Saturday, March 05, 2011

Obama: Israel shouldn't be afraid of changes in Mideast


Speaking to Jewish donors in Miami, US president says forces emerging in Egypt should be naturally aligned with Israel; is confident that looking back, this will be seen as dawning of new, better era.
Talkbacks (48)

US President Barack Obama told Jewish donors in Miami on Friday that Israel and the United States should not be afraid of changes taking place in the Middle East.

Acknowledging that the changes occurring could be construed as dangerous and worrisome, Obama recalled a meeting earlier in the week with Jewish leaders in the White House, saying, "I told them we have to be sober, we can't be naive about the changes that are taking place." However, he described the changes as "a huge opportunity for us."

"All the forces that we see building in Egypt are the forces that should be naturally aligned with the US, [and] should be aligned with Israel," he told attendees of the Florida fundraising event.

"I'm actually confident that 10 years from now we're going to be able to look back and say that this was the dawning of an entirely new and better era," he added. The US president expressed his hope that the new era would be one in which "people are striving not to be against something but to be for something."

On Tuesday, Obama met for over an hour with some 50 members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

Addressing the contours of a future peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, the US president assured the Jewish leaders that Jewish areas would stay in Israel's hands, according to many participants.

Following reports that Obama had expressed hostility against Israel in the meeting, the leaders of the conference issued a statement denying he had exhibited such an attitude.

Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Future of Egypt and the Region

David Bukay

Audio Recording

David Bukay is a professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Haifa and author of several books, including Arab-Islamic Political Culture. He specializes in several themes, including the role of militaries in the Middle East. On February 14, he addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call on Egypt's military in the post-Mubarak era.

Mr. Bukay asserts that the military regime in Egypt has been the power holder since deposing the monarchy in July 1952, hence why the government is marked by a lack of civil institutions and high corruption, with little political and civil rights for the country's citizens. The removal of Hosni Mubarak from power was an internal coup d'état by the military that was reluctant to see Gamal Mubarak, the ex-president's son, become the new ruler of Egypt. Mr. Bukay emphasized that the Muslim Brotherhood will come to power provided that there are genuinely free and democratic elections and the military removes itself from politics. Mr. Bukay also stressed that the Brotherhood could follow the Turkish model of steady progression towards an Islamist state, the path of Algeria's Islamist groups that waged an armed campaign after the military cancelled elections in 1992, or the example of Hezbollah, which holds power behind the scenes and operates by forming coalitions and alliances with non-Islamist groups and politicians. Of the three, Mr. Bukay predicted that the Brotherhood would most likely adopt the Lebanese model.

Mr. Bukay concluded his talk by noting that the people are now a legitimate political force, no longer afraid to stand up against the ruling regimes in the region. Nonetheless, one has to be mindful of past developments such as the Iranian Revolution of 1979, where the people demanded freedom and got Khomeini. Thus, Mr. Bukay urged the U.S. to help the military prevent the Brotherhood from seizing power, and warned the Obama administration not to ignore the anti-democratic nature of Islamist parties.

Asked whether the Brotherhood had infiltrated the military, while affirming that there are no exact data on the subject, Mr. Bukay believes the high-ranking officers are anti-Islamist and will try to prevent the Brotherhood from coming to power.

Summary written by MEF intern Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

A Key Truth and a Broken Promise


The Promise turned out not to be all that promising after all. It has been hailed widely in the UK as dramatic, informative, and unbiased — serious prime-time TV at its very best. On all these counts I beg to differ.

There is no question that the brief that the creators set themselves in this controversial mini-series (transmitted on Channel 4 in four parts, February 6-27, 2011) is ambitious and the production values are high. But the series radically misrepresents the past. Unfortunately the writer and director Peter Kosminsky will have persuaded many UK viewers that they now have the key to understanding the Israel/Palestine conflict and the history of Britain's involvement. I fear that he will merely have reinforced many viewers' complacent indifference to the Zionist cause, the moral claim that underlines the foundation of the state of Israel. For some UK viewers the story of Tommies sent to police the British Mandate in post-war Palestine will be news. Kosminsky challenges viewers to accept that the legacy of the Mandate is not an issue that Brits can shrug off. He wrote recently in The Guardian: "In Palestine, as in so many other examples of our rapid retreat from empire, we left chaos, political confusion, bloodshed and war. It turns out that it is our problem, at least in part, and we should take some responsibility for it."

The story concerns an English teenager Erin spending her gap year in Israel. She becomes passionately involved in retracing (by means of an old diary) her grandfather Len's experiences as a paratrooper posted to Palestine from 1945 to 1948. The historic strand of the plot (set in the 1940s) is considerably more engaging than the action set in 2005. Some of the parallels and contrasts between the past and near-present are heavy-handed: Jewish terrorism by the Irgun back then is set against suicide bombing now; British squaddies blowing up the homes of bombers then, Israelis doing the same now. Kosminsky's article indicates that he was surprised to discover that the Israelis learned this tactic from the Brits. I have known it for as long as I can remember.

Many of the shortcomings of The Promise originate with and are shared by Erin, the know-nothing English teen at the centre of the drama. Claire Foy as Erin plays exactly the same headstrong, selfish, sexy, troublesome young woman that she played as Lady Persephone in the recent Upstairs Downstairs. In The Promise her blank, blue-eyed expression increasingly settles into an indignant sulk. (Foy was easily cast into the shade by Perdita Weeks who played her friend, a much more nuanced and interesting performance.) Why should the writer have chosen to place so vacuous a character as Erin at the centre of so complex and sensitive a drama? What are the advantages of a cipher? We shall see.

At the outset her ignorance serves as a guarantee that she has no allegiances or preconceptions; instead she has un-channelled affections and sympathies. Erin stands in for the TV audience as someone initially without much investment in the drama played out before her, someone on a steep learning curve who may well lack the will or the wit to climb any higher. Unfortunately Erin has neither the discrimination nor the stamina required to handle complexity or weigh rival rights. Once Len's Arab servant Mohammed and his family have been established as virtuous victims, Len's sympathies (and Erin's after him) are unidirectional. Eventually the promptings of his heart lead Sergeant Len to take up arms (as a number of his colleagues did) against the Jews. Two generations later similar sentiments inspire his sanctimonious granddaughter in a climactic scene to chain herself up (along with an Arab child whom she casually and needlessly endangers) in a Palestinian house in a vain attempt (vain in both senses) to prevent its destruction.

The story started in an appropriate place by referring to the horrors of the Holocaust. It is impossible to understand the history of Israel without knowing that it was founded immediately after the refugee Jews were abandoned and betrayed by the European countries to which they had contributed so much. Len is initially sympathetic to the Jewish desire to build a homeland after witnessing the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. But his philo-Semitism wears off. Sadly it seems that the writer and his characters suffer from compassion fatigue when it comes to the Jewish national cause. Perhaps Palestinian Arab nationalism has a longer shelf-life in the West because it is so much younger.

After a plausible beginning the mini-series descended from a multi-faceted examination of the issues into a much narrower account. In 1948 when he leaves with the British forces, Len's parting curse is that the state of Israel was born in sin and violence and therefore can never prosper. It's a view that no doubt he still holds in his final days in his hospital bed having ignored the last 60 years of Israel's history, its challenges and its achievements. The truth is that Israel has prospered, no thanks to Len or his descendants: Israel's absorption of millions of refugees from Europe and the Arab world, its survival and self-sacrifice, its creation of a vibrant democracy, of an independent judiciary, a critical press, a multi-cultural society and the finest universities in the Middle East — all this is a closed book to him, and seemingly also to his insouciant granddaughter.

