Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Debunking Dershowitz

Alex Stein is the Abba Eban Scholar in International Relations (M.Phil) at Queens' College, Cambridge and an avowed Zionist. In the following blogpost (here reprinted in its entirety), he does a remarkable job of pointing to many serious flaws in Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel. Well worth the read, in my opinion.

‘Taking you way back’: Some comments on Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel

“Alain, in Matin du Gard’s Lieutenant Colonel Maumort, says that the first rule – he calls it the rule of rules – is the art of challenging what is appealing. You will notice that he describes this as an ‘art’: it is not enough simply to set oneself up as a person who distrusts majority taste as a matter or principle or perhaps conceit; that way lies snobbery and frigidity. However, it will very often be found that people are highly attached to illusions or prejudices, and are not just the sullen victims of dogma or orthodoxy…Allegiance is a powerful force in human affairs; it will not do to treat someone as a mental serf if he is convinced that his thraldom is honourable and voluntary.” Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian.

It is extraordinary that somebody with such an extensive resume, such a reputation, and such obvious intelligence can produce a book full of so many obvious flaws and still be applauded for it. This could be explained away by the fact that, when dealing with the Middle East conflict, people often suspend all rationality. It is worth, in the case of leading American lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, looking past such easy explanations, especially when there is a tremendous validity at the heart of his enterprise, “a defence – not of every Israeli policy or action, but of its basic right to exist, to protect its citizens from terrorism, and to defend its borders from hostile enemies.” Amen to that. However, unfortunately this justification soon turns out to be merely a disingenuous attempt to return us to the days of the classical Zionist myth, when Israel is always the victim, when all its government’s policies are an attempt at securing a fair peace, and when the Arabs are unrelenting in their pursuit of Israeli lives. In critique of Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, then, I hope to make my own ‘case for Israel’.

There is a dual thrust to Dershowitz’s methodology. Firstly, he tries to refute a number of historical and contemporary charges against ‘Israel’ (the majority of his defences are really defences of the Israeli government, hence the inverted commas) using the paradigm of question-accusation-accusers-reality-proof. Secondly, as fall-back, he argues that, whatever Israel’s misdemeanours might be, they pale into comparison to those of other states - states which are never condemned by Israel’s prime accusers. This strategy, however, is riddled with flaws and contradictions, belying his status as a top legal figure.

The first half of the book concentrates on historical issues relating to the conflict. Dershowitz is trained in law, and he obviously never faced the experience my friend once did in a history seminar at university. When asked what he knew about some aspect of the ancient world, he began to answer. He was interrupted by his tutor – “no, you have no fucking idea. When you are aware of that as the starting-point for historical enquiry, we can make progress.” Do not mistake this as a blow for post-modernism, rather a powerful warning that a prerequisite for making serious historical claims is radical humility. Certainly not the crude Dershowitz tactic (which reflects the ‘work’ of Mitchell Bard, an arch-propagandist of the Israeli right ), of ‘reality’ and ‘proof’, as if things were ever so simple.

Despite this empirical certainty, Dershowitz has no qualms in outlining a historical philosophy which clearly contradicts the basic methodology of large parts of the book. This occurs in the context of a discussion on what led to the Palestinian exodus in 1948.

“Because it is impossible to reconstruct the precise dynamics and atmospherics that accompanied the 1948 war waged by the Arab states against Israel, the one conclusion about which we can be absolutely certain is that no one will ever know – or convince his or her opponents – whether most of the Arabs who left Israel were chased, left on their own, or experienced some combination of factors that led them to move from one place to another. Israel has recently opened many of its historical archives to scholars, and newly available information has produced more insights and interpretations but has not – and will never – end all disagreements.”

There is no reason why this approach could not be applied to any historical situation. Thus, it surely applies to the rest of the material in Dershowitz’s book. It seems impossible, then, to square this ‘humility’ (which clearly has a lot to be said for it) with Dershowitz’s unrelenting attempts to show us the Arab-Israeli ‘Reality’.

This ‘Reality’ is clearly taken from elsewhere. Many accusations of plagiarism have been levelled at Dershowitz over the book. It is not worth getting into details of these here, but it is important to note that many of the historical ideas seem literally lifted wholesale from classic works in the Zionist-apologist canon, for example Joan Peters’ debunked work, From Time Immemorial. And in the midst of Dershowitz’s potted history, the first specific confusions in his strategy emerge. In the introduction he argues “when the Jewish nation is the only one criticized for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic.” Of the particularities in this claim, more later. For now, it is important to note that it is unclear whether inclusion as an ‘accuser’ in one of Dershowitz’s chapter headings means that he considers you an anti-Semite. After all, he cries out “When the best is accused of being the worst, the focus must shift to the accusers, who I contend may be guilty of bigotry, hypocrisy, or abysmal ignorance at the very least. It is they who must stand in the dock of history, along with others who have also singled out the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, the Jewish culture, or the Jewish nation for unique and undeserved condemnation.” Thus the usual suspects of Edward Said and Noam Chomsky become anti-Semitic by default, as well as Christopher Hitchens Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Member of Knesset Azmi Bishara, and Yael Stein of the leading Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem. While Dershowitz does not explicitly call (most of) these figures anti-Semitic, by defining the ‘accusers’ as he does, he certainly opens the door for their inclusion as Jew-haters. This, of course, is not backed by any real evidence of anti-Semitism.

Dershowitz is keen on highlighting double standards whenever possible. As we have noted, he declares “when the Jewish nation is the only one criticised for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic.” He goes on to say that “A good working definition of anti-Semitism is taking a trait or action that is widespread, if not universal, and blaming only the Jews for it.” It seems pertinent to test this definition. Let us replace Jewish nation with American nation. Many people criticise the American prison system, levelling accusations of racism or institutional human rights infringements against it. However, Brazil seems to have far more of such problems in its prisons. If someone writes about the American prison system without also criticising the Brazilian prison system, does this make the person anti-American? Of course not. In fact, every day we see figures in the media take a problem which is universal and examine a particular manifestation of it. Different people have different interests and focuses. I can apply Dershowitz’s standard to myself by using a favoured comparison of his – that of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. I sometimes write about what goes on in Israel, and I am often critical of the Israeli government. I do not write about the Chinese occupation of Tibet or any of the other far worse injustices that go on in the world. According to Dershowitz’s standard, this makes me an anti-Semite. In reality, I write about Israel because I am passionately interested in what goes on there and, for right or wrong, am not similarly interested in what goes on in Occupied Tibet. But having a particular interest does not necessarily mean that someone discriminates , it just illustrates the intriguing nature of what drives human interests.

Favourable comparisons of the situation in Israel with other trouble spots in the world forms a central part of Dershowitz’s thesis. He claims that Israel has performed more admirably than any other country that has faced ‘comparable dangers’ (although he does not give any examples of such countries ), and has a far better human rights record than most countries in the world. It is hard to assess his claim about ‘comparable dangers’, since it is deliberately vague, but his claim about Israel’s human rights record is an interesting one. Put simply, he might be right. Israel may have the best human rights record in the world, or maybe it is in tenth place, or one hundredth. Who knows? Investigations into this question have come to contradictory conclusions. Either way, it is irrelevant. It is especially irrelevant when states have never been great protectors of human rights. Anyone who cares about ‘league tables’ on such matters clearly does not care about human rights, they simply care about appearing better than the rest. All we can do is campaign consistently on the issue wherever we are, something that thankfully goes on in such an admirable way in Israel by groups such as B’tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights. It does not matter if torture takes place more in the country next door. What matters is that human rights abuses are wrong and need to be opposed.

