Archive for April, 2009

With Friends Like These…

April 24, 2009

It hasn’t received all that much coverage, but the Netherlands passed a bill on Tuesday barring all contact with Hamas.

The issue here is not whether or not engagement with Hamas is the proper course. The politics behind this bill, however, are most interesting.

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders

The bill was introduced in the Dutch parliament by the Party for Freedom and Democracy, a far right party whose leader, Geert Wilders, has embraced controversy with his explicit hatred of Islam.

Wilders’ party is gaining popularity in the Netherlands. According to this report in Ha’aretz, the party currently holds nine seats in parliament, but would win 32 seats if elections were held now.

Wilders has been charged in an Amsterdam court with incitement to hatred and in February was banned from entering the United Kingdom due to his hate-filled speeches regarding Islam.

Wilders and his party make support for Israel a major part of their platform. Many welcome this. But is this really the wagon Israel and the Jewish people want to hitch to?

Here in the US, support for Israel has become synonymous with neo-conservatism, and the American right wing, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Jews holds liberal views and does not support the neocon idea of what “pro-Israel” means.

More to the point, American adoption of such policies has led to the most hopeless period in the Israel-Arab conflict, the one we are in now. They have, unintentionally one presumes, helped build a great deal of support for Hamas and also even more radical Islamist groups while seriously weakening more moderate Palestinian leaders.

Of course this is by no means entirely due to the rightward shift in the US from 2001 through 2008, but it was a major factor. And the ongoing linkage of Israel with right-wing policies (a perception aided greatly by Avigdor Lieberman, of course) increases the alienation of Israel from the mainstream, both for much of the West and for the majority of world Jewry as well.

The friendship of Wilders’ party is something Jews and certainly the Israeli leadership should be saying “thanks, but no thanks” to in as loud a voice as possible.

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Dueling Demagogues At Durban 2

April 24, 2009

Virtually everything that emerged from the Durban II conference in Geneva was overwhelmed by the vile words of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Though some intrepid folks, like the amazing Cecilie Surasky of Muzzlewatch, tried to get the word out about everything that was going on at the conference, most of the attention remained on the issue of Israel and ignored everything else being discussed.mahmoud_ahmadinejad

But Alan Dershowitz did his best to see to it that Ahmedinejad was not the only demagogue with a spotlight on him.

Dershowitz decided to give a history lesson, purporting to “prove” that the entire Palestinian national movement, from its inception, has always aimed not for Palestinian independence and self-determination but rather at the destruction of the Jews.

That Dershowitz has an audience at all is a sad comment. He has no expertise in Israeli history and politics, in the Middle East (in any discipline), or in any field related to politics. His books (yeah, I held my nose and read them) reflect this lack of knowledge and depth. But because he is well-known for other things and is rude and bombastic, he has an audience.

That last is not about his views. As objectionable as I find those views, there are those who hold similar views and have done the work in their lives to merit attention when they speak. Dershowitz hasn’t, and the attention he is paid is an insult to anyone, from any part of the political/ideological spectrum, who has worked hard to attain a level of expertise.

The historical issue revolves around Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the late Mufti of Jerusalem, the first major, charismatic leader of the Palestinian movement. Some of the best background on al-Husseini can be found in Rashid Khalidi’s brilliant book, The Iron Cage.

Let’s be clear about Hajj Amin: he was a venomous anti-Semite, and his hatred eclipsed the bounds of the Palestinian national struggle. There is no disputing that he worked with the Nazis and that he espoused murderous hatred of Jews, not just Zionism. But such diverse scholars as Zvi Elpeleg, Idith Zertal and Peter Novick have all concluded that his actual role in Nazi plans was insiginificant and that, as Zertal put it, “…in more correct proportions, [he should be pictured] as a fanatic nationalist-religious Palestinian leader.” (more…)

Stupidity Runs Rampant

April 20, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad fulfilled all the promise he brought with him to Geneva for the Durban II conference.

He rambled about Israeli racism (whilst one wonders what a Baha’i observer might have been thinking) and said that the “pretext of Jewish suffering” was used to cover Israeli crimes. He firmly re-established his bona fides as an

Ahmedinejad apparently waving goodby to dozens of delegates

Ahmedinejad apparently waving goodby to dozens of delegates

anti-Semite and a demagogue, and in so doing seriously undermined the good efforts at Durban II.

The conference organizers really wanted to get past the 2001 conference. But their own short-sightedness doomed them. There was every reason to believe that Ahmedinejad’s speech was going to be just what it turned out to be-a full rehash of all the 2001 problems. Yet they welcomed him to the podium anyway. Now they have an even more formidable task of trying to overcome both 2001 and Ahmedinejad’s appearance.

In an interesting coincidence, the European Commission had just chastised some of its own member states for boycotting the conference in anticipation of Ahmedinejad’s appearance. And then most of the rest of the EU states walked out on the speech. Ahmedinejad, as this response demonstrates, dealt a serious blow to those who are advocating engagement with Iran and bolstered the case of those who contend, incorrectly, that the Iranian regime cannot be dealt with rationally. (more…)

Recognizing A Jewish State: Obama In Perspective

April 19, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for returning to talks. President Obama wasted little time in dismissing that demand.