Although one Palestinian terrorist bomb forms part of the narrative, Erin and her counterparts (the unaligned British TV viewers) have no way of knowing that this atrocity is part of a concerted and ruthless campaign to snuff out the Jewish state. Erin has no context to enable her to understand that terrorism, political lobbying and propaganda have all been elements of a consistent programme of rejection by the Palestinian Arabs of the opportunities to live in peaceful coexistence which the Jewish people have offered time and again, in response to the Peel Commission, the Partition Resolution, the Oslo Accords, Barak's proposals to Arafat in 2000 and so on.

By the final episode (broadcast Sunday February 27) it became clear that the dominant agenda of The Promise was a celebration of the self-righteousness of the bien-pensant British onlooker. Early in the mini-series some criticism was levelled against Britain's mishandling of its responsibilities under the Mandate and the poisonous legacy created by its iniquitous policies. But as it progressed the series settled comfortably into sanctifying a very familiar naive and a-historical account of the foundation of the state of Israel. The Arab attempt to annihilate Israel in the 1948 war of independence has disappeared from this narrative, along with the pogroms perpetrated against the Jews in Hebron and Gush Etzion and other places, the Nazi allegiances of the Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin el-Husseini in the 1940s, and the Palestinian Arab rejections of partition in 1937 and 1947.

Israelis seeing The Promise will have been infuriated by its misrepresentations both of the past and of more recent history. In pre-1948 Palestine Kosminsky's attention is restricted to the atrocities of the Irgun splinter group, and he has no time to represent the mainstream Jewish population which repudiated the extremists and helped the British to arrest them. He has no attention available for the nation-building of the early Zionists. Closer to the present day, in the parallel universe of The Promise all Israelis seem to live in vast palaces with swimming pools; this stands in stark contrast to the poverty of their Arab victims.

Concentrating on the personal sympathies of his characters allows Kosminsky to eliminate the broader political narrative. Accordingly, absent entirely from his account is the very nature of Britain's Mandate in Palestine, which had the force of international law and included the wording of the Balfour Declaration written into it, namely the consensus of the League of Nations that the territory of Palestine was to be administered by the Mandatory Authority — Britain — with a view to facilitating the establishment therein of a national home for the Jewish people. Four parallel mandates were created to protect the political rights of Arab nations — in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and, later, Transjordan. Uniquely it is the right of the Jewish people to political self-determination that has been subjected to continual attack ever since: in a series of further wars and terrorist attacks, in the UN, in the aggressions of Hamas and Hizbolla, in the genocidal threats of the President of Iran, in innumerable efforts to isolate and boycott Israel, and in the publication of works of biased historiography and drama like The Promise.

Drama has the advantage that rival views can clash and conflicting claims and truths can be explored. This is why it is so sad when formerly respected writers like Caryl Churchill descend into writing agitprop (her infamous Seven Jewish Children) which feeds hatred rather than exploring difficult and complex historical and political issues. Drama descends into propaganda when arguments are enunciated that should be answered, or at least debated, and that opportunity is deliberately closed down.

At so many points in the course of The Promise dubious allegations are made to Erin as part of her sentimental education. These unsustainable statements are allowed to remain unchallenged. Erin's blankness and naivety now disclose their narrative function. She is told Israel is a military dictatorship. She has no basis to contest this ludicrous libel. There is no third character in that scene to do so much as raise a sceptical eyebrow. She is told that the controversial security fence has no security purpose. She knows nothing about the radical reduction in terrorist attacks within Israel which has in fact been brought about by the construction of the fence. She is told that any kind of crime against Palestinians and their children is permissible to the Israeli occupying forces in the West Bank. She knows nothing about the close and scrupulous scrutiny to which the IDF is — quite rightly — subjected. Israel's vigorous judiciary — which has frequently challenged the Israeli authorities when wrongs have taken place — is airbrushed out of this picture. Erin visits a former Irgun fighter sitting complacently in his mansion. She says to him: "My grandfather thought the Jews were ungrateful; after all, the British fought for the Jews in the Second World War." Oh really? How is it that he is given no words to challenge this fatuous contention? These are not coincidences: this is programmatic.

What drives the narrative of The Promise is the tale of a conscientious English girl who matures out of teenage solipsism by setting herself a mission: she returns to the family of her grandfather's Arab servant the key to the house they once owned in Jerusalem. She explains that she found it in her grandpa's diary. She apologises for the delay. She says flatly to Grandpa Len in the final scene of the series that she hopes what she has done is all right. He and she and we are moved that she has been able to redeem Len's promise (to return the key) which he made as long ago as 1948. It's touching, but does it bear much examination? This central metaphor of righting the wrongs of the past by returning the key is a sterile one: it's all about how virtuous it makes her feel to fulfil that pledge. The symbolic key fits a lock which has been scrapped long ago. Similarly otiose is the underlying analysis, that the essence of the story of Israel's foundation is the dispossession of Palestinian Arabs. Undoubtedly that loss forms part of the story, but to frame it in this way allows the fate of the Jewish people and their national cause to fall outside the scope of sympathy.

Property rights are but one element of the story. Cataclysmic historical changes inevitably generate victims. Their losses usually go way beyond bricks and mortar. Certainly some of the 600,000 Arabs who fled in 1948 were property owners and lost their homes. Arabs who chose to stay (for example in Haifa) retained their property and became citizens of the new state. Many of those who fled did so at the urging of the seven invading Arab armies and fully expected to return in triumph following the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Jews. When this outcome (which most of those Arab refugees expected and desired) did not come about (as a result of a traumatic war in the course of which both the Jews and their enemies lost a terrible number of their sons) some of those refugees were indeed left holding keys to houses they would never enter again. Theirs is a sad story, but it is one we have heard before. A narrative that is less often told, and certainly is not hinted at in this project, is the history of the larger number of Jews in Arab lands who lost their homes, their communities and all their property in the exchange of populations that followed the massive upheavals of the 1940s (not only in the Middle East and India/Pakistan, but also across Europe). In any event, the private property argument applies (in so far as it does at all) only to a tiny proportion of the land in pre-Israel Palestine since the overwhelming bulk of the land was held by the British pursuant to the Mandate on behalf of the Jews. Rights in that land passed to the State of Israel in May 1948.

The promise that makes no appearance in this mini-series is the promise that was made by the League of Nations and inherited by the United Nations and devolved upon Britain: to support and enable the Jews to create and protect their national home. Due to its own political interests at the time, Britain failed to discharge its Mandate. By preventing Jewish immigration to Palestine during and after the Second World War (including turning back ships carrying Holocaust survivors) Britain callously attempted to close off the last refuge available to the Jewish people in its darkest hour. Britain has earned no forgiveness for that crime. On the evidence of The Promise it is not even repentant.

Of course I speak for no-one but myself, but many Jews worldwide and in Britain share my view that since the ignominious end of the Mandate in 1948 Britain has been at best irrelevant to Israel. Britain shares none of the credit for Israel's survival and success. At worst Britain has been a diplomatic antagonist to Israel in the international arena. I am now far from alone in regarding London as the capital of a worldwide campaign to attack Israel's legitimacy. Part of that destructive enterprise involves re-writing the history of Israel's creation.

Kosminsky has made Erin's key a symbol of the debt that Britain left undischarged when it withdrew from Palestine in 1948. Viewers that accept this premise conclude (with Kosminsky) that Britain's debt was owed only to the Palestinian Arabs. This is historically, politically and morally a nonsense. Only by eliding the rest of the story does this key — proposed as the key to the truth about Israel's genesis — trump all other arguments, including the authentic, urgent and internationally mandated claim of the Jews to self-determination. In her final words Erin asserts that she has learned so much. She expects congratulation for bravery for her indignant interventions. But in the end her return of an obsolete key is no more than a futile gesture. The real unfulfilled promise in this story is that of the British Mandate in Palestine.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

PA: 150 states to recognize Palestine by Sept

en more states to recognize Palestine within month, 150 by September, PA says

Elior Levy
Israel News

Palestinians expect broad global support: Some 150 countries will recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders by September of this year, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said Wednesday.