In the context of the human rights issue, it is no surprise to see that Dershowitz is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel’s legal institutions, principally the Supreme Court. Perhaps that is why his picture of Israel is primarily drawn from its deliberations. “It is fair to say that Israel, led by its progressive Supreme Court, is making considerable progress in eliminating the vestiges of anti-Arab discrimination that were largely a product of the refusal of the Arab world to accept a Jewish state. It is also fair to say that despite some lingering inequalities, there is far less discrimination in Israel than in any Middle Eastern, Arab, or Muslim nation.” His faith in legal institutions is closely followed by his faith in opinion polls. He makes the curious suggestion that “It is not unjust to make the cause itself suffer for terrorist actions committed on its behalf, especially if there is widespread support for the terrorism within the cause.” His evidence for the widespread Palestinian support for terrorism is a 2002 poll which found that 87 percent of Palestinians supported continuing terrorist attacks. Wherever possible, Dershowitz uses this single poll as if it was from heaven, as indisputable evidence that a majority of Palestinians simply want to kill Israelis whenever possible. We all know that it is impossible to rely on single polls, and there are many contradictory pictures painted of Israeli and Palestinian society. For example, a recent poll suggested that over 50% of Israelis supported ‘transfer’ of the Arabs . Does this mean that there is widespread support for ethnic cleansing within the cause of Zionism? No, of course not, especially when poll after poll shows that a majority of the Israeli population supports withdrawal from the Occupied Territories in return for a genuine peace. Indeed, Dershowitz contradicts his own ‘poll of polls’ by referring to a 1996 poll by a Palestinian political scientist, who found that 80% of Palestinians admired the Israeli government. Polls, however reliable they may seem to be, are never comprehensive. They serve to highlight contradiction, not do away with it. And then there is the claim that ‘it is not unjust to make the cause itself suffer for terrorist actions committed on its behalf.’ This is false. The cause stands alone, either just or unjust, irrespective of the actions of its primary ‘defendants’. The Palestinian cause for self-determination is undoubtedly a just one, and the job of the international community is to try and achieve that - even if there are sectors within Palestinian society that insist on shooting themselves in the foot.

Dershowitz’s book, despite being packaged for more sophisticated, cynical times, slips in a number of the classic non-starters of the Zionist right. Firstly, there’s the subtle claim that ‘Jordan is Palestine’, due to the fact that Jordan has a Palestinian majority: “Yasser Arafat rejected the Barak proposal, making it clear that he would never surrender the right of more than 4 million Palestinians to return to Israel rather than live in the Palestinian state with compensation. This would, of course, quickly turn Israel into yet another Palestinian state, in addition to Jordan and the new West Bank-Gaza Strip state.” Dershowitz clearly thinks it is merely a matter of numbers, and that having a majority of your national group in a single state means your desire for independence has been achieved. The shameful treatment of Palestinians in Jordan, their status as permanent refugee-camp dwellers (which Dershowitz is right to highlight), as well as their mass slaughter at the hands of King Hussein in 1970, should show him that Jordan is far from Palestine. Secondly, in his defence of the Israeli government against the charge of collective punishment for its policy of destroying the homes of suicide bombers, Dershowitz is quick to put all their families in the same boat. In referring to King Abdullah’s criticism of the policy of house demolitions, Dershowitz writes “Abdullah failed to mention that McVeigh’s family did not praise their son’s actions. Nor did they assist him and encourage him to become a martyr. Moreover, he was not part of an ongoing effort that continues to terrorize civilians.” While it would be naïve to claim that no suicide bomber’s family fits this description, there have been too many exceptions to prove the rule. Being part of the family of a suicide bomber does not necessarily make one an ‘accessory to terrorism’, anymore than being Ariel Sharon’s son makes you culpable for the crimes at Sabra and Chatila.

Incredibly, there are some contradictions in Dershowitz’s approach that can only be described as childish. Chapter 22, for example, asks “Is the Israeli Occupation the Cause of All the Problems?” The accusation, however, reads “The Israeli occupation is the longest and most brutal in modern history.” Note the difference – the accusation is fundamentally different to the original question. He also claims that “Israel ended its occupation in 1995” , a linguistic slight of hand referring to Israeli withdrawal from major population centres that he knows only too well is completely dishonest, as Palestinians still remain without basic control over their lives, at least in comparison to genuine nation-states. He is correct in claiming that the Chinese occupation of Tibet has been ‘worse’, at least in terms of harm done to the Tibetans, but his purposes in pointing this out are completely malignant. The fact that there may be more Tibetans than Palestinians does nothing to change the fact that the Palestinians are an occupied people, and the fact that the Chinese government has built more Chinese settlements in Tibet does not make even one Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories right. Pointing out the hypocrisy of the United Nations and other international bodies in condemning Israel while failing to condemn other world occupiers is important, but only if it is being done to promote the claims of other stateless peoples, not as a way to distract from Israeli government policies.

On a similar note, Chapter 26 asks “Is Settlement in the West Bank and Gaza a [my italics] Major Barrier to Peace?” The accusation, however, is that “The Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are the [my italics] major barrier to peace.” Whether they are the major barrier to peace is of course a legitimate debate. However, it is truly perverse to suggest that they do not even constitute a barrier. It seems as if Dershowitz conceives of the settlements as idyllic little Jewish towns passively dotting the landscape of the Occupied Territories. The reality of perpetuating the settlements, however, is well documented – checkpoints, Jew-only roads, human rights abuses, and much worse. Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s prediction has come terrifyingly true:

“Rule over the occupied territories would have social repercussions. After a few
years there would be no Jewish workers or Jewish farmers. The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police – mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech, and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the state of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.”

Dershowitz also draws on the classic ‘they [the Palestinians] will always want more’ argument: “If terrorism succeeds in securing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, why should it not continue to be used to secure that the vast majority of Palestinians say they want?” We criticise certain Palestinian groups (and fellow travellers) for not being satisfied with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, claiming that in reality they want all of pre-1967 Israel as well – Haifa, Jaffa – the lot. But many people in Israel are guilty of the same crime, in fact often even worse. Many groups want all of Palestine, and Israel has all of Palestine – in the form of Judea and Samaria, as an exponent of ‘Greater Israel’ would call the Occupied Territories. It seems a bit rich to use the Palestinians’ historical desires (however misplaced) as evidence for a genocidal mentality towards Israelis and Jews, when those same historical desires have been fulfilled by Israel, with disastrous consequences.

Despite trying to create the impression of being a fair advocate for Israel who is not averse to criticism, Dershowitz sometimes crosses the line from dishonesty to crude stereotyping which verges on racism. We have referred above to Dershowitz’s comments on the families of suicide bombers. In a similar vein, when defending home demolitions against the charge of collective punishment, he writes “Even when it is clear that no one is inside, the inevitable picture of the crying woman bemoaning the loss of her home creates sympathy, even if that same woman was yesterday encouraging her son to become a martyr and tomorrow will be cheering at the news of an Israeli restaurant being blown up with a dozen teenagers.” Dershowitz is largely correct in noting that the bulldozers make sure the people are out of the house before going to work (although there have been enough exceptions to be ashamed of), but this should not detract from the fact that survival must seem scant consolation when you are witness to your home being destroyed. More importantly, however, Dershowitz’s derision of the crying woman again assumes that the family members of suicide bombers are always to blame, and also forgets that it is not only the families of suicide bombers who are victims of home demolitions. Take what happened in Rafah recently, for example. I wonder what he thought of Tommy Lapid’s (Israeli Justice Minister) comments. Unlike Dershowitz, Lapid did not see the eyes of a prime supporter of terrorism in the ‘crying woman bemoaning the loss of her home’. He was reminded of the eyes of his grandmother under Nazi occupation.

