Archives for October 2010

The conflict that could tear the Jewish people apart

“Affirmation of Israel’s Jewishness… is the very foundation of peace, its DNA,” claims Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Well, if that’s really true then one can only conclude that Israel will never exist in peace — not because it will fail in getting the affirmation it demands from its Palestinian neighbors but because Jews themselves can’t agree on the nature of Israel’s Jewishness. And if Jews can’t agree on this, what business does Israel have in demanding such recognition from anyone else?

AssociatedPress reports:

When Hillary Rubin immigrated from the U.S. to Israel, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and descendant of a famed Zionist visionary felt that she had finally arrived in her true home.

But now that religious authorities are questioning the 29-year-old Michigan native’s Jewish pedigree and refusing to recognize her marriage, she’s having second thoughts.

Rubin is at the center of a deepening rift between the world’s two biggest Jewish communities – the American and Israeli. Religious life in Israel is dominated by the strict ultra-Orthodox establishment, which has growing political power and has become increasingly resistant to any inroads by the more liberal movements that predominate among American Jews.

Many Americans – whose faith is seen by the ultra-Orthodox as blurred by intermarriage and fading adherence to tradition – are feeling rejected and unwelcome.

“I feel like I am caught in the middle of these two worlds,” said Rubin, who was raised in a liberal Jewish home in a Detroit suburb. “On the one hand I’m far too traditional for American society. On the flip side, I am not religious enough for the rabbinate in Israel.”

It’s a far cry from the days when American Jews looked to Israel as a source of pride and inspiration and Israel could rely on America’s Jews as a source of unconditional moral support and fundraising. With ultra-Orthodox Jews the fastest growing sector in Israel, often holding the balance of power in coalition governments, open strains between the communities are now far more common.

Over the summer, a proposed law that would have consecrated the Orthodox monopoly over conversion in Israel caused an uproar among Diaspora Jews. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to shelve the bill in hopes of finding a compromise.

Last week, American and Israeli Jewish leaders held a conference in Jerusalem aiming at ironing out their differences. But the closed-door sessions were tense and all sides stuck to their positions, said one participant, American Rabbi Jerome Epstein, of the Conservative movement.

He warned that the conflict could “tear the people apart” if no compromise is found.

“There are a lot of Americans who normally would not get involved in Israeli politics but who are saying, ‘What you are doing is delegitimizing me. It is not enough to want my support and want my money, you have to be willing to recognize me as a human being and as a Jew,’ and they feel that is not happening,” he said.

But an Israeli state that delegitimizes Palestinians who can prove their ancestral and property claims and that depends on tax dollars paid by non-Jewish Americans — that’s OK?


Sunshine in America – a tea party with scones

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart – Moment of Sincerity
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or Fear The Daily Show The Colbert Report

Do you want to know why I am here and what I want from you? I can only assure you of this: You have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted.

Sanity will always be and has always been in the eyes of the beholder, and to see you here today, and the kind of people that you are, has restored mine.

With these words, Jon Stewart wrapped up his Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC yesterday afternoon.

If images of division were at the root of the political malaise of these times, then Stewart’s rally was a suitable palliative. His metaphor of America — the willingness of drivers to give way to one another as they enter the Lincoln Tunnel — fittingly represents the civility of American society. Indeed, many Americans who travel overseas for the first time may well be surprised to discover that despite this country’s reputation for being brash and uncultured, its population turns out to be among the world’s most mild-mannered as they conduct themselves in daily life.

“The country’s 24-hour-politico-pundit-perpetual-panic-conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.”


“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”


“The image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false.”


OK. So Americans aren’t doing such a bad job at getting along. And the image of American society ripped apart by political polarization is a distortion. Where do these observations get us?

Another way of saying this is to say that Americans no longer live in a representative democracy. We are not represented in Congress or in the media.

But Stewart says he feels good — good knowing that the America he sees, is radically different from the twisted representation that the media conveys. His rally thus ended as an America-affirmation event with the chants “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A…”

Still, what he, and no doubt many of those gathered with him in Washington yesterday represent, may be a different kind of political malaise: that in which it is possible to make astute observations about the problems we face and yet feel comfortable in doing nothing more than make these observations.

The America that is getting along, dealing with the problems it faces is also an America that has turned away from many of the problems of its own making.

A decade of conflict in which hundreds of thousands have died has persisted precisely because massive slaughter could so easily be shut out of American consciousness.

Assessing the political significance of rallies in Washington invariably comes down to crunching the numbers — doing the body count. The good news from yesterday is that Jon Stewart seems to have much stronger crowd appeal than Glenn Beck — though with New York City so close by, Stewart clearly had a home team advantage.

