Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Once I got here I got attached to the dozen or two Iraqis I worked with directly, and a greater number of Iraqis and ex-pats I interacted with casually. I came back in large measure because of the bravery and patriotism of the Iraqis. They paid costs I would not bear. Their commitment strengthened mine. I also felt I could improve on the job I had done before. On the other hand, the money is good. It was not that great on the first tour, but it is on this one. I am not KBR [the subsidiary of Halliberton that’s the biggest US contractor in Iraq] but I am not suffering. Moral commitment is made easier when coupled with economic advantage. You may take my earnings as an offset to my statement about conscience, but honestly, both are true.
My final answer to the question of whether I have been/can be effective is "I don't know." The element within the State Department to whom we report is the Iraq Reconstruction Management Organization (IRMO). IRMO has been resistant to a lot of my ideas for good reasons and bad, but is coming around. In “Mythbusters,” a show on TV, one of the characters says, "I reject your reality and substitute my own." Ideology still trumps reality here. On the other hand, good and sensible ideas become irrelevant with one "boom."
So, here's the story. As of yesterday, my current mission is to: a) create materials and training for starting business support centers across Iraq when there is enough order for them to develop; b) devise methods for encouraging self-sufficiency among such centers; c) write a program through which the centers can derive income; d) train Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) about how to use the materials when we are gone, and how to integrate resources across local, provincial, “governate” [a regional authority] and even national boundaries. In the process, I have written one book on best practices for business centers and am completing another, a handbook on how to create a business in Iraq....
WIthout going into too much detail, the current plan is the latest of literally a dozen made by me and rejected by IRMO. Plans began with an attempt to extend the Baghdad Private Business Center we initially created and to derive an Iraq Business Alliance of business support and professional associations. That plan "exploded." Plans since then have varied widely from creating an all-Iraq Internet/electronic business community; distance training both as part of the above and as a free standing resource; pilot business centers all over Iraq within functioning business institutions like chambers to reduce security and other costs; etc. etc. etc. My latest rejected plan, based on wide collaboration within and outside of Iraq (including Jordan and Egypt), plus integration with some of the work done by USAID, was rejected because, I believe, it increased our independence from IRMO, created a situation in which IRMO would have to share credit with AID, and the US share credit with others.
Of course, that is a microscopic and personal view. in a larger sense, the key impediment to any "real" contribution is the violence and disorder. I write about it all the time. Last week, two people I casually knew and siblings of two Iraqis working here died. The Iraqis were strangers. One of those I knew was the South African [Glen] who I described many months ago as the one who fed the cats at dusk and suffered unrequited love.
Glen had two weeks to go, had packed up early, invested all of his earnings (foolishly) in a million pounds of feed for the cattle farm he owns, and to sell at a profit. He intended to retire and be self sufficient. He has a large family. His memorial service was last Saturday. The other was an American, a relative newbee I only saw but never knew. The two died when a mortar misfired and hit them in error. It did not make the news. Nor are Iraqi and contractor deaths counted as war casualties, though these men were engaged in tasks that otherwise the military would have had to do. The Iraqi siblings died in separate car bombings.
The second largest impediment is the U.S. presence and incredible incompetence associated therewith, plus the concomitant Iraqi incompetence that the American presence rewards and even inspires. This week's example: The good guys basically know who fired the mortar that took Glen. The bad guy fires about the same time – 6:30-7:30 AM – several times a week from spots not far from here. A joke on compound is that if we do not hear a mortar exiting a tube (it is loud pop, sometimes followed by a whooshing sound like a distant public urinal flushing) we figure he's on vacation and speculate where he might be. The protective forces send Iraqi and American foot patrols, Iraqi police and militia vehicles, American military vehicles of every description, American military and contractor (Blackwater) helicopter overflights, and American jet aircraft every night, but never at 6:30-7:30. I'm guessing the residents and squatters, and maybe the militia, know where he is.
Way more important as elements of the incompetence of occupation are policies that come out of the embassy or DoD, which change without reason, become semi-secret edicts that everybody knows, and still rest more on ideology than reality. I could give a zillion examples.... One of the great difficulties in doing this work is that any Iraqi seen with Americans – as we ride in our armored suburbans and humvees and caravans, drive people off the road, and project incredible arrogance as occupiers – is a marked Iraqi. So is his family. It is not good for therm. Do not doubt that, with few exceptions (excluding most of Kurdistan), we are hated....
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
What makes this issue difficult for me is not that the US should never have invaded Iraq in the first place, that one is easy. It's that the war is no longer primarily about the US being there.
If we left Iraq immediately, would this stop the sectarian warfare that is taking hundreds of lives each week? We honestly don't know if withdrawing US troops at this point would dampen down the violence or the opposite. My impression is that a US presence in parts of Baghdad actually saves Sunni lives; and this is what many Sunnis believe. The irony of this is monumental, considering that we invaded to end a Sunni-dominated tyranny and have empowered a Shiite-dominated government today.
Maybe there's nothing better for our forces to do than to get out of the way and let the Sunnis and Shiites fight it out to a bloody mutual exhaustion. But this is not exactly a pro-peace or progressive perspective. My frustration is that there is no obviously humane or correct answer to this conundrum.
Monday, February 26, 2007
“We were the Jews of Silence, the Jews enjoying security, the Jews of the Western world.... What torments me most is . . . the silence of the Jews I live among today,” wrote Elie Wiesel a generation ago in a “Letter to a Young Jew in the U.S.S.R.” Today, there is another silence among the Jews of America: the silence that a few would impose on the rest. It brooks no criticism of Israel, always the righteous victim of Arab enmity. Enforcing quiet—supporting Israel right or wrong—is essential to preserving Israel’s status quo, a condition which, as we all know, is truly the best of all possible worlds.
And what if the status quo is, in fact, toxic to Israel? What if it is a poison eating away at the foundations of the state, fouling its Jewish and democratic values and corrupting the young who are its future, some of whom must venture into the West Bank to suppress and control the Palestinian population? Counter-insurgency and the occupation of villages and cities is ugly, but they are necessary evils in the face of a barbarous and genocidal war against the Jews and the Jewish state.
But what if it is not all for the sake of Israel’s security? What if our brave Jewish fighters sometimes serve the interests of Jewish settlers who encroach on Palestinian land, steal their olive trees, build wildcat Jewish outposts in violation of Israeli law and then bar the Palestinians by force from their property? To make matters worse, what if they manage to co-opt sympathetic government agencies, and the Jewish state itself now becomes complicit in their piracy? And what if, in the course of duty, our soldiers do many things to ordinary Palestinians which they themselves cannot justify as necessary to protect the lives of Israel’s citizens?
Friday, February 23, 2007
A soldier examining a Palestinian driver noticed a daily paper sitting on the windshield. The soldier asked to look at the headlines. The Palestinian driver refused. He said he was in a hurry. The soldier ordered him to stand aside.
A little while later the commander appeared. He explained to the Palestinian: “Here the soldier is the law. If he asks you for your underwear you give it to him. Now go.”
The driver was lucky that the Machsom ladies were present. They witnessed the soldier’s action and called the commander.
Machsom Watch is a group of about 400 middle class Jewish ladies who go out to about 40 permanent checkpoints in the West Bank twice a day in the early morning and the late afternoon. There are over 500 permanent and flying checkpoints in the West Bank,
Their reports are digested and edited and sent by email once a week to interested parties. The latest report for February 11 to 17 shows that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent promise to ease restrictions at West Bank checkpoints was honored for a day or two. And then it was business as usual. The full reign of the army, replete with confused orders that change from day to day, was completely restored.
At the Huwwara checkpoint, a few minutes from Nablus, on Sunday February 11 at 3.30 p.m., the Machsom Watch ladies reported that men and women age 15 to 35 from Nablus are not allowed to pass. Residents of the Tulkarim and Jenin districts are not allowed at the Huwwars CP and must go through Bait Ibo. “Great confusion among both soldiers and Palestinians,” the ladies report.
“A 33-year old resident of Deir Balut with his 25-year old wife were turned back to Nablus,” the report continues. Deir Balut is 20 minutes from Nablus through Huwwara. It is four hours away over bad roads through Beit Iba. The Arabs claimed they had a sick mother at home. No dice. In the name of security, the couple made the long ride home.