This libelling of the Palestinian people extends to the more progressive elements within the their leadership. “The fact that so many are now optimistic about the appointment of a new prime minister, despite the fact that Abu Mazen wrote a book denying the Holocaust, is a testament to the perseverance of the peace camp, as well as to the paucity of Palestinian leaders with acceptable views.” Abu Mazen’s flirtation with Holocaust denial was undoubtedly appalling, but is of little contemporary relevance. He has clearly apologised for holding such beliefs and has distanced himself from them. Sadat was also once an ally of the Nazis, and repented for these connections during the period in which he “courageously indicated a willingness to make peace with Israel in exchange for the Sinai.” In fact, far from demonstrating the ‘paucity of Palestinian leaders with acceptable views’, Abu Mazen was no different from Sadat, unequivocally expressing a willingness to make peace with Israel in exchange for the return of occupied land. Unfortunately he found himself sandwiched between Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, with no room to manoeuvre whatsoever. Dershowitz recognizes that Abu Mazen desires a fair two-state solution, but makes the error of implying that Ariel Sharon does as well. Sharon still wants to eventually annex as much of the West Bank as possible, and the Gaza disengagement proposal fits in with this plan. He is not willing to even consider any settlement that would remotely satisfy the most legitimate of Palestinian demands.

If Dershowitz had been serious about his laudable aims, he would have maintained some form of critical angle. In reality, there is none. Israel is never to blame; anything that looks like a mistake can be explained away by the fact that it remains a teething democracy. Dershowitz is really trying to stifle dissent, both from within and without. His primary ire is targeted at those he perceives as anti-Zionist, but progressives within the Zionist ranks are tarnished along the way. The time for trying to win the historical battle should be over by now. There is a more important battle to be fought, a battle for peace, for pressure to be placed on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to pursue a path of peace. This is never done by apologising for its wrongful actions. It can only be done through constant self-criticism and reform. In doing that, we would be making a stronger case for Israel than any lawyer could.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Da Vinci Crock

I had more or less vowed to never devote a single word to "The Da Vinci Code". Why? More than a decade ago I read "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail"; left to me by a dear friend with a penchant for conspiracy theory (I also inherited a book on "the murder of Pope John Paul I, the involvement of P Due and Opus Dei and the "mysterious links" to the suicide of Roberto Calvi). So, my mindset was sceptical to start with. The book, however, didn't disappoint me in the sense that it highly amused me: the idea that the Merovingian kings are essentially the bloodline of Jesus is a little too preposterous to take serious (but that opinion does not in any way constitute evidence, of course).

The "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" is one of these conspiracy theories that builds implausibility upon implausibility, while bombarding the reader with a plethora of minutiae he will never be able to verify. And so, doubt can be sown into the mind of the most sceptical of readers, not to mention the gullible.

One of the central tenets of the book from which the rest derives, the existence of the Priory of Sion, to me instinctively smacked of a hoax. The "evidence" presented for its existence is flimsy, amateurish, almost boyish I felt.

So, a decade passed and I forgot all about the book (I actually donated it to a charity, along with similar junk literature: book-burning in the backyard seemed just a little too harsh at the time).

And when in 2003 "The Da Vinci Code" came out I did not pay much attention. I have to this day not read the book or seen the film and have no intention of doing either anytime soon. The lawsuit against Dan Brown by the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", the alleged precursor of "The Da Vinci Code", did jog my memory but I thought nothing more of it.

So why the change of heart? Well, in the past few weeks I've been subjected to at least four independent documentaries of the subject of "The Da Vinci Code". It appears that Dan Brown's slightly disingenuous mix of fictional and factual writing seems to have convinced many that there is indeed an "explosive secret" at the heart of the Catholic Church, namely that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers and had offspring, whose bloodline may continue to this day. This is indeed also the core idea of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail".

At polite dinner conversations around the Western world the question "Do you believe in "The Da Vinci Code"? now arises routinely, a question I tend to dismiss with the enquiry "Do you believe in Harry Potter"? But Brown's almost certainly deliberate mixing of "fact" (or rather factoid snippets presented as fact) with fiction make this dismissal problematic and unconvincing in the eyes of the "believer". The book has not merely spawned worldwide dinner conversation; it has also caused pilgrimage-style trips to key locations of the book and more besides that.

Despite the fact that Pierre Plantard, one of the perpetrators of the Priory of Sion hoax had admitted under oath (in 1993) that the whole thing was nothing but fabrication from start to finish, the myth surrounding "secret documents" proving the existence of such an organisation, allegedly founded by Godfrey de Bouillon and with Grandmasters like Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and Jean Cocteau (to name but a few) continues to this day. For a

good overview of very strong evidence that Sion is indeed a complete hoax which continues to be supported by some as factual, click here
. And Plantard had a strong motive to commit this fraud: he considered himself a descendant of the Merovingian king Dagobert II...

For further debunking of "The Da Vinci Code", see Salon's "The Da Vinci Crock". None of this will stop the believers, of course. As Brown apparently put it once: "everyone likes a good conspiracy". Apparently the "Flat Earth Society" is still going strong too. And as long as there is money to be made from kooky books on any subject, such lies and manipulations will continue to be spread. That's the more sinister side of Mr Brown's new-found fortune...

Here's a really funny review of the film.

Friday, May 26, 2006

'How can people live, I wonder?'

Eight months ago, the Palestinians were celebrating the end of Israel's military occupation of Gaza. But the artillery shells keep falling, factions are fighting each other and the economy is on its knees as Israel blockades exports. Has anything changed for the better?

Chris McGreal reports

Thursday May 25, 2006
The Guardian

Mousa al-Sawarka lived in a small ramshackle house, watching over his camels and crops on the edge of Beit Lahia in the north of the Gaza strip, until the rain of Israeli artillery shells got too much. So the 68-year-old Bedouin farmer moved in with his son in town. Two days later a shell flattened Mousa's house. Three weeks after that, another shell killed him as he was trying to drive his camels away from artillery fire. "He was hit directly in the head," says his nephew, Fares al-Sawarka. "We couldn't rescue him because of the shelling. It was 10 minutes before we could get to him. It was so difficult to see his face. When we got the body back from the hospital, we tried not to let his wife see it."
The next day, the family set up the traditional mourning tent within sight of the old man's flattened house. A stream of friends and neighbours arrived to pay their condolences and take coffee. "Then the shells started falling again," says another nephew, Adel al-Sawarka. "We heard screaming and shouting and it was Hassan al-Shafei. The shrapnel hit him in the back and almost cut him in half. There were so many shells, we had to crawl on the ground to escape."

Hassan al-Shafei, a 55-year-old fruit and vegetable farmer, died in hospital. His cousin, Ahmed al-Shafei, carries to the mourning tent five large pieces of shrapnel he picked up in the field. Each is more than six inches long, heavy and jagged. "Imagine this thing, so hot and fast. Just one piece would tear a person's body. It's horrible," he says.

After that, both families set up mourning tents on the other side of town where there were fewer shells, although still enough for the neighbouring American School to close its doors and move to Gaza City in January.

Since the beginning of last month, Israel has fired more than 5,100 shells into the Gaza strip from artillery just the other side of the border and from ships off the coast. The military says the bombardment is aimed at deterring Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel from open fields, but the artillery fire has killed six Palestinian civilians, including two children, eight-year-old Hadeel Ghaen and 15-year-old Mamdouh Obaid, and wounded 60 others, including 21 children.