Maliki claimed that 10 more states in the Caribbean region will be declaring their recognition of Palestine this month.

In an interview with The Media Line last week, the PA foreign minister said the Palestinians were on track to declaring an independent state by September. "Yes we are ready (for statehood). Are we ready for September? Absolutely," al-Maliki said. "I think our issue will be raised not only by us but by the international community as a whole, including the United States of America."

The state of Palestine has so far been recognized mostly by South American nations, including Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana and Uruguay.

The Palestinians apparently believe that broad international support, coupled with growing Israeli isolation, will enable them to achieve independence as early as this year.

Last week, following a US veto against an anti-settlement decision at the United Nation's Security Council, Senior PA official Nabil Shaath said the vote "proved that Israel is isolated internationally and is only protected by the American veto."

Felice Friedson and AP contributed to the article

Comment: Now does everyone understand why Abbas et al will not negotiate with Israel? Does everyone understand the game of amping up the de-legitimization of Israel? With a USA President unwilling, intentionally no longer stepping up for Israel, the "P's" afe seizing the moment. This will end badly!!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Optimism or Pessimism on the "Arab Revolt"?

Barry Rubin

There is a very simple answer to an apparent contradiction about evaluating the current "Arab revolt." If we look at the situation as a whole, there are reasons to think that many events of the last two months have been positive. Clearly, the resurgence of active opposition in Iran is a good thing. There are real chances for the Tunisia democratization effort to succeed.

In Libya, we know little about the opposition but--and I hope I don't regret having written this--it is hard to see the overthrow of Muammar Qadhafi leading to something worse (though a radical Islamist state allied to the Iran-led bloc would be worse for the region). Yemen is, as always, complex. Bahrain is worrisome but it appears that a compromise will be worked out that will combine reform with stability.

So if we look at the totality of events there is much positive, including the hope that various factors have led to the birth of an important Arab democracy movement. My concern is not about the revolt as a whole but overwhelmingly about Egypt as a specific case that may go very wrong. Here's a Washington Post article which--after the required assurances on the Brotherhood being weak and opposing violence--gives a sense of the Islamists' energy and resources. And of course if we had a decent U.S. and European foreign policy things could be pushed in a better direction.

In every Arabic-speaking state there is a three-way competition between Arab nationalism; Islamism; and pragmatic, moderate democratization. Every country has a different situation and balance of forces.

The overthrow of the Islamist regime in Iran, the dictatorships in Syria and Tunisia, and that in Libya would be good things in the strategic picture. The overthrow of the regime in Egypt contains great potential dangers.

The overthrow of the Palestinian Authority by Hamas, the Jordanian monarchy by the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Saudi monarchy by people who like Usama bin Ladin would be a disaster.

Meanwhile, everyone seems to have forgotten one of the most important developments of 2011: the takeover of Lebanon by Hizballah and that country's joining to the Iran-Syria bloc. And there is a lot of eye-closing about another huge disaster: the growing foreign policy extremism of the Turkish regime, which is also aligned with the Iran-Syria bloc.

Optimism or pessimism, celebration or worried concern all depends on the circumstances.

One would assume that a sophisticated approach would be taken by opinionmaking and policymaking circles. More typical, however, is this enthuasiastic approach in a Washington Post editorial:

"The direction of events means that, more than ever, the American interest lies in encouraging more rather than less freedom and in reaching out to those Arabs who seek genuine democracy. If that means straining ties with autocratic allies, that is preferable to appearing to back the wrong side."

Let's consider that last sentence. Does the United States want to abandon its relationship with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco--the three key remaining countries friendly to the United States--in order not to back the "wrong side?"

That phrase about supporting "those Arabs who seek genuine democracy" sounds good but we are being told that this category includes the Muslim Brotherhood, anti-American leftists, and radical Arab nationalists.

So what makes someone else the "right" side? Presumably because they will push for change that meets the following qualifications:

--It will bring more freedom, better living standards, and a better life to the people. Do we know this to be true?

--It will be more favorable to U.S. interests. Do we know this to be true?

--It will oppose terrorism, violence, and war in the region. Do we know this to be true?

Didn't Communism present itself as the right side of history for decades? Doesn't Islamism do so now? One must make case by case distinctions based on serious analysis, not wishful thinking.

Moreover, there is an unspoken assumption that if the United States proves itself to be on the "right" side then the people and new rulers will be grateful to the Americans. This is not how Middle East politics works, as shown by U.S. efforts to be on the "right" side in Iran in 1978-1979, with the Palestinians since the 1990s, and so on. The United States should also be discovering the limits of gratitude in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

What is definitely and 100 percent wrong has been the tendency to be most supportive of upheaval in relatively more moderate states friendly to the West and least supportive of it in radical states hostile to the West.

Down with Ahmadinejad! Down with Bashar al-Assad! Down with Muammar Qadhafi! Down with the Hizballah Iran-Syrian puppet regime in Lebanon! Down with the Islamist government in Turkey! Down with the repressive, terrorist Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip!

That should be enough to keep Western policy busy for a while.

What, Not Who, Is a Jew?

Daniel Gordis

Lev Paschov, an Israeli soldier who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return from the Former Soviet Union, was killed while on active duty in Southern Lebanon in 1993, and buried twice. He was first interred in a regular Israeli military cemetery, but after it was discovered that his mother was not Jewish, his body was exhumed, and Paschov was buried a second time, in a cemetery for non-Jews.

For many Israelis, the macabre end of Paschov's brief life journey was deeply disturbing. How was it possible that someone could be welcomed to Israel under the Law of Return, serve the Jewish state's army, and die defending his adopted homeland, and still not be considered Jewish enough to be buried alongside his comrades? But Jewish law is clear, traditionalists responded. Jews are either those who are born of a Jewish mother, or those who have converted to Judaism in a halakhically valid fashion. Yet others wondered: Had Jewish national sovereignty rendered classic halakhic standards insufficient?

What, in our increasingly conflicted and nuanced world of identity formation, should being a Jew mean? What should joining the Jewish people require? Those questions, more than anything, are at the heart of the now relentless debate surrounding conversion, a debate that often threatens to tear the Jewish people asunder.

This vehement, often nasty, debate is not new. Even the talmudic sources are divided. A well known baraita (Yevamot 47a) says that converts should at first be turned away: "Our rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is to be addressed as follows: 'What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte? Do you not know that Israel at the present time is persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions?' If he replies, 'I know and yet I am unworthy,' he is accepted immediately ...." After he is accepted, he is instructed in some of the commandments, but his acceptance comes first.

But another source (Bekhorot 30b) insists that a convert who rejects a single iota of Jewish law may not be accepted. These sources can be made to agree, but doing so clouds the question that their apparent contradiction raises. Is being a Jew fundamentally about the observance of every detail of Jewish law (as Bekhorot implies), or does converting mean joining a covenantal community that sees itself as marginal, a community in which commandments are central, but perhaps not the defining characteristic (as in Yevamot)?

Today's liberal Jewish communities, in which rigorous observance of the ritual commandments is no longer part of the fabric of daily Jewish life, insist that a genuine desire to join the Jewish people and share in its fate ought to be a sufficient standard for conversion. Many Orthodox communities, alarmed by what they see as the dilution of Jewish content in liberal Judaism, in general, and liberal conversations, in particular, have responded by adhering ever more rigidly to classic conversion standards. Valid conversions must be accompanied by a genuine commitment to observe the commandments - "for the sake of heaven" (Geirim 1:3) - they insist, and conversions that lack that are simply null and void.