On the same day, at the Beit Furiq checkpoint, a Nablus doctor who spends one day a week at the Beit Furiq clinic was turned back to Nablus. He kept repeating in English. “I am a doctor. Doctors have an international status. That is the way it is all over the world.” But not in Beit Furiq on February 11. He was from Nablus and he was sent back. The sick in Beit Furiq will have to wait until next week for treatment.
The next day, some people from Nablus with medical problems or permits to work in East Jerusalem found a way to get through to Qalandia, the main entrance to Jerusalem from the north. On Monday, February 12, Machsom Watch ladies tried in vain to help men from Nablus with permits to work in East Jerusalem. They were turned away.
Four women with sick children who held one-day permits to East Jerusalem hospitals were held up because they came from Nablus. Here the Machsom ladies were able to help. “Our intervention succeeded,” the ladies reported. “The soldiers had misunderstood the orders,” the ladies were told.
What exactly were the orders? Why the discrimination against Nablus residents? No one knows. No ordinary Israeli, certainly no Palestinian is allowed to question army security. The soldier is king and he has been king for almost 40 years.
What is true for the soldiers is true for the Border Police. Machsom Watch reports that the BP has been carrying on a feud with the village of Huwwara.
For weeks BP jeeps hung out in the courtyard of the girls high school. This stopped when three of the older girls filed a complaint. But then harassment of the whole village began. The residents say that the BP’s objective is to pressure them to withdraw the complaint.
On Sunday February 11, the ladies report on the testimony of the girls who made the complaint and on a conversation with the BP commander as to why his men on the roof of a residential building were keeping fearful women and children awake all night.
“They are there for road surveillance,” said the commander. To the ladies query of why they can’t survey from the roofs of commercial buildings where no one sleeps, he answered: “We mustn’t interfere with security considerations. It is our right to climb on any roof we choose.”
At 4 PM that day a curfew was enforced by the BP. All shops in Huwarra village were shut. The excuse was that some kids threw stones at a BP jeep.
Two days later at 4:40 PM, Machsom Watch ladies in Huwwara village observed ten men standing in the rain. They had been ordered out of their workshop by the BP while their papers were examined.
The feud continues. The power is with the army, but the villagers are steadfast.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The AJC and the Left: a work in progress
Here’s what the average reader might learn after reading “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” the much-talked-about paper written by Indiana University professor Alvin Rosenfeld and published by the American Jewish Committee:
There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism, mainly in the Muslim world, but also among Western leftist intellectuals. The forms of this anti-Semitism seem new but actually play on classic Jewish stereotypes, from the poisoning of wells to “Protocols”-like manipulations of government and finance.
The most insidious forms of this new anti-Semitism include the hyperbolic language used to denounce Israel’s actions and the hostile way intellectuals challenge the Jews’ very right to a state of their own.
The Jewish writers named in the paper — poet Adrienne Rich, British polemicist Jacqueline Rose, and a professor at Bard College named Joel Kovel, for example — typify “one of the most distressing features of the new anti-Semitism — namely, the participation of Jews alongside it, especially in its anti-Zionist expression.”
Here’s what you don’t learn from Rosenfeld’s paper: How widespread are these views among Jewish “progressives”? When Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, a self-described “writer and poet, activist, scholar and teacher,” writes that she is renouncing her “right to return,” does she represent some, many, or most “progressives”? Who is Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz?
If there is a “drift of ‘progressive’ Jewish thought” in this direction, as Rosenfeld asserts, what are his measures for this “drift”? How does he define the marketplace of ideas, and how influential are these Jews “who are proud to be ashamed to be Jews” (that’s Rosenfeld quoting British lawyer Anthony Julius)?
Since the paper does not acknowledge their existence, should the reader assume that there are no Jewish “progressives” who represent a countervailing force or trend — that is, of unabashed Zionist leftism?
Since The New York Times reported on Rosenfeld’s paper early this month, reaction to it has been swift and vociferous. The paper has its defenders, including Shulamit Reinharz, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University, and Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick. “Far from seeking to silence these hostile Jewish voices,” Glick writes, “Rosenfeld’s essay simply serves to draw lines between friend and foe where such lines are important.”
Much of the criticism of the paper, especially on the Left, challenged Rosenfeld’s premise that certain forms of invective aimed at Israel — namely, the use of Nazi and apartheid imagery and calls for a “binational” state of Arabs and Jews — are prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism. Still others suggested that the “anti-Semitism” label is intended to squash debate on Israel.
For their part, Rosenfeld and the AJC deny this last point. AJC executive director David A. Harris issued a statement, declaring, “It is important to stress that [Rosenfeld] has not suggested that those about whom he writes are anti-Semitic.” This is simply disingenuous. Rosenfeld builds an eight-page argument that certain views and attitudes exemplify the “new anti-Semitism” and then quotes at length the Jewish writers who hold these very views. If that is his definition of the new anti-Semitism, in what ways are these writers not anti-Semites? How can you participate “alongside” anti-Semitism without being a purveyor?
Or perhaps Harris is not being disingenuous, and Rosenfeld genuinely believes that Rose, Kovel, et al, are not anti-Semitic. If so, that strengthens the argument of critics like the New Republic’s John Judis, who writes that “harsh denunciation of Israeli policies can be offensive without being anti-Semitic.” In fact, if you take away Rosenfeld’s once-over-lightly treatment of the “new anti-Semitism,” you really have an expose and rebuttal of some extremely offensive writings by some seriously misinformed or malevolent thinkers.
But Rosenfeld is not satisfied with exposing and rebutting these folks; he wants to tie them instead to something darker and more dangerous. As Harris puts it in his statement, Rosenfeld has “courageously taken on the threat that arises when a Jewish imprimatur is given to the campaign to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy.” The threat, the reader can only presume, is that the enemies of the Jews are strengthened when they can point to Jews who may share some of their arguments about Israel’s behavior and legitimacy. It’s an academic version of former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer’s comments, soon after 9/11, that Americans “need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.”
Is this true, and in what context? When a Jew writes an anti-Zionist essay or a book that compares the Palestinian territories to the Warsaw Ghetto, does that make things worse for other Jews and the State of Israel, and in what ways? To turn it around, if no Jew held these views, or if no publisher would print them, would the world’s attitudes toward Israel be any more positive? Would the threat to Israel be any less dire?
There is another threat, and that is the danger that once you start declaring certain ideas and writers a “threat,” you don’t know how to stop. That’s certainly what happened when Rosenfeld cherry-picked a single column on the Lebanon war by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Ignoring his long-standing support for Israel and devotion to the subject, Rosenfeld accused Cohen of purveying “the age-old indictment of the Jews.” (Harris has apologized, somewhat grudgingly, to Cohen, saying his “disturbing comments expressed this summer…do not reflect the totality of his occasional writings on the Middle East”).
And then there is the threat that when you “draw lines between friend and foe,” the boundaries you sketch become narrower and narrower. What I find most unfortunate about Rosenfeld’s essay is his equation, from the title onward, of “progressive” with “anti-Semitism.” In the good old days of ideological ornithology, when it was the Right that was more likely than the Left to be analyzed for its anti-Semitism, academics were always careful to distinguish among, say, conservatives, paleo-conservatives, and neoconservatives. These distinctions made clear that while individuals may share certain beliefs, that doesn’t mean they share all the same beliefs.
Rosenfeld doesn’t mention the Zionist leftists who defend Israel in “progressive” settings, with, admittedly, varying disagrees of success. He doesn’t mention the network of American Zionist organizations, like Ameinu and Meretz USA, who support their counterparts in the Knesset and the Israeli Left. He doesn’t even call on leftist Zionists, as you might expect he would, to clean their ranks of those who “participate” in the new anti-Semitism. To do so, he would have to acknowledge that there are alternative “progressive” Jewish voices to those he lambastes in his paper. A mainstream Jewish organization with AJC’s reputation for scholarship and measured activism should know better than to hand an emboldened right wing a cudgel with which to beat nearly anyone to its left.
That being said, there’s work to do on the Left. Gleeful bloggers have suggested that the negative reaction to the AJC paper is the sign of a reborn “movement” of Jews who agree with their criticism of Israel. Perhaps. And yet it’s not enough to declare “I’m no anti-Semite” and at the same time only engage with Israel and Jewish life to the degree to which you protest its policies and attack its mainstream. “Progressive” also means imagining a positive, engaged expression of Judaism and Zionism, not just tearing down its myths and idols.
