Saturday, January 22, 2011

Beyond the water’s edge

Saturday January 22nd 2011

By Sarah Honig

In his (pre-presidential) heyday, witty and irrepressible Ezer Weizman once famously quipped that whereas “the eternity of Israel shall not deceive” (I Samuel 15:29), “the Arabs won’t let us down.”

Reckless as it may be to excessively rely on rescue by enemy imprudence, Kadima MK Nachman Shai should certainly be grateful to PA President Mahmoud Abbas for facilitating his own face-saving climb-down.

Earlier this month, Shai was about to head a delegation of opposition politicos on a pilgrimage to Abbas in Ramallah. That PR stunt might have misfired undesirably considering that Abbas has only just reiterated his absolute unwavering insistence on the “right” to inundate Israel with untold millions of hostile Arabs and his equally uncompromising refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. bbas has done nothing to justify an image boost from an ostensibly mainstream Israeli party while it persists in tarnishing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as unaccountably the villain of the doomed peace-talks scenario.

Had Abbas not pulled Kadima’s chestnuts out of the fire, Shai’s bunch would have appeared as siding with an intransigent antagonist, all for the sake of whacking the government.

Abbas’s pretext was the inclusion in Shai’s entourage of Alfei Menashe Local Council head Hisdai Eliezer. Abbas blackballed the “settler,” affording Shai an opportunity to play the resolute hero who “objects to any sort of boycott.”

Yet it shouldn’t have taken Abbas’s folly to change Shai’s plans. These plans should have never been made in the first place. It’s one thing for the opposition to carp and take potshots domestically but quite another for it to venture on its own foreign policy initiatives.

In 1947, in what was dubbed “the speech heard around the world,” Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg urged that Democratic president Harry Truman be allowed to pursue his foreign policy unhindered because “politics should stop at the water’s edge.”

In other words, honorable politicians present a united front to other countries, despite home-turf disagreements.

Conducting a separate foreign policy, especially vis-a-vis inimical forces, is illegitimate in any democracy. The sabotage of an elected government’s policy overturns the people’s verdict by means other than the ballot box.

Wherever and whenever foreign policy does not remain free of tinkering inspired by partisan rivalries and ambitions, the consequences may prove calamitous.

Remember: the entire Oslo fiasco began as private diplomatic enterprise behind the back of the elected government.

The prelude occurred in 1987, when Shimon Peres, then serving as prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s foreign minister, concocted the London Agreement with Jordan.

Peres kept Shamir in the dark, while leading King Hussein to believe he had Shamir’s blessing. Only the Americans eventually let Shamir in on the scheme. Peres even refused to show Shamir a copy of the agreement, something the Americans eventually provided.

Shamir sacked Peres. Yitzhak Rabin didn’t, though Peres pulled the same stunt on him. Instead, Rabin fell for the fait accompli, which came to be known as the Oslo Accord.

In an October 31, 2008 Yediot Aharonot interview, Yossi Beilin unabashedly admitted that during the Oslo process, he “had to do things behind people’s backs. I was deputy foreign minister. The foreign minister and prime minister [Peres and Rabin] didn’t know that I was conducting talks with the PLO until I decided to inform them.”

Beilin’s confession should have generated a furious political maelstrom. Our opinion-molders should have been scandalized. Our entire public discourse should have reverberated with outrage. But nobody was appalled. Perhaps it was because Beilin’s conspiracy was right up Peres’s alley and he enticed Rabin into it.

Eventually, irresponsible dilettante negotiations without government sanction or knowledge do more than undermine the country’s strength. They cause disregard and derision for us internationally. Jewish sovereignty ends up treated with insolence nobody would ever dare demonstrate even toward any minor Third World potentate.

What foreign governments and their local envoys allow themselves here, they wouldn’t begin to countenance in relation to any other government anywhere, even of the less-than-strictly-democratic variety.

The erosion is continuous and the damage is wrought in such small increments, over so many years, that collective memory of most individual episodes of subterfuge quickly fades.

Here is one seemingly negligible yet very telling instance from January 2004, when astonished members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee were informed that Norway’s embassy hosted a clandestine meeting between opposition leader Shimon Peres of Labor and PA premier Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala). At the time Qurei assiduously resisted all pressure to confer with the elected premier (alas, of the Likud).

But that was hardly all. Qurei was chauffeured to Tel Aviv, without prior coordination with IDF authorities, by Norwegian UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen – one of Oslo’s progenitors, with political and personal links aplenty to Peres. Larsen had transported Qurei illicitly across the lines in blatant contravention of the legitimate authorities’ regulations. He thereby thumbed his nose at official Israel and this was no isolated instance of such contempt on his part.

The fact that the Norwegian embassy thought it desirable to go behind its host government’s back attested to a flagrantly disrespectful attitude and inappropriate conduct, hardly conceivable elsewhere.

In this forgotten but seminal case, senior diplomats sought to further agendas in cahoots with the opposition against the expressed policies of the legal government. In blunter terms, this should have been called subversion.

Even in 2004, moreover, it wasn’t an isolated instance.

It came hot on the heels of the bizarre financial largesse and tireless efforts of the Swiss to sponsor the Geneva Initiative, in impudent defiance of the government which represented the overwhelming majority of the people.

Additionally, this wasn’t solely the oddball undemocratic indecency of misguided Europeans. American ambassador Dan Kurtzer, representing what was hyped as Washington’s friendliest-ever administration, engaged in similar hanky-panky. He hosted a get-together between senior Palestinians – though they boycotted Israel’s elected leadership – and leading activists in the left-wing opposition from both Labor and Meretz.

Particularly disconcerting was the fact that at least some of this session was devoted to trashing the duly elected government. If anything, that signaled to potential Palestinian “peace partners” that they needn’t respect their Israeli interlocutors and that they can take it for granted that Israel didn’t enjoy American backing. In itself, that’s a dangerous message.

Topping the chutzpah was that the furtive nature of assignation diplomacy wasn’t what bothered Labor or Meretz. They were up-in-arms about the fact that officialdom was aware of who they saw and what was said.

This to them smacked of McCarthyism.

Magically, they shifted the focus from their underhandedness to the supposed violation of their rights, just as they do in the current imbroglio about who funds the Left’s front-organizations, those which spare no effort or tactic to demonize Israel worldwide.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Israel’s politics stop neither at the water’s edge nor at the Green Line. They never have.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Agenda of Islam - A War Between Civilizations

Professor Moshe Sharon

The war has started a long time ago between two civilizations - between the civilization based on the Bible and between the civilization based on the Koran. And this must be clear.

There is no fundamental Islam

"Fundamentalism" is a word that came from the heart of the Christian religion. It means faith that goes by the word of the Bible. Fundamental Christianity, or going with the Bible, does not mean going around and killing people. There is no fundamental Islam. There is only Islam full stop. The question is how the Koran is interpreted.All of a sudden we see that the greatest interpreters of Islam are politicians in the western world. They know better than all the speakers in the mosques, all those who deliver terrible sermons against anything that is either Christian or Jewish. These western politicians know that there is

You see, so much is covered by politically correct language that, in fact, the truth has been lost. For example, when we speak about Islam in the west, we try to use our own language and terminology. We speak about Islam in terms of democracy and fundamentalism, in terms of parliamentarism and all kinds of terms, which we take from our own dictionary. One of my professors and one of the greatest orientalists in the world says that doing this is like a cricket reporter describing a cricket game in baseball terms. We cannot use for one culture or civilization the language of another. For Islam, you've got to use the language of Islam.

Driving Principles of Islam

Let me explain the principles that are driving the religion of Islam. Of course, every Moslem has to acknowledge the fact that there is only one God.

But it's not enough to say that there is only one God. A Moslem has to acknowledge the fact that there is one God and Mohammed is his prophet. These are the fundamentals of the religion that without them, one cannot be a Moslem.

But beyond that, Islam is a civilization. It is a religion that gave first and foremost a wide and unique legal system that engulfs the individual, society and nations with rules of behaviour. If you are Moslem, you have to behave according to the rules of Islam which are set down in the Koran and which are very different than the teachings of the Bible.

The Bible

Let me explain the difference.

The Bible is the creation of the spirit of a nation over a very, very long period, if we talk from the point of view of the scholar, and let me remain scholarly. But there is one thing that is important in the Bible. It leads to salvation. It leads to salvation in two ways.

In Judaism, it leads to national salvation -- not just a nation that wants to have a state, but a! nation that wants to serve God. That's the idea behind the Hebrew text of the Bible.

The New Testament that took the Hebrew Bible moves us toward personal salvation. So we have got these two kinds of salvation, which, from time to time, meet each other.

But the key word is salvation. Personal salvation means that each individual is looked after by God, Himself, who leads a person through His word to salvation. This is the idea in the Bible, whether we are talking about the Old or the New Testament. All of the laws in the Bible, even to the minutest ones, are, in fact directed toward this fact of salvation.

Secondly, there is another point in the Bible, which is highly important. This is the idea that man was created in the image of God. Therefore, you don't just walk around and obliterate the image of God. Many people, of course, used Biblical rules and turned them upside down. History has seen a lot of massacres in the name of God and in the name of Jesus. But as religions, both Judaism and Christianity in their fundamentals speak about honouring the image of God and the hope of salvation. These are the two basic fundamentals.

The Essence of Islam

Now let's move to the essence of Islam. Islam was born with the idea that it should rule the world.

Let's look, then, at the difference between these three religions. Judaism speaks about national salvation - namely that at the end of the story, when the world becomes a better place, Israel will be in its own land, ruled by its own king and serving God. Christianity speaks about the idea that every single person in the world can be saved from his sings, while Islam speaks about ruling the world. I can quote here in Arabic, but there is no point in quoting Arabic, so let me quote a verse in English. "Allah sent Mohammed with the true religion so that it should rule over all the religions."

The idea, then, is not that the whole world would become a Moslem world at this time, but that the whole world would be subdued under the rule of Islam. When the Islamic empire was established in 634 AD, within seven years - 640 - the core of the empire was created. The rules that were taken from the Koran and from the tradition that was ascribed to the prophet Mohammed, were translated into a real legal system. Jews and Christians could live under Islam provided they paid poll tax and accepted Islamic superiority. Of course, they had to be humiliated. And Jews and Christians living under Islam are humiliated to this very day.