The Israeli army changed its own rules to allow it to drop shells within 100 metres of built-up areas. On the afternoon that the Sawarka family was mourning the loss of Mousa, more than 300 shells fell in and around Beit Lahia, some so close that the explosions rocked the fragile homes.

"We are Bedouin and we live in homes with zinc roofs and it doesn't protect us," says Fares al-Sawarka. "The Israelis are dropping shells closer and closer. They can see that for 10 years we have been doing the same things, moving the camels at particular times. They know our names even. They know who they kill. Before, they targeted the fighters. Now they are targeting all of us. The Bedouin have no relationship with the fighters. This is collective punishment."

The two men are among about 110 Palestinians who have been killed by Israel since the beginning of the year, about half of them civilians. At the weekend, an Israeli missile strike on a car carrying an Islamic Jihad commander also killed three generations of a family driving by. The youngest victim, Muhannad Mohammed Aamen, was four years old.
This is a lengthy article which expands on the economical conditions in present Gaza. Read the full story here.

I don't dispute Israel's right to defend against attacks. I don't dispute that firing Qassam rockets into Israel is pointless and futile. But I do feel Israeli response to the problem is exaggerated and little more than tit-for-tat, resulting in collective punishment of those who've little, if anything, to do with Islamic Jihad and assorted groups. Here's a previous post on the Gaza shelling.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

'Garbage time' for the U.S.

Rosner's Blog, Shmuel Rosner Chief U.S. Correspondent
Posted: May 25, 2006

Half an hour after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ended his speech, Congressman Eliot Engel of New York was still excited. "It may be the best speech I've ever heard," he told Haaretz, in what one hopes is a slight exaggeration.

Speeches, like the visits of Israeli prime ministers in the United States, have an immediate impression and a long term impression. Olmert, it appeared yesterday, passed the first test with flying colors. The administration embraced him, Congress applauded him. In principle everyone supported him. One could not expect more. The long-term test will come down to the particulars.

Lowering expectations is the shortest way to success. When one waits for crumbs, even a humble meal is seen as a feast. Olmert cleverly lowered expectations and the American administration cooperated by displaying lack of enthusiasm. This helped Olmert both persuade the Israeli public not to expect too much and signal to the American president that he needs more to succeed politically.

Careful planning and suitable circumstances played into Olmert's hands. American officials who only wanted to "examine" Olmert's ideas moved to calling them "interesting" and then "bold."

In any case, all that was left for everyone to do was to pretend that "first we'll try every way to negotiate with the Palestinians" as long as they fulfill all their commitments from Olso to the road map and beyond.

In a few months, when everyone discovered - to their horror - that they don't intend to do so, it will be possible to embark on a new, safer road. The president removed the only obstacle remaining in Olmert's path. He made it clear that Olmert's alignment plan does not contradict Bush's vision.

Olmert's success indicates the Americans' failure. The administration has tried every formula and way and is all out of ideas. "I had no doubt the U.S. would support his plan," says Engel. Other senior Administration officials also realized that they had no better alternative to offer.

All that Olmert is required to do at this stage is to give the Americans the time they need - what the sports programs call "garbage time" until the game ends and a new, more interesting one begins.

The convergence plan will not be implemented immediately. After all, there is no plan yet, only an "idea," which is also still vague. Will the Jordan Valley be kept, will the army stay, will Israel withdraw up to the fence? These are not particulars of the plan but the plan itself.

Olmert has not disclosed any details because he cannot make any commitments so long as the real negotiations with the administration have not begun. The talks will determine what the U.S. will give in exchange for the realignment. These talks will be held in the next few months with no ceremonies and no microphones, in endless visits of White House envoys David Welch and Elliott Abrams.

Attenborough: Climate change is the major challenge facing the world

Preamble: like David Attenborough, I've a background in the natural sciences. Like David Attenborough I was very sceptical about man-made climate change. In the early days of research into global warming, no one disputed seriously that the planet was gradually warming up: the body of evidence for this phenomenon was overwhelming. We also knew that climate changes, caused by rather small changes in the globe's average temperature, have taken place many times during the Geological record and long before man's activities could have influenced the Earth's climate. It's hard to believe, writing this text on a rainy, cold and windy May day in the North East of England, that this part of the world once enjoyed a tropical climate but we know that to be true. No, global warming wasn't in dispute but the possible causes were.

That's where I was sceptical. The finger was fairly quickly pointed to so-called greenhouse gases, in particular carbondioxide (CO2), which mankind has started to spew into the atmosphere since the early nineteenth century (the first Industrial Revolution) at ever increasing rates, as a consequence of burning fossil fuel (coal and hydrocarbons) for energy production and transport. The argument seemed logical but lacked strong empirical evidence.

Today, the body of evidence supporting the hypothesis of man-made climate change due to emissions of carbondioxide as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, is simply too awe-inspiring to be ignored any longer.

And so, I've become a believer too. To use Attenborough's words: "But I'm no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world."

By David Attenborough
Published: 24 May 2006

I was sceptical about climate change. I was cautious about crying wolf. I am always cautious about crying wolf. I think conservationists have to be careful in saying things are catastrophic when, in fact, they are less than catastrophic.

I have seen my job at the BBC as a presenter to produce programmes about natural history, just as the Natural History Museum would be interested in showing a range of birds of paradise - that's the sort of thing I've been doing. And in almost every big series I've made, the most recent one being Planet Earth, I've ended up by talking about the future, and possible dangers. But, with climate change, I was sceptical. That is true.

Also, I'm not a chemist or a climatologist or a meteorologist; it isn't for me to suddenly stand up and say I have decided the climate is changing. That's not my expertise. The television gives you an unfair and unjustified prominence but just because your face is on the telly doesn't mean you're an expert on meteorology.

But I'm no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world. I have waited until the proof was conclusive that it was humanity changing the climate. The thing that really convinced me was the graphs connecting the increase of carbon dioxide in the environment and the rise in temperature, with the growth of human population and industrialisation. The coincidence of the curves made it perfectly clear we have left the period of natural climatic oscillation behind and have begun on a steep curve, in terms of temperature rise, beyond anything in terms of increases that we have seen over many thousands of years.

People say, everything will be all right in the end. But it's not the case. We may be facing major disasters on a global scale.

I have seen the ice melting. I have been to parts of Patagonia and heard people say: "That's where the glacier was 10 years ago - and that's where it is today." The most dramatic evidence I have seen was New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina. Was that climate-change induced, out of the ordinary? Certainly so. Everyone who does any cooking knows that if you want to increase a chemical reaction, you put it on the stove and heat it up. If you increase the temperature of the oceans, above which there are swirling currents of air, you will increase the energy in the air currents. It's not a mystery.

So it's true to say these programmes about climate change are different, in that previously I have made programmes about natural history, and now you could say I have an engaged stance. The first is about the fact that there is climate change and that it is human-induced. I'm well aware that people say it's all a fuss about nothing, and even if it is getting warmer, it's nothing to do with us. So I'm glad that the BBC wanted some clear statement of the evidence as to why these two things are the case.

The second programme says, these are some of the changes that are now almost inevitable, these are the sorts of things that the nations of the world have to do, to forestall the worst. Will they do it? Who knows? And many people feel helpless.

Yet the fact of the matter is, I was brought up as boy during the war and, during the war, we actually regarded it as immoral, wrong, to leave food on your plate, you needed to eat what was on your plate because we didn't have enough. I feel in the same way that it is wrong to waste energy now, and if that sort of sea change in moral attitude were to spread amongst the world's population, it would make a difference.