Rosenfeld’s paper is an attack on a movement’s extreme. The non-extremists within that movement should use their moment in the sun to express a leftist Zionism that proudly earns the name “progressive.”
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
... in order for the plan to be more appealing Saudi strategists should consider enhancing it in a number of ways.
First, the original plan demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders as a condition for peace. Yet even the late King Hussein of Jordan and the PLO's Yasser Arafat recognized that territorial swaps and compromises have over the years become necessary. The plan should recognize and accommodate this factor with regard to both the Palestinian and the Syrian peace fronts.
Second, the plan offers Israel peace, normal relations and--perhaps most important given present conditions in the region--"security for all the states of the region". But what does this mean? It would be very helpful to present Israel with a more detailed description of the mutual security arrangements the plan contemplates, as an incentive for territorial concessions that might otherwise endanger Israel.
Third, the plan calls for "a just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194". Back in March 2002 this was touted as an Arab concession, insofar as the plan recognizes the need for all sides to agree and does not demand the right of return (in fact, neither does 194 if read carefully in its original context). Yet that same Beirut Arab League summit that approved the plan then went on to pass three successive resolutions reaffirming its demand for the right of return, as if no significant change in Arab positions had just transpired. Israel, which would be committing national suicide if it accepted the right of return..., needs to hear clarifications on this issue.
Particularly troublesome for Israel is the concluding operative paragraph of the 2002 plan, which calls upon the League secretary general to recruit support for it from the United Nations, the United States, Russia, the Muslim states and the European Union--everybody but Israel. The objective seemed to be to compel Israel to accept the plan without discussion, debate or negotiation. This approach has to change. The Saudis and the Arab League have to address Israel directly. They have to come to Jerusalem to present their revised plan to the government and public of Israel. If they do so in the tradition of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, they will be amazed at how forthcoming the Israeli public can be.
Finally, the plan has to be broken down into workable stages and integrated into the new and threatening regional context. Israel can be asked to make the first move, but there must be Arab initiatives, too. And both sides need to perceive that there are incentives to progress toward Arab-Israel peace and regional security cooperation.
Phase I should involve two Israeli steps. First, discussions with the PLO to clarify the territorial and other parameters of a successful two-state solution. This corresponds with recent "diplomatic horizon" proposals made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for jump-starting the peace process. The Rice-Abbas-Olmert summit of Feb. 19 was a problematic beginning, but nonetheless a beginning.
In parallel, Jerusalem should enter into preliminary back-channel negotiations with Damascus concerning the possibility of bilateral peace talks that would satisfy Israel and the United States' (and the Arabs') needs regarding cessation of Syrian support for terrorism and strategic collaboration with Iran, if and as an Israeli-Syrian territories-for-peace deal is reached. This reflects the inclination of many within the Israeli security establishment to test President Bashar Assad's invitation to Israel to renew negotiations. If, however, the Saudis share American reservations about rewarding the problematic Assad with even exploratory talks at this juncture, then they should amend their peace plan accordingly, so that Israel is not held to a hypocritical regional peace standard.
Assuming one or both of these moves begin to generate momentum and lay the foundations for full-fledged negotiations, phase II would bring Israel together with the two "quartets"--the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian and Gulf leaderships along with the UN, US, EU and Russia--to begin discussing normalization of Israel-Arab relations, including security cooperation. Just as the Arab public wants to see progress toward Israel-Arab peace, the Israeli public needs to witness serious Arab gestures in the context of normalization and security cooperation against common enemies, and to be reassured that successful peace processes are rewarded by the Arab world.
Phase III witnesses Israeli-Palestinian and possibly Israeli-Syrian peace processes, either in parallel or in sequence, supported by international and Arab incentives and ultimately culminating in (phase IV) bilateral peace agreements and multilateral normalization and security coordination.
Whereas the first two phases could take six months to a year, phases III and IV would, in the best case, stretch out over years. Indeed, even to begin this process requires a degree of Israeli, Palestinian and American resolve and energy that appears to be sadly lacking. Yet the interactive nature of today's Middle East crises, and their gravity, demand nothing less than a major push for peace by the moderate Arab countries led by Riyadh.
Published 19/2/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I’m just a commentator and I make no pretense to being a sage, but immediately after the Hamas victory in February of last year I wrote: “A disastrous response is to overreact and to cut off all monetary support and contacts with the Palestinian Authority … It is a draconian measure that demands Hamas moderate itself instantaneously.” I pointed out that a United Nations report before the Hamas victory indicted that two-thirds of Gaza residents lived under the poverty line of $2.20 per day. I then wrote: “It is important not to immediately cut off American financial support to the Palestinian Authority because Hamas is now in control. Such precipitous action will only push Hamas into the hands of Iran and other more militant Islamists. We must be careful to strengthen the moderates in Hamas, not to undermine them.”
[But the former is] exactly what the Israeli and American governments did with the urging of the Jewish lobby which pushed through a Congressional resolution that demanded that our government isolate the Hamas regime. Now a year later we realize that all we did was to increase the poverty and despair in Gaza and push Hamas closer to Hezbollah and Iran, even though the latter are Shiite and Hamas is Sunni.
But the realization of this folly is surfacing in Israel where military experts from both the left and right of the political spectrum are beginning to speak out and demand direct negotiations with Hamas. Retired Major General Shlomo Gazit was the chief of military intelligence in 1976 and was the architect of the brilliant Entebbe raid that saved the Jewish hostages held by Idi Amin. He was also Menachem Begin’s military advisor during the peace talks with Egypt. He is now at a think-tank at Tel Aviv University. This past month, speaking of the three conditions laid down on Hamas by Israel and the U.S. (no talks unless it recognizes Israel, swears off violence and accepts previous signed Israeli-Palestinian agreements), Gazit characterized them as “ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate.”
Gazit continued: “Only a country that suffers from an inferiority complex demands that everyone like it. We must negotiate on concrete problems – not on declarative issues. I am in favor of starting negotiations today, while the violence continues, and to sign an agreement which will go into effect when it stops. Why should the Palestinians stop fighting us until they know we are willing to make an agreement?”
Ex-Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who was a top advisor to former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon, has also come to the same conclusion. The Forward reports: “According to Halevy, Israel should take up Hamas’s offer of a long term truce and try negotiating, because the Islamic movement is respected by Palestinians and generally keeps its word. He pointed to the cease-fire in attacks on Israel that Hamas declared two years ago and has largely honored. ‘They’re not very pleasant people, but they are very, very credible,’ Halevy said.”
We always knew that the PA Prime Minister, Ishmail Haniyeh was open to negotiations, but recent statements by the hard-line Hamas boss who pulls the strings from Damascus, Khaled Meshal, indicate that the time is ripe for a change in Israeli and American policy. Meshal is ready to “respect” previous Palestinian agreements with Israel, but Israel and the U.S. are demanding that Hamas “commit” itself to the agreements. I repeat Gazit’s question – why should Hamas commit itself to anything until it knows what it will get in return? That’s the point of negotiating. I am afraid that we are missing an important opportunity and that the brilliant leadership in Washington and Jerusalem will drive Hamas even closer to its unnatural ally, Iran. (Talking of brilliance, Olmert, in his visit with Bush a few months ago, praised our president for stabilizing the Middle East. Tell that to our troops in Iraq.)
A Footnote on the Debate over President Carter’s Book
Alan Dershowitz has been the most outspoken critic of Carter. His recent column has been emailed to practically everyone who has an email address. In it he attacks Carter’s personal integrity because the Carter Center has received money from Arab sources and Carter once borrowed money from BCCI, a now defunct Arab-owned bank that was “virulently anti-Israel.” He writes: “The entire premise of (Carter’s) criticism of Jewish influence on American foreign policy is that money talks. It is Carter, not me, who has made the point that if politicians receive money from Jewish sources, then they are not free to decide issues regarding the Middle East for themselves. It is Carter, not me, who has argued that distinguished reporters cannot honestly report on the Middle East because they are being paid by Jewish money. So, by Carter’s own standards, it would be almost economically ‘suicidal’ for Carter ‘to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine.’ By Carter’s own standards, therefore, his views on the Middle East must be discounted.”