Mohammed Held That All the Biblical Prophets Were Moslems

Mohammed did accept the existence of all the Biblical prophets before him. However he also said that all these prophets were Moslems. Abraham was a Moslem. In fact, Adam himself was the first Moslem. Isaac and Jacob and David and Solomon and Moses and Jesus were all Moslems, and all of them had writings similar to the Koran. Therefore, world history is Islamic history because all the heroes of history were Moslems.

Furthermore, Moslems accept the fact that each of these prophets brought with him some kind of a revelation. Moses, brought the Taurat, which is the Torah, and Jesus brought the Ingeel, which is the Evangelion or Gospel -- namely the New Testament.

The Bible vs. the Koran

Why then is the Bible not similar to the Koran?

Mohammed explains that the Jews and Christians forged their books. Had they not been changed and forged, they would have been identical to the Koran. But because Christians and Jews do have some truth, Islam concedes that they cannot be completely destroyed by war [for now].

Nevertheless, the laws a very clear - Jews and Christians have no rights whatsoever to independent existence. They can live under Islamic rule provided they keep to the rules that Islam promulgates for them.

Islamic Rule and Jihad

What happens if Jews and Christians don't want to live under the rules of Islam? Then Islam has to fight them and this fighting is called Jihad. Jihad means war against those people who don't want to accept the Islamic superior rule. That's jihad. They may be Jews; they may be Christians; they may be Polytheists. But since we don't have too many Polytheists left, at least not in the Middle East - their war is against the Jews and Christians.

A few days ago, I received a pamphlet that was distributed in the world by bin Laden. He calls for jihad against America as the leader of the Christian world, not because America is the supporter of Israel, but because Americans are desecrating Arabia with their filthy feet. There are Americans in Arabia were no Christians should be. In this pamphlet there is not a single word about Israel. Only that Americans are desecrating the home of the prophet.

Two Houses

The Koran sees the world as divided into two - one part! which has come under Islamic rule and one part which is supposed to come under Islamic rule in the future. There is a division of the world which is very clear. Every single person who starts studying Islam knows it. The world is described as Dar al-Islam (the house of Islam) - that's the place where Islam rules - and the other part which is called Dar al-Harb - the house of war. Not the "house of non-Muslims," but the "house of war." It is this house of war which as to be, at the end of time, conquered. The world will continue to be in the house of war until it comes under Islamic rule.
This is the norm. Why? Because Allah says it's so in the Koran. God has sent Mohammed with the true religion in order that the truth will overcome all other religions.

Islamic Law

Within the Islamic vision of this world, there are rules that govern the lives of the Moslems themselves, and these rules are very strict. In fundamentals, there are no differences between ! schools of law.

However, there are four streams of factions within Islam with differences between them concerning the minutiae of the laws. All over the Islamic world, countries have favored one or another of these schools of laws.

The strictest school of law is called Hanbali, mainly coming out of Saudi Arabia. There are no games there, no playing around with the meanings of words. If the Koran speaks about war, then it's war.

There are various perspectives in Islam with different interpretations over the centuries. There were good people that were very enlightened in Islam that tried to understand things differently. They even brought traditions from the mouth of the prophet that women and children should not be killed in war.

These more liberal streams do exist, but there is one thing that is very important for us to remember. The Hanbali school of law is extremely strict, and today this is the school that is behind most of the terrorist powers. Even if we talk about the existence of other schools of Islamic law, when we're talking about fighting against the Jews, or fighting against the Christian world led by America, it is the Hanbali school of law that is being followed.

Islam and Territory

This civilization created one very important, fundamental rule about territory. Any territory that comes under Islamic rule cannot be de-Islamized. Even if at one time or another, the [non-Moslem] enemy takes over the territory that was under Islamic rule, it is considered to be perpetually Islamic.

This is why whenever you hear about the Arab/Israeli conflict, you hear - territory, territory, territory. There are other aspects to the conflict, but territory is highly important.

The Christian civilization has not only been seen as a religious opponent, but as a dam stopping Islam from achieving its final goal for which it was created.

Islam was created to be the army of God, the army of Allah. Every single Moslem is a soldier in this army. Every single Moslem that dies in fighting for the spread of Islam is a shaheed (martyr) no matter how he dies, because - and this is very important - this is an eternal word between the two civilizations. It's not a war that stops. This was is there because it was created by Allah. Islam must be the ruler. This is a war that will not end.

Islam and Peace

Peace in Islam can exist only within the Islamic world; peace can only be between Moslem and Moslem.

With the non-Moslem world or non-Moslem opponents, there can be only one solution --- a cease fire until Moslems can gain more power. It is an eternal war until the end of days. Peace can only come if the Islamic side wins.

The two civilizations can only have periods of cease-fires. And this idea of cease-fire is based on a very important historical precedent, which, incidentally, Yasser Arafat referred to when he spoke in Johannesburg after he signed the Oslo agreement with Israel.

Let me remind you that the document speaks of peace -- you wouldn't believe that you are reading! You would think that you were reading some science fiction piece. I mean when you read it, you can't believe that this was signed by Israelis who are actually acquainted with Islamic policies and civilization.

A few weeks after the Oslo agreement was signed, Arafat went to Johannesburg, and in a mosque there he made a speech in which he apologized, saying, "Do you think I signed something with the Jews which is contrary to the rules of Islam?" (I have obtained a copy of Arafat's recorded speech so I heard it from his own mouth.) Arafat continued, "That's not so. I'm doing exactly what the prophet Mohammed did."

Whatever the prophet is supposed have done becomes a precedent. What Arafat was saying was, "Remember the story of Hodaybiya." The prophet had made an agreement there with the tribe of Kuraish for 10 years. But then he trained 10,000 soldiers and within two years marched on their city of Mecca. He, of course, found some kind of pretext.

Thus, in Islamic jurisdiction, it became a legal precedent which states that you are only allowed to make peace for a maximum of 10 years.

Secondly, at the first instance that you are able, you must renew the jihad [thus breaking the "peace" agreement].

In Israel, it has taken over 50 years in this country for our people to understand that they cannot speak about [permanent] peace with Moslems. It will take another 50 years for the western world to understand that they have got a state of war with the Islamic civilization that is virile and strong. This should be understood: When we talk about war and peace, we are not talking in Belgium, French, English, or German terms. We are talking about war and peace in Islamic terms.

Cease-fire as a Tactical Choice

What makes Islam accept cease-fire? Only one thing -- when the enemy is too strong. It ! is a tactical choice.

Sometimes, he may have to agree to a cease-fire in the most humiliating conditions. It's allowed because Mohammed accepted a cease-fire under humiliating conditions. That's what Arafat said to them in Johannesburg.

When western policy makers hear these things, they answer, "What are you talking about? You are in the Middle Ages. You don't understand the mechanisms of politics."

Which mechanisms of politics? There are no mechanisms of politics where power is. And I want to tell you one thing - we haven't seen the end of it, because the minute a radical Moslem power has atomic, chemical or biological weapons, they will use it. I have no doubt about that.

Now, since we face war and we know that we cannot get more than an impermanent cease-fire, one has to ask himself what is the major component of an Israeli/Arab cease-fire. It is that the Islamic side is weak and your side is strong. The relations between Israel and the Arab world in t! he last 50 years since the establishment of our State has been based only on this idea, the deterrent power.

Wherever You Have Islam, You Will Have War

The reason that we have what we have in Yugoslavia and other places is because Islam succeeded into entering these countries. Wherever you have Islam, you will have war. It grows out of the attitude of Islamic civilization.

What are the poor people in the Philippines being killed for? What's happening between Pakistan and India?

Islamic Infiltration

Furthermore, there is another fact that must be remembered. The Islamic world has not only the attitude of open war, but there's also war by infiltration.

One of the things which the western world is not paying enough attention to is the tremendous growth of Islamic power in the western world. What happened in America and the Twin Towers is not something that came from the outside. And if America doesn't wake up, one day the Americans will find themselves in a chemical war and most likely in an atomic war - inside the U.S.

End of Days

It is highly important to understand how a civilization sees the end of days. In Christianity and in Judaism, we know exactly what is the vision of the end of days.

In Judaism, it is going to be as in Isaiah -- peace between nations, not just one nation, but between all nations. People will not have any more need for weapons and nature will be changed -- a beautiful end of days and the kingdom of God on earth.

Christianity goes as far as Revelation to see a day that Satan himself is obliterated. There are no more powers of evil. That's the vision.

I'm speaking now as a historian. I try to understand how Islam sees the end of days. In the end of days, Islam sees a world that is totally Moslem, completely Moslem under the rule of Islam. Complete and final victory.

Christians will not exist, because according to many Islamic traditions, the Moslems who are in hell will have to be replaced by somebody and they'll! be replaced by the Christians.

The Jews will no longer exist, because before the coming of the end of days, there is going to be a war against the Jews where all Jews should be killed. I'm quoting now from the heart of Islamic tradition, from the books that are read by every child in school. They Jews will all be killed. They'll be running away and they'll be hiding behind trees and rocks, and on that day Allah will give mouths to the rocks and trees and they will say, "Oh Moslem come here, there is a Jew behind me, kill him." Without this, the end of days cannot come. This is a fundamental of Islam.

Is There a Possibility to End This Dance of War?

The question which we in Israel are asking ourselves is what will happen to our country? Is there a possibility to end this dance of war?

The answer is, "No. Not in the foreseeable future." What we can do is reach a situation where for a few years we may have relative quiet.

But for Islam, the establishment of the state of Israel was a reverse of Islamic history. First, Islamic territory was taken away from Islam by Jews. You know by now that this can never be accepted, not even one meter. So everyone who thinks Tel Aviv is safe is making a grave mistake. Territory, which at one time was dominated by Islamic rule, now has become non-Moslem. Non-Moslems are independent of Islamic rule; Jews have created their own independent state. It is anathema.

And (this is the worse) Israel, a non-Moslem state, is ruling over Moslems. It is unthinkable that non-Moslems should rule over Moslems.