During the past 50 years, I have been lucky enough to spend my time travelling around the world looking at its wonders and its splendours. I have seen many changes, some good many bad.

But it's only in the past decade that I have come to think about the question of whether or not what I, or anybody else, has been doing, could have contributed to the change in the climate of the planet that is undoubtedly taking place. When I was a boy in the 1930s, the carbon dioxide level was still below 300 parts per million. This year, it reached 382, the highest figure for hundreds of thousands of years.

I'm 80 now. It's not that I think, like any old man, that change is wrong. I recognise that the world has always changed. I know that. But the point is, it's changing more extremely and swiftly than at any time in the past several million years. And one of the things I don't want to do is to look at my grandchildren and hear them say: "Grandfather, you knew it was happening - and you did nothing."

I was sceptical about climate change. I was cautious about crying wolf. I am always cautious about crying wolf. I think conservationists have to be careful in saying things are catastrophic when, in fact, they are less than catastrophic.

I have seen my job at the BBC as a presenter to produce programmes about natural history, just as the Natural History Museum would be interested in showing a range of birds of paradise - that's the sort of thing I've been doing. And in almost every big series I've made, the most recent one being Planet Earth, I've ended up by talking about the future, and possible dangers. But, with climate change, I was sceptical. That is true.

Also, I'm not a chemist or a climatologist or a meteorologist; it isn't for me to suddenly stand up and say I have decided the climate is changing. That's not my expertise. The television gives you an unfair and unjustified prominence but just because your face is on the telly doesn't mean you're an expert on meteorology.

But I'm no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world. I have waited until the proof was conclusive that it was humanity changing the climate. The thing that really convinced me was the graphs connecting the increase of carbon dioxide in the environment and the rise in temperature, with the growth of human population and industrialisation. The coincidence of the curves made it perfectly clear we have left the period of natural climatic oscillation behind and have begun on a steep curve, in terms of temperature rise, beyond anything in terms of increases that we have seen over many thousands of years.
Full article.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Israel cannot always rely on America's helping hand

By Tony Judt, in

(First published by Haaretz as "The Country that won't Grow up")

By the age of 58 a country - like a man - should have achieved a certain maturity. After nearly six decades of existence we know, for good and ill, who we are and how we appear to others, warts and all. And though we still harbour occasional illusions about ourselves, we know they are, for the most part, just illusions. In short, we are adults.

But the state of Israel, which has just turned 58, remains curiously immature. The country's social transformations - and its many economic achievements - have not brought the political wisdom that usually accompanies age. Seen from outside, Israel still comports itself like an adolescent: confident of its uniqueness; certain that no one "understands"; quick to take offence, and to give it. Like many adolescents, Israel is convinced - and aggressively asserts - that it can do as it wishes; that its actions carry no consequences; that it is immortal.

That, Israeli readers will say, is the prejudiced view of the outsider. What looks from abroad like a self-indulgent, wayward country is simply an independent little state doing what it has always done: protecting its interests in an inhospitable part of the globe.

Why should embattled Israel even acknowledge foreign criticism, much less act on it? Because the world and its attitudes have changed. It is this change - largely unrecognised in Israel - to which I want to draw attention. Before 1967 Israel may have been tiny and embattled, but it was not typically hated: certainly not in the west. Most admirers (Jews and non-Jews) knew little about the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. They preferred to see in the Jewish state the last incarnation of the 19th century idyll of agrarian socialism - or else a paragon of modernising energy, "making the desert bloom".

I remember in the spring of 1967 how student opinion at Cambridge University was overwhelmingly pro-Israel before the Six-Day War - and how little attention was paid either to the Palestinians or to Israel's collusion with France and Britain in the disastrous 1956 Suez adventure. For a while these sentiments persisted. The pro-Palestinian enthusiasms of post-1960s radical groups were offset by growing public acknowledgement of the Holocaust. Even the inauguration of illegal settlements and the invasion of Lebanon did not shift the international balance of opinion.

But today everything is different. We can see, in retrospect, that Israel's victory in June 1967 and its occupation of the territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state's very own nakba: a moral and political catastrophe. Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified its shortcomings to a watching world. The routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority; today, computer terminals and satellite dishes put Israel's behaviour under daily global scrutiny. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel.

The universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced in political cartoons, is the Star of David emblazoned on a tank. Today the universal victims, the emblematic persecuted minority, are not Jews but Palestinians. This shift does little to advance the Palestinian case but it has redefined Israel forever. Israel's long-cultivated persecution mania no longer elicits sympathy. The country's national narrative of macho victimhood appears to many now as simply bizarre: a collective cognitive dysfunction. Israel, in the world's eyes, is a normal state; but one behaving in abnormal ways. As for the charge that criticism of Israel is implicitly anti-Semitic, this is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling assertion: Israel's reckless behaviour, and its insistent identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism, is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in western Europe and much of Asia.

If Israel's leaders have been able to ignore such developments it is because they have counted on the unquestioning support of the US - the one country where the claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is still echoed by mainstream politicians and the media. This confidence in unconditional US approval may prove to be Israel's undoing. For something is changing in America. Israel and the US appear increasingly bound together in a symbiotic embrace, whereby the actions of each party exacerbate their common unpopularity abroad. But whereas Israel has no choice but to look to America, the US is a Great Power - and Great Powers have interests that eventually transcend the local obsessions of even the closest client states. It seems to me suggestive that the recent essay "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published in March in the London Review of Books, provoked so much debate. It is true that, by their own account, the authors could not have published their indictment of the influence of the "Israel lobby" on US foreign policy in a major US-based journal. But the point is that 10 years ago they probably could not have published it at all. And while the ensuing debate generated more heat than light, it is of great significance.

The fact is that the disastrous Iraq invasion and its aftermath have set in train a sea-change in America's foreign-policy debate. It is becoming clear to prominent thinkers across the political spectrum - from erstwhile neo-conservative interventionists such as Francis Fukuyama to hard-nosed realists such as Mr Mearsheimer - that in recent years the US has suffered a catastrophic loss of international influence and degradation of its image. There is much repair work ahead, above all in Washington's dealings with economically and strategically vital regions of the world. But this cannot succeed while US foreign policy is tied by an umbilical cord to the needs andinterests of one small Middle Eastern country of little relevance to America's long-term concerns - a country that is, in the words of the Mearsheimer/Walt essay, a strategic burden. That essay is thus an indication of the direction of debate in the US about its peculiar ties to Israel. Of course, it generated fierce criticism - and, just as they anticipated, the authors have been charged with anti-Semitism. But it is striking how few people now take that accusation seriously, so predictable has it become. This is bad for Jews as it means that genuine anti-Semitism may also cease to be taken seriously. But it is worse for Israel.

From one perspective, Israel's future is bleak. Not for the first time, a Jewish state is on the vulnerable periphery of someone else's empire: wilfully blind to the danger that its indulgent excesses might ultimately push its imperial mentor beyond the point of irritation, and heedless of its own failure to make any other friends. Yet, modern Israel still has options. Precisely because the country is an object of such universal mistrust, a truly statesmanlike shift in its policies (dismantling of big settlements, opening unconditional negotiations with Palestinians and the like) could have disproportionately beneficial effects.

Such a radical realignment of strategy would entail a difficult reappraisal of every illusion under which the country and its political elite have nestled. Israel would have to acknowledge that it no longer has any special claim on international sympathy or indulgence; that the US will not always be there; that colonies are always doomed unless you are willing to expel or exterminate the indigenous population.