I agree with Dershowitz’s premise that money buys political support. Our lobbyists in Washington have proved that point. We have the best Congress that money can buy. But this does not apply to Carter. At his Brandeis speech he specifically answered a student’s question concerning financial support for the Carter Center from Arab sources. He responded that he instructed his staff to go through every donation and they found that only two percent of their donations came from Arab sources, and nearly all of that money has gone to development projects in Africa. Furthermore, there has always been transparency. All of their donations have been made public.
This has not stopped Dershowitz from writing that, “It pains me to say this, but I now believe that there is no person in American public life today who has a lower ratio of real to apparent integrity than Jimmy Carter …. He is no better than so many former American politicians who, after leaving public life, sell themselves to the highest bidder and become lobbyists for despicable causes. That is Jimmy Carter’s sad legacy.”
It is apparent that Dershowitz has taken on the hatchet-man mantle for the Jewish establishment. He is to the more sedate Jewish leaders what Nixon was to Eisenhower. What would induce him to take such a stance? Well, I called a Jewish Federation director and asked a simple question – what is Dershowitz’s current speaking fee? He replied that it was between $55,000 to $60,000 per speech. “Who pays that kind of money?” I asked. He replied that it is Jewish Federations and other national Jewish organizations. I would assume that, since Dershowitz speaks frequently throughout the country, he makes much more off the national Jewish establishment than he does from his professorship at Harvard. But, of course, his politics would not be affected by this since he is not an ex-politician.
I am afraid that Dershowitz is in the same position as Newt Gingrich, who was pushing for the impeachment of Clinton at the same time that he was having an affair with his intern, while cheating on his third wife (or was it his second?). The analogy is correct, except that Clinton was actually diddling Monica while President Carter is not guilty of Dershowitz’s slander. But this does not get Dershowitz off the hook, or the Jewish establishment that has apparently bought him.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Ms. Rice made clear that she was willing to begin work on a peace deal with him even if the United States boycotted a unity government. That might allow Mr. Abbas, as the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to hold talks with Israel even if a new Palestinian unity government did not recognize Israel or renounce violence, two conditions that Israel and the United States have both demanded.
Mr. Abbas’s aides were buoyant after the meeting. “We’re encouraged,” one Palestinian official said.
But the Mecca unity government agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which does not explicitly renounce violence and endorse the two-state solution, casts a pall on ongoing efforts toward peace. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert pledged at today's summit with Abbas and Rice to maintain contact with Abbas even while continuing to boycott the Hamas-led Palestinian government; there is some but scant hope in this. The only way forward at this moment is for Israel and the US to negotiate with Abbas while largely ignoring Hamas, but sadly, real progress seems unlikely under these circumstances. I would, nevertheless, hope against hope for this course of working with Abbas and ignoring Hamas.
I often find Ami Isseroff overly harsh, but his analysis, "Palestinian unity: Ominous signs," at the Mideast Peace Web site seems to be basically on target.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Editorial note: As of Feb. 18, news reports indicate a likely continuation of stalemate on the eve of US Secretary of State Rice's meeting(s) with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas, with Olmert stating that the US and Israel are in agreement on shunning any Palestinian government that doesn't meet international demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace accords and Abbas insisting that his unity government agreement is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.
It was last summer, when prisoners from all the major Palestinian factions signed onto the “Prisoners Document,” that people really began talking about a possible Palestinian unity government. Yet, as the year progressed, as Palestinian infighting became more intense, and as various talks fell apart, the prospects for one seemed increasingly unlikely. That is, until about two weeks ago, when talks hosted by Saudi Arabia at last resulted in an agreement. And, though disagreements early this week threatened to inhibit implementation of the Mecca Accord, yesterday, the Hamas government resigned, making way for a new unity government.
Now everyone’s asking “what happens next?” The leaders of Fatah and Hamas had two main reasons for forming such a government: they wanted to put an end to Palestinian infighting, and they wanted to end the economic boycott of the government. Of course, these two factors are not unrelated – the tensions between Fatah and Hamas were amplified by the increasing poverty and malcontent since the West cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority. The unity government will only hold together if Western and Israeli monetary assistance is restored and, likely, if Israel agrees to engage it in peace negotiations. In other words, its success will depend on Western and Israeli interpretations of “who gave in” – Fatah to Hamas or Hamas to Fatah.
On the one hand, some analysts see the unity agreement as a sign of Hamas moderation. Danny Rubinstein wrote this week that, although the Accord did not represent a complete political turnaround for Hamas, the movement is changing. In fact, he argues, it has been slowly doing so since entering into a tahdiya (lull – in fighting) in March 2005. Similarly, Zvi Bar’el noted that Hamas has been toning down its religious rhetoric in political situations and that there are no religious clauses whatsoever in the Mecca Accord.
Other analysts view the unity agreement as a step backward for Fatah. The Mecca Accord calls for Hamas to respect or honor past peace agreements with Israel, but when, and if, the unity government is formed, it will not necessarily recognize the Jewish state or renounce the use of terrorism against it. Indeed, Hamas will continue to hold a plurality of seats [ministries] in the government.
As a result, the US and the UK will be disinclined to end their economic boycott. British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett said last week that London will continue to withhold aid until Hamas recognizes Israel and gives up violence. And there appears to be little change in the US position as well. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that the US will only deal with those Palestinian officials who agree to the three “benchmarks” (recognizing Israel, recognizing past agreements, renouncing violence) for normalization, and many Jewish groups are continuing to advocate for pressure on Hamas. For its part, Israel is said to be reviewing ties to Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas and its position on the Palestinian government. On the other hand, various Israeli and Arab experts question the wisdom of continuing the boycott.
In general, however, both Israel and the US are taking a “wait and see” approach, with Olmert stating that his government has neither rejected nor accepted the Mecca Accord. Abbas has given Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh five weeks to set up a new government, and Israel and the West will probably not draw any conclusions until then.
For this reason, the summit between Rice, Olmert, and Abbas, planned for this coming Monday, is unlikely to yield much in the way of results. Aluf Benn, for one, writes that Yitzhak Rabin would have called the summit bablat (“hot air”) because nothing will come of it.
In the meantime, while everyone waits for the government to form, there are several things to keep in mind. Certainly, the success of the unity government does not depend solely on the international community – the Palestinians will also have themselves to blame if it fails – but Israel and the West can do a great deal to turn its creation into a positive. The Palestinians already believe that the Olmert government is seeking anarchy in Palestine. A refusal to deal with the new government may only help fuel this claim and intensify Palestinian frustration.
In addition, an editorial in this week’s Forward makes a significant observation. Although Hamas has not met the international community’s conditions, the unity government will, de facto, recognize Israel – after all, past peace agreements include this recognition. This understanding may help remove one obstacle to aid and negotiations.
Perhaps if the unity government is given a chance, we’ll find that both Fatah and Hamas “gave in” and created something the Israelis can work with. As Afif Safieh, head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Mission to the US, observed in this week’s Forward, that, because of the agreement, the Palestinian government will be more representative of the Palestinian people and both Fatah and Hamas are willing to negotiate for the sake of those people. Maybe the unity government will fail, or maybe Israel will be unable to agree to its terms in negotiations, but, at the very least, hopefully it will bring a period of calm and relative stability to the Palestinian people.
To read Meretz USA’s statement on the Mecca Accord, please click here.
ALSO OF NOTE:
# The past couple weeks have seen unrest in the Jerusalem area. Last Friday, hundreds of Muslims gathered in the Old City of Jerusalem to protest the construction of a new bridge to the Temple Mount. The Jewish Quarter Development Company subsequently withdrew its request for construction, then declared it would proceed as planned. To see a summary of this issue, click here.
Friday, February 16, 2007
In my view, although Olso had its flaws, Khalidi was throwing the baby out with the bath water. He also gave no acknowledgment to the fact that Rabin had frozen new settlement construction (he, unfortunately, allowed construction for "natural growth" – increased population through birth). And Khalidi did not acknowledge that after Peres was defeated, neither Netanyahu nor Barak were supporters of Oslo, although neither totally discarded it.
In 1997, Prof. Khalidi published a seminal work called “Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness.” His new book, “The Iron Cage,” is a continuation of this story.