I believe that Western civilization should hold together and support each other. Whether this will happen or not, I don't know. Israel finds itself on the front lines of this war. It needs the help of its sister civilization. It needs the help of America and Europe. It needs the help of the Christian world. One thing I am sure about, this help can be given by individual Christians who see this as the road to salvation.

From: December 24, 2003.

What Palestinians Are Saying Online

Jonathan Schanzer
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2011, pp. 15-24 (view PDF)

During the past decade, Washington has repeatedly failed to gauge the extent of Palestinian anti-peace sentiments with devastating consequences. The July 2000 Camp David summit triggered the worst wave of Palestinian violence since 1948 (euphemized as the "al-Aqsa Intifada"); the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January 2006 led to a victory for the Hamas Islamist group. Now that President Obama has announced his ambitious timeline for Israeli-Palestinian peace, could the administration be rushing headlong into yet another diplomatic failure? A recent nine-week study by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) of online Palestinian political sentiments suggests that this could be the case.[1] Palestinian Internet users often derided diplomatic initiatives, and their discussion of the peace process was overwhelmingly negative. More alarmingly, the study revealed several troubling trends among Palestinian social media users—notably the prevalence of Islamism, fissures between factions, and the inability of liberal reformers to be heard—that cast doubt on both the prospects for peace and the likelihood that a democratic Palestinian state will emerge.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice excused the administration's failure to anticipate Hamas's landslide victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections as "not having a good enough pulse" of Palestinian society and politics.
For years, reliance on faulty poll data and input from "experts" on the ground has thwarted Washington's ability to take the Palestinian pulse. The George W. Bush administration's decision to support the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006, for example, was due, in no small part, to polling data that all but guaranteed a Fatah victory over Hamas. The polls were produced primarily by Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, which conducted three studies of Palestinian opinion in June, September, and December 2005. These indicated that Fatah's support among Palestinians ranged from 44 percent to 50 percent while support for Hamas ranged from 32 to 33 percent.[2] "With each new Shikaki poll," Middle East scholar Martin Kramer noted, "U.S. policymakers grew more lax when it came to setting conditions for Hamas participation."[3]

Reliance on these polls proved a grave error, as Hamas won the election by a landslide. The Islamist faction, best known for acts of violence against Israel, claimed 76 of 132 seats (74 under the Hamas banner, plus 2 independents), granting it the right to form a government.[4] In the end, more than one million Palestinians cast their votes in what observers considered a relatively free and fair election—a rarity in the Arab world.

What went wrong? Shikaki's critics alleged that his polls may have been part of Fatah's election strategy to project its strength.[5] But whatever it was that led Washington astray, the outcome of the elections made clear that the U.S. government lacked a reliable read on the Palestinian street. As former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said of Hamas's victory in congressional testimony, "I've asked why nobody saw it coming … It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."[6]

Four years later, Washington may still be unable to assess Palestinian allegiances in the West Bank and Gaza, and the stakes are even higher.
General Trends

Despite the fact that their Internet access is free of outside manipulation, most Palestinian activists do not reveal their names online. Indeed, few Palestinians maintain personal Facebook or Twitter accounts, presumably to ensure that their viewpoints or posts cannot be attributed to them directly. Rather, the majority of Palestinian web users engage in political debate on impersonal discussion boards. Writing under pseudonyms, they maintain anonymity while discussing the most heated issues of the day without fear of retribution.

The bulk of Palestinian political discussion online takes place on these web forums, which typically provide space for like-minded people to express their views. For example, some are pro-Hamas ( whereas others are pro-Fatah ( And while some sites feature adversarial posts, such as pro-Hamas users posting on Fatah sites, most are dominated by sympathizers of the owner faction.

In a sense, the tribalism and factionalism that traditionally dominate Palestinian society can be observed in the form of similar groupings online. Groups allow individuals to break with their thinking, but only to a point.
Reform Factions

The survey sought, inter alia, to shed light on the desire for political reform in the Palestinian territories, "third party" alternatives to Hamas and Fatah, and nonviolent or moderate political ideologies. It found some discussion about such issues among Palestinian Internet users in the West Bank but did not identify any discussion threads that addressed this issue in the Gaza Strip—an apparent affirmation that Hamas does not welcome secular reform parties under its rule.

The now-defunct Third Way (al-Tariq al-Thalith) was, until 2007, probably the most recognizable Palestinian reform faction. It advocated land for peace with Israel in accordance with U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, renounced violence, and rejected the implementation of Islamic law (Shari'a) in Palestinian society. The faction also called for a total overhaul of the Palestinian security apparatus. Formed in 2005 by current Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad, its founding can be attributed to a rejection of both Fatah's corruption and Hamas's extremism. In the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Fayyad and former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi headed the Third Way list but won only two of the Legislative Council's 132 seats.[7] The faction folded when Fayyad became prime minister in June 2007. Since then, world leaders have come to view him as crucial to Palestinian reform.[8]

In the Palestinian web forums, Fayyad dominated much of the discussion but was generally described as prime minister—not a reformer. Discussion about Fayyad was divisive, attracting intense criticism from both supporters and opponents of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

For example, some forums circulated a pro-Hamas Palestine Information Center article titled "Salam Fayyad: Master or Puppet?" praising the prime minister's intellect but warning that he lacked the political expertise to lead effectively.[9] Radicalized forum users also re-posted editorials claiming that Fayyad's government has no constitutional legitimacy.[10] Others noted that Fayyad's role as financial gatekeeper had sparked tension among Fatah leaders as had his plans to declare a Palestinian state in 2011 without Hamas's involvement.[11] Another widely circulated article, "When a Fighter Turns into a Spy," criticized Fayyad's "economic peace" for turning "resistance fighters" in the West Bank into "tools of the occupation."[12] When Fayyad condemned the June 2010 attack that killed an Israeli police officer in Hebron,[13] he prompted critical comments on the pro-Hamas website and the Iraq-focused, jihadist site[14]

Whereas Fatah sympathizers used their forums as a platform to criticize their opponents (especially Hamas), few users, with the exception of a handful of bloggers, expressed viewpoints conducive to political reforms in the West Bank. Indeed, the lack of positive sentiment or even mentions of Palestinian reform was one of the most important findings of the study.

This runs counter to Fayyad's image in the West where he is widely revered for revitalizing the West Bank, reforming state institutions, and presiding over unprecedented Palestinian economic growth. So much so that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman coined the term "Fayyadism" to describe his approach to Palestinian governance: basing legitimacy on transparent and efficient administration, rather than the rejectionism, personality cults, and security services that marked Yasser Arafat's regime.[15]

Yet, online discussions indicate that Palestinians often regard Fayyad as a Western puppet in general and a collaborator with Washington and Jerusalem in particular.[16] Some Palestinians believe Fayyad remains in office only to please Western donors. This suggests that the higher quality of life and political changes Fayyad has delivered to the Palestinians may be less important to them than the perceived need for conflict with Israel.
Islamism among Palestinians

While political reform lacks support in the Palestinian web environment, Islamism is alive and well with Hamas maintaining a particularly strong presence. Palestine's Dialogue Forum is a popular forum that draws high traffic from readers of Hamas's official media page, the Palestinian Center for Media. Hamas also maintains a strong presence on the "I'm the Muslim" Network for Islamic Discussion, which hosts heated debates among jihadists. It also regularly posts press releases from Fatah's armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and the global Islamist group Hizb at-Tahrir. Hamas is also active on al-Jazeera Talk, which maintains a steady presence of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, as well as Salafists and al-Qaeda sympathizers.

Palestinians on these forums expressed dissatisfaction about the Hamas-Fatah conflict,[17] but Hamas supporters only occasionally engaged their Fatah foes on Fatah forums. More often, they used the forums to reinforce their own opinions. Palestinian Internet users slammed Fatah for its continued reliance on the United States, Jordan, and Israel to maintain security in the West Bank.[18] They also accused the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority of torture and murder, denigrated West Bank police as "Abbas's militias," and referred to the detainment of Hamas members as "kidnappings."[19]

Rather than seeking unity with their more secular foes, many online Hamas supporters occupied themselves with the challenge of reconciling Hamas's ideology with that of more radical users. While numerous Salafist sites (,,,,, and criticized Hamas, debates between Salafist sympathizers and Hamas supporters were more commonly found on larger, ideologically diverse forums such as and

During the monitoring period, political sub-forums on hosted heated debates on questions of Islamic piety between Salafists and users who sympathize with Hamas and its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. From time to time, one poster would declare another takfir (an accusation whereby one Muslim accuses another of apostasy).

Salafists and Hamas, however, showed no disagreement on the topic of Israel. It should come as no surprise, then, that the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks prompted a flurry of discussion on pro-Hamas sites wherein users generally agreed that the move "does not reflect the will of the Palestinian people."[20]

Online conversations reflecting Salafist[21] influence addressed a range of topics, first and foremost the prospect of violence against Israel in religious terms. In the views of many Salafist users, jihad is a legitimate method of resistance to Israel and an obligation for all Muslims as Israeli control over what they regard as Muslim lands merits violence.

Other issues that attracted Salafists' attention include the alleged corruption of Fatah leaders, coupled with the notion that they served as agents of the West; descriptions of Israeli "occupation" as part of a broader theological battlefield, including conflicts in other Muslim countries (such as Iraq and Afghanistan); the practice of takfir (declaring one's Islamic opponent an apostate) on less religiously-committed Palestinians; and the implementation of Shari'a in an eventual Palestinian state.

One particularly revealing discussion surrounded al-Qaeda's popularity among Palestinians. Palestinian users on wrote that they "respect" al-Qaeda but do not believe that Salafist ideology is popular among Palestinians. Others disagreed. One Palestinian forum member explicitly disavowed support for al-Qaeda, saying that he used to take pride in the group but that its supporters on the forum showed him that they "surpass even Fatah in their hatred for Hamas," prompting two other users based in the Palestinian territories to express similar views.[22]

There was also some evidence of friction between Salafists and Hamas. Many of the Salafi users on,, and condemned Hamas for "waging war" against Salafists in Gaza, pointing to the bloody August 2009 clashes between the group and members of the Salafist faction Jund Ansar Allah (JAA) in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah.[23] Hamas supporters expressed anger that JAA had declared takfir on Hamas; JAA supporters denied that it had while Salafists criticized Hamas for cracking down on JAA operatives in Gaza. Forums at,, and also proved fertile ground for Salafist Palestinians to express their ideologies and condemn Hamas for being "un-Islamic" and forsaking the fight against Israel in the interest of staying in power. Salafist users on openly referred to Hamas leaders as infidels.