Although pronouncements of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and some leading Orthodox authorities seek to convey the impression that Orthodox standards for conversion are monolithic and always have been, the truth is much more complex. There has long been disagreement, even within Orthodox circles, about what constitutes "for the sake of heaven." Rabbi David Zevi Hoffmann (1843-1921), for example, ruled that a gentile man could be converted, even though he would not be observant, because his Jewish partner was already pregnant. (Melamed L'ho'il, Yoreh De'ah 83) That the prospective convert wanted to be Jewish, though he could have stayed with her regardless, was sufficient for the conversion to be considered "for the sake of heaven." Hoffmann introduced moral considerations, as well. If the man abandoned this woman because the court declined to convert him, she would still have a child, and without a husband, she would become a social pariah.

But Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), America's greatest halakhic authority, railed against such conversions and the Orthodox rabbis who performed them. "What value are they bringing to the Jewish people by accepting converts like these? For it is obviously not good for either God or the Jewish people that converts like these should be mixed into the Jewish people." (Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh De'ah 157)

Feinstein's certainty about what is good for God and the Jewish people evades most of us. Ours is an era of unprecedented complexity in the formation of identity. What we need now is a conversation with each other - about what Jewishness is at its very essence and about how the changing face of world Jewry should and should not be reflected in conversion policy. We may not necessarily agree, but we will, one hopes, protect the unity, and therefore the survival, of the very people to which committed prospective converts still seek to dedicate their lives.

This column in Sh'ma Magazine is based on a book that Dr. David Ellenson and I have just completed, tentatively entitled Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policy-Making in 19th and 20thCentury Orthodox Responsa. It will be published in 2012 by Stanford University Press.

The original Sh'ma Magazine column can be read here:

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The International Context of the U.S. Veto at the UN Security Council

Translation of an interview with Dore Gold by Michael Tuchfeld

Makor Rishon (Hebrew), 25 February 2011

Will the UN Back a Palestinian State on the '67 Lines?

Israel needs to prepare for the possibility that the UN Security Council will be asked to decide on the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, warns Dr. Dore Gold, who served as Israel's Ambassador to the UN at the end of the ‘90s. These preparations, according to Gold, have to include a specific clarification on Israel's part that if the Palestinians do this in a one-sided manner, Israel will act to impose Israeli law on areas of the West Bank that are essential to it. In non-diplomatic language - Israel will annex these areas.

"It's necessary to say this in advance," said Gold. "Perhaps the world will become alarmed by the Israeli threat and pressure the Palestinian side to avoid such one-sided moves. This needs to be as clear as day. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare the ground right now in Washington, London, and other European capitals in order to clarify what are Israel's essential interests. Israel's National Security Council has already prepared such position papers. Now is the time to take them out of the safe and present them to the world." Previous Palestinian Attempts at UN Recognition

Palestinian attempts to achieve international decisions at the UN on the establishment of a Palestinian state are not new. Twelve years ago, PA representatives worked to gain recognition of a Palestinian state. Today, with a new Palestinian campaign and a few days after a U.S. veto at the Security Council of a resolution condemning Israel for building in the settlements, Gold feels a sense of deja vu. At the time, he was forced to marshal all his wisdom and creativity in order to block these attempts in an environment that was totally supportive of the Palestinians. The problem is that the Palestinians are also becoming wiser.

"They proposed a new initiative to deny the acceptance of Israel's credentials at the UN," Gold recalls. "Until that time, all of the attempts by the Arab bloc to prevent Israel from participating in the General Assembly and to block its membership in the organization had failed. Then the PLO's UN representative, Nassar al -Kidwa, proposed that Israel's credentials apply just to Israel proper and not to the disputed territories such as the West Bank. How were we to deal with this? I asked my staff to investigate other border disputes in the world. My first address was the Ambassador from India. I met with him and told him of the Palestinian initiative and then asked him: ‘It seems to me that you have a similar problem in Kashmir. If they succeed for the first time in the history of the UN to deny the credentials of a state that holds disputed territory, what will prevent the Islamic nations from joining together to do the same to you over Kashmir?' He understood the message, ran to al-Kidwa, and within 24 hours the effort had failed."

Turning Defeats into Victories

"It's true that we will lose in every vote in the General Assembly, but we need to realize that we must not run away from the fight, even after defeats. We need to know how to go out to the television cameras after the vote and turn the defeat into a victory. Your words are broadcast to the American and perhaps even the British press."

"The Clinton administration was very disappointed by the non-implementation of the Oslo Accords. They still believed in Yasser Arafat even though we provided them with intelligence information proving that Arafat was involved in terror. So you are working under difficult conditions involving the U.S. I'll give you an example. After the Hebron [withdrawal] agreement, the Prime Minister asked me to meet in Washington with Dennis Ross. I went to see him together with the Israeli ambassador at the time, Eliyahu Ben-Elassar, and we said that now, after we had fulfilled our part in Hebron, we want something for the Jewish population. ‘What do you want," Ross asked. We answered: "Har Homa.' This is a new Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem across the ‘green line.' His reaction was: That would be difficult to digest. It's too big. But he didn't reject it. And within a few months construction began. The Arab bloc initiated a motion of censure of Israel at the Security Council, but as a result of the understanding that this was compensation for the Hebron agreement, the Clinton government ordered its representative at the UN, Bill Richardson, to cast a veto twice. If you compare this to the problems of today with the Obama administration on construction within existing neighborhoods - the difference is startling."

The Traditional U.S. Position: Settlements Are Not Illegal

Q: How do you explain the American veto while at the same time they say the settlements are illegal?

"Illegitimate," Gold corrects. "When they say ‘illegitimate,' they mean to say unacceptable. Every American government, except for the Carter administration, determined that the settlements are legal but are an obstacle to peace. That is the traditional American position. There are famous American spokesmen, even the person who was number two in the State Department at the time of Lyndon Johnson, Professor Eugene Rostow from Yale, who determined that Israel has the right to build in the settlements. Though there are those who dissent from this, this view exists as part of the American legal tradition."

"When I was political advisor to Netanyahu in 1996, I opened the safe and saw with my own eyes documents that are now public, according to which, during the negotiations on the Oslo Accords, Arafat requested a building freeze in the settlements and Peres and Rabin absolutely refused. Arafat gave up and nevertheless instructed Abbas to sign the Oslo Accords. This means that we have no legal obligation from the Oslo Accords to stop construction."

"The freeze was a mistake. It appeared in the Roadmap of 2003 due to American pressure, but the Roadmap is not a signed bilateral agreement between the parties like the Oslo Accords. The introduction of the settlements as a central issue during the Obama era was an American initiative. Since then, Abbas finds himself in a position that he cannot be less Palestinian than the White House."

"What was the mistake? That the central issue on the mind of Saudi King Abdullah is how to stop Iran. If he weighs what is most important to him, to prevent an Iranian attack on his oil fields or to stop construction in Itamar in the West Bank, you know the answer."

The Palestinians Don't Want to Negotiate

"We need to ask ourselves why the Palestinians are constantly pursuing the channel of international recognition instead of focusing on negotiations with Israel. The answer is clear: this is part of a move they began to formulate in January 2009, at the height of the negotiations they held with Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. They don't really want negotiations with Israel. They are interested in one-sided moves, such as declaring a state, despite the fact that this involves many dangers for them."

Q: What is the significance of a unilateral Palestinian declaration?

"This has very serious implications. An independent state controls its airspace. Meaning, Israel will no longer have enough space to protect the skies of the country. We will not have defensible borders. Currently, according to UN Resolution 242, Israel may remain in the territories it conquered in 1967 until a permanent settlement is reached. But the moment there is an independent state, what will be the status of the IDF in the Jordan Valley? And what will happen in Jerusalem? The entire Old City was on the Arab side before 1967. They could claim that the Western Wall and the Temple Mount are under Palestinian sovereignty."

The U.S. Position: The UN Is Not a Suitable Forum to Discuss Middle East Issues

"There is a difference between the debate over the question of the American position and the question of whether the UN is the suitable forum to discuss Middle East issues. The traditional American position has determined that the UN is not the place to deal with sensitive political issues."