But for me, another comparison comes to my mind — that being with the only rally I’ve attended in Washington, which happened to be at exactly the same time of year, late October, eight years ago. Fewer than half as many people showed up to protest against an imminent war against Iraq — and that was at a point when the antiwar movement had growing vitality.

How many would show up now to call for American troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq? A rally in March drew, by the organizers’ own estimation, a mere 10,000 people.

Is America really at greater risk from the false image that it is being ripped apart by polarization, or, from the fact that its political torpor persists with so little comment?


The wisdom of insecurity

If Barack Obama came into office with a secret ambition, it was quite likely a desire to succeed where George Bush failed: to kill Osama bin Laden — preferably in the run-up to the 2012 election. Obama’s drone war in Pakistan now appears to make that prospect less unlikely.

According to Noman Benotman — the only expert who has an insider’s knowledge of al Qaeda — bin Laden’s personal courier, Mohammed Uthman, was one of the few people likely to know the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts. Uthman was killed in a drone strike this month and its unclear whether the US even knew who they were targeting, reports Der Spiegel.

Uthman’s death reveals one of the fundamental flaws in the war on terrorism: killing so-called high-value targets makes it more difficult to track the operations of organizations whose structure is simultaneously adapting while under assault. The information that needs to be found is being lost while the ideology that needs to be transformed is being perpetuated.

The latest terror scare, is — the official line would have it — a reminder of the constant need to maintain vigilance. But it is also a reminder that in the course of the last decade, not a single politician has risen to face the real challenge: talking about terrorism in terms that acknowledge the capacity of adults to understand what constitutes a tolerable level of risk, while underlining the need for democratic governments to exercise only limited powers.

Instead the US government through a decade of war has fueled rather than diminished international terrorism and at the same time chosen to advise Americans when they should be moderately afraid, very afraid or terrified. What would be far more useful would be an ongoing audit of the government’s own efforts such that they can be seen to be doing more to generate awareness than hysteria or complacency and that the incentives for terrorism are diminishing rather than growing. On such a basis an under-performance alert could be issued in response to warnings such as this one, sent out on October 3: “The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe.” They might as well just have said: “If something bad happens soon, don’t tell us you weren’t warned.”

If there’s one event in response to which President Obama should already have a carefully crafted plan, it is how he will handle a major terrorist attack — including one in Europe. So far, all the indications are that in such an event Obama’s response will simply reinforce the Bush paradigm: that a president must do everything in his power to make Americans safe and that new dangers can only be met by greater presidential powers. The only difference will be that he will act with technocratic ease and without Bush’s swagger. In that difference we should take no comfort.


How the US is being outmaneuvered by Iran and Saudi Arabia

Zvi Bar’el writes:

“Iran is not the enemy, Israel is the enemy,” the head of the Center for Strategic Studies in Saudi Arabia declared in an interview with Al Jazeera. This was his response to a question on whether the $60 billion arms deal between Riyadh and Washington was meant to deter Iran. The American efforts to portray the deal as aimed against Tehran doesn’t fit with the Saudi point of view, and it seems this isn’t the only subject over which these two countries fail to see eye to eye.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia twice last week, and Iran reported that a senior Iranian official would visit Riyadh soon. It’s not clear if it will be Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki or the head of the National Security Council, Saeed Jalili.

But the frequent contacts between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not over the big arms deal or Iran’s nuclear plans. The two countries have concluded that they need to reach an agreement on two other issues regarding their sphere of influence in the region: Iraq and Lebanon.

Regarding Lebanon, Iran is trying to persuade Saudi Arabia to help stop the work of the special international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This would prevent the collapse of the Lebanese regime. While Iran is worried about Hezbollah’s status, it also doesn’t want Lebanon to collapse or fall into another civil war, whose results cannot be ensured.

In this respect, Tehran doesn’t have to make too great an effort to get Riyadh’s support. This became clear last week to Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to Beirut, when he visited Riyadh. During his meeting with King Abdullah, the monarch tried to figure out America’s position if the international court’s work were stopped. Arab sources say Feltman was “furious but restrained,” and made it clear to the king that Washington was determined to support the tribunal.

With all due respect to the American insistence, if the client that is supposed to pay Washington $60 billion decides it’s vital to halt the tribunal’s work, it won’t make do with consulting the Americans. It will throw its full weight behind the efforts. Meanwhile, the indictment the tribunal is due to publish is not expected before February.


The worst-kept secret: Israel’s bargain with the bomb

Noam Sheizaf writes:

“Ambiguity,” the key word used in describing Israel’s relationship vis-a-vis nuclear weapons, existed from the start. “There was a secret even before there was anything to hide,” states Avner Cohen, an Israeli-born philosopher and historical researcher who is an expert in Israel’s nuclear policy, in his new book.