Several posts suggested deeper Salafist penetration of Palestinian society. The Salafist site, for example, re-posted reports from the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen had sent West Bank militants a guide detailing how to use a car engine to build a light aircraft that could be used to launch attacks against Israel.[24] A regular contributor on denied these allegations but acknowledged the existence of ties between al-Qaeda and certain Palestinian groups.[25]

Like the Salafists, Hamas supporters generally favored continued attacks against Israel. A handful of pro-Hamas users on and even called for attacks from the West Bank. One user stated that rocket attacks from Gaza were no longer necessary since Gaza had been "liberated" after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the territory in 2005,[26] but this was a minority opinion.

One lively debate on illuminated divisions over Hamas's strategy. Discussing the future of Hamas rule in Gaza, the group's online supporters disagreed over the wisdom of direct confrontation with Israel but ultimately discussed how Hamas should bring rival factions into the fight against Israel instead of clashing with them.[27]

In short, the Palestinian social media environment offers no indication that Hamas seeks peace with Israel. There were no scored posts on this topic on any of the pro-Hamas forums. Nor were there any posts attributed to pro-Hamas users on this topic on other web forums.

All in all, Palestinian Islamist activity online mirrors what many observers have already reported, namely, that Salafism has a growing number of adherents online and that rejectionism is the dominant position among Hamas users online, casting doubt on claims that the group privately wishes to negotiate peace with Jerusalem and Washington. Finally, Hamas remains entrenched in a civil war with Fatah and does not appear eager to end it, as evidenced by the repeated online attacks it has launched against the rival organization.[28]

Relevant posts scored over the course of nine weeks reveal Fatah to be a faction in disarray. Indeed, the organization has undergone something of an identity crisis since the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000 and 2001.[29] From a political perspective, Fatah lacks leadership. From an ideological perspective, it lacks direction. Palestinian web users indicated this repeatedly on Fatah's two online forums: Voice of Palestine and Fatah Forum.

For example, the announcement that Mahmoud Abbas would meet with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) during his June 2010 visit to the United States prompted anti-Fatah users to post scathing criticisms of both AIPAC and the Palestinian Authority president.[30] Fatah supporters largely ignored the visit until reports surfaced of Abbas's statement that he "does not deny the Jews' right to the land of Israel" (translated by major Arab news outlets as "right to land in Palestine"),[31] prompting discomfiture among Fatah's online supporters. Fatah users posted divisive comments on the Voice of Palestine site, lamenting Fatah's renunciation of armed resistance and even admitting that the movement is "in decline."[32]

Fatah supporters also weighed in on a Palestinian attack on an Israeli patrol in the West Bank town of Hebron that killed one Israeli police officer and wounded three others. They re-posted articles carrying the PA's condemnation of the attack even as Hamas supporters and other users accused the PA of "valuing Jews more than Palestinians."[33] Ironically, it was ultimately Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades that claimed responsibility for the attack (along with a new group called Martyrs of the Freedom Flotilla), highlighting the deep divisions within Fatah itself.[34]

On the issue of violence, Fatah supporters online fall into two camps of roughly even strength: those who support nonviolent means of protest and those who yearn for a return to the "Second (al-Aqsa) Intifada" of 2000-05. Whether this correlates to the way Fatah members actually view conflict with Israel will need to be verified.

Nonetheless, most Fatah supporters on the web embraced the notion that Israel was an enemy rather than a peace partner. One particularly popular post during the study period was a report that appeared on Fatah forums alleging that Israel seeks to "separate Gaza from the West Bank" and, thereby, "liquidate the Palestinian national project."[35] This, however, did not prevent these supporters from voicing loyalty to the Fatah leadership despite its engagement in negotiations with Israel.
The Peace Process

During the observation period, despite positive developments from the Palestinian perspective, a noticeable majority of Palestinian social media commentary on the peace negotiations was negative.

In his address to the Muslim world from Cairo on June 4, 2009, President Obama declared that the Palestinians' situation was "intolerable." [36] He has since pressed Israel to cease all development in the West Bank and placed an unprecedented emphasis on freezing construction in East Jerusalem. U.S.-Israel relations came under particular strain in March 2010 when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House. Amidst a disagreement over building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Obama reportedly humiliated the Israeli prime minister by walking out on the Israeli delegation to have dinner with his family.[37] While Netanyahu and Obama had a more cordial meeting in July,[38] Israelis continue to distrust the president. According to a March 2010 poll, 9 percent of Israelis said that Obama's administration is pro-Israel while 48 percent called it pro-Palestinian.[39] These sentiments likely hardened in July after the Obama administration upgraded the diplomatic status of the Palestinian Authority in Washington to that of a general delegation, which was largely viewed as a step toward Palestinian statehood.[40]

Yet despite these advances for the Palestinians, they showed little optimism online about the U.S.-led peace process. The study analyzed sentiment on a variety of topics, including religious and political reasons for rejecting the peace process; rationales for refusing to deal with Israel; mistrust of Israel's motives; the perception that peace talks are futile; mistrust of the United States as a negotiator; anger at the PA for "selling out the resistance"; and an overall unwillingness to compromise on key issues such as borders, settlements, and the right of return—the standard Palestinian and Arab euphemism for the demographic destruction of Israel.

Users on pro-Hamas forums such as and asserted that the return to peace talks "does not reflect the will of the Palestinian people" and decried the recent U.S. move to transfer $150 million to the PA as "bribery."[41] The website, which is popular among supporters of Palestinian militant groups, served as a venue for Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to post statements rejecting the resumption of negotiations.

Indeed, most users on a broad spectrum of Palestinian sites viewed violence as a legitimate alternative to negotiations and rejected Israel's political and territorial claims. Users on forums such as and the radical blog distributed editorials expressing negative sentiments about the peace process by Egyptian columnist Fahmy Howeidy, as well as al-Quds al-Arabi editor Abdul Bari Atwan, who raised the specter of an "open intifada" in the West Bank.[42] An article on the Islamist website echoed these sentiments, noting that an impasse in the peace process could turn into an "armed uprising."[43]

Palestinian Internet users often dismissed potentially positive diplomatic steps. Abbas's June 2010 visit to the U.S. prompted a flurry of negative responses, including pointedly derogatory comments surrounding his meeting with AIPAC.[44] And as also noted above, even on pro-Fatah sites including, Fatah members lamented their leaders' renunciation of armed resistance.[45] One popular posting (re-posted on the Arabic blog aggregator and the reform-leaning asserted that Israel was incapable of "unilateral" peace due to a lack of political will and that the two-state solution was "on its deathbed"—meaning that the Palestinians needed to consider a one-state solution to the conflict.[46]

This examination of the Palestinian Internet social media environment found the following trends:

Many Palestinians do not support the efforts to achieve peace. Despite the Obama administration's recent push to bring an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and perhaps even help the Palestinians declare a state, not to mention its online efforts through a State Department initiative to win Palestinian hearts and minds,[47] Palestinian web users show a distinct lack of interest in peace. The language of rejectionism remains prevalent, commentary on peace talks is overwhelmingly negative, and potentially positive diplomatic steps are generally ignored.

Palestinian Salafism is on the rise. There is a small but distinct Salafist influence in the Palestinian online environment. Whether this translates to growing popularity on the ground in either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip remains a subject of debate. Yet Washington cannot discount the potential for cooperation between Salafists and Hamas.

Fatah, which currently represents Palestinians in the U.S.-led peace talks, is in disarray. Fatah's online supporters typically vilified Israel, and few expressed positive sentiments about peace. They break down into two factions of roughly equal strength: one that supports nonviolence, and one that seeks armed conflict and terrorism against Israel.

The Islamist Hamas shows little desire for a negotiated peace with Israel. While Hamas is not monolithic, nearly all of its supporters on the Internet continue to support violence against Israel. On this issue, Hamas showed no apparent disagreement with Salafists. On the contrary, Hamas's online supporters often seek common ground with these radical groups.

The three-year conflict between Hamas and Fatah is not likely to end soon. The two sides regularly trade barbs online, and the study found little evidence of rapprochement. Indeed, Hamas members appeared to be more interested in reconciling with Salafists than with Fatah members. Social media suggests that the Palestinian internecine conflict stemming from Hamas's violent 2007 takeover of Gaza remains a challenge to the Obama administration's peace plan.

Palestinian reform factions are weak. These groups have little influence online, raising red flags about institution building and liberalization. The lack of positive sentiment, or even mentions of Palestinian political reform, is striking. This raises troubling questions about the Obama administration's lack of emphasis on Palestinian political institutions as well as concerns about the viability of a Palestinian state if one is to be created.

Apparently displeased with the findings of this study, Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki has reportedly dismissed "the idea of having a representative sample by looking at the Internet" as "absolutely ridiculous."[48] Yet it is precisely because Palestinian polling data (including Shikaki's own) has been so wildly inaccurate that the need to gauge Palestinian public opinion by alternative means has become so urgent. Indeed, while it remains unclear how accurate social media is as a bellwether of Palestinian political beliefs, the administration should consider the extent to which these findings represent the broader Palestinian population, perhaps through additional long-term studies, preferably before Washington suffers more humiliating setbacks in its efforts to promote Middle East peace.
FDD Study Methodology

FDD selected ConStrat, a Washington, D.C.-based web analysis company, to collect data for this study. ConStrat used advanced technology usually employed on behalf of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to cull information from search engines, unstructured social media sites, YouTube, Twitter, social networks, wikis, and RSS feeds.

From May 3 through July 3, 2010, ConStrat viewed approximately 10,000 Palestinian social media entries and analyzed approximately 20 percent of them based on their relevancy. In the end, the company analyzed 1,788 statements contained within 1,114 unique posts across 996 threads written by 699 authors. When substantive discussion threads —positive or negative—matched our taxonomy on topics ranging from jihad to reform, we included them in our study. In short, the study surveyed the breadth of opinion on the Palestinian web in Arabic.