"The Americans employed the veto because it was in America's interest to do so. If they didn't do so, they would pave the way for further unilateral Palestinian activities. If the decision to condemn the settlements had passed, this would have encouraged the Palestinians to undertake additional initiatives with regard to declaring a state. If they see that the U.S. is prepared to use the veto on an issue such as the settlements, where its position is very close to that of the Palestinians, they will understand that the Americans will certainly veto any attempts to declare a Palestinian state in the Security Council."

Mistaken Assumptions in Washington

Gold believes that Washington is operating under a number of mistaken assumptions. "First, the position according to which the Israeli Palestinian dispute is the source of disputes with the Islamic world, and that if it is solved, relations will improve between the U.S. and the entire Islamic world. Bush wanted to solve 9/11 by sending the army to Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama sought to solve the problem by forcing a solution on Israel. Second, the belief that with just one more push it would be possible to bring Israel to an agreement and it would accept the Clinton parameters, plus or minus. Third, all of the elites that are involved in foreign policy, whether in the government or in the think tanks, believe that Israel and the Palestinians were very close to an agreement at the end of the Taba talks, and that if Clinton had remained in office another two or three months, everyone would have won a Nobel prize."

"Three months ago I was invited to a conference in Greece sponsored by UCLA, attended by hundreds of Israeli, Saudi, Jordanian and Palestinian experts. I was asked to open the conference together with Mohammed Dahlan. I knew that if I opened with an attack on him based on his terrorist activities, I would lose the audience. So I began by saying: I have great appreciation for you, Mohammed, for your honesty. He almost fell out of his chair. I continued: After the Taba talks, I heard the Israeli foreign minister at the time, Shlomo Ben-Ami, on the radio, who asserted that we had never been so close to an agreement. And then the reporter turned to you, and do you remember what your reaction was? You said two words: ‘harta barta' [drivel, empty talk]!"

"I explained to the audience what this meant. And Dahlan said: That is correct. It was indeed harta barta. There were gaps that were impossible to bridge. Meaning, there is a problem here because the idea according to which we were close to an agreement is part of the fundamental assumption in Washington and their actions are based on this assumption."

"Paragraph 31 of the Oslo II Accord determines that the sides may not change the status of the territory of the West Bank prior to the end of negotiations on a final status agreement. Construction in the settlements is a matter for discussion in the final status negotiations. This is part of the Oslo Accords. Certain nations have a problem, such as the U.S., Russia, the EU, Norway, Egypt and Jordan, because they are signed on to the Oslo Accords as witnesses. A nation cannot put itself in a position where, on one hand, it has signed on to an agreement that says the borders will be determined only through negotiations, and on the other, that it recognizes borders declared unilaterally. I pointed this out to one of the ambassadors and he told me, ‘you're right,' and ran to report on this to his government."

The U.S. Certified in Writing: Rabin Never Formally Pledged to Withdraw from the Golan Heights

Gold discussed the myth that Prime Minister Rabin had promised Clinton that Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights.

"I was sent to Washington together with the deputy military secretary to speak with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher on the so-called "deposit" by Rabin regarding the Golan Heights. I did some homework and asked Christopher three questions: The first was if Rabin had given a pledge in writing. The answer was no. It was given orally. I asked, did Israel give a pledge directly to the Syrians or indirectly via the U.S.? Christopher answered that it was indirect. The third question was if it involved a clear statement or a hypothetical case, such as, if Syria would do x, y, and z, Israel would be ready to withdraw from the Golan Heights. Again, the answer was that it was a hypothetical utterance. Then I asked Christopher: Please answer me as a lawyer. Can a hypothetical utterance, unwritten and made to a third party, be considered an international obligation? The answer was clear and unmistakable: No. I asked him to write this to Prime Minister Netanyahu."

"A few months later U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk phoned me and said: ‘I have a letter for you.' Christopher stood by his promise and wrote down what he had said. But not only that. He also repeated and ratified in writing the obligation of President Clinton to the letter of President Gerald Ford from 1975 according to which the U.S. will give great weight to Israel's remaining on the Golan Heights."

Revolution in the Arab World

Dore Gold says the revolution occurring in the Arab world presents immediate dangers for the West, but in the longer range future of 10 or 15 years it is possible that the process could bring about positive democratization in these states.

"One of the reasons that the dispute between us and the Arab world has continued is that the Arab regimes, which were uncertain of their own legitimacy, used the conflict as an anchor for their legitimacy in order to stabilize their rule. If they develop a future leadership that is freely and democratically elected, they will no longer need the conflict with Israel to achieve local legitimacy. Thus, in the long run, the situation could be to Israel's benefit. The problem is the interim and short-range period. Here there is certainly the danger of Iranian intrusion into the vacuum that has been created. The most organized groups on the scene are the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic elements."

"Actually, Iran's friends - Syria and Hizbullahstan in Lebanon - don't face these problems. The principal problems are among the friends of the U.S.: Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and even Bahrain - the home of the American Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Via a Shiite revolution, Iran could achieve what the Japanese achieved at Pearl Harbor. They can destroy and eliminate the huge American naval base without firing a single shot. These are the greatest dangers from the changes in the balance of local forces. Egypt was the leading country in the battle of Sunni nations that sought to balance the power of Iran, and now Egypt has been weakened."

Monday, February 28, 2011

"Standing Tough"

Arlene Kushner

The international community is forging ahead with those plans to advance "peace negotiations": Later this week, Quartet representatives hope to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian Arab officials, in Brussels. The goal of these meetings is said to be determination of the position of each side with regard to core issues. Then it is hoped that agreement can be reached on how to resume negotiations.

According to an article in Haaretz, Prime Minister Netanyahu is still debating about whether to send his chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho to this meeting.

His concern is that of being unduly pressured by the international community to restart negotiations based on the '67 armistice line (erroneously referred to as a border). A Quartet summit is scheduled for two weeks from now in Paris, and he is worried about an official statement coming from that meeting. Currently, Netanyahu is attempting to determine more precisely the purpose of the Brussels meeting via contact with the US administration. He will then call a meeting of the Septet (the inner cabinet of seven) before making a decision.


And so now I think is the appropriate time for us to deliver a message to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He needs to know that he has enormous support if he will stand strong in making decisions that protect Israel's rights. Implore him not to cave to international pressure. Remind him that he must believe in Israel's value to the international community.

Please! Keep this very short and very direct, in a gracious manner. No speeches, no history lessons.

Fax: 02-670-5369 (From the US: 011-972-2-670-5369)

E-mail: and also (underscore after pm) use both addresses


Then, if you are inclined, please send a similar message to the following members of the Septet. This must be done today, if they are meeting tomorrow. Indicate that you are writing with regard to the Septet meeting on Tuesday, at which there will be a discussion about Quartet involvement in the peace process.

In all instances, when faxing from the US: 011-972-2 followed by the regular seven digits.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Fax: 02-640-8921 E-mail:

Minister of Internal Affairs Eli Yishai

Fax: 02-666-2909 E-mail:

Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon

E-mail: (no fax number available)

Minister Benny Begin

E-mail: (no fax number available)


I continue to suspect that the PA will prove to be such a stumbling block to Quartet attempts to bring them to the negotiating table that no advance will be made. They have already decided to go another route (see below).

However, as it continues to be the tendency of the international community to lean on Israel first, there is no need to take unnecessary chances. Pressure on Israel is precisely what the PA would prefer.


Fatah has come out in opposition to the attempts by PA Prime Minister Fayyad to promote unity with Hamas. This is according to Amin Maqboul, secretary-general of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, as cited by Khaled Abu Toameh.

The party, explained Maqboul, objected to two matters in particular: that Fayyad said unity would be declared before all issues were resolved (I had thought that rather strange when he said it, and an indication of Fayyad's desperation), and that Fayyad was willing to allow Hamas to continue to control Gaza (a key stumbling block between the parties previously -- this was Fayyad providing Hamas with huge incentive).