The demand is absurd on its face. No one demands that a country be recognized as anything but a sovereign nation by anyone else. The Palestinian Authority has recognized Israel as a sovereign nation, and that is enough. Netanyahu 610x1surely realizes this. The demand is simply an attempt to thwart negotiations and score a few populist brownie points at the same time.

Of course most Israeli Jews cherish the state’s Jewish identity, and that trait is of possibly even greater importance to the state’s Diaspora supporters. But as far as affirmation from others, well…actually, Abba Eban put it best: “Nobody does Israel any service by proclaiming its ‘right to exist.’ Israel’s right to exist, like that of the United States, Saudi Arabia and 152 other states, is axiomatic and unreserved. Israel’s legitimacy is not suspended in midair awaiting acknowledgement….There is certainly no other state, big or small, young or old, that would consider mere recognition of its ‘right to exist’ a favor, or a negotiable concession.”

This isn’t the first time this ridiculous issue has come up. A friend and colleague wrote a very good article about this question when it arose before the Annapolis conference, raised by Tzipi Livni. The Bush Administration rejected the idea back then as well, albeit somewhat more quietly.

So, we shouldn’t get too excited about Obama’s stance on this point. If Bush can do it, so can he. (more…)

Lieberman Condemns Durban II, US Maintains Boycott

April 19, 2009

One would like to say that this is a bad joke, but sadly for Israel, it is reality. None other than Avigdor Lieberman has issued Israel’s statement regarding the Durban II conference.

Obviously, this is part of the job of Foreign Minister, and it’s why Lieberman is such an absurd choice for the job. But to see Lieberman, who has risen to a position of power based on a campaign of racism and xenophobia, makes these

Avigdor Lieberman, Israels Foreign Minister

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's "Foreign Minister"

statements…I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Lieberman’s statement only increases the negative effect on Israel. The fact that anti-Israel hysteria, which featured a good deal of anti-Jewish hate, derailed Durban I has caused a backlash. It is fair now to ask whether full global participation in the conference is being conditioned not on the absence of unfair singling out of Israel but rather on the absence of any criticism of Israel at all. I don’t know whether that is the case, but I do know that having Lieberman make a statement supporting a boycott of Durban II is just as distasteful as having a hatemonger like Mahmoud Ahmedenijad speak at the conference.

Lieberman making these statements is not just Orwellian–it is another example of Israel’s regression and moves away from its preferred identity as a Western-style democracy in the Middle East. One wonders how long the apologists will continue to harm Israel by defending an avowed racist, xenophobe and demagogue, a corrupt man who was convicted of physically assaulting a 12-year old. (more…)

Debating Durban II

April 17, 2009

The much-anticipated Durban Review Conference gets underway next week. While a lot of people seem to have very powerful and set opinions on this event, it strikes me as one that is difficult to choose sides about.

The cases made both for and against the conference often seem weak and lacking in consideration of contradictory factors. A great case in point appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution just today. Two op-eds, one in favor of the USA attending Durban II and one against, appeared. Both were flawed and failed badly to make their case. (more…)

“Just” War and the Public Responsibility

April 14, 2009

It shouldn’t have taken this long, but finally two men with world-renowned credibility (and, I might add, also two men with a strong pro-Israel background, uncompromised by their balanced view of things) have taken up the argument (Article in Hebrew only) against the notion that Israeli soldiers are more important than Arab civilians.

Blogger Jerry Haber raises the question (English translation of the article is at that link) that Michael Walzer and Avishai Margalit do not-whether the Gaza war was justified or not. But there’s another question that needs to be asked, and on some level, it’s even more disturbing.

As the destruction rained down on Gaza, Israeli leaders kept repeating the mantra that this would not “be another Lebanon.” We heard that the lessons of the Winograd Commission were learned and that Israel would conduct this war differently. (more…)

Lieberman: Turning Israel Into A Banana Republic

April 3, 2009

Let’s leave aside for a moment the concerns over Avigdor Lieberman’s effect on peace with the Palestinians. What does it say about a country when this man is appointed Foreign Minister?

Avigdor Lieberman was questioned on April 2 for more than seven hours by Israeli police about suspicions of bribery, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. This happened less than a day after he took the post. And it was not

Israels new Foreign Minister

Israel's new Foreign Minister

breaking news–these allegations had been public for many months, well before the election.

This man is not only a fascist and racist, he is also a corrupt thief, and this is no secret in Israel. No doubt, apologists for Lieberman in the United States (which, shamefully, includes such Jewish leaders as Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League) will say he should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.

In terms of a criminal conviction, that’s true. But politically, the accusations themselves say a lot, and, more than that, Lieberman’s dealings have been well known in Israel. Few there doubt he’s guilty, whether he’s ever convicted or not.

And if we’re looking for convictions, what about the fact that Lieberman was convicted, in 2001 of assault–on a 12-year old boy.

That a man like this is now in the top diplomatic cabinet post in Israel is shameful. It’s the kind of thing that one expects from petty dictatorships.

Israel is often unfairly bashed. But when a man like this is their foreign minister, how much respect do they think they deserve?

Gaza, Israeli soldiers’ Testimonies and Israel’s Response

April 2, 2009

To be frank, Israel’s response to the testimonies of its own soldiers who served in Gaza was shameful. I have written about the bigger picture for Zeek Magazine at the Jewcy web site.