What I noticed in his earlier book is that Khalidi made too much of Zionist "unity" – ignoring the bitter split with Jabotinsky's Revisionists that almost led to civil war. Furthermore, unlike Tom Segev's "One Palestine, Complete," written a few years later, which documented how uneasy the Zionist-British "alliance" was, Khalidi simply depicts them as allies, full stop. When I made these observations (nearly 10 years ago) in my In These Times review of “Palestinian Identity," Khalidi wrote a caustic letter to the editor in which he refused to engage any of my points.
The following are selections from a mostly positive review of “The Iron Cage” that my friend Bennett Muraskin wrote for a coming issue of Jewish Currents:
Khalidi tells this story with great erudition. He argues that British support was critical to the development of the Jewish community of Palestine, known as the Yishuv. The British treated the Jewish Agency as a legitimate authority and allowed it considerable autonomy to run its own affairs. The Zionists took full advantage, utilizing their organizing and fundraising skills, marshalling support from Jews throughout the world who provided capital and political clout with their own governments. The Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, floundered. It was divided and elitist....
The British did offer the Arabs an “Arab Agency” but it was in no way equivalent to the Jewish Agency. The British would only recognize an Arab Agency if it signed on to terms of the Mandate, i.e., “a Jewish national home.” As Khalidi comments, “The significance of the quasi-official diplomatic status accorded by the British to the Jewish Agency and the League of Nations through the Mandate…cannot be overemphasized.”
Khalidi... ponders whether the Palestinian leadership “should have come to some sort of accommodation with Zionism” but concludes that none was possible due to “both the drive of the Zionist movement for supremacy in Palestine and the natural resistance to this drive of the indigenous population.” Although he notes that some Palestinian nationalist favored the non-violent strategy developed by Gandhi in India, he does not even mention the 1929 Arab riots that killed 133 Orthodox Jews in Hebron....
[And] was violence the only answer? What about the binational solution proposed by Judah Magnes, Martin Buber and Hashomer Hatzair? Khalidi dismissed their thinking as too fuzzy....
When the Palestinians finally revolted in 1936, it was, in Khalidi’s opinion, too late. By then the Yishuv was firmly entrenched—a state-in-waiting. And despite a massive Palestinian general strike in 1936 and an armed uprising that lasted from 1937 to 1939, the Palestinians were no match for the British army.... When the revolt was finally crushed, 5,000 Palestinians had lost their lives.... This outcome left the Palestinians woefully unprepared to resist the Zionist move toward independence....
It is not that the Palestinian uprising was a total failure. The British finally caved in to Palestinian demands and cut off Jewish immigration to a trickle in its 1939 White Paper and promised eventual independence. But the Palestinians rejected this concession in what Khalidi describes as a “tactical error.” Further, he acknowledges that the Grand Mufti, initially promoted by the British as a Palestinian “leader,” disgraced himself by collaborating with the Nazis during World War II. However, it seems to me that their far greater strategic error was in rejecting the 1947 UN Partition Resolution that would have created a Palestinian Arab state along side a Jewish state. If he is looking for a reason why Palestinian’s have not achieved statehood, he need look no further. Yet on this question, Khalidi is strangely silent....
Where Khalidi truly excels is in his critique of Palestinian attitudes toward Jews who settled in Palestine/Israel. Were they European invaders? In a sense they were, but they were also a persecuted people seeking a safe haven. Palestinians could only see Jews as the former, insisting they were purely a religious entity with no national rights. Lacking any insight into the Jewish condition, they could never understand why the Holocaust and other cases of anti-Semitism convinced so many Jews that security could only come in a state where they held state power. Hence, for decades, the Palestinians had nothing to offer the Jewish population. Not binationalism, not acceptance of partition and not, until 1988, acceptance of UN Resolution 242.... Since then, the mainstream PLO has damaged its own cause by tolerating terrorism and siding with Iraq in the first Gulf War in 1990s....
Although Khalidi is deeply committed to the Palestinian cause, he has his feet planted firmly on the ground. Utopian proposals for a “one-state solution” even when advanced by his mentor Edward Said, have no appeal for him. He refuses to draw facile comparisons between Israel and South Africa. He understands that Palestinian’s must compromise on their “right of return” if they are ever to achieve statehood....
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Over the past two weeks, I have been inundated with reports and articles discussing the recent ADL conference on progressives and antisemitism in San Francisco. Although the articles come from different organizations with various takes on the conference, all of these pieces simplify the conference. They solely focus on Israel and the question of whether criticism of Israel is antisemitic. As a participant and a presenter, I am frustrated that other discussions about Jewish identity and antisemitism that were held at the conference have been obscured. This piece is an attempt to clarify that Israel was not the only topic at the conference.
The educational session I presented was entitled "The Academy: Anti-Semitism on College Campuses." The presentation was based on my dissertation that explored the racial, ethnic and ethno-religious position of Jewish undergraduates. In my presentation, I examined the antisemitism some Jewish students experience at purportedly multicultural institutions of higher education.
In my presentation, I discussed how antisemitism was still a force on college campuses. I reported that Jews, unlike other minority groups, were not seen as part of the multicultural movement and that this impacted Jews. My participants were uniformly frustrated by having to explain themselves and educate non-Jews about their issues. They were particularly hurt that others expected Jews to educate them about Jewish issues, whereas other minority groups were not expected to educate the privileged group. Many participants related stories of being asked to explain what Jews felt and to serve as a spokesperson for "the Jewish position" on an issue.
In my session, I highlighted the antisemitism these students faced and its impact on the relationship between non-Jews and Jews, namely how gentiles responded to the assertion that Jews were still discriminated against on campus. The students argued that many non-Jews neither understood the history of Jewish oppression nor acknowledged that antisemitism remains a concern. Jews were seen as undeservedly wealthy and not victimized by discrimination; they also represented and personified the wealthy White person who benefits from whiteness at the expense of people of color.
I shared that the students were also victimized by forms of antisemitism that go deeper than general dismissal of minority status. Yes, we did talk about Israel but for only a few minutes. I
shared how some students had seen posters equating Israelis with Nazis. They had met people who said to them that Jews and Israelis were controlling the world and had malicious plans on world domination.
Mostly I reported about antisemitism in the form of the stereotype of Jews as wealthy people, who segregated themselves from others to form a clique of rich people. In addition, a common euphemism was used on campus that everyone knew meant "Jew": New Yorker. All of the student participants explained that the term was commonly known to mean Jewish in the same way that "urban" was equated with being Black. When students were asked pointedly if they were from New York or someone was being accused of being a New Yorker, they knew that the speaker was classifying the person as a pushy, loud, ostentatious Jew.
The stereotype of the rich Jew often came out in a sexist form as the stereotype of the "JAP" or the Jewish American Princess, the supposedly spoiled, overly materialistic, wealthy Jewish women or the term "New Yorker". In the participants' views, this stereotype was common on campus and socially acceptable to express. All of the women interviewed discussed at length the JAP stereotype, their feelings about the term, and their reaction to hearing it and having it leveled at them when they matriculated at the university.
As stated earlier, these stereotypes come together to form this idea that Jews are "super-privileged" White people. In this view, Jews were seen as wealthy reactionary colonisers who neither deserve the success nor the nation state of Israel they have. When I asked during the focus group whether many people believed that Jews were not targets but rather extra-privileged whites, the group felt that many people on campus, especially people of color, held this idea about Jews.
Lastly, I discussed that many Jews dealt with religious antisemitism on campus. With the rise in Christian fundamentalism, more Jewish students are being accosted for being non-Christian and/or Jewish. Students had been told that the Jews killed Jesus and that the Jewish
people would always be responsible. Christian students tried to convert the students to Christianity, telling them that Christianity had "completed" Judaism. Some students dealt with Christians who pitied them for spending eternity in hell because they had not accepted Jesus as their savior.
While Israel was an important topic for some people, it was not the only item on our agenda. There were presentations that dispelled various myths about Jews including the idea that all Jews are white and Ashkenazi. As my presentation showed, antisemitism takes many
forms. My research showed that the "old" antisemitism in alive and well in many corners of this country. The conference discussed various manifestations of antisemitism, not just Israel. By only focusing on Israel, we are in danger of not confronting the many ways we are still affected by antisemitism.
Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, Ed.D, assistant dean and director of intercultural affairs at Bryn Mawr College, is active with Meretz USA, Ameinu and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
...[W]e learn from Ha’aretz’s chief diplomatic correspondent Akiva Eldar that a series of secret unofficial meetings were conducted in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006 between Syrians and Israelis. The Israeli negotiator, former Israel Foreign Ministry director-general Dr. Alon Liel, met with Abe Suleiman, a Syrian-American who is close to Syrian President Bashar Assad. They were brought together by Geoffrey Aronson, an American analyst from the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington, under the auspices of the government of Switzerland, represented by Nicholas Lang of the Swiss Foreign Ministry. Their meetings produced a breakthrough framework for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, resolving many of the issues which had derailed the official talks under Barak and Bashar Assad’s father. The Syrian representative showed flexibility on many of the most intractable issues:
• Much of the Golan Heights would become a park administered by Syrian civilian authorities, with Israelis free to visit during daytime without visas.
• The entire Golan would become a demilitarized zone, and areas of reduced military forces would be created on both sides of the Golan in Syria and Israel at a 4:1 ratio in Israel’s favor.
• The time-table for Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan, which was not finalized, might be extended beyond five years.
• Israel would control the use of water in the upper Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee.
• The US would operate an early warning station on Mt. Hermon.
Other accounts in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv indicate that Syria may agree to Israel holding 20% of the Golan, where two-thirds of Israeli residents live, in exchange for an equal land swap. Eldar reports that “The European mediator and the Syrian representative in the discussions held eight separate meetings with senior Syrian officials, including Vice President Farouk Shara, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, and a Syrian intelligence officer with the rank of ‘general.’” The former Israeli diplomat kept top brass in Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office abreast of developments in the talks, while the Syrian-American negotiator informed high-ranking US officials, who updated Vice President Dick Cheney. The Syrian representative even traveled to Jerusalem and met with top figures in Israel’s Foreign Ministry to convey Syria’s readiness for a peace treaty with Israel. Like Egypt a generation ago, an increasingly economically distressed Syria, whose proven oil reserves will run out within the decade without a major infusion of foreign capital, is seeking a lifeline and rapprochement with the West.
The Syrian representative agreed that Syria would end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and “distance itself from Iran” under a peace treaty with Israel. Former Israeli cabinet ministers and current Knesset members from several parties recently heard a similar offer from President Assad’s legal advisor, Riad Daoudi, at the Madrid + 15 conference, which commemorated the 15-year anniversary of the historic 1991 Madrid Arab-Israeli Peace Conference, convened by President Bush’s father. Syria would also promote a solution to the conflict in Iraq, using its influence to foster an agreement between Sunni and Shia militia and political leaders. Syria would further contribute to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum by helping to settle the Palestinian refugee problem on terms acceptable to Israel. In an interview with the German magazine Spiegel on Sept. 24, 2006, Assad, remarkably, adopted Israel’s view that the Palestinian refugees should have the right of return to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, not to Israel.
Leaving no doubt of the seriousness with which the Syrian leadership took these “Track 2” talks, Suleiman attended a final meeting with his Israeli interlocutor in the midst of this summer’s Lebanon war, and conveyed a request from the Syrian government for a secret meeting with the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office, to be attended by a Syrian deputy minister and a high-level US diplomat. Israel rejected the Syrian request. Lang, the Swiss mediator, met recently with Prime Minister Olmert’s chief of staff, and presented him the draft Syrian-Israeli agreement. Olmert’s advisor told him that Israel was not interested.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in November, I wondered whether AIPAC would work to promote a US-Israeli peace initiative with Syria or the Palestinians. AIPAC’s Israel spokesperson responded on November 23rd in Ha’aretz that “AIPAC’s mandate is not to pressure the Israeli government to follow a particular course.” Reading these words, I scratched my head. Who said anything about “pressure?” In reality, the Bush Administration is pressuring the Israeli government to refuse peace talks with Syria, according to the testimony of Prime Minister Olmert, his advisors and cabinet ministers. AIPAC, and its allies in the organized Jewish community, who rush to loudly protest any time there is a whiff of US pressure on Israel in favor of a peace initiative, has absolutely nothing to say when the White House blocks Israel from talking with Syria....
Read Gidon Remba’s entire article at his “Tough Dove-Israel” Website.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
... An alarming and discouraging trend has matured over the past four decades: Zionism has become identified in the mind of the public as a reactionary movement....
[But] The rebirth of the Jewish people was made possible in large part by the poor Jews of the world, who existed in abundance, despite stereotypes. Labor Zionism forged a new Jewish proletariat from their ranks. These Jewish workers and Jewish farmers built the Jewish state and brought the scattered remnants of the Jewish people to it. The reforestation and redemption of the land of Israel was financed in the main by thousands of little JNF boxes that appeared in every Jewish house, school and place of business.
Ber Borochov [founder of Socialist-Zionism] rightly understood that the Zionist revolution could only be made by a Jewish proletariat. That proletariat was created in Palestine, and the institutions created by Labor Zionism forged the Jewish state. Zionism was, in image and in reality, a creation of the reborn Jewish working class.
Zionism, the most successful national liberation movement of the Twentieth century, triumphed in the face of a powerful coalition of reactionary forces.... Click here to read Ami Isseroff’s entire article.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Any visitor to Israel has seen them: striking young black-skinned men, working as guards at the Kotel, or giggling, fashionably dressed young women, shopping in Tel Aviv. Back in the States, Ethiopian Jews are sometimes mentioned by your friendly UJA solicitor, or in strident missives from aggressive advocacy groups. But with all that, little seems to be known about Ethiopian Jews by American Jews, beyond the most superficial impressions. A deeper understanding, in my view, is a debt that has so far remained unpaid.
Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) are no longer the object of intra-Jewish bickering. Everyone supports their aliyah to and absorption into Israel, and everyone, or almost, deplores the financial and bureaucratic hurdles that have made this the process slower than we would wish. And, perhaps most important of all, there also seems to be agreement in the American Jewish community that American Jewish money, mainly through UJA channels, is crucial to the tasks of aliyah and absorption in the years ahead.
And everyone, or almost, knows some of the salient facts: there are about 100,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin in Israel; there may be some 50,000 left in Ethiopia, of whom about 20,000 would like to make aliyah. Of those still in Ethiopia, most appear to be Falash Mura, people who had at one time been converts to Christianity but have now returned to the practice of Judaism. Moreover, on the whole, the absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, despite all the cultural, political, and financial problems, has been much more successful than anyone had a right to expect. (A very good summary description of the Beta Israel appears in Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia.)
So there is consensus on the brute facts and what to do about them financially and administratively. But it is not clear whether there is any great sense of urgency or of great excitement. After all, here is a new and important phase of the ingathering of our people, but much of the American Jewish public seems preoccupied with Darfur and the fate of various Africans who are not Jewish. To me it seems that, by and large, the American Jewish public has failed to grasp the significance and importance of Ethiopian Jewry.
The Debt of Understanding
Not surprisingly, few American Jews know much about the history or the culture of either Ethiopian Jews or Ethiopia. Not surprisingly, there is a gulf between what scholars have taught us about Ethiopian Jews on the one hand, and the understanding of the Jewish man in the street on the other. The difference is at least partially due to an ethnocentrism of the uninformed lay mind.
Our current scholarly understanding of Ethiopian Jews is, in the main, the work of three great scholars, all still active: Steven Kaplan of the Hebrew University, Kay Kaufman Shelemay of Harvard, and James Quirin of Fisk University. All three have undertaken profound studies of the history and traditions of the Beta Israel. All three have, as a matter of course, a profound knowledge of Amharic, the language of Ethiopia, and of Ge'ez, the language of Ethiopian Jewish (and Christian) scriptures. All three have written book-length studies about Beta Israel origins. The most accessible work is probably Shelemay's charming account of her fieldwork in Ethiopia, A Song of Longing, University of Illinois Press, 1994.
These scholars, and their students, have given us an account of Ethiopian Jews that places them and their origins squarely in the context of Ethiopian history and Ethiopian culture. The result is a Judaism that differs in many ways from the essentially European Judaism of the great majority of modern Jews; and, not coincidentally, it also shows an Ethiopian Christianity that differs from the essentially European Christianity of the bulk of the world's Christians. This Ethiopian understanding of Ethiopian Jews shows our Ethiopian brethren to be in no way less Jewish than we are, despite the radical differences in origins.