Fayyad is an independent, and not a member of Fatah. Fatah has let it be known that it is within the party's jurisdiction, and not his, to determine reconciliation with Hamas.

Fayyad's rush to unity was motivated, I believe, by the desire to get them to permit elections in Gaza -- something they've said they would not allow until the dispute with Fatah was resolved. Fatah, you see, is in something of a bind. Elections are past due, which makes everything a bit illegitimate (although almost everyone turns a blind eye to this). There is however, no way to allow all Arabs in Palestinian areas to participate in voting as long as Hamas is blocking the way. The election would be very truncated if held under such circumstances.

Fayyad, who has said he is aiming for a Palestinian state by September, was hoping for PA elections by then, to maximize legitimacy.

Of course, the fact that Fayyad's approach to the matter of unity was considered unacceptable by Fatah does not mean they won't have their own approach.

Stay tuned...


Caroline Glick's piece from last Friday, "Playing Israel's good hand," makes several important and highly relevant points.

First of all, she emphasizes precisely the message I've suggested be delivered to Netanyahu:

"As our region is consumed by the flames of rebellion and revolution, the challenges and threats Israel faces multiply by the day. In these new and trying times, our leaders must shed their failed concepts of statecraft based on weakness and adopt new ones founded on strength."

This is THE message that members of our government must hear.

She also takes a closer look at the PA-US relationship:

"The revolution in Egypt happened just after the PA was thrown into a state of disarray. Al- Jazeera’s exposure of PA documents indicating the leadership’s willingness to make minor compromises with Israel in the framework of a peace deal served to discredit Fatah leaders in the eyes of the Israel-hating Palestinian public.

"In the wake of the Al-Jazeera revelations, senior PA leaders escalated their anti-Israel and anti- American pronouncements...

"The shift in the regional power balance following Mubarak’s fall has caused Fatah leaders to view their ties to the US as a strategic liability.

"If they wish to survive, they must cut a deal with Hamas. And to convince Hamas to cut a deal, they need to abandon the US.

"...the likes of Abbas and Fayyad understand that no matter what they say or do, the West will probably not abandon them. Europeans need them to continue carrying out their political war against Israel because that is what their constituents demand. US leaders will continue to support them because they follow Europe’s lead.

"On the other hand...PA leaders have to bend over backwards to appease Hamas and Iran if they wish to survive.

"...not only are the Palestinians unwilling to pay any price for maintaining Western support for them.

"They are willing to initiate ugly confrontations with the US and humiliate Obama in order to win the approval of Hamas and Iran.

"Facing this reality, Israel’s best bet is to initiate a few confrontations of its own to demonstrate its strategic importance to the US and Europe.

"With the conflagrations raging in the Arab world essentially making its argument that a strong Israel is imperative for the West, Israel should be going on the offensive against the Palestinians and the international Left that supports them."

But Netanyahu isn't doing this -- he's too busy being a "team player" and trying to avoid confrontation. Thus is the message to him recommended above extremely timely.


"The Good News Corner"

Especially because we must emphasize reasons to be proud of Israel, I would like to share some lovely observations.

The first is by Charles Moore, writing in The Telegraph (UK):

"It is often said that anti-Israeli feeling is growing in the West because Israel does not, despite its claims, live by Western values. I sometimes wonder if the opposite is the case: Israel, because of the constant threat to its existence, reminds us of the high cost of defending our freedoms. And that, to Western wishful thinkers, is intensely irritating."


And then, from the Harvard Crimson, of all places, comes a piece by Lee M. Hiromoto, "My Israel":

“'Discrimination is built into Israel.' Zionism 'has at its core the replacement of one people with another.'

"These were two claims I heard at a law school panel discussion on 'boycotting the Israeli occupation'... As the speakers attempted to ascertain the best practices for attacking and dismantling the State of Israel, I thought back to the four years I spent there before starting law school last fall.

"The Israel I experienced differed starkly from the fascist dystopia of which the panelists spoke. That Israel, my Israel, hopes for peace with its neighbors and respects the rights of minority groups, sometimes to a greater extent than the U.S. does.

"My military service as a dual citizen gives me great respect for Israel’s deep yearning to co-exist with its Arab neighbors...

"As part of my service, I visited hospitals in Jerusalem where Palestinian children, with Israeli military coordination, receive critical dialysis treatments several times a week (such treatment is unavailable in the West Bank). I saw a Jewish Israeli surgeon, an Apache pilot in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, treat Palestinian, Iraqi, and African children in an intensive care unit. At the crack of dawn I welcomed Palestinian workers to the Israeli community of Qedar outside Jerusalem, where they worked with their Israeli neighbors for much higher wages than they would earn in a Palestinian city.

"The upshot here is that Israel doesn’t have to let thousands of Palestinians, many of whom still deny Israel’s basic right to exist, into its communities for medical care or work (as happens every day). But Israel does."


In line with the above, see this video about Rambam hospital, in Haifa, which treats 700 Palestinian Arabs children every year. In this film we see a charming little girl from Gaza whose life was saved by Israeli doctors who did emergency brain surgery on her:


Israel has just brought 23 of the 33 Chilean miners, who had been trapped underground for 68 days, to Israel, with spouses. Guests of the Ministry of Tourism, they were given an opportunity to visit Christian sites, in order to celebrate their faith and offer thanksgiving.

“It is a great honor for us to be here, because the God who rescued us from the bowels of the earth is the God who brought us here, and we are so grateful,” said miner Jose Enriques.

Chilean miners pose with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

Marc Israel Sellem


© 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.