“During the early 1950s, and even before then, there were those in Israel who dreamed about a nuclear project, but in reality there was almost nothing,” explains Dr. Cohen in an interview with Haaretz, from his Washington, D.C. home. “Some students were sent overseas to study nuclear physics, and a group started to look for uranium in the Negev. There was none. Nonetheless, this small group, which merely had a vision, already maintained a cult of secrecy.

“In those years, there was not yet an international regime against nuclear proliferation – this was a decade before the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But even then, when theoretically anything was allowed, there was a sense of taboo. That the subject could not be discussed. [David] Ben-Gurion and [Shimon] Peres understood that in this sphere you don’t really want to state your objectives precisely. The sense was that designating goals would, in itself, stir an argument, and that it was better to avoid such debates, both internal and external. The idea was that it was crucial not to raise these questions.”

For Cohen, ambiguity in this realm is not merely a theoretical subject, it is the central issue which has fashioned his life. After an academic article he authored was disqualified by military censors in the 1990s, he left Israel. After publishing a book called “Israel and the Bomb” (Columbia University Press, 1999 ), an investigation was launched against him and he was barred from returning to Israel for several years. Cohen even played a certain role in the Yitzhak Yaakov affair – the case in which Yaakov, a retired IDF brigadier general, was indicted and detained for more than a year for harming national security by writing two books on Israel’s weapons development program.

Cohen’s newest work, “The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb” (Columbia University Press, 2010 ), is dedicated to two figures who represent two different poles in Israel’s culture of nuclear secrecy: Yaakov, who tried to share “prohibited” memories with the world and paid for it with a long detention, and Shalheveth Freier, a top official in the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC ), and one of the people who created the secret with their own hands.

In his new book, Cohen calls on Israel and Israelis to discuss anew the policy of ambiguity and its implications. In his view, for the past several years, the costs of such a policy have outweighed its utility. He does not believe that Israel should disarm, but rather that it should, in clear, simple terms, acknowledge these weapons and talk about them. That is precisely what he is trying to do in his research, and in this present article. Cohen is currently conducting research in the U.S. (right now he is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies ); his book (unlike this article ) was not submitted to the Israeli censor.


Israel wants to expel thousands of African refugees

Haaretz reports:

Jerusalem is ready to renew its offer to pay millions of dollars to any African or Western country willing to absorb the influx of migrants attempting to infiltrate Israel, a senior official said on Wednesday.

During deliberations with his political-security cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry to renew its contacts with Western and African states to see if any would be willing to take in these migrant workers.

The Foreign Ministry has already held a round of talks on the matter with a number of states with whom Israel has diplomatic relations, but has not yet received a sufficient response to the request. Even those states willing to take in migrant workers are not prepared to absorb the numbers of people presented by Israel.

Netanyahu also ordered the defense establishment to begin immediate construction of a barrier on the Egyptian border and said he expected a report on the matter within a month. The works were due to start in July, but following disagreements on budgeting have been delayed by over three months.

The premier also said that alternatives needed to be found to reduce the flow of infiltrators before the barrier was in place.

The barrier is meant to prevent Islamic militants, drug dealers, African migrants and other asylum seekers from entering Israel from Egypt. At least 1,000 people enter the country illegally from Egypt each month, according to Israeli estimates.


Did the Palestinian Authority kill the Goldstone report?

Jared Malsin writes:

Israeli soldiers shot a mentally ill Palestinian man in the leg when he ventured near the Erez crossing, in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Last Wednesday, a 65-year-old man was shot in the neck in the same area. A week earlier the soldiers shot a 17-year-old, who entered the 300 to 500 meter “buffer zone” in northern Gaza to collect construction scrap which he hoped to sell for a few dollars. Human rights groups say there is a direct link between these daily shootings and the international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable for past violations, especially during its 2008-2009 offensive on Gaza, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, most of them noncombatants. 13 Israelis also died. “The attacks [are] still going on, and the Israelis are taking the same stance as during Cast Lead. They’re failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets,” said Mahmoud Abu Rahma, of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza.

Last month, under US and Israeli pressure, the Palestinian Authority (PA), once again delayed the process of accountability. This came at a September 29 vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which the PA backed a resolution to give Israel and Hamas officials in Gaza six more months to investigate crimes documented in Richard Goldstone’s UN Fact Finding Mission report. According to Palestinian and international human rights groups, the Palestinian Authority has decided that the Goldstone report must remain in Geneva, away from the relatively more powerful UN bodies in New York. This is a position identical to that of the US State Department, which wants to keep pressure off Israel during the newly re-launched political negotiations.