In contrast to this scholarly understanding of Ethiopian Jews, there is an understandable but nonetheless faulty view that imposes a European paradigm of Christian-Jewish relations on the religious history and culture of Ethiopia. By and large, this European paradigm pervades much of the agitational world of the self-described partisans for Ethiopian Jews. Letters of solicitation arrive in our mailboxes full of photographs of attractive Ethiopian youngsters decked out in the paraphernalia of Ashkenazic Judaism, yarmulkes, talesim and all the rest. Worse, the great scholars of Ethiopian Jewry are quite often the targets of political, strident, ignorant criticism.
A quick Google search reveals a gratifying wealth of Sephardic studies at both Jewish and secular universities in the United States. Given the relative population figures, we could not expect as rich an offering for Ethiopian Jewish studies. But as far as I can see, there is just about no such effort at all, despite the availability, on American soil, of at least two of the greatest scholars in the field.
So this is what I suggest. Let our great centers of Jewish adult learning the lecture programs at the Jewish seminaries, for example bring these scholars to a wide audience of intelligent Jewish laymen. This would not exactly discharge the debt of understanding that I have mentioned, but it could be a meaningful down payment.
Click here to go to home page of Werner Cohn. Cohn is a professor emeritus of sociology whose book, Early Companions, relates his experiences as a young man on the left with Max Shachtman and his then disciple, Irving Howe.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Lately, there have been a spate of articles that discuss how "liberals" and "progressives" criticize Israel and are being silenced by the “mainstream” Jewish community or are endangering Jews everywhere with their criticisms. As a progressive activist who supports Israel's right to exist, I am worried about this conflation of left-wing views with anti-Zionism. It is time to state the obvious loud and clear: writers of these articles and reports are engaging in lazy scholarship. Supporting a liberal/progressive/left ideology does not automatically lead one to being an anti-Zionist.
Professor Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University, in his recent piece on "progressive" Jews and anti-Semitism obviously does not understand the nuances of the left. By using a sledgehammer to define progressive thought, he polarizes the situation even more. As the American Jewish Committee, whose publication it was, says on their website: "The article asserted that with the publication of the Rosenfeld essay we had launched an assault on 'liberal Jews'. By the paper's unfortunate framing of the story in this binary manner, i.e., conservatives versus liberals, readers could be left with the impression that the debate over Israel's very right to exist was now defined along this political spectrum." I appreciate the American Jewish Committee for making this important point. The scholars and groups being discussed should be labeled anti-Zionist, not progressive or liberal.
Unfortunately, it is too easy these days to say that these critics are merely left-wing and have people believe it. Too many writers have not explained that anti-Zionism and left ideology are two separate things. There are not enough of us who are progressive and support Israel's right to exist, whether we identify as Zionist or not, speaking out and asking people to clarify their language and reminding people that some of us are Zionist because we are progressive. We support the State of Israel being a country that is Jewish in character, democratic, and secure within defensible borders. We criticize Israeli governmental policy and work for peace in the region but we realize that this conflict is complex. It is not the fault of only Israel. Israel has made mistakes but so have others in this conflict.
As people who are both proudly on the left and proudly Zionist, as activists who do not demonize Israel and support peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and within the region, we must challenge these articles. If we do not, those who are progressive will assume that the "liberal" position is challenging the right of Israel to exist and lay all the problems of the region at Israel's feet. There are liberals and progressives who are anti-Zionist, Zionist, and non-Zionist. Reporters and researchers must understand this distinction or they will only serve to polarize this conflict even more.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
I have not written in a while, and I thought I would send you this brief update on how I see some of the developments that have been unfolding here over the past couple of months, both at the level of the peace process and internally.
On the Palestinian front, the most worrisome development has been the violence that has erupted between Hamas and Fatah factions, and the failure to reach agreement on the formation of a new Palestinian government. This is bad news not only for the Palestinians, of course, but also for Israel, who needs a single and stable Palestinian partner if it is serious about moving the political process forward. Given the election results from January last year, the only government that seems feasible right now is a national unity government that will include both Hamas and Fatah, and perhaps representatives from several smaller parties as well. Rather than wait, as some would urge us, for a miraculous disappearance of Hamas, Israel should look forward to its integration in a national unity government, provided of course that such a government meets at least some of the basic criteria set out by the international community.
On the Syrian front, the most interesting development has been the Ha'aretz report [that] understandings on a peace agreement between Jerusalem and Damascus were formulated in a series of a track-two (or unofficial) secret meetings in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006. Unfortunately, Olmert reacted to the report by categorically denying its contents and rejecting its implications, suggesting that Olmert is determined to scuttle any opportunity for engagement with Syria. Even if the Ha'aretz report were inaccurate, or the understandings themselves not acceptable to the government, Olmert would have done better to probe or to question than to reassert a policy that seems determined to say only no to peace.
Partly in response to the deadlock in the peace process, Israel is undergoing a period of deep introspection. Dominating the news here these past couple of weeks has been Israel's attorney general announcement of his intention to indict President Moshe Katsav. The Meretz-Yahad Party believes that, under the circumstances, President Katsav must resign. Although as a private citizen Katzav is entitled to the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the Meretz-Yahad party believes that, as president of the State of Israel, Katsav must adhere by the highest normative standard and, therefore, resign from office. Regrettably, in response to the attorney general's announcement, Katsav dismissed the charges against him as a grand conspiracy, blaming the police, the media, the Knesset and the office of the attorney general for colluding against him. For that speech alone, Katsav must resign without delay. As you know, Katsav has asked instead for a leave of absence, refusing to step down. In response, the Meretz-Yahad Party is leading an initiative to impeach Katsav.
Regardless of whether there is the required special majority in the Knesset for forcing Katsav out of office, his seven-year term will be over by July, and the question of who will succeed him is gathering momentum. In this regard, the potential candidacy of Shimon Peres is stirring the political waters in the form of a proposed amendment to one of Israel's Basic Law. The amendment would turn the election for president in the Knesset plenum from a secret to an open ballot. I have come out against this proposed amendment, which amounts to changing a Basic Law in an ad hoc and - what is worse - ad hominem fashion. A Basic Law must not be changed for one person. My objection to the amendment is not only constitutional but also political, since I believe that an open ballot would make the presidency part of the "coalition booty" that is adversely affecting already so much of Israeli politics. In fact, the proposed amendment itself is already just that, with Prime Minister Olmert indicating he will throw his full weight behind the effort to get the amendment passed in conjunction with giving additional portfolios to Avigdor Lieberman's party (Yisrael Beiteinu) and appointing a welfare minister.
Katsav is only one of several Israeli leaders who are either under investigation or, as in the case of Haim Ramon, convicted. Olmert is facing an investigation into his actions in a bank privatization in 2005, and both he and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are awaiting the results of the Winograd Commission that is looking into the war in Lebanon over the summer. At the same time, several other corruption scandals are tainting the national air, the newest one being an investigation into influence-peddling in Israel's tax authority.
Not a pretty picture, but one that propels us at the Meretz-Yahad Party to continue our campaign against political corruption. Even though corruption is not an easy issue around which to rally the public, it is one that we must place as the highest priority if we are to be true to ourselves and to the values we espouse.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
With regard to Judt and similar voices speaking out against Israel, they are often vilified and misunderstood, but they are being heard. Jimmy Carter’s book, “Palestine Peace not Apartheid,” is a best seller. And Professors Mearsheimer and Walt have won a major book contract.
But the quality of the debate leaves much to be desired. One recent example was Alan Dershowitz’s all-too-brief encounter with Michael Lerner on CNN a couple of nights ago. Dershowitz filibustered Lerner for making this claim that dissident voices are not being heard; both are wrong. They are being heard and misheard widely. Voices on both sides are mostly shrill and unhelpful.
And both sides “stifle” each other. I know, for example, that my dovish Zionist views are mostly not welcome in New York’s Jewish Week; I’ve been told as much (although not in these words, of course). And I know that I am “too Zionist” for many other publications. For example, I’ve been shut out from places where I used to publish, such as In These Times and the New York Press. I know also that I’m probably not PC enough to be published in Tikkun, because I’ve harshly criticized Palestinians as well as Israel.
I too felt myself something of a dissident in my criticisms of last summer’s Hezbollah war. Therefore, these words by Klug resonate for me: “Jews were deeply divided over Israel's campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon last year. Certainly, there were those who shared the sentiment of the chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, who, addressing the rally, said: ‘Israel, you make us proud.’ Others felt roughly the opposite emotion.”