It was difficult to pinpoint the exact level of Internet usage among Palestinians. Freedom House estimates that only 4 percent of Palestinian houses have an Internet connection while the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimates that in 2009, 28.5 percent of Palestinian households had Internet access, though these statistics do not account for the widespread use of hundreds of Internet cafés in the Palestinian territories.

However, while social media users represent a small and better educated segment of Palestinian society, online social networks provide important political insights because they grant their users anonymity and freedom of expression. This is particularly true with regard to the Palestinian online environment, which is remarkably open, unlike that of the majority of the Arab world, as Israel provides the Palestinian territories with unfettered internet access.

FDD instructed ConStrat not to provide percentages for the sentiments and trends observed in this study. Indeed, we believed percentages would reinforce a disingenuous notion that ours was a statistical survey. The goal was simply to provide an accurate snapshot of what Palestinians were saying online during a nine-week period and share those results in an effort to prompt further study and exploration.

Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

[1] Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz, "Palestinian Pulse: What Policymakers Can Learn from Palestinian Social Media," Federation for Defense of Democracies, Washington, D.C., Oct. 19, 2010.
[2] PSR Index of Polls: Polls conducted since the year 2000, Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Ramallah, accessed Oct. 27, 2010.
[3] Martin Kramer, "Polls that Hid Hamas," Sandbox, Jan. 28, 2006.
[4] "Nata'ij al-Intikhabat at-Tashri'iyya 2006," Palestinian Central Elections Committee, Ramallah, Jan. 29, 2007.
[5] Kramer, "Polls that Hid Hamas."
[6] The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2006.
[7] Kevin Peraino, "Palestine's New Perspective," Newsweek, Sept. 4, 2009.
[8] Keir Prince, "Palestinian Authority Reform: Role of the International Community," Arab Reform Bulletin, Carnegie Endowment, Washington, D.C., Nov. 14, 2007.
[9] See, for example, "Salam Fayyad: Sayyid am Adah?" Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed May 8, 2010.
[10] See, for example, "Mufawadat Tahn al-Ma," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed May 4, 2010, and Ard al-Arab, accessed May 4, 2010.
[11] "Fatah Tuqirru Mujaddadan bi-l-Khilafat baina Fayyad wa-Abbas," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed May 6, 2010.
[12] "Indama Yatahawal al-Munadil ila Jasus," Abu Mahjub, accessed May 19, 2010.
[13] Ynet News (Tel Aviv), June 14, 2010.
[14] "Atfal Ghaza Yahrukun Suwar li-Salam Fayyad fi Lailat Tawaqquf Mahattat Kahraba Ghaza," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed June 27, 2010; "Jama'a Tutliqu ala Nafsiha Shuhada'a Ustul al-Hurriyya Tatabanna Maqtal Shurti Israil[i] fi-l-Khalil," Muntadayat al-Buraq al-Islamiyya, accessed June 15, 2010.
[15] Thomas Friedman, "Green Shoots in Palestine," The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2009.
[16] Peraino, "Palestine's New Perspective."
[17] See, for example, Maan News Agency (Bethlehem), July 7, 2007; The Daily Star (Beirut), Aug. 18, 2007.
[18] The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 15, 2009.
[19] See, for example, "Al'an Milishiyat Dayton Tashunn Hamlat I'tiqalat Sharisa Taalat Ru'asaa Baladiyyat wa-Qiyyadat Hamas," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed May 25, 2010.
[20] See, for example, "Taher Annunu: Taqdiruna al-Amiq li-l-Dawr at-Turki bi-Itijah al-Qadiya al-Filistiniya," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed May 5, 2010; "Dhikra Amaliyat Rishon Le-Zion al-Butuliya: Tabannaha al-Qassam ba'da 6 Sanawat," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed May 7, 2010.
[21] Some analysts make a distinction between adherents to Salafism and Salafi-jihadists, who use Salafism to justify violence in the name of this school of Islamic thought. For the purposes of this article, Salafists will describe both subscribers to this fundamentalist doctrine and perpetrators of violence on its behalf.
[22] "Ansar Hamas baina al-Aala li-bani Alman wa-l-Ada li-Ahl at-Tawhid," al-Jazeera Talk, accessed June 10, 2010.
[23] Barak Mendelsohn, "Hamas and Its Discontents," Foreign Policy, Sept. 9, 2009.
[24] "Al-Qaeda Baathat Mua'kharan bi-Kurrasat Irshad li-Nashataiha fi Ghaza … Ha'aretz Tazaama anna at-Tanzim Yadfau bi-Itijah Muwajaha baina Hamas wa-Israil al-Ithnain," al-Faloja, accessed May 24, 2010.
[25] "Ha'aretz: al-Qaeda fi-l-Yemen Tursil Mudarribin ila Ghaza," al-Jazeera Talk, accessed June 1, 2010.
[26] BBC News, Sept. 12, 2005.
[27] "Ra'i fi Muqawamat Ghaza wa-Ru'ya li-l-Marhala al-Qadima," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed June 19, 2010.
[28] The New York Times, Mar. 10, 2009.
[29] "Palestine: Salvaging Fatah," International Crisis Group, Middle East Report 91, Nov. 12, 2009.
[30] "Indama Nataqaha ar-Rais al-Filastini: Abbas Yu'akkid ala an li-l-Yahud Haqq fi Filastin,", accessed June 15, 2010.
[31] Ha'aretz (Tel Aviv), June 10, 2010.
[32] "Kalam…fi…al-mamnua," Palvoice, accessed June 13, 2010.
[33] "Hukumat Fayyad tudin maqtal shurti Isra'ili," Muntadayat al-Qumma, accessed June 16, 2010.
[34] "Al-Muqawama al-Filastiniyya taqtul dabitan kabiran fi Jaysh al-Ihtilal fi amaliyya naw'iyya bi-l-Khalil," Muntadayat al-Wadad, accessed June 15, 2010.
[35] See, for example, "Fatah tuhathir min al-Mukhattat al-Isra'ili li-Tasfiyat al-Mashru al-Watani al-Filastini," Muntadayat Intifadat Filastin, accessed June 16, 2010.
[36] Barack Obama, "The Cairo Speech," The New York Times, June 4, 2009.
[37] The Washington Post, July 7, 2010.
[38] Associated Press, July 7, 2010.
[39] The Jerusalem Post, Mar. 26, 2010.
[40] United Press International, July 23, 2010.
[41] "Al-Awda li-l-Mufawadat laysat Qararan Filastini," Palestine's Dialogue Forum, accessed May 9, 2010.
[42] "Mufawadat tahn al-Ma'," Ard al-Arab, accessed May 4, 2010.
[43] "Al-Muqata'a tughliq Masani Isra'iliyya," Islam Today, accessed May 17, 2010.
[44] United Press International, June 10, 2010.
[45] See, for example, "," Palvoice, accessed June 13, 2010.
[46] "Isra'il 2010 ajiza an al-Harb wa-as-Salam wa-l-Ahadiyya Aidan," Shabakat al-Internet li-l-I'lam al-Arabi, accessed May 26, 2010.
[47] "Digital Outreach Team," U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., Jan. 2009.
[48] Jonathan Guyer, "Attitude Problem: What Social Media Can't Tell Us about Palestine," Foreign Policy, Oct. 28, 2010.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Palestinian Islamic court forcibly divorces West Bank couple after declaring them 'apostates'

Diaa Hadid (CP)

For more than a year, a Palestinian couple belonging to an Islamic sect rejected by many mainstream Muslims endured insults from some of their neighbours and even death threats while struggling to maintain a quiet existence in this West Bank town.

As word spread about them, things got worse. A local Islamic court branded them apostates and dissolved their marriage. The couple, Mohammed and Samah Alawneh, now live in legal limbo.

Their plight demonstrates the tensions between a still largely conservative Palestinian society and a Western-backed government expected by the international community to ensure democratic freedoms. The government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is dominated by secular elites and frequently cracks down on hard-line Muslims connected to its militant Islamic rival, Hamas. The seat of Abbas' government, the vibrant West Bank city of Ramallah, is dotted with bars, liquor stores and night clubs frequented by secular Muslims, although consuming alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority — trying to build toward a state that would include the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip — has shown there are limits to its religious tolerance.

Late last year, Palestinian police arrested a self-proclaimed atheist blogger for insulting Islam in his posts, and the man is still in custody. The Alawnehs are members of the Ahmadi sect, an Islamic offshoot whose members are often branded traitors and face persecution in the Muslim world. Another couple — the husband is Ahmadi, the wife is not — is facing the same proceedings.

"It's like we are still living in the Middle Ages," said Mohammed Alawneh, 35. "They are deciding whether you are a believer or not. Whether you'll go to heaven or hell — and whether you are an apostate."

Followers of the Islamic Ahmadi Community are shunned by many mainstream Muslims because they recognize a 19th-century cleric as their prophet. A central tenet of Islam is that the Muhammad was the last prophet sent by God.

There are believed to be more than 4 million Ahmadis worldwide, most of them in South Asia but also with large communities in Africa and Europe. They frequently face isolation and persecution, particularly in Pakistan, where last year two of their mosques were bombed and 97 people were killed.

A few dozen Ahmadi converts live in the West Bank, whose 2.5 million-strong Palestinian population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, said the local Ahmadi leader, Sheik Mohammed Sharif.

Cases involving Ahmadis, who have lived in the West Bank in small numbers for decades, have rarely been pursued — until now, lawyers said.

The Alawnehs converted to the Ahmadi sect separately six years ago, marrying in 2009. Both faced insults and death threats from Muslim preachers when news of their conversions filtered out, they said. Mohammed's family renounced them. Some of Samah's colleagues at the university where she works shun her, though others do not.

Then last year, a prosecutor in the local Islamic court, which regulates Muslim marriages, filed a complaint against them, accusing them of apostasy. They were found guilty in August, according to documents the couple showed The Associated Press.

The court forcibly divorced the couple by cancelling their marriage registration, because they were no longer considered Muslims.

The Alawnehs say the complaint against them was initiated by Mohammed Alawneh's first wife, who was upset by his decision to take another wife. Islamic law permits a man to have up to four wives.