By adopting this position, rights groups say, the PA is placing itself in open conflict with the interests of its own people. “What’s very clear now is that the PA wants the report to stay in Geneva,” said Fred Abahams of Human Rights Watch. “We thought there was a lot of progress made in New York and this was a step backwards…with peace talks going, they don’t want Goldstone anywhere near the agenda,” Abrahams said on the phone from New York.


Israeli secret police out in force in Arab-Israeli town

As President Obama’s Middle East peace initiative appears destined for failure, there is increasing speculation that a third intifada may follow, but whereas the first two Palestinian uprisings took place primarily inside the occupied territories, the third uprising may well start inside Israel. The Israeli-Arab town of Umm al Fahm is now a tinder box.

In The National, Jonathan Cook reports:

Israeli police and stone-throwing Arabs clashed in northern Israel yesterday as a group of Jewish right-wing extremists tried to march through the Arab-Israeli town of Umm al Fahm.

Two Arab legislators were injured in the violence. Afu Aghbaria, an Arab MP with the joint Jewish-Arab Communist party, said he had been hit in the leg.

Haneen Zoubi, a parliament member who has received hundreds of death threats since her participation in an aid flotilla to Gaza in the summer, also was among those hurt.

Ms Zoubi reported being hit in the back and neck by rubber bullets as she fled the area after police opened fire. In an interview with The National, she said she believed that she had been specifically targeted by police snipers after they identified her.

Israel deployed a secret police “mistaravim” unit (a Hebrew term meaning “disguised as an Arab”) in Umm al Fahm. In the image below, at least half a dozen such undercover operatives can be seen taking down demonstrators. The one on the far left appears to be firing a hand gun. The image is grabbed from news footage in a sequence that starts 38 seconds into the video shown below.

Dominic Waghorn at Sky News adds:

Israeli border police tactics in this week’s clashes in Umm al Fahm are being scrutinised.

The concentration and intensity of stun grenades and tear gas volleys unleashed on a few hundred Israeli Arab was unprecedented in many observers’ experience.

The police say they launched it as soon as the first stones were thrown. One Israeli Arab Knesset member claims the stones were thrown by undercover Israeli police masquerading as Arabs in the crowd.

Israeli Channel 2 reported claims the tear gas volleys were fired in such a way because the crowd had just started turning on a suspected undercover police officer.

As Sameer Bazbaz captured in this sequence later [see image on the right], the undercover police were very active later, hiding among the crowd then pouncing on Israeli Arabs as uniformed colleagues swarmed to join them.

The undercover officer shown in the image above with his right arm firmly gripped around a teenager’s neck appears to be the same individual who can be seen at the beginning of the video above who 10 seconds in, can be seen at the road’s edge apparently picking up a stone to throw at Israeli police.


Leasehold settlements?

Haaretz reports:

Israel is conducting secret negotiations with the U.S. on establishing the future borders of a Palestinian state, the London-based Arabic language daily Asharq al-Awsat reported on Friday.

According to the report, Palestinian sources confirmed that the two sides discussed an option wherein Israel may lease lands in East Jerusalem from the Palestinians in exchange for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Israel would lease the territories from the Palestinian state for a period of 40 to 99 years.

The Palestinian sources said that the talks are an American initiative that has been going on for some time in order to obtain an understanding with Israel regarding the terms surrounding a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority apparently has only recently been made aware of the talks and hasn’t been given the details of the proposal.

An Egyptian source told the newspaper that the negotiations are “more quiet than secret, and are meant to try to save the peace process.”

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the U.S. government agreed to comment on the report.

Israel in secret negotiations with the US? I guess this confirms what has long appeared to be the case: that the Palestinians are regarded as being peripheral to the conflict. But I really don’t know what to make of this lease proposal. Britain held Hong Kong on a lease, but once the lease expired Hong Kong went back to China. Somehow I don’t see a Palestinian state ever having quite as much leverage as China. Neither, given its disregard for UN resolutions, do I see Israel feeling a heavy obligation to honor a legal contract limiting its occupation of East Jerusalem. The Israelis’ interests have always seemed to be focused on the so-called facts no the ground rather than legal issues of ownership.


Only the end of the West can save the West

The West is dead. Long live Turkey.

No, that isn’t meant to be some prophetic statement about the Islamization of Europe and the collapse of Western civilization. It’s simply a way of saying that what the West needs more than anything else is to find a way of redefining itself. None is more obvious than through seeing Turkey as the physical and metaphorical boundary which reveals that what we call the West only came into being and acquired its dynamic nature through its interactions with the rest of the world. The West, with a rippling eastern boundary and its abundance of vibrant ports is what it is by virtue of its ability to absorb what is foreign — not shield it out.

