 noted, “much of the annual tension surrounding Land Day results from the all-too-familiar phenomenon of history being mixed with myth.” A short BBC story from the same year nicely illustrates this point. Under the headline “Remembering Land Day,” the BBC claims: “Land Day is the day when Israeli Arabs hold demonstrations to mark the loss of their land to Israel in 1948.” Unsurprisingly, the BBC also claims that all of the expropriated land was owned by Arabs.

It is arguably very instructive to look back at some of the events of Land Day 2001 as described by the Jerusalem Post:

“The culmination of the day’s events was a mass rally held in Sakhnin, where thousands of protesters, including Peace Now members, gathered after taking part in local marches in their home communities. Participants chanted anti-government slogans, but were also seen waving PLO and Syrian flags. This came just days after the Syrian president asserted that Israel’s actions were worse than those of the Nazis, and at a time when the PLO’s main faction, Fatah, is openly involved in acts of terror against Israelis. [This is a reference to the so-called Al-Aqsa intifada.] … At other Land Day events, protesters reportedly unfurled Hizbullah banners and carried posters of the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who is best remembered for his vow to throw Israel into the sea.”

For this year’s Land Day last Friday, Palestinian activists decided to join forces with the groups that sponsored a planned “Global March to Jerusalem” which included various terrorist and extremist groups as well as Iranian organizations. While it may sound cynical, it is unfortunately all too realistic to conclude that the aim of this planned assault on Israel’s borders was the creation of “a new batch of martyrs” whose death would be blamed on Israel.

Indeed, the pervasive glorification of terrorism and “martyrdom” starkly illustrates the Palestinian fixation on blood and soil; some particularly egregious examples include recent events held in celebration of the 47th anniversary of Fatah that promoted the appalling notion that Palestinian children “were created to be fertilizer for the land of Palestine, and for our pure land to be saturated with their blood”  — which is apparently a line from a song that was also performed at an event attended by high-ranking Palestinian leaders.

The Palestinian anthem also includes a line about “longing in my blood for my land and my home” and mentions in addition “the fire of the weapons,” “the land of struggle,” and the notion of Palestine as “vendetta;” according to Wikipedia, the anthem’s title refers to “one who risks his life voluntarily; one who sacrifices himself” – all in all somewhat less offensive than the previous examples, but still quite remarkable language for an anthem that was officially adopted in 1996.

Unsurprisingly, supporters of the Palestinian cause prefer to ignore the prominence of the blood and soil theme in Palestinian nationalism – indeed, and perhaps equally unsurprisingly, a prominent defender of the Palestinian cause like Juan Cole would instead prefer to accuse even a liberal leftist supporter of Israel like Jeffrey Goldberg of promoting “blood-and-soil Israeli nationalist fantasy.”

The progressive quest for comparative consolations

The folks who expected that the “Arab Spring” would lead to a Tweeples-government in Egypt are understandably disappointed by the landslide victory of the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists.

But progressives were quick to find a formula that offers comparative consolation: the basic recipe is to simply claim that Egypt’s Islamists are really no worse – and maybe even better!!! – than disagreeable political figures or forces in your own country.

Following this recipe, Lisa Goldman, writing for the Israeli left-wing blog +972, claims:

citizens of the democratic state of Israel […] freely elected, as the largest faction in its governing coalition after the Likud, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party. […] In our Knesset, we also have Kahanists and a large contingent from Shas, which is quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party.

Unsurprisingly, Goldman’s comment was promptly quoted by The Arabist, where Issandr El Amrani added that “Israelis might mind their own business about Egypt and other post-uprising countries” because “they won’t be doing much business with them at all for some time to come.” Since the post was entitled “Israel and the new Egypt”, I can’t resist the temptation to take Amrani’s comment as a validation of the point I made when I wrote some two months ago that it would be the “Same old story in the new Middle East” because “when it comes to anti-Western and ‘anti-Zionist’ sentiments, the new rulers of the Middle East will be at least as eager as their predecessors to put them to demagogic use.” And as Amrani’s comment illustrates, even supposed Arab liberals seem happy to hold on to the “anti-Zionism” that provided Arab dictators for decades with a useful tool to distract the masses.

But naturally, Goldman was very pleased to be quoted by The Arabist, and tweeted:

.arabist linked to my +972 piece, ‘Egypt’s election results are none of Israel’s business.’ I can die happy now. http://tinyurl.com/6u58lzs

Another example of the quest for comparative consolations was provided by “Informed Comment” blogger and Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Juan Cole. Under the promising headline “South Carolina & Gingrich, Egypt & the Muslim Brotherhood,” Cole argued that the media unfairly emphasized the religious motivations of Egyptian voters, while downplaying similar sentiments when it came to American voters [emphasis Cole’s]:

The result of this difference in approach is that it is implicitly deemed illegitimate for Egyptians to be religious or vote for a religious party. But it is legitimate for South Carolinians to be religious, to vote on a religious basis, to seek to impose their religious laws on all Americans.

But what if Egyptians voted for the religious parties because they saw them as uncorrupt and despite their religious platforms, not because of them? […]

It is therefore probable that religious motivations actually played a larger role in the primary in South Carolina than in the election in Egypt! Likewise, an MB leader like Essam El-Erian is the voice of reason compared to Gingrich and is no worse in his own way than Gingrich’s sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson.

Since Cole claims to be an expert on the Middle East and the Muslim world, it seems fair to assume that he knows full well that there is plenty of reason to conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a totalitarian movement espousing vile Jew-hatred and that the MB is likely to pursue a theocratic domestic policy and a confrontational foreign policy.

But if Professor Cole thinks it makes for “Informed Comment” to equate the MB with Newt Gingrich, I can only conclude that I have a different idea of informed comment…

In their rather desperate quest for comparative consolations, progressives like Cole and Goldman also ignore the importance of democratic institutions and a well-developed civil society. To simply dismiss America’s historical record as a democracy and pretend that the consequences of a landslide victory for religious parties in Egypt are somehow comparable to a Gingrich victory in the Republican primaries in South Carolina is utterly bizarre. Perhaps Professor Cole should read Professor Mead’s truly informed comment on the left’s enduring obsession with the “Christianist” threat?

It is similarly ridiculous to dismiss Israel’s record as a democracy, because even if Israel’s democracy may not be perfect, it presents truly a record: Israel’s democracy was established when the country had to fight for its very survival, and Israel’s democracy was maintained in the most challenging circumstances, which included not only hostile neighbors threatening war, but also the need to absorb large numbers of destitute refugees.

The Canadian-born Lisa Goldman, who found life in Israel so “unbearable” that she returned to Canada after 14 years here, may feel that Yisrael Beitenu – which is strongly dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union – is best described as “quasi-fascist”, and that Shas – traditionally associated with religious Mizrahi and Sephardi voters – is “quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party,” but democracy is a process, and in a country like Israel, where waves of immigration have brought together groups with very different outlooks, it is not necessarily a simple process. Perhaps Lisa Goldman would have found life in Israel less “unbearable” if the country was still dominated by left-wing Ashkenazi elites that follow the Schocken line – but then it would be a less vibrant democracy.

And while Goldman may be happy that her scathing view of Israel’s democracy was quoted by The Arabist, it has always been real easy to get scathing views of Israel published in the Arab press – and this is just one of the things that the Arab Spring hasn’t changed.