The Palestinian Authority does not authorize civil marriage. All marriages must be registered with the government-funded Islamic courts or a Christian church.

That means that the couple have no chance of ever legalizing their marriage in the West Bank, said their lawyer, Gandi Rabai. The couple may go abroad to marry, but so far, they have chosen to try to battle the issue in Palestinian courts, believing it is their right to marry freely in the West Bank, Rabai said.

Expecting their first child later this year, they will not be able to register the baby with the Palestinian Interior Ministry — meaning the child cannot go to public school or qualify for medical care. The child will be scorned as illegitimate if they remain unmarried.

The Islamic courts are also pursuing a case against Maher Salahat, a 34-year-old married father of five who belongs to the Ahmadi sect. They accuse him of apostasy and seek to divorce him from his wife, who is a Sunni Muslim. The case is still being investigated, Salahat said.

Reem Shanti, the prosecutor who pressed charges against the Alawnehs, and other Islamic courts officials refused to comment.

Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian Authority's Religious Affairs Minister, who oversees the courts, said he could not interfere in judicial affairs. Habbash said he had no solution to the couple's legal dead-end over registering their marriage in the West Bank.

An appeals court cancelled the initial decision on procedural grounds and sent it back to the lower Islamic court for a retrial that is to start later this month, said Sumud Damir, the chief prosecutor in the West Bank.

Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib said the Palestinian basic law, a forerunner to a constitution, guarantees freedom of expression and religious belief, but that the Islamic courts rule over civil issues such as marriage and divorce. There is no criminal punishment for being declared an apostate, he said.

In neighbouring Israel, personal status issues like marriage and divorce also remain largely under the control of religious authorities.

The Alawneh's lawyer, Rabai, said he has observed increasing Islamic conservatism among lower-tier civil servants. He said senior officials appear reluctant to openly challenge their decisions.

The Alawnehs said they would take their case all the way to the Palestinian Supreme Court. They said they feared a dangerous precedent has been set that could engulf not only people with unconventional religious views, but also the many non-practicing Muslims in the West Bank.

"If they open the door to declaring people apostates, anybody could accuse anybody," said the young woman, her hair covered with a Muslim headscarf, her eyes widening in fear. "But I believe I follow the real Islam. They can't break open my heart to see if I believe or not."


Hadid reported from Ramallah, West Bank.

Unpacking J Street-Ros Lehtinen-Moskowitz

Ron Kampeas

So, like an IM exchange, I'll work this one from the top down.

I just got copied in on a letter from Jack Rosen, former American Jewish Congress boss, currently president of the American Council on World Jewry, to Jeremy Ben Ami, director of J Street. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Ben-Ami:

I read with great concern about your grassroots campaign against Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, asking your supporters to demand she return campaign funds donated by a supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It is entirely appropriate for advocacy groups such as yours to lobby and conduct public efforts to convince Members of Congress of their position on domestic and foreign policy. You may even disagree publicly with policies and actions of the Israeli Government and Israeli citizens. But you have failed to demonstrate that Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen acted inappropriately in accepting donations from a U.S. citizen who happens to support Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

I have no problem if you address the Congresswoman and her supporters on settlements or any other policy issue. However, it is reckless and misleading for you to question the financing of her re-election campaign on this basis. Your irresponsible initiative comes just as Americans are reconsidering the tenor of our national debate, and leaders of the Jewish community should be leading others away from demonizing of our political opponents.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, still in her first days as the new Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has proven one of the most consistent and vocal supporters of Israel. You may choose to disagree with her over policies, but you have no moral right to challenge her ethics and those of your fellow American Jews.

I urge J Street to reconsider its campaign against a true friend of Israel, and to limit your advocacy to the issues instead of character assassination.

Okay, first then, the problem with Rosen's letter: No where no how does J Street challenge the ethics of Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. The attempt to link J Street to the recent civility brouhaha is utterly specious. In fact -- contra Rosen -- J Street's campaign seems strictly focused on policy.

So now, here's J Street, and then I get to take them to the woodshed (what fun it is to be a blogger!):

The new Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen seems to see nothing wrong with taking large campaign contributions from Irving Moskowitz, a notorious funder of settlements in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods.

Moskowitz actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods - and has been condemned by both Republican and Democratic US Administrations for undermining the prospects of peace.

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

So what J Street is asking is, properly, about policy: Support for the two state solution and opposition to building in the Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. Nothing in the above insinuates that accepting Moskowitz' money is unethical, unless taking money from folks with whom you don't agree is unethical, in which case, I anticipate 535 resignations forthcoming from the Hill.

Donors, properly, give to candidates who are closest to their views, not to those who slavishly adhere to them. Candidates, properly, accept this money with the understanding that the donor is not dictating terms, only advancing shared interests. Interests on the other side -- in this case J Street -- properly organize campaigns to remind the candidate that the donor holds views that may be embarrassing to the candidate.

So, one could conceive of a scenario in which Moskowitz, who isn't a fan of a two-state solution, gives to Ros-Lehtinen, despite her stated bias for a two-state solution, because she ascribes to tougher standards for the Palestinians. The better of two evils, from his perspective. And she properly accepts the money because, while they don't agree on outcomes, Ros-Lehtinen and Moskowitz share a skepticism of Palestinian intentions. And then J Street could properly argue that Moskowitz is so removed from Ros-Lehtinen's ideology that her supporters should call on her to rend asunder her association with Moskowitz.

Except -- and this is where the J Street campaign falls down -- Ros-Lehtinen has no such stated bias for two states. Nor does she oppose building in Arab neighborhoods, as far as I know.

As far as I know. She's never actually said.

J Street's campaign would be more effective if it cornered Ros-Lehtinen: Dose she ascribe to Moskowitz's views? Instead of asking her to return his money, it could press her to make clear what she thinks of the building in eastern Jerusalem. Is she on the side of the administration (and incidentally, all of its predescessors, Republican and Democrat) in believing it is unehlpful? Or does she think Jews have a right to make inroads into Silwan, Sheik Jarrah, whatever the consequences? Will she go on record backing two states?

All these are questions pertaining to Ros-Lehtinen's chairmanship of a hugely influential committee.

Interestingly, J Street's Hadar Susskind almost gets to these questions -- but only when pressed by Adam Kredo at the Washington Jewish Week, who asked the group if J Street was in a position to complain about Ros-Lehtinen's donations when it took money from mysterious benefactors in Hong Kong:

J Street is not the foreign affairs chair. ... She has a different standard than anyone else.

Almost gets to it. It's less a matter of Ros-Lehtinen's standard than her influence and power: Does the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee support two states? Does she back building in Arab neighborhoods? Because she's in a position to do something about her beliefs. And her constituents and donors deserve to know what they are.

UPDATE: J Street staffers tell me their petition, indeed, asks Ros-Lehtinen to clarify her position on two states. (I didn't click the petition link embedded in the above link to the statement when I was looking it up because the set-up seemed to require me to sign the thing before I saw it, which I was not prepared to do, for so many reasons.) Good for them, but this makes the demand that she return Moskowitz's cash even more gratuitous: What if it turns out she agrees with Moskowitz?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The Government Shuffle"

Arlene Kushner

I will devote this post to internal political issues, with discussion of other matters to follow soon.

The negotiations between Likud and the new Independence party have been completed, and the new portfolios assigned. One perhaps needs a score card to keep track of it all. For those interested in the details, I provide them at the bottom of this posting. New positions will become official after being passed by the Knesset tomorrow.

Suffice it to say here that of the five people in the new Independence faction, four will have Cabinet portfolios and each -- with the exception of Barak, who is retaining his Defense position -- will have been promoted.
hat's quite a coup for a new faction that isn't even fully a party yet. Clearly there was an understanding between Netanyahu and Barak. It is almost a given that prestigious positions were promised as a way to entice those involved to break from Labor -- that break being something that Netanyahu clearly sees being as to his advantage.

Netanyahu is saying that his coalition is now more governable because everyone in it wants to be in it -- this being a reference to the continual dissatisfaction voiced by the left of the Labor party. But there's another piece to this story: That disgruntled left of Labor was always threatening to pull the party out of the coalition (which is why Barak, who very much wants to retain his position, catered to them). By drawing five people away from Labor, Netanyahu was able to keep his coalition stronger than it would have been had all 13 Labor members pulled out.

Not surprisingly, the prime minister's catering to the Independence faction has left other factions of the coalition disgruntled. But when they sought enhancement of their positions, Netanyahu told them, nothing doing.


Yesterday there had been talk that there might be yet another split, dividing the remaining eight Labor MKs into two separate groups. But the decision has been made to hang together. "We've decided to give Labor another chance," declared MK Amir Peretz, speaking for himself and three other party dissidents, MKs Ghaleb Majadle, Daniel Ben-Simon, and Eitan Cabel. They want a new constitution, a reshaping of the party, and a new leader.

I have picked up nothing regarding the official resignation from the coalition of the rump Labor party of eight MKs, but it is broadly assumed that they will be leaving. This reduces Netanyahu's coalition from 74 to 66. And it will have the effect of strengthening the hands of Shas and Yisrael Beitenu, as Netanyahu cannot afford to lose an additional faction.


In speaking about the fact that he now has a strengthened, more unified coalition, Netanyahu addressed the Palestinian Arabs, saying that they, and all others, will have to face the fact that he is the address for negotiations. He will not be going anywhere, he said. There was no point in trying to wait him out.

I can understand this attitude, particularly as there have been rumors about expectations (reportedly voiced, for example, within the Obama administration) that his government might soon fall and that Tzipi Livni, more amenable to making concessions, would take over.


What we need to look at, however, is where this takes us with regard to the "peace process."

After saying that his government was the address for negotiations, Netanyahu made yet one more impassioned statement about how he would miss no opportunity to get back to the table and pursue peace. So many times he has made these statements. And how wearisome they are.

What I observed is that a day earlier, Barak had made a similar comment. With stress within Labor no longer distracting them, he said, the members of the new Independence faction would be better equipped to work for peace.

Uh oh. What does this mean?

One commentator whose piece I read today opined that neither Barak nor Netanyahu will be strongly motivated to work for negotiations, now that Labor's left, which applied pressure and made threats, is absent from the scene.

This has a certain plausibility, but it remains to be seen.