Other countries and their leaders have understood this: Charles de Gaulle saw that France's settlement in Algeria was disastrous for his country and, with outstanding political courage, withdrew. But when de Gaulle came to that realisation he was a mature statesman, aged nearly 70. Israel cannot afford to wait that long. The time has come for it to grow up.

The writer is director of the Remarque Institute at New York University.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Israel needs another British invasion

Instead of boycotting Israeli universities, British academics should come and reinforce those who oppose the occupation in them.

Guardian Comment is Free blog.

Hillel Schenker.

First, my credentials: From June 12, 1967, the day after the six day war ended, I have been opposed to the establishment of even a single settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As for Jerusalem, I regret the fact that it did not become an international city in accordance with the original UN partition plan in 1947. Since it's too late for that, in the future I believe that a creative solution to the Jerusalem issue requires the maintenance of a united city, with West Jerusalem serving as the capital of Israel, and East Jerusalem serving as the capital of a future, viable Palestinian state based upon the green line, the 1967 borders, with possible border rectifications based upon a negotiated equal land swap.

That said, I am also opposed to the motion that will be presented at the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) conference next weekend, which encourages academics to "consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those (Israeli academics and institutions) that do not publicly dissociate themselves" from the occupation.

If anyone wants to end the occupation, as I do, that is not the way to go.

First of all, most of Israeli academia, particular in the humanities, is a centre for anti-occupation pro-peace activity, by both lecturers and students. This is true for the universities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ben-Gurion in Beersheva and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as many of the new academic colleges that have emerged in recent years. Even the religious Bar-Ilan University features a number of prominent doves on its staff, such as Dr Menachem Klein and Professor Uriel Simon. These universities host many seminars and conferences that seriously explore the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to resolve it. The journals published at these universities, frequently edited by members of the teaching staff, are open forums that discuss the problems of occupation, aspects of the conflict and the quest for a solution, both at the micro and the macro levels.

And secondly, a boycott, even a selective one, will only reinforce general Israeli anxieties about anti-semitism, particularly in Europe, and will cause Israelis to become more defensive and less open to constructive, realistic solutions. It's hard to feel the pain and hear the legitimate calls for justice from the other side when you yourself feel that you are under attack. I'm not saying that legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy equals anti-semitism, but it cannot be ignored that there is a growing anti-semitism, particularly in many European countries.

What is the alternative?

I agree that all of us, Israelis, Palestinians and other nationals must increase our efforts to promote an end to the occupation and a peaceful, non-violent and fair resolution of the conflict, which I believe is based upon a two state solution - a viable Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state living in peace and security. We must this do this now, while there is still a window of opportunity for a resumption of negotiations, before we enter another round of unilateral actions and senseless mutual violence which will cause the loss of numerous lives on both sides.

So what would I propose to the NATFHE conference this weekend?

Another British invasion.

In the early 60s, the so-called "British invasion" led by the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Kinks, etc., changed the face of pop music, in America and around the world.

I would recommend a British invasion of Israeli academic institutions. Come to conferences in Israel, say your piece and help reinforce the Israelis who are fighting the good fight. You will find a welcome ear in academia, among the students and in the Israeli media. Write what you believe in Israeli academic journals, and base it upon professional, scientific analysis. Help to strengthen the majority of Israeli public opinion that supports significant withdrawal from the West Bank and a two-state solution.

You should listen to Palestinian Professor Munther Dajani from the political science department at al-Quds University, who said the following in a roundtable organized by the Palestine-Israel Journal on the role of civil society:

In academia you are searching for the truth, and the truth lies in research and scientific cooperation between all parties ... By definition, cooperation is opening a dialogue in order to let the others know your needs ... Occupation is something we should all fight against. Most Israeli academic institutions are with us and have released statements calling for an end to the occupation. Why boycott them and prompt them to work against us when now they are working with us?

Your model should be Jean Paul Sartre. In the spring of 1967, at a time of total impasse in Israeli-Arab relations, he published a special issue of his journal Temps Modernes, devoted to rapprochement. He did this in cooperation with the Israeli peace monthly New Outlook, established under the inspiration of Hebrew University Professor Martin Buber's philosophy of dialogue, and the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram.

He did not succeed in preventing the six day war, but he did help to lay the foundations for future Israeli-Egyptian peace. You can't ask Sartre about this anymore, but you can ask Claude Landzmann, who accompanied Sartre to Israel and Egypt and edited the special edition, which featured articles by Israelis, Egyptians and other nationals.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Who's singling out Israel?

By Mike Marqusee

Supporters of the Palestinian cause are wrongly accused of anti-semitism.

In breach of international law, Ehud Olmert has declared that Israel will redraw its boundaries unilaterally, incorporating the major West Bank settlements and maintaining a military presence adjacent to the Jordan.

Meanwhile, the EU and the US have suspended aid to the democratically elected Palestinian authority, threatening Palestinians with a collapse of public services and deepening penury (see the World Bank report).

Yet those who join this Saturday's Palestine solidarity demonstration in London will be accused of unfairly singling out Israel. They will be asked: why not Darfur, Kashmir, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Aceh, Kurdistan, Tibet or Western Sahara? It will be suggested that, in this context, adopting the Palestinian cause can only be a reflection of enduring anti-semitism.

One of the ironies of this charge is that for decades the Palestinians were invisible in the western media; not only was there no visible campaign on their behalf, there was scarcely any acknowledgment of their existence. Now, when their cause has at last been taken up by an international movement, that movement is told that its protest is illegitimate because others now suffer the inattention that was once the fate of the Palestinians.

All campaigns against specific injustices can be said to "single out" one group or another, and indeed this accusation was made in the 1960s against critics of the US in Vietnam (what about Soviet crimes?) and in the 1980s against the anti-apartheid movement (there were dictatorial regimes run by black Africans). If the requirement is that unless one protests (presumably simultaneously) against all injustices one's protest against any particular injustice is discriminatory, then there will be no protests at all, including none against Israel - which seems to be what some of those who decry its "singling out" would prefer.

But who's actually doing the singling out? Israel's advocates argue that its security situation and its role as a Jewish state are unique, and imply that it is therefore permitted to do things that are clearly prohibited to other states (land seizures, house demolitions, assassinations, mass detentions). Those who demand that Israel conform to international law and standards of human decency are challenging this kind of singling out, calling for an end to Israel's special exemption.

The US singles out Israel for military and diplomatic support. Over the last 30 years it has been by far the largest recipient of US foreign aid. The US also regularly uses its security council veto to shield Israel from condemnation. And Israel is the only country in the region permitted by the US to possess nuclear weapons.

Since the US's aggressive global posture provokes extreme disquiet in many parts of the world, it's not surprising, unjustified or anti-semitic that its closest ally in the Middle East is widely viewed not as a rogue regime but as part of a larger system of domination - and as a prime example of western double standards. In a world shaped by western domination and resistance to it, the Israel-Palestine conflict is correctly seen as pivotal.

Britain also singles out Israel for support. Annual UK arms sales to Israel have doubled over the last year to £25m, and since 2000 the UK has sold £70m worth of arms to Israel, including tanks, helicopters, mines, rockets, machine guns, teargas, leg irons, components for fighter jets and surface-to-surface missiles.

Yet Jack Straw argued that aid to the PA had to be cut because taxpayers did not want their money funding terrorism. Meanwhile Olmert declares: "I believe with all my heart in the people of Israel's eternal historic right to the entire land of Israel" - meaning up to (or even beyond) the Jordan - and is praised for a willingness to compromise. Hamas retains a claim to the same territory, with roots in living memory rather than Biblical mythology, and is subject to punitive sanctions.