see my website

ACLU Leaders Are Supporting Censorship of Israeli Speakers

Alan M. Dershowitz

The international campaign to prevent speakers from delivering pro-Israel talks at universities has been assisted by leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union—an organization that is supposed to protect freedom of speech for all. The method used to silence these speakers and preclude their audiences from hearing their message is exemplified by a now infamous event at the University of California at Irvine.
Michael Oren—a distinguished scholar and writer, a moderate supporter of the two-state solution, and now Israel's Ambassador to the United States—was invited to speak. The Muslim Student Union set out to prevent him from delivering his talk Here is the way Erwin Chemerinksy, Dean of the law school, described what the students did:
"The Muslim Student Union orchestrated a concerted effort to disrupt the speech. One student after another stood and shouted so that the ambassador could not be heard. Each student was taken away only to be replaced by another doing the same thing." Chemerinsky understates what happened, as anyone can see by watching a video of the event, available online ( This was more than a "concerted effort to disrupt the speech." It was a concerted effort to stop it completely—to censor Oren's right to speak and his audience's right to hear him. The efforts to disrupt succeeded; the effort to stop ultimately failed. Moreover, Chemerinsky fails to mention what happened both before and after the concerted effort. There is undisputed evidence that there was a well-planned conspiracy to censor Oren's talk, and then to lie about it, which the students did after the event.
The students were disciplined by the university for their actions, though the nature and degree of the discipline has been kept confidential. Campus sources have characterized it as a "slap on the wrist." Since the students were arrested, the District Attorney, quite understandably, commenced a criminal investigation. After learning of the careful planning that went into the concerted effort to prevent Oren from speaking and the subsequent cover-up, the DA filed misdemeanor charges against those who were involved.
This decision resulted in an outcry by radicals, many of whom favor censorship of pro-Israel speakers. In a letter to the DA signed by many well-known anti-Israel zealots, the incident was described as merely a protest: "The students nonviolently and verbally protested…"
Then, in an effort to blame the victims, the letter pointed the finger at pro-Israel students who wanted to listen to Oren speak claiming—quite falsely—that the Muslim Student Union censors "conducted themselves in less of a disruptive manner than some of the counter-protestors…" This is simply a lie, as anyone can see by viewing the video. Moreover, the intent of the so-called "counter-protestors" was simply to hear the speaker, whereas the intent of the Muslim Student Union was to censor the speaker.
The fact that radical anti-Israel zealots would support censorship of a pro-Israel speaker comes as no surprise. But the fact that the letter of support was signed by two ACLU leaders should shock all civil libertarians and supporters of the ACLU. I have been a supporter of the ACLU for half a century and was a national board member. I supported the right of Nazis to march through Skokie and I defend the right of the most virulent anti-Israel speakers to participate in the marketplace of ideas. The ACLU policy has always been to oppose concerted efforts to prevent speakers from delivering their remarks. While supporting sporadic heckling and jeering that merely demonstrates opposition to the content of the remarks, the ACLU has always condemned concerted efforts to silence invited speakers.
Yet signatories of the letter—which never once criticizes the censoring Muslim Union students while condemning those who wanted to hear the speaker—include "Chuck Anderson," who identifies himself as President ACLU Chapter, Orange County and Chair, The Peace and Freedom Party, Orange County;" (a hard left anti-Israel group), and "Hector Villagro," who identifies himself as "Incoming Executive Director, ACLU of Southern California."
Dean Chemerinsky, while also opposing criminal prosecution, made a point to condemn the censoring students:
"The students' behavior was wrong and deserves punishment. There is no basis for the claim that the disruptive students were just exercising their First Amendment rights. There is no constitutional right to disrupt an event and keep a speaker from being heard. Otherwise, any speaker could be silenced by a heckler's veto. The Muslim students could have expressed their message in many other ways: picketing or handing out leaflets outside the auditorium where Ambassador Oren was speaking, making statements during the question and answer period, holding their own events on campus."
The ACLU leaders, on the other hand, seem to be justifying the actions of the censoring students while limiting their condemnation to the pro-Israel students who wanted to hear the speaker.
After being criticized for supporting censorship, Villagro sought to justify his signing the letter by the following "logic:"
"The district attorney's action will undoubtedly intimidate students in Orange County and across the state and discourage them from engaging in any controversial speech or protest for fear of criminal charges."
The opposite is true. If these students are let off with a slap on the wrist from the University, that will encourage other students around the nation and the world to continue with efforts to prevent pro-Israel speaker from delivering their speeches. The ACLU should be supporting a clear line between occasional heckling and outright censorship. The ACLU leaders who signed the letter are on the wrong side of that line and should not be speaking for the ACLU.
Unless the ACLU explicitly renounces its' leaders support for students who seek to censor pro-Israel speakers, that organization will lose the backing of many who believe that all speech should be protected—not only speech approved of by its leaders.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Arlene Kushner

Bernard Lewis, dean of Islamic scholars, is something of a favorite of mine. At 94 he's still offering sharp analyses from an historical perspective -- with a tad of humor thrown in from time to time.

On Friday, JPost editor David Horovitz ran an interview with Lewis, and I would like to share some of what he said:

"The Arab masses certainly want change. And they want improvement. But when you say do they want democracy, that’s a more difficult question to answer. What does 'democracy' mean? It’s a word that’s used with very different meanings, even in different parts of the Western world. And it’s a political concept that has no history, no record whatever in the Arab, Islamic world. (Emphasis added)

"In the West, we tend to get excessively concerned with elections, regarding the holding of elections as the purest expression of democracy, as the climax of the process of democratization. Well, the second may be true – the climax of the process. But the process can be a long and difficult one. Consider, for example, that democracy was fairly new in Germany in the inter-war period and Hitler came to power in a free and fair election.

"We, in the Western world particularly, tend to think of democracy in our own mean periodic elections in our style. But I think it’s a great mistake to try and think of the Middle East in those terms and that can only lead to disastrous results, as you’ve already seen in various places. They are simply not ready for free and fair elections. I would view that [elections in September] with mistrust and apprehension. If there’s a genuinely free election – assuming that such a thing could happen – the religious parties have an immediate advantage. First, they have a network of communication through the preacher and the mosque which no other political tendency can hope to equal. Second, they use familiar language. The language of Western democracy is for the most part newly translated and not intelligible to the great masses. (Emphasis added)

"In genuinely fair and free elections, [the Muslim parties] are very likely to win and I think that would be a disaster. A much better course would be a gradual development of democracy, not through general elections, but rather through local self-governing institutions. For that, there is a real tradition in the region.

"If you look at the history of the Middle East in the Islamic period, and if you look at their own political literature, it is totally against authoritarian or absolutist rule. The word they always insist on is consultation.


"...You have this traditional system of consultation with groups which are not democratic as we use that word in the Western world, but which have a source of authority other than the state – authority which derives from within the group, whether it be the landed gentry or the civil service, or the scribes or whatever. That’s very important. And that form of consultation could be a much better basis for the development of free and civilized government.

"...[The West] should not be pressing for elections...I think we should let them do it their way by consultative groups. There are various kinds. There are all sorts of possibilities.

"...To say that [the Muslim Brotherhood is] secular would show an astonishing ignorance of the English lexicon. I don’t think [the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt] is in any sense benign. I think it is a very dangerous, radical Islamic movement. If they obtain power, the consequences would be disastrous for Egypt.

"I’m an historian...But I can imagine a situation in which the Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations of the same kind obtain control of much of the Arab world...I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but it’s not unlikely.

"And if that happens, they would gradually sink back into medieval squalor...


"...There’s a common theme [in the region] of anger and resentment. And the anger and resentment are universal and well-grounded. They come from a number of things. First of all, there’s the obvious one – the greater awareness that they have, thanks to modern media and modern communications, of the difference between their situation and the situation in other parts of the world. I mean, being abjectly poor is bad enough. But when everybody else around you is pretty far from abjectly poor, then it becomes pretty intolerable.

"Another thing is the sexual aspect of it. One has to remember that in the Muslim world, casual sex, Western-style, doesn’t exist. If a young man wants sex, there are only two possibilities – marriage and the brothel. You have these vast numbers of young men growing up without the money, either for the brothel or the brideprice, with raging sexual desire. On the one hand, it can lead to the suicide bomber, who is attracted by the virgins of paradise – the only ones available to him. On the other hand, sheer frustration.


"...It’s not easy to define what they are for. It’s much easier to define what they are against. They are against the present tyrannies, which as they see it, not only oppress them, but dishonor their name, their religion, their nationality. They want to see something better in its place. Now what that something better would be is differently defined. They are not usually talking in terms of parliamentary democracy and free elections and so on. That’s not part of the common discourse. For different groups it means different things. But usually, it’s religiously defined. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Muslim Brothers’ type of religion. There is also an Islamic tradition which is not like that – as I referred to earlier, the tradition of consultation. It is a form of government.


"There are other trends within the Islamic world which look back to their own glorious paths and think in other terms. There is a great deal of talk nowadays about consultation. That is very much part of the tradition.

"The sort of authoritarian, even dictatorial regimes, that rule most of the countries in the modern Islamic Middle East, are a modern creation. They are a result of modernization. The pre-modern regimes were much more open, much more tolerant. You can see this from a number of contemporary descriptions. And the memory of that is still living.


"One has to understand...the differences in the political discourse. In the Western world, we talk all the time about freedom. In the Islamic world, freedom is not a political term. It’s a legal term: Freedom as opposed to slavery. This was a society in which slavery was an accepted institution existing all over the Muslim world. You were free if you were not a slave. It was entirely a legal and social term, with no political connotation whatsoever. You can see in the ongoing debate in Arabic and other languages the puzzlement with which the use of the term freedom was first perceived.

"They just didn’t understand it. I mean, what does this have to do with politics or government? Eventually, they got the message. But it’s still alien to them. In Muslim terms, the aim of good government is justice.

"The major contrast is not between freedom and tyranny, between freedom and servitude, but between justice and oppression. Or if you like, between justice and injustice. If one follows that particular discourse in the Arab and more generally the Muslim world, it would be more illuminating.