The easiest way Europe — and by extension the West — can redefine itself is by embracing Turkey and its dynamic role in the Middle East.

The Economist reports:

Turkish foreign policy used to be simple. Ever since Ataturk dragged the country into the modern world by driving out the sultan, adopting the Latin alphabet and abolishing the Muslim caliphate, the country has leant westwards. Since the second world war that has meant joining NATO (in 1952), backing the West against the Soviet Union and aspiring to join the European project. Like America, Turkey was also consistently pro-Israel.

It largely ignored the rest of its region, which includes most of the countries that were once part of the Ottoman empire. In his book “The New Turkish Republic”, Graham Fuller, a former CIA analyst and academic, recalls telling a Turkish friend that he was a Middle East expert, only to be asked, “so why are you in Turkey?” In similar vein, Turkish diplomats would tell their Western friends that “we live in a bad neighbourhood” and that “the Turk’s only friend is another Turk.”

Over the past few years all this has changed. Rather than feeling sorry for itself over its rough surroundings and lack of friends, Turkey has a new policy of “zero problems with the neighbours”. It is no longer carping at Armenia over its allegations of genocide in 1915 or reproaching the Arab world for its British-supported “stab in the back” in 1917-18. Instead it is cultivating new friendships in the region, offering trade, aid and visa-free travel. And far from backing Israel militarily and diplomatically, Turkey has become a leading critic.

The man largely responsible for engineering this dramatic shift is Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister since 2009. Before that he was an international-relations adviser to Mr Erdogan. In 2001, before the AK government came to power, Mr Davutoglu published a book, “Strategic Depth”, that set out a new policy of engagement with the region. He rejects accusations that he is “neo-Ottoman”, yet his doctrine certainly involves rebuilding ties round the former Ottoman empire.

Mr Davutoglu is an engaging, bookish character with a formidable knowledge of history. He thinks that Turkey made a mistake by ignoring its backyard for so long, and he is convinced that its new strategy of asserting its interests, both in the region and in the world, makes his country more, not less, attractive to the West. Nothing infuriates him more than articles in Western publications suggesting that Turkey has tilted east, or even claiming that “we have lost Turkey.” “Who is we?” he asks. After all, Turkey maintains NATO’s biggest army after America’s; it is committed in Afghanistan and other trouble spots; and it is negotiating to join the EU. As Mr Davutoglu puts it, “Turkey is not an issue; it is an actor.” His country now matters more than ever to Europe and the West, he claims.


Israeli Tea Party aims destroy the peace process.

It’s hard to kill something that’s already dead, but the formation of an Israeli Tea Party will have one predictable effect: give Benjamin Netanyahu yet another reason to disregard Washington’s desperate appeals for concessions.

Haaretz reports:

Likud activists who oppose the settlement freeze have set up a protest movement against the peace process and the continued construction moratorium in the West Bank. The group is modeled after the far-right conservative Tea Party movement in the United States.

The Israeli group will hold a rally Sunday at the Zionist Organization of America House in Tel Aviv, under the banner “Saying No to Obama,” where they plan to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy and the American pressure on Israel to renew the settlement construction freeze.

Likud activists said yesterday that their Tea Party will be the opening shot in their efforts to stop the peace process entirely.


Wall Street’s best friend: The Tea Party

In Salon, Andrew Leonard writes:

Call it the amazing bank bailout boomerang. Even though few things enrage Tea Party rebels more than government checks made out to Wall Street financial companies, the reverse dynamic does not seem to be a problem. The top 12 Senatorial candidates most favored by Tea Partiers have already hauled in $4.6 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street. Even more amazing is a tidbit reported by the Washington Post:

The two top recipients of money from companies receiving TARP funds are the top two House Republicans, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) with $200,000 and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) with $187,000. They are followed by the ranking members of two key House committees, Spencer Bachus (Ala.) on Financial Services and Dave Camp (Mich.) on the tax-writing committee.

Let’s spell that out: The Wall Street banks that were bailed out with taxpayer money are using their profits to bankroll Republicans who now claim to be unalterably opposed to any more bailouts, ever, for all time, in any universe — even though the original TARP bailout was a Republican idea, signed into law by a Republican president, with the strong backing of the Republican leadership of both the House and Senate.