The new Cabinet line-up.

Three Labor ministers resigned from the government on Monday:

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman.
In addition to Ehud Barak, who retains his position as Defense Minster, four people -- three of them ministers -- moved over from Labor to Independence:

Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon; Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai; Deputy Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Orit Noked; and Knesset Member Einat Wilf. Of these:

Simchon will now replace Ben Eliezer in Industry, Trade and Labor.

Noked will replace Simchon in Agriculture.

Vilnai will retain his responsibilities for the home front, which he had as a deputy defense minister, and also replace Braverman in Minority Affairs.

Wilf -- who was not in the Cabinet -- is on maternity leave. In due course she will chair the Independence faction and the Knesset Education Committee.

The prime minister has opted to keep Welfare and Social Services Ministry, left vacant by Herzog, for Likud. At present he will fill the position and then pass it on to someone else in his party. Shas had sought this portfolio.

Simchon and Vilnai will, according to YNet, also serve as observers on the Security Cabinet. This is a Cabinet, of some 15 members, which makes some critical decisions. Had these two been placed on as voting members, it would have swayed the balance leftward in the Cabinet's decision-making process; but observers do not vote.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sudan at the crossroads

CAROLINE B. GLICK, The Jerusalem Post

On Sunday, the southern Sudanese began voting on a referendum to secede from the Republic of Sudan and establish their own sovereign nation. By all accounts, they will soon secede from the Arab, Islamic country and form an independent African, Christian and animist state.

The consequences of their actions will reverberate around the world.

This week’s referendum takes place in accordance with the US-brokered Comprehensive Peace Treaty between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement signed on January 9, 2005. The CPT officially ended the second Sudanese Civil War that began in 1983.

The South Sudanese referendum will not settle the issue of control over all of southern Sudan. Numerous flashpoints remain. Most importantly, the disposition of the town of Abyei remains undetermined. Abyei is where most of Sudan’s oil deposits are located.

Unlike the rest of the south, its population is a mix of Arabs and Africans and its residents are split over the issue of separation from Khartoum. If there is war after independence, Abyei will likely be its cause.

Abyei’s residents were supposed to vote on a referendum to determine the disposition of their town at the same time as the rest of the south. But fuelled by their conflicting interests, they could not agree on how to run the poll, and so it did not take place.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is playing a contradictory role in the South Sudanese referendum. Al-Bashir has been indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

Last week he visited South Sudan’s capital city Juba and pledged to support the referendum’s results. As he put it, “I am going to celebrate your decision, even if your decision is secession. Even after the southern state is born, we are ready in the Khartoum government to offer any technical or logistical support and training or advice – we are ready to help.”

But then, last Friday, pro-Khartoum militias attacked anti-Khartoum targets in Abyei. By Monday, 23 people had been killed. According to South Sudanese military spokesmen, militiamen captured in Abyei said they were ordered to attack by Khartoum.

MUCH OF the international discourse on southern Sudan has centered on what South Sudan’s independence means for its citizens and for Africa as a whole. And this is reasonable.

In its 54-year history, Sudan has suffered from civil war between the north and south for 39 years. Some 200,000 south Sudanese were kidnapped into slavery. Two million Sudanese have died in the wars. Four million have become refugees.

But the fact is that with the West openly supporting southern Sudanese independence, a new war’s consequences will not be limited to Sudan itself. Therefore it is worth considering why such a war is all but certain and what southern Sudanese independence means for the region and the world.

There were two main reasons that Bashir agreed to sign the peace treaty with the south Sudanese in 2005. First, his forces had lost the civil war. The south was already effectively independent.

The second reason Bashir agreed to a deal that would give eventual independence to the oil-rich south is because he feared the US.

In 2004, led by then president George W. Bush, the US cast a giant shadow throughout the world. The US military’s lightning overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime frightened US foes and encouraged US allies. The democratic wave revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon were all fuelled by the world’s belief in US’s willingness to use its power to defeat its foes.

Bashir’s regime is closely linked to al-Qaida, which he hosted from 1989 until 1995.

When the US demanded that he accept the south’s victory, he probably didn’t believe he could refuse.

Today, the US is not feared or respected as it was six years ago. And according to a recent article in the online Small Wars Journal by US Army Lt. Col. Thomas Talley, Bashir’s current dim perception of the US makes war inevitable.

Talley argues that without Abyei, South Sudan will be rendered an economically nonviable failed state. South Sudan, he claims is too weak to secure Abyei from Khartoum without outside assistance.

According to Talley, the deterioration of the global perception of US power has convinced Bashir that the US will not protect Abyei for the south and so his best bet is to invade the town or at a minimum prevent the south from securing it.

As Talley notes, for Bashir, far more than oil is at stake. If Bashir agrees to cede southern Sudan without a fight, he will be discredited both by his fellow Arab leaders and by his fellow Islamic leaders.

Arab leaders as diverse as Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal have decried South Sudan’s independence. Gaddafi warned that southern secession would be the beginning of a “contagious disease.”

Faisal called it a “dangerous move” that no member of the Arab League should support.

THE FACT of the matter is that the Arabs have reason to be concerned about what is happening in Sudan. If South Sudan becomes an independent nation, it will be the first case of rollback of Arab imperialism since World War I.

One of the central aspects of Middle Eastern politics that is overwhelmingly ignored by scholars is Arab imperialism and the role it has played in shaping the region’s politics.

Both during the post-World War I breakup of the Ottoman Empire and with the breakup of the British and French empires after World War II, British and French imperial authorities colluded with Arab imperialists to guarantee the latter’s nearly uninhibited control over the Middle East.

For the Kurds, Shi’ites, Druse, Alawites, Copts, and other non-Sunni, non-Arab, or non-Muslim populations in the region, the end of Western rule meant the end of their relative freedom.

In the case of southern Sudan, during the half century of British rule, the south was administered separately from the Arab north.

But when the British withdrew in 1956, in their haste to leave, they placed the south under Arab rule. Fearing disenfranchisement and oppression, the south began the first Sudanese civil war in 1955 – the year before independence.

There were only two exceptions to Europe’s collusion with Arab imperialists – Christian- majority Lebanon and the Palestine Mandate. In both these areas, Western powers allowed non-Muslims to take charge of territory claimed by Arab imperialists.

As the post-independence history of both Lebanon and Israel shows, the Europeans eventually attenuated their support for non-Arab governments. The French have pressured Lebanon’s Christians fairly consistently to appease the Arabs. This pressure has caused continuous Christian emigration from Lebanon which has rendered the Christians a minority in Lebanon today. And the Lebanese Christians’ attempts to appease the Arabs, opened the door for Hizbullah to take over the country for Iran.

As for Israel, in light of its failure to convince the Arabs to be appeased by its concessions and the Arabs’ failure to overrun the Jewish state, since 1973 Europe has collaborated with the Arabs in recasting reality to suit the aims of Arab imperialism.

Whereas Israel was established and repeatedly defended by the Jewish national liberation movement against the wishes of Arab imperialists, with European assistance, the Arabs have inverted history. The current Arab-European claim is that the Arab imperialist war against Israel is a Jewish imperialist war against Arabs.

AGAINST THIS backdrop of Western perfidy towards the Middle East’s non-Arab minorities, the West’s support for South Sudanese independence is nothing short of miraculous.

Unfortunately, the West’s support for South Sudan probably owes to Western ignorance rather than a newfound Western will to defy Arab imperialists. That is, it is likely that West is doing the right thing today in Sudan because it doesn’t understand the ramifications of its own policy.

If the West doesn’t understand its policy, then it is unlikely to understand the significance of a challenge to that policy by Khartoum and its allies. And if it fails to understand the significance of a challenge to its policy by Khartoum, then it is unlikely to defend its policy when it is challenged.

Against this backdrop, it is important to recall Lt. Col. Talley’s claim that Bashir will attack Abyei because he does not believe that the US will defend South Sudanese control of the border town. The shallowness of Western support for South Sudan will lead to war.

But again, it isn’t just the Arabs that will force Bashir to go to war. He also has the pan-Islamic jihadists to consider. His erstwhile friends in al-Qaida have made clear that they will not take the surrender of southern Sudan to non-Musims lying down.

Osama bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al Zawahiri has denounced Bashir for signing the peace agreement with the south. In an article Friday in The Daily Beast, former US National Security Council official Bruce Riedel wrote that in 2009 Zawahiri called on Sudan’s Muslims to fight “a long guerilla war,” because “the contemporary Crusade has bared its fangs at you.”

Zawahiri told Bashir, “to repent and return to the straight path of Islam and jihad.”

And it is not only al-Qaida that will feel disconcerted by the south’s secession. At a time when jihadist regimes and forces throughout the Arab and Islamic world are using violence to repress Christians and other non-Muslims and force the full implementation of Sharia law, the notion that the Dar el-Islam or Muslim world is shrinking in Sudan is widely perceived as unacceptable. Islamic attacks against the West for its support for southern Sudanese independence are highly likely.

None of this means that the West should end its support for South Sudan. The South Sudanese have earned their independence in a way that most nations never have.

They deserve the support of all nations that value freedom and decency.

But what it does mean is that as they move forward, South Sudan’s leaders must recognize that the West is likely to abandon them at the first sign of trouble. They must weigh their options accordingly.

More importantly, the all but certain results of South Sudan’s independence serve as yet another reminder to the West about the nature of power, war and friendship.

Power is inextricably linked to the perception of power. You are perceived as powerful when you show you can tell friend from foe, and stand with the former against the latter.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Israeli McCarthyism?

Ari Bussel

Israel is embroiled in a new debate, although this one is internal of sorts: Should Israel investigate the money trail of not-for-profit organizations, particularly those associated with the Left or the Extreme-Left?

The Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, has designated those who will be in charge of this national investigation. The idea burst a Pandora’s box wide open, and the sight is unpleasing. The essence of the demand to investigate the financing of the activities of the Left Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) is the claim that money is channeled from foreign governments and other foreign entities that are opposed to Israel’s very existence, and thus the organizations, under the coat of a “human rights” heading, are actively pursuing the demise of the Jewish State.

The idea of an investigation might have sprouted from seeing one too many American movies, where we learned the only way to bring down the Mafia was to utilize the Internal Revenue Service and the Tax Code.