"...Corruption and oppression are corruption and oppression by whichever system you define them. There’s not much difference between their definition of corruption and our definition of corruption.

"...I think one should look at it in terms of justice and injustice, rather than freedom and oppression. I think that would make it much easier to understand the mental and therefore the political processes in the Islamic world.


"...There’s one other group of people that I think one should bear in mind when considering the future of the Middle East, and that is women. The case has been made, and I think there is some force in it, that the main reason for the relative backwardness of the Islamic world compared to the West is the treatment of women. As far as I know, it was first made by a Turkish writer called Namik Kemal in about 1880. At that time an agonizing debate had been going on for more than a century: What went wrong? Why did we fall behind the West? (Emphasis added)

"He said, 'The answer is very clear. We fell behind the West because of the way we treat our women. By the way we treat our women we deprive ourselves of the talents and services of half the population. And we submit the early education of the other half to ignorant and downtrodden mothers.'

"It goes further than that. A child who grows up in a traditional Muslim household is accustomed to authoritarian, autocratic rule from the start. I think the position of women is of crucial importance.


"[Israel should] watch carefully, keep silent, make the necessary preparations.

"And reach out. Reach out. This is a real possibility nowadays. There are increasing numbers of people in the Arab world who look with, I would even say, with wonderment at what they see in Israel, at the functioning of a free and open society...

" are two things which I think are helpful towards a better understanding between the Arabs and Israel. One of them is the well-known one, of the perception of a greater danger, which I mentioned before. Sadat turned to Israel because he saw that Egypt was becoming a Russian colony. The same thing has happened again on a number of occasions. Now they see Israel as a barrier against the Iranian threat.

"The other one, which is less easy to define but in the long run is probably more important, is [regarding Israel] as a model of democratic government. A model of a free and open society with rights for women – an increasingly important point, especially in the perception of women.

"In both of these respects I think that there are some hopeful signs for the future."


This is a longer citation than I usually provide in a posting. But there is so much wearisome gibberish out there with regard to the turmoil in our region, produced by people who understand little about Islamic culture and rejoice that democracy is breaking out all over.

I could not resist a sharing in some depth with my readers of a genuinely insightful and thoughtful perspective. I hope you have benefited from it.

The one observation I'll make here is with regard to Lewis' point that Arabs and Muslims reach beyond their own culture -- to the West -- when they see a greater risk elsewhere: Had Obama been tough with Iran, which terrifies the Arab nations, he might have forged a solid relationship with them.


Meanwhile, it made news late last week that the Quartet -- the US, the EU, the UN, and Russia -- is planning a new concerted push to get peace negotiations going.

In fact, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has expressed hopes that a deal can be reached by September. It will be "challenging" to achieve this, she admits, but, “It's a time frame that everybody has signed up to.” (Precisely who "everybody" is, I'm not sure.)

After I read this, I was searching for a word to describe this position: daft? imbecilic? witless? obtuse?

The world here is on fire and they don't let go.


Their intention to forge ahead is not deterred by the fact that the leaders of the PA have made it very clear that they're not interested.

Friday was supposed to be a "Day of Rage" against the US because of the Security Council veto. Didn't pick up on much "rage," in terms of action in the street. But there are calls for boycotts of the US, which would include such things as cutting ties with the US Consulate in Jerusalem (which serves as an embassy to the PA) and barring US journalists from PA areas.

They also talking about refusing American aid, if it comes with political strings attached. (As Caroline Glick has pointed out, they say this because they know America will keep giving no matter what -- I'll come back to this soon.)


Today's post began with a discussion of what's happening in the Arab nations. Let's end with Caroline Glick's latest satirical Latma, which includes a very funny interview with Arab leaders and the Arab Democracy Anthem. Glick and her team get it.

(For those in the dark about all of the Gabi Ashkenazi comments: he's just stepped down from the position of IDF Chief of Staff and is being vigorously groomed for a political career, to begin after a cooling off period.)


© 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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Russia to sell Syria cruise missiles

Israel furious at completion of deal, fearing advanced missiles will fall into Hezbollah's hands

Israel News

Russia vowed Saturday to fulfil its contract to supply Syria with cruise missiles despite the turmoil shaking the Arab world and Israel's furious condemnation of the deal.

"The contract is in the implementation stage," news agencies quoted Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying.Russia initially agreed to send a large shipment of anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria in 2007 under the terms of a controversial deal that was only disclosed by Serdyukov in September 2010.

The revelation infuriated both Israel and the United States and there had been speculation that Russia would decide to tear up the contract amid the current turmoil plaguing north Africa and the Middle East.

The Israeli ambassador to Moscow confirmed that the state was primarily worried the missiles would end up in the hands of the Shiite Hezbollah movement that receives strong backing from Syria.

"The question of these missiles' deliver to Syria really has triggered a negative reaction in Israel," Dorit Golender told the Interfax news agency.

"And this is understandable since Hezbollah has repeatedly used weapons that they received either from Lebanon or Syria."

The disputed sale is believed to be worth at least $300 million (218 million euros) and is meant to see Syria receive 72 cruise missiles in all.

Russia has not officially confirmed making any Yakhont deliveries to date.

But Interfax cited one unnamed military source as saying that Russia had already sent Syria two Bastion coastal defence systems that can include up to 36 Yakhont missiles each.

The feared complex can only operate when equipped with radar and target detection helicopters and it was not clear from Serdyukov's comments which supplies, if any, had already been received by Syria.

Comment: The weak stance of the USA is part of the reason Russia is able to make such a power play. They know Obama is weak, will not stand up to the Russians or any of the Arab nations-the end result is Russia has passed through the open door to reclaim authority in the ME-this is only the beginning.

American comes face to face with Nazi who signed family death warrant


THE WORLD’S leading Nazi hunter has described as “sheer nonsense” the attempt by an American man to sue a former assistant of SS chief Heinrich Himmler.

Mark Gould (43) went under-cover in Germany’s neo-Nazi scene to meet and befriend Bernhard Frank, a 97-year-old former SS lieutenant colonel in Himmler’s office.

Mr Gould accuses Mr Frank of responsibility for the murder of countless Jews in the Holocaust, including some of his relatives. He claims Mr Frank’s signature can be found on an order from Himmler from July 28th, 1941, for the mass execution of Jews on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

The order contains the sentence “if the population is of lesser racial or human value . . . then all are to be shot” – something Mr Gould suggests is the first written proof of the looming genocide. He has filed a civil suit against Mr Frank in Washington, claiming he was responsible under the 1941 order for the resulting attack on Ukrainian village Korets in which members of his family perished.

Talking to Bild tabloid yesterday about his undercover investigation, Mr Gould said he spent four years pretending to be a wealthy neo-Nazi from the US.

He filmed many lengthy interviews with Mr Frank, in one of which, in halting English, he can be heard saying: “With Himmler I had a very good relationship, he loved me, and I can only say he was a good man.”

Eventually Mr Gould confronted the elderly man, telling him he was his enemy. “My enemy, why?” asked Mr Frank.

“Because you killed my family,” replied Mr Gould.

The work of Mr Gould has its defenders, including Stephen Smith, founder of Britain’s Holocaust Centre, but others have questioned his self-styled crusade.

Mr Gould, a former trader of Nazi memorabilia, is not Jewish; the family that perished may have been relations of the Jewish man his mother later married.

Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem suggests Mr Gould is a self-promoter, pointing to a pending book and film deal. He describes Mr Frank as a “glorified proof-reader” in Himmler’s office and describes his continued belief in Nazi ideology as irrelevant for a prosecution.

The 97-year-old man lives in Frankfurt, he has never hidden from view, is known to German prosecutors and even published his autobiography five years ago.

“Gould is claiming Bernhard Frank is the guy who started the Holocaust, which is sheer nonsense,” said Mr Zuroff.