OK. We know that Wall Street always backs the likely winner, and its priorities here are obvious: weaken financial reform legislation and head off any tax hikes that could discomfit the wealthy. But there is still a massive paradox in play. Republican electoral momentum is in no small part fueled by Tea Party resentment against the government/Wall Street nexus. The roots of that Tea Party anger can be traced directly back to one signal event: the bank bailout.

The TARP bank bailout was extraordinarily unpopular with both the left and the right. While the financial crisis caused by irresponsible banks crushed average Americans, causing millions to lose both their homes and jobs, the banks got a massive get-out-of-jail-free card. Never mind the (probably valid) rationalization that it all would have been much worse if the banking system had simply been allowed to fail. That may well be true, but it’s equally true that the banks got bailed out while the majority of Americans got screwed. There are plenty of other motivating forces behind Tea Party rage — fear of big government “socialism” and racial antagonism, to name just two — but that sense of basic unfairness generated by the sight of fat cat elites getting away with murder is the bedrock foundation underlying populist anger.


Poverty, religion, desolation and nationalism, has turned the beautiful city of Safed into Israel’s ugliest

Gideon Levy writes:

Think of a town in Austria. Or perhaps France. A mountainous, ancient major district town, with a college situated in the middle of it, whose students include quite a few Jews. The town priest calls an “emergency meeting,” funded by the government and held in the municipal cultural center, attended by 400 sympathetic citizens, including 18 priests from the area, calling for a ban on renting apartments to Jewish students.

The deputy mayor supports the meeting. The priest says sweetly: “I have nothing against Jews, but they shouldn’t live in our town. Let them study in their yeshivas, not with us.”

Residents of the town complain: “The Jews don’t respect the place on Sundays,” the public park has been turned into a “pigsty,” the hospital has become a “dangerous place.” Renting apartments to Jews, the priests warn, will hurt property values, and lead to the danger that our pure children will convert. A few young men harass Jews and beat them up; the Jews say they live in great fear.

If this took place in France, and even more so in Germany, it sounds quite bad. But this all happened in Safed – and against Arabs. If it had happened in Europe, Jewish organizations would shout to the high heavens, Israel would recall its ambassador for consultations. The president of the country, whether it be France or Austria, would hurry to the tainted city and do everything possible to calm things down. They would apologize to the Jewish students and instruct the police to see to their safety. The priests would be tried for anti-Semitism.


The latest display of Israeli contempt for non-Jews

Imagine this: You want to move to a new town but before you can do so, you’ll have to submit an application to a committee that has to approve admission of new residents. And not just that — you can be excluded for the simple reason that in the committee’s opinion, you wouldn’t fit in. “Sorry, you’re not the kind of person suitable to live in our town.”

That will be the effect of a new law now moving through Israel’s parliament, and once enacted it will be used to keep Israeli Palestinians out of Jewish towns.

Haaretz reports:

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill which gives the right to absorption committees of small communities in Israel to reject candidates if they do not meet specific criteria.

The bill has sparked wide condemnation and many believe it to be discriminatory and racist, since it allows communities to reject residents if they do no meet the criteria of “suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook”, which in effect enables them to reject candidates based on sex, religion, and socioeconomic status.

The bill is due to be presented before the Knesset plenum in the coming weeks.

Israeli Arab MKs were outraged by the proposal and walked out on the committee’s discussion of it.

MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List – Ta’al) called the bill racist and said it was meant to prevent Arabs from joining Israeli towns. MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List – Ta’al) compared the bill to racist laws in Europe during World War Two, and the two told the committee members before leaving the hall: “We will not cooperate with this criminal law – you have crossed the line.”

The committee’s chairman, David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), responded to claims the bill was meant to reject Arabs from joining Israeli towns. “In my opinion, every Jewish town needs at least one Arab. What would happen if my refrigerator stopped working on a Saturday?”

Rotem’s disdainful comment is strongly reminiscent of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s recent claim: “Goyim were born only to serve us.” The sense of invulnerability these men exude as bigotry slides off their tongues, goes beyond arrogance. It amounts to a scathing contempt for humanity.


Taliban say “end is near” as they anticipate US withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Pentagon won’t admit it, but it becomes increasingly clear that the US and the Taliban are now — by differing means — pursuing the same objective: finding a way to get American troops out of Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reports:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has touted the success of recent operations and indicated that the military thinks it will be able to show meaningful progress by the December review. He said last week that progress is occurring “more rapidly than was anticipated” but acknowledged that major obstacles remain.

U.S. intelligence officials present a similar, but inverted, view – noting tactical successes but warning that well into a major escalation of the conflict, there is little indication that the direction of the war has changed.