Our government's complicity in the injustices meted out to the Palestinians is both greater in degree and more immediate than our complicity in Kashmir, Darfur or Tibet. In a sense, that makes it our duty to single out Israel for protest. To deny that duty is to divorce protest from politics, to turn it away from the centres of power and render it abstract and ineffectual.

It is also argued that the anti-Zionist ideology of many in the Palestinian movement singles out Jews by denying them, uniquely, a state of their own. Again, the historical selectivity lies with the accusers. Does opposition to a Sikh state in Punjab (Khalistan) - among the objectors to which are many Sikhs themselves - imply anti-Sikhism? Afrikaaners formed a distinct religious, linguistic and cultural group - yet that didn't entitle them to a state of their own. In Sri Lanka, there has been a long struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, but that demand is not supported by all Tamils; nor is it generally perceived among those committed to democratic rights as a wise, just or feasible solution to the island's ethnic conflict.

If there were as many states as their are ethnic identities, the UN would have to expand exponentially. Crucially, even in the most clear-cut cases of national self-determination, there is no right to build a state on land already inhabited by others, nor to sustain an ethnic majority in a state through the dispossession of others.

Behind the claims that criticisms of Israel are disproportionate or unbalanced lies a wilful blindness to both the scale and persistence of Israel's offences: the occupation itself, now completing its 39th year; the illegal settlements and the separation wall, condemned by the international court of justice ; the daily violations of human rights; and the sustained, indiscriminate violence against densely populated areas (in one week in April the Israeli army fired more than 950 artillery tank shells and 46 F16 missiles into Gaza, killing 19 Palestinians, including three children). While the west punishes Hamas for its rhetoric, Israel is permitted to create facts on the ground, carving out new borders and subjugating the Palestinian population by force.

Israel's treatment of the Palestinians may not be the worst of the crimes against humanity currently being committed, but it is more than horrifying enough to warrant indignation and positive action. At this moment in our society, the prevailing sin is apathy and complicity, not "one-sided condemnation of Israel".

Yes, indiscriminate acts of terrorism against the Israeli population are wrong and a cul-de-sac for Palestinian politics. But why should those acts absolve Israel from its responsibilities or invalidate nonviolent, democratic protests such as Saturday's demonstration? The obstruction of peaceful methods of redressing injustice only makes acts of terrorism more likely.

One of the saddest features of the accusation that Israel is being singled out is the assumption that the only reason people around the world would gather behind the Palestinian banner is that they hate Jews. The possibility that support for the Palestinians arises out of an awareness of the injustices they have suffered, out of compassion for the underdog, is discounted out of hand.

Yes, criticism of Israel may be at times be tainted by anti-semitism, and there is no doubt that in parts of the developing world anti-semitic mythology has become intertwined with support for the Palestinians. In this country, however, that can be fairly said of no more than a minute fraction of the Palestine solidarity movement. In contrast, support for Israel is frequently coloured by anti-Arab, anti-Muslim or western supremacist sentiments.

By all means, take action on Western Sahara, Burma and Tibet. But don't let the fact that these and other issues enjoy a relatively low profile in Britain prevent you from adding your voice to Saturday's protest against Israel's systematic oppression of the Palestinians - carried out with our assistance.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Right of Return?

Laila El-Haddad on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The comment section of that particular blogpost really says it all...

Debunking Old Myths Regarding the Israel/Palestine Conflict

Rummaging through a few pages of Norman Finkelstein's website, I came across video and audio transcripts of one of Finkelstein's lectures, held in Canada in 2004, with the title "Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic?" and believed I had previously read transcripts of this lecture and decided to reminisce a little. I was wrong: I hadn't come across a transcript of this material before and most likely was confusing it with another article or lecture.

The lecture in question is about 1h40 long and is broken up into seven audio/video streams. Broadly speaking, Finkelstein's speech can be broken up into three parts: debunking myths on the Israel/Palestine conflict, analysis of what constitutes "the New Anti-Semitism" and finally (the least interesting part I felt) musings on the Dershowitz/Finkelstein feud.

I found the first sixty minutes or so by far the most attractive part of the whole thing because, without presenting anything substantially new, Finkelstein debunks some of the most common myths regarding the conflict that so often pollute the arguments deployed by staunch pro-Israel supporters. Worth reiterating, in my view:

  • The conflict is not unique and valid parallels can be drawn with various, similar situations in past history.

  • The conflict is not complicated or hard to understand. It doesn't require harking back to "Biblical enmities" or "Cosmic justice". It doesn't take rocket science to comprehend it.

  • American support for Israel, now overwhelming and unwavering, didn't start until after the 1967 war. Post WW II and prior to 1967 the loyalties of the Americans lay squarely with West Germany, the new fortress against Communism. At that time, there was little, if any, sympathy for Israel, back then decidedly a leftist country in search of its own socialist utopia. The Holocaust was hardly a topic of interest in the American mainstream. American Jews, broadly speaking, also held Israel at arms length, for fear of being accused of having dual loyalties.

  • Palestine was not an empty space, prior to the arrival of the Zionists, and Arabs did not migrate there en masse pretending to be the indigenous people of Palestine, the Palestinians. The myth that there really is no Palestinian people continues to be dissipated today, in particular by extremists in the pro-Israel movement.

  • The 1948 refugee problem was not created by Arab radio broadcasts, urging the Palestinians to flee, so Arab invading forces could sweep the Jews into the sea. No records of such broadcasts were ever found and the story is a hoax.

  • There is nothing new about the "New Anti-Semitism": waves of new anti-Semitism have been created repeatedly to meet political expediency.

Finkelstein spends also some time on the now largely forgotten hoax, the book called "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters, a 1984 bestseller which continues partly to be responsible for the myth that "there are no real Palestinians". Finkelstein's meticulous work in exposing this colossal piece of fraud cost him an academic career, as Chomsky explains here.

If you haven't yet seen and heard footage of the
"Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic?" lecture, you can do it here. Finkelstein is clear and eloquent, as well as entertaining in parts. Remember, this about a lot more than just the "New anti-Semitism", which is in itself a fairly boring subject...

Friday, May 19, 2006

The wrong solution

By Daniel Gavron (Haaretz Today Online)

It is not often that I totally disagree with Haaretz's editorial, but today's plea for the swift completion of the security fence strikes me as uniquely ill-judged. There's not a scrap of evidence proving that the 42 percent of the barrier that has been built has prevented even one suicide bombing. The statistics quoted in the editorial are meaningless. If we are looking for a correlation between acts of terror and Israeli policy, it is no less logical to accept the claim of Benjamin Netanyahu that his tough, no-nonsense stance as prime minister sharply reduced terrorist actions. It's certainly true that during his term of office, there was a far lower rate of attrition.

In fact it has to be said that the highest rate of terrorist bombings was during the super-tough period of retaliation implemented by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. It can be argued that the IDF campaign at that time encouraged motivation on the Palestinian side, but the sad fact is that the number of attacks depends on them, not us. If there are less attacks today than in the past, it's because the various forces in the Palestinian Authority territories are planning and executing less. It's a moot point whether this is a result of Israel's policy of incursions, arrests and targeted assassinations, but it's certainly not because of the separation fence.

It may be logical to argue that a completed fence will stop - or at least sharply reduce - terror attacks, but it is unconvincing, to say the least, to contend that making a terrorist travel a few kilometers to find a section of unprotected border can have any effect. Whether the route of the barrier is along the old Green Line or snakes surrealistically around the so-called "settlement blocs" is irrelevant. The concept is basically wrong.