The Israeli implementation of this idea apparently took a life of its own, spread and mutated, and has managed to hit where it is most effective: right in the pocketbook.

It is exactly such an instance that exposes the nature of the beast to its fullest. Apparently there is much more than meets the eye.

No real action has been taken yet, and everyone is already up in arms. Right and left, demonstrations and opinions, a counter investigation and allegations ranging from the profane to the profound have been raised. The ruling elites, the media, judiciary and the academia have added their input to the mix, with emotions flaring up as if flammable material was sprinkled over the discourse.

A danger exists that Israel’s enemies will now add another claim against the Jewish State: It is no longer Democratic and it does not afford all the freedoms normally associated with the Western World. Should Israel care?

In the midst, or the height, of a delegitimization campaign against her very existence, Israel is already blamed for all the ills of the world, and the fact she is the only Democracy in the Middle East does not score her points in any argument. So add a few more lies to the mix. It is so potent already, that “McCarthyism” will not even amount to icing on the cake.

Expect to soon hear such rhetoric as: “Dark days are coming to Israel. Israel is launching an era of McCarthyism, chasing free-thinking liberals, trying to silence human rights activists from airing the truth.” This may soon be the new outcry heard throughout the world, and more: “Witch hunt against those trying to expose Israel’s War Crimes!”

Those trying to undermine the Jewish State from within have repeatedly used the argument that their actions are innocent and well-intentioned: They are trying to protect the “Jewish nature” of Israel’s democracy, for without two separate states, goes their argument, Israel will become a country of all its citizens and thus wither into oblivion.

Logic does not hold, for the very same maligners and their cohorts have already declared Israel’s being the only Jewish country in the world a racist proposition. Thus, why bother to protect the Jewish nature when it has to be eradicated, uprooted until it is left dead at the corner of the vast field of Arab states?

People rush to defend the ruling Left and Extreme-Left. “Why not investigate the Right and Extreme-Right,” they shout, going thousands-strong to the streets of Tel Aviv, their stronghold. They enlist top reporters to their aid, and the Israeli public is treated to a show of benevolent activities by Israel’s Left: oppose the Occupation, target the soldiers, avoid service, do whatever you can to end Israel’s atrocities.

Even the yarmulke-wearing Speaker of the Knesset came out in opposition to the decision to have an investigation lead by the Knesset. So who will investigate the money trail, the Judiciary whose left-leaning ideologies are more strongly pronounced than in all other branches of government?

Hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of millions of Euros flow regularly into Israel into the “third (not-for-profit) sector,” which plays a crucial role in the Israeli economy. Areas that the Government does not want to address, or is unable to due to budgetary constraints, are left to individual initiatives.

A special tax-exempt status is available in Israel, and likewise there is a special tax-exempt status in the United States. The money flows from good intentioned-Jews, philanthropists and foundations donating tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, to private individuals who donate small amounts of money. In the aggregate, this is very big business amounting to billions every year.

The money ends up in various projects in the “settlements” of Judea and Samaria and for Palestinian “non-violent resistance” in the “Occupied West Bank.” The money stream is supposed to be transparent, but apparently there is more than is seen by the naked eye.

I recall a meeting with the head of a major Israeli university that took place at the Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills. At one point during the hour and a half meeting, I took out the tax returns of the “American Friends of” and placed it on the table. The table was large, the president of the university was sitting directly across from me on the other end, and it seemed that I threw the booklets, each dozens of pages long, at her. I did not.

She was shocked, “how dare you,” she started, “and where did you get this information from?” she continued. Alas, it is the very Code that permits all these tens of millions of dollars to flow each year from the USA to Israel that dictate that the organization’s tax returns must be readily available so anyone can view them. By the very nature of their existence, non-profit organizations void any pretense of confidentiality.

I am reminded of a contentious local election in Beverly Hills. I served as the treasurer of a particular campaign committee, and part of the requirements, set forth in the law, was to record each donation to the campaign above a certain amount. Thus, any person could walk into the City Clerk’s office and view each donation, the source and the amount.

TRANSPARENCY is the name of the game, the “cost of doing business.”

The Israeli “Right” and “Extreme-Right” have no quarrel having their sources of funds examined, stated one of their leaders. One may even discover a certain amount of money that I contributed to an investigative journalist at a think tank to buy computer equipment, or a scholarship we bestowed on a student of photography at Israel’s premier art school. There may be other instances I have forgotten already, but they are all reported and readily available (even if my memory chooses to focus on other things).

Why would the Israeli “Left” and “Extreme-Left” be so up in arms against the investigation? In business, I long ago learned that I could sleep soundly at night since there is nothing I am trying to hide. Thus, whenever audited by any one of numerous government agencies, we go through the formalities, producing the required documents. We answer the questions posed to us and surprise ourselves time and again at how much information, and particularly well-compiled information, is at the government’s fingertips.

The only issue I have is the time wasted, or the bills that the CPA and other professionals will send us once an audit is complete. Nonetheless, it is the feeling of relief, once the results of the audit are provided, that make the experience worthwhile; until the next one. I think of a clean bill of health at an annual exam at our family doctor.

We can obviously live without such experiences and expenses, but we view them as the cost of doing business. I do not go about blaming the auditors for ill intentions or subject them to constant bickering and criticism. Rather, we fully cooperate.

Likewise, throughout my years of travel for business, I was almost without exception stopped by Customs. I do not know if it could be attributed to my age or outward appearance of innocence, but apparently I was profiled more often than not to be a smuggler. Alcohol, drugs …?

Was it convenient, to be stopped every single time? It was not, but soon enough I started treating it with a light laughter; it was bound to happen, so I might as well enjoy it. On the rare occasions I was not targeted or pulled out of line, it became major news for me, and a story to be told upon my return.

I am reminded of one particular trip from Boston to Los Angeles, less than two years after the September 11th attacks. I was taken to a separate line for a very special screening. Here it was security (my Middle Eastern look or South European accent), not smuggling, and when it was over I went to look for the other members of my party. They were still standing in the original line. You see, there are always privileges associated with special treatment.

Would I cry foul every time our company was targeted for an audit or whenever I was stopped upon arrival at an international destination or back home to the United States from Latin America or from Beijing, China? Rather than being sarcastic or angry, I fully cooperated, knowing I have nothing to hide.

Why would an investigation into the sources of funds of the Left and Extreme-Left in Israel be construed as a “dark day for democracy” and “fascism of the worst kind” according to some members of the Knesset? If there is nothing to hide, and given that the law requires full transparency, these organizations should welcome the scrutiny.

There are issues of legality and others of appearance. For instance, there was recently a compilation of what top executives of American non-profit organizations take home very year. The sums ranged from the low 100s to the high 700s. I find these sums exorbitant, since I always think of how it would take 7,500 individual donations at $100 each to pay the salary of someone who thinks it is appropriate and deserving to sit on a $750,000 annual salary. In fact, it would take many more donations, since there are taxes that have to be paid along with various other benefits. This is simply outrageous.

Then there are issues of legality: In the USA, we cannot contribute money to known terrorist organizations or to countries deemed by the USA as part of the axis of evil (North Korea and Iran). If we give the money to a non-profit front that then transfers the funds to Iran, North Korea, Hamas or Hezbollah, the US authorities will eventually have a just cause against that “charity.”

Likewise in Israel, if Left and Extreme-Left organizations are a front for receiving money from enemy countries or for channeling the money to acts against the State, then the flow of money must be stopped and those involved be brought to justice. They must receive an auditing and a judgment, not a tax break.

Is the public outcry from the Left an indication that something is rotten in the State of Denmark? Regrettably, much of the dissent to Israel’s very existence stems today from elitist circles, and Denmark, like her Scandinavian neighbors, is a hornet’s nest of blood libels against the Jewish State and a hub of anti-Semitic activities.

The actions and dissatisfaction shown so forcefully in Israel today, as well as the fear of McCarthyism, is unjustified. Rather, it is clearly indicative there is much to hide, something ugly and repulsive. The Left and Extreme-Left are being exposed for what they are: Their “liberal” ideas are only good so far as they are applied against Israel, never in equal measure toward Israel and her enemies.

Many, probably most but not all, are agents of discord and dissent, representing foreign powers and agendas aimed to destroy the Jewish State from within. Would a McCarthy style witch-hunt serve to uncover these evildoers, or perhaps force them further underground while rational people are accused and harassed? Is this what happened in the McCarthy era? Or did the House Un-American Activities Committee serve to scare off the perpetrators while they also sullied their own reputations and those of some innocents?

Is a money trail that is so much easier to follow today, not verifiable proof enough of perpetrators than was available in the McCarthy era? Would this not diminish the numbers of accused leaving only the real culprits to be exposed?

We will continue following closely the convening, reaction to and findings of the Knesset investigation committee. Those who have nothing to hide should not worry. They may be slightly inconvenienced, but that is a small token to pay for the tens of millions they receive each year under a tax-exempt status.

Will the investigation itself cast a bit of tarnish on the innocent? Is there a way to avoid these repercussions or is it the ugly cost of doing business in a world adept at skillfully hiding evil motives? I revert to my underlying supposition: If one has nothing to hide, one should not be afraid.

There is much at stake, including financially. If one wanted to be “fair,” the Knesset should pass a law that ALL FOREIGN MONEY is prohibited, right, left or middle. Except the opposition for such an act would be uniform across the board and there is simply too much money at risk.

Israel once again will serve as a laboratory. Based on the results there, possibly our own tax code will have to be changed, allowing a tax-exempt status only for those purposes here in the USA. Why would a person or a corporation enjoy tax benefits from transferring funds overseas?

It is something to think about.

The series “Postcards from America—Postcards from Israel” by Ari Bussel and Norma Zager is a compilation of articles capturing the essence of life in America and Israel during the first two decades of the 21st Century.

The writers invite readers to view and experience an Israel and her politics through their eyes, Israel visitors rarely discover.

This point—and often—counter-point presentation is sprinkled with humor and sadness and attempts to tackle serious and relevant issues of the day. The series began in 2008, appears both in print in the USA and on numerous websites and is followed regularly by readership from around the world.

© “Postcards from America — Postcards from Israel,” January, 2011