Among the troubling findings is that Taliban commanders who are captured or killed are often replaced in a matter of days.
U.S. officials said they have seen isolated indications of slumping morale among some Taliban units, including a reluctance among some mid-level commanders to replace superiors who were captured or killed, apparently out of fear that they might meet the same fate.

But those examples have been offset by other instances in which Taliban succession is almost seamless. In northwestern Bagdhis province, for example, U.S. special operations forces thought they had delivered devastating blows to Taliban guerrillas, killing the group’s local leader, Mullah Ismail, as well as his apparent heir, only to watch yet another “shadow governor” take the job.

The Taliban has dispatched lieutenants to engage in discussions with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But U.S. intelligence officials said the Taliban envoys seem to be participating mainly out of curiosity, convinced that they are in a position to prevail.


The challenge of religious pluralism in America

Legal scholar, Stanley Fish, writes:

The conflict between religious imperatives and the legal obligations one has as a citizen of a secular state — a state that does not take into account the religious affiliations of its citizens when crafting laws — is an old one…; but in recent years it has been felt with increased force as Muslim immigrants to Western secular states evidence a desire to order their affairs, especially domestic affairs, by Shariah law rather than by the supposedly neutral law of a godless liberalism. I say “supposedly” because of the obvious contradiction: how can a law that refuses, on principle, to recognize religious claims be said to be neutral with respect to those claims? Must a devout Muslim (or orthodox Jew or fundamentalist Christian) choose between his or her faith and the letter of the law of the land?

The context in which Muslims in America find their religion under assault is riddled with contradictions. Islamophobia — as The Tennessean reports — has become a profitable business in which fearmongers who profess no expertise on the subject are couching the “threat” from Islam in similar terms to the Red Menace of the 1950s.

“Islam,” says Pastor Darrel Whaley from Kingdom Ministries Worship Center in Rutherford County, Tennessee, “is political; it is ideas and philosophies; it’s not a religion at all… They want to take over America and the whole world.”

(The image in this video freezes after one minute but the audio continues uninterrupted.)

At the same time that Islam is being presented as an ideological threat to America, among those receptive to this message, another message resonates with equal strength: that Americans of faith are threatened by secularists who insist on imposing a separation of church and state.

When Colorado Republican Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite Ken Buck declared: “I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state,” he drew a strong round of applause. Secularism and Sharia are seen by many as a dual threat to the American way of life.

One might imagine that — at least in theory — it would be possible for the embattled faithful, both Muslim and Christian, to find some common ground — at least one would if it were not for the fact that Christianity in America is in so many ways a secularized religion. That’s why the idea of religion shaping the whole life of the faithful is presented as foreign.

Religion in America has less to do with the devotional and ethical practices that circumscribe religious life, than with the experience of belonging to communities of affiliation within which a religious national identity finds expression. It’s about banding together around particular definitions of what it means to be American and taking on battles against those who pose a threat to these definitions.

For that reason, the fight against abortion is a much more popular cause than the fight against adultery. As with most crusades the preferred battleground is not home turf. Religious solidarity comes less through shared practice, than shared animosity.

But before the secularists here (and I include myself) start feeling too smug, Fish makes an important point:

[T]he respect liberalism can accord Islam (or any other strong religion) is the respect one extends to curiosities, eccentrics, the backward, the unenlightened and the unfortunately deluded. Liberal respect stops short — and this is not a failing of liberalism, but its very essence — of taking religious claims seriously, of considering them as possible alternative ways of ordering not only private but public life.

On that basis, it’s easy to adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy — well encapsulated in the COEXIST bumper sticker — in which tolerance is a kind of benign indifference. But coexistence in healthily functioning pluralistic societies must really go much further.

In an interesting talk, Muneer Fareed points out that the challenges America now faces have been addressed before and indeed that Islam in its formation saw its own existence in a pluralistic context.

[The Quran says] If God had so wanted, then all of humanity would be following one way. This is clear unmistakable evidence from the text itself, that Islam is a religion that doctrinally endorses, encourages and accomodates religious pluralism.

The faithful and fearful across America will remain unmoved, convinced paradoxically that this is an argument they cannot win even while truth remains on their side. According to the evangelicals, God does want all of humanity following one way and has chosen men like Pastor Darrel Whaley and Pastor Terry Jones to shepherd us in the right direction.


Israel’s vain quest for sovereignty

Why is it that a country that defines itself in terms of existential threats and the need to provide a safe refuge for the Jewish people, nevertheless seems strangely remiss in securing its own autonomy?

Even if Israel stands out as the preeminent military power in the Middle East, it has only been able to acquire this status through its dependence on the United States. It often masks that dependence by behaving like a brash teenager who is secretly terrified by the thought of leaving home.