And no honest liberal can gainsay this British group’s stated principles:
[A] group of Jews in Britain has come together to launch Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). We come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life. Some of us are religious, some not. A number feel a strong attachment to Israel as Jews, others feel none. We do not all share the same vision for the Middle East.... But we are united by certain fundamental commitments.... They include: putting human rights first; giving equal priority to Palestinians and Israelis in their quest for a peaceful and secure future; and repudiating all forms of racism.... We believe that these commitments - not ethnic or group loyalties - define the limits of legitimate debate.Well, actually, I don’t give “equal priority to Palestinians and Israelis.” I feel compassion for Palestinians and a concern that their grievances be allayed in the interest of peace, but my priority is for the well being of Israelis and my fellow Jews. One can’t exclude the former for the latter, but isn’t it only natural that I care more about my kin than for others? It’s this kind of sentiment that animates Alex Stein’s eloquent critique of Klug in his blog entry.
Bloggers Norman Geras, Shalom Lappin and Eve Garrard are harsher than Stein, perhaps too harsh, but also worth reading.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
I would like to extend my thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to speak before you. I recognize the importance of this conference – it is the very platform where major Israeli policies have been laid out including, most recently, unilateralism in the form of the Israeli “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. As a Palestinian, who has felt the effects of these policies, it is my hope that today I will be able to shed some light on this issue, and on how together we can chart a new, brighter, more promising future for the Middle East – not just for our two peoples.
It would have been very easy for me to focus my talk today on economics and finance. But owing to the very important role that politics play in the success or failure of any economy and indeed the future of any state, I decided instead to focus my comments on matters of politics, leaving matters of economics and finance aside for the moment.
Examining the past six years of this conflict, I would characterize the Israeli-Palestinian relations over this period as having been too intimate – too intimate for the Palestinians and too intimate for the Israelis. You may be stunned by this characterization, for many have characterized it as the opposite. But the nature of relations today between Israelis and Palestinians has reached levels of micromanagement, where Israel is involved in the minute details of the lives of Palestinians.
It is important to remember that the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ruled by military orders – not by politics, logic, or reason – but by military orders with “security” dictating the rules of the game. Whether through the erection of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the West Bank – most of which have no real security rationale, the requirement that Palestinians obtain permits to travel even within the West Bank or some of the absurd rules which are largely unknown to Israelis, the occupation has seeped into almost every aspect of Palestinian life. Take, for example, the recently announced prohibition on Palestinians riding in Israeli yellow-plated cars. While to many there is a clear security rationale, what is ignored are the ramifications of such policies.
I know many Jerusalemites for whom this new policy means that they cannot transport their own relatives who happen, by the fate of war, to be characterized as “West Bankers.” I also know many Palestinians – whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere – whose land has been taken away and whose families have been divided for the construction of the wall. These are the details to which few Israelis are exposed but the very reality that Palestinians continue to live and suffer from daily.
And, while I understand that in the design of these and other measures there may be a “security” rationale involved, the effect is not to create more security for Israel, but rather to create more conditions for future instability. Why? Because at its core, this conflict is NOT a security conflict with political ramifications but instead a POLITICAL conflict with security ramifications. Unfortunately, for the past six years, and arguably longer, the focus has been solely on security, ignoring the inherent link between Israel’s lack of security and the Palestinians’ lack of freedom. This is not a humanitarian conflict needing a humanitarian response, nor is this a security conflict requiring a security response. What we are both suffering from is a political conflict requiring a political solution.
There was once, arguably, a focus on the larger picture – beyond checkpoints, dirt mounds and permits – to major political issues: Jerusalem, borders, refugees, the settlements, etc. Unfortunately, the process took center stage and not the actual need for peace. While meetings between the two sides and with the international community abounded, what was ignored was whether progress was actually being made to end the conflict – the occupation – and give both peoples what they want: peace.
Today, meetings have been reduced to discussions on small, practical (and sometimes not so practical) issues that are peripheral to the conflict. By focusing on the peripheral, we are no closer to solving our problems and hence no closer to peace. We need to broaden our view and look to politics – not only to the small issues that are not germane to the fundamental nature of this conflict.
It is easy for Israel to shrug away and do nothing. Israel – as the stronger party to this conflict – has the luxury to do nothing. But in doing nothing, Israel is doing something: it is not contributing to solving this conflict; it is making it fester. Many believe that we are stuck between doing nothing and between unilateral approaches. Yet from our experience we should now know that neither approach works: both doing nothing and acting unilaterally only serve to make matters worse.
What then should be done? We need bifocals. Yes, bifocals. By that, I mean we need clear vision to address the short term and the long term. While it is important to address the immediate concerns that preoccupy Palestinians and Israelis on a daily basis, we need to do so within a framework that provides a clear and agreed definition of where we are going and how we are going to get there. Ever so skeptical of transitional solutions, the need for a concrete definition of the "final status" was, for a long time, perceived to be a predominantly Palestinian need. But, I would argue that the adverse developments of the past few years, including the misgivings of unilateralism, have made working toward transitional arrangements in the absence of an agreed final status equally unattractive from the point of view of Israelis as well.
A peaceful solution is inevitable. It is. It is impossible to maintain the status quo because the status quo is not static; it is fluid and, unfortunately only gets worse, not better. There is no question that there will be stability when the Palestinians are given their freedom. The vision that has been laid out by President Bush and embraced by President Abbas is that of peaceful coexistence. For Israelis, this means feeling safe and secure; for Palestinians this means being free of Israeli interference and also living in safety and security. But these are just statements. What I really want to lay out for you is a vision for positive relations; not just coexistence.
Palestinians have a vision of peace. We want our state to be a qualitative addition to the region and model of democratic values and good governance. When I speak of good governance I mean it concretely – not as a lofty and unattainable goal but one in which the rule of law and not the rule of the gun will prevail. Palestinians have the highest rate of PhD holders per capita in the Arab world (I am one of those statistics), and our focus will be on creating a generation of smart, educated Palestinians who will demand no less than a credible system of laws and respect for rights.
Many might ask why this has not happened already? The answer lies mainly in the occupation and the lack of freedom for the Palestinians. When you live in a context where there is no respect for laws under a suffocating and oppressive occupation, it is very difficult to demand and enforce civility.
That said, I will never use occupation as an excuse to allow ourselves to be sloppy or lax in the building of our state. As a Palestinian nationalist and someone who is committed to working to end the occupation, I will demand certain things from our independent Palestinian state on behalf of all Palestinians. I want to see a state that is free, where respect for rights is guaranteed (not simply sloganized), where education is at the fore, and where democracy is guiding principle.
These are matters that are of concern to Israel. But more importantly, I want to spell out a vision of peace with Israel. I seek a warm peace with Israel. I don’t want it so warm that you are in our backyard as you are now, but I seek a warm peace. I seek strong political ties with Israel; I seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine. I seek warm relations with Israelis. Yes, we seek warm relations with you. We do not want to simply get to a point where we just accept each other – we want to have warm relations where we both recognize the mutual economic, political, intellectual and spiritual benefits of living and working together. We do not want to erect walls; we want to see bridges. We do not want to close you out of our lives – we want to live with you – as your neighbors and as your equals.
At heart, I am an optimist. Why? How? After so much effort from all parties and after such spectacular failure, many question how I can persist in my optimism. The answer lies in the fact that I know that there is a great deal of depth of goodwill on both sides, and on the part of the international community.
This does not mean that the solution will be easy. It won’t. If it were, obviously we would have been there. Political and other sacrifices are required and we will need to be bold and explain to our respective publics what we want and how to achieve it.
Time is running out for us. Time is not on our side. I am part of the last generation of Palestinians who see Israelis in normal settings, who meets with Israelis and who can call Israelis “friends.” The cold separation coupled with the micromanagement of affairs must disappear soon, for if it does not, we will never be able to live together as equals with mutual respect. In Arabic, there is a saying which is, ironically, the opposite of its English language counterpart – “absence makes the heart grow colder.” As a father and husband, I fear that our hearts are growing colder the more that we are separated. I want a future for my children and I am certain that you do too. The future that I seek is a warm, bright one for them. And I know that you share this vision too. Too much time has been wasted. It is time for us to get back on track and work to end this conflict so that our children’s future can be marked by Palestinian-Israeli friendships; not Palestinian-Israeli conflict.