Last week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas party — part of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition — made his latest inflammatory statement. In August Yosef called for the annihilation of the Palestinian people. This time he showed his contempt for humanity — at least that rather large portion which happens not to be Jewish, the Goyim.

Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world; only to serve the People of Israel …Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi [lord] and eat…

Yosef’s comments and the lack of censure they received from Israeli politicians, drew swift criticism from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Director Abraham Foxman and David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. Foxman warned that this might have a detrimental effect on Israel’s relations with American Jewry.

While leaders of the American Jewish community acknowledged the damage Yosef’s words could cause, they did not attempt to analyse them.

The Israeli-born anti-Zionist activist and musician, Gilad Atzmon suffers no such reservations.

In just a few words Rabbi Yossef expresses the depth of Judaic contempt towards labour.

The senior Rabbi provides us with a devastating glimpse into the Judaic alienation from these aspects of the human condition and human experience. In an unequivocal manner, Rabbi Yosef depicts a clear dichotomy: Jews are the master race and the Goyim are nothing but a work force. The Goyim are there to sweat and struggle while the Jew is ‘sitting’ and ‘eating.’ I guess that Rabbi Yossef has managed, in just a few words, to portray the intrinsic relationships between Judaism and Capitalism.

But in fact, Rabbi Yossef didn’t invent anything new here — his Saturday sermon sounds familiar enough to me. Karl Marx in his paper “On The Jewish Question,” identified aspects of Jewish ideology at the heart of Capitalism: “It is mankind (both Christians and Jews) that needs to emancipate itself from Judaism.”

Marx managed to identify an inclination towards exploitation at the heart of Jewish culture.

However, being a humanist, Marx wanted to believe that mankind (Jews and others) could overcome this tendency. Many early Zionists too, were also convinced that in Zion, Jews would liberate themselves and eventually become a nation like other nations, through productivity and labour.

Seemingly though, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is not that impressed with either Marx, or some of the ideals within the early Zionist dream: Rabbi Yossef is brave (or foolish) enough to sketch the inherent bond between Jewish culture and Capital.

The only question that is still open is, for how long can the rest of humanity tolerate that kind of Rabbinical arrogance?

Meanwhile, the publication of a “millionaire’s list” last week, revealed Netanyahu’s complete dependence on foreign money for his fundraising efforts. His office in an attempt to explain his donor preferences released a statement in which they made the implausible claim: “His approach is that funds should be raised abroad so as not to put anyone in a potential conflict of interests, and this is the reason he prefers donations from abroad.”

On Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican whip and the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, is concerned that a GOP-led Congress which aims to cut foreign aid could make Israel vulnerable, since it receives more aid than any other country. A possible solution would be that aid to Israel be part of the US defense budget, adding new meaning to the idea that Israel and US interests are indivisible.

Israel demands that it be recognized as a Jewish state by the Palestinians. “Affirmation of Israel’s Jewishness…, is the very foundation of peace, its DNA,” says Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. Yet in the shadow of this fixation on Jewish identity, we see a singular lack of interest in autonomy expressed through a religious leader’s contempt for work, a prime minister’s appetite for foreign money, and a Congressman’s concern that the umbilical chord tying Israel to the US not suffer any interruption or constriction in the steady supply of US tax dollars required for supporting the Jewish state.

Where in this condition is any understanding of the real meaning of sovereignty? Might not Israel’s greatest existential threats be the ones of its own making?


Lieberman orders a “day after” plan for dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran

Reuters reports:

Hardline Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has commissioned a report on how to prepare for a nuclear-armed Iran as doubt mounts about the efficacy of preventive action, an Israeli source said on Monday.

Publicly, Israel has pledged to deny the Iranians the means to make a bomb but its previous, centrist government also discreetly drew up “day after” contingency plans should Tehran’s uranium enrichment pass the military threshold.

At the time, rightist opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu called for Israel to consider preemptive strikes against its arch-foe’s nuclear sites. Now prime minister, Netanyahu has reined in such rhetoric while not ruling out the use of force.

In a sign the government is examining a full range of options, Lieberman, the most hawkish member of Netanyahu’s coalition, has ordered ministry strategists to draft a paper on “what to do if we wake up and discover the Iranians have a nuclear weapon,” said the senior Israeli political source, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Considering the fact that Israeli leaders have been sounding the alarm about Iran’s “imminent” acquisition of nuclear weapons for over a decade, it’s a bit late in the day to be working on a “day after” plan. Indeed, it suggests rather strongly that despite warning that another Holocaust might be just around the corner, the leaders of a nation protected by its own arsenal of around 200 nuclear weapons has never been quite as afraid of Iran as they claimed.