The original sin of the fence is the unilateral approach: the concept that there is nobody to talk to. In the period immediately after the Six Day War, the idea of unilateral withdrawal was suggested by, among others, Yitzhak Ben-Aharon and Pinhas Lavon. After the Arab summit at Khartoum had decided on no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations with Israel, it made sense even though it was laughed out of court at the time. Now, 39 years later, it makes no sense at all.

Not only is there somebody to talk to now, but also that somebody has been desperately trying to talk to us for the past six years. It's true that after the Camp David meeting in the summer of 2000 there was an outburst of violence by the Palestinians. It's also true that Israel over-reacted to this, but also it's a fact that there were further negotiations, which moved toward an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Both sides have been playing the blame game over the failure to reach an accord, but neither side has ever put forward a convincing reason for stopping the talks. If half the ingenuity and energy invested in the separation fence had been directed toward negotiations, we might be in a different place today.

The barrier was conceived as a response to despair over suicide bombings. Since then, various pressure groups - the right, the left, the settlers, the IDF, the demographic lobby, the civil rights movements, and the Supreme Court - have argued about its proposed route. Is it any wonder that its route is an illogical improvisation that endeavors to placate the various above-mentioned bodies?

However, if the separation fence is wrong and ill-advised as a general concept, it becomes a grotesque farce when applied to Jerusalem. I invite Haaretz readers to tour the route of the barrier in Jerusalem and study the maps. The Jerusalem fence has no logic whatsoever - political, demographic or security. It is simply an ugly, unwieldy monstrosity that will create only more frustration and anger on the Palestinian side.

Hasn't the time come for us to realize that both Israelis and Palestinians live in this tiny strip of land between the Mediterranean and Jordan River, and there is absolutely no alternative to living here side-by-side? There is no way to separate us from the Palestinians, particularly since all versions of the separation fence fence off only some of the Palestinians.

Haaretz is wrong. The separation fence should not be completed. It should be abandoned, and those sections already built should be torn down. Israel can re-occupy the territories and send the IDF into every alley and building there to bring terrorism to a stop, or, alternatively, it can sit down and talk to the Palestinians - to Abu Mazen, to Hamas, to everybody. This latter approach, which I favor, will require huge patience and nerves of steel, but at least it can be tried. The separation fence is merely an ad-hoc improvisation. It doesn't solve anything.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Palestine Then and Now: Without Words

Truth in mapping.

Prodi condemns Iraq war as 'grave mistake'

James Sturcke and agencies
Thursday May 18, 2006

The incoming Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, today described the US-led invasion of Iraq as a "grave mistake" that had encouraged global terrorism.
Mr Prodi, who narrowly won last month's general election, said he would consult with US-led forces in Iraq over Italian troop withdrawal.

"We consider the war and occupation in Iraq a grave error that hasn't solved - but has complicated - the problem of security," he said in his first address to the Senate since becoming prime minister.

"Terrorism has found a new base and new excuses for internal and external terrorist action."
Mr Prodi said his government would participate in anti-terror operations if they were sanctioned by international organisations such as the UN.

"We are convinced participants in the war against terrorism, even militarily, when it is legitimised by an international organisation to which we belong," he added.

Mr Prodi did not give a precise timeline for the withdrawal of Italian troops, saying only that it would happen after consultation with the Iraqi authorities.

"It is the intention of this government to propose to parliament the return of our troops from Iraq," he said.

Tony Blair has repeatedly denied that the London bombings in July last year were linked to the British involvement in Iraq.

Yes, our "Tone", that "man of conviction" has also said he "would do it all again". A donkey only stubs his toe once but not El Pretzeldente's lapdog.
He [Silvio Berlusconi] was a staunch supporter of the Iraq conflict despite its huge unpopularity in Italy - where thousands have marched against it - and faced regular calls to withdraw the 3,000 Italian troops.

Demands for withdrawal grew after an Italian secret service agent, Nicola Calipari, was killed by US soldiers minutes after rescuing a journalist being held hostage last March.

Mr Prodi, then the opposition leader, said it was time to discuss the end of Italy's mission in Iraq, and Mr Berlusconi - in an apparent attempt to shore up domestic support - said troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by last September.

Xenophobia in Action: the Case of Denmark

In this intelligently composed piece, Cosmic Duck from Copenhagen, provides evidence that xenophobia and, surprise, surprise, Islamophobia are on the rise in the quiet Scandinavian welfare state of Denmark. With plenty of underpinning links, this post is very much worth reading, even scrutinising.

Related article:
Europe is being "suicided" by Islamists.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Good Riddance!

The American Right has a new darling: the now notorious Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali is to take up a post in the neocon American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Clearly the AEI doesn't look a gift horse in the mouth, Hirsi Ali is after all a popular Islam-basher and in Far Right Christian circles you just can't have enough of these.

Much was made of Ali's notorious stance on Islam's submission of women, which she epitomised in the script for a short film, "Submission". But Calvinist Holland forgot that if a mirror image of this film had been made, showing a half-nude Christian woman with Biblical scribblings on her body, the uproar would also have been guaranteed.

Ali has always struck me as a flip-flopping, ambitious self-promoter, much more interested in personal advancement than an actual cause. And Ali is highly intelligent and an attractive woman, she's likely to go far. But a truthseeker she ain't.

Right now some are already trying to downplay the lies she told to obtain Dutch citizenship but these falsehoods don't strike me as little white lies:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Fiction and facts

Fiction: she said her name was Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Fact: her real name is Ayaan Hirsi Magan. She said she changed it to prevent her family from finding her after running out on her new husband during a visit to Germany.

Fiction: she told Dutch authorities she was born in 1967.

Fact: she was born in 1969. She said she lied to prevent Dutch authorities from tracking her real identity.

Fiction: she claimed to have fled to Holland from war-torn Somalia.

Fact: she caught a train from Germany, following her marriage to a Canadian cousin, after spending more than a decade in Kenya. She spent only seven years in Somalia as a young girl.

More on Ali Hirsi's past exploits and her undoubtedly bright career in the cesspool of American neoconservative Islamophobia, here:


Critic of Islam to quit Holland after lies are exposed
By David Rennie in Brussels

Holland's most strident critic of Islam, the Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is today expected to announce she is quitting politics and moving to America, amid allegations that she lied to gain asylum.

Miss Hirsi Ali faces penalties up to and including the potential loss of her Dutch citizenship, after a leading member of her own political party, the VVD, pledged a formal investigation of her actions.

The Dutch immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, who is running for the parliamentary leadership of the VVD, said she would order a probe of her colleague's case, saying: "Laws and rules are valid for everyone".

Miss Hirsi Ali, 36, lives under constant police guard, after receiving death threats for her criticisms of the treatment of women in Islam (her own religion), a stance that won her many fans in Europe and America.

A film she scripted about abuse of women, Submission, led to the brutal murder of its director, Theo van Gogh, in 2004, by a Muslim extremist.

The MP has in fact long admitted lying to the Dutch authorities in 1992 about her name, her age, and the fact that she did not flee directly to Holland from Somalia.

She presented those omissions as necessary lies to obtain refugee status. Asylum seekers are expected to seek shelter in the first safe country they come to, and she would have been automatically deported if she had owned up to spending more than a decade outside Somalia, in Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya and, briefly, Germany.

She obtained Dutch citizenship in 1997, and was elected to parliament in 2003.

However, the controversy has been stoked by a television documentary last week, which showed members of her own family striking at the very heart of her dramatic life story - her claim that she fled a forced marriage to a cousin she had never met.

Relatives, including her brother, said she had not been forced into marriage, and had nothing to fear. The documentary showed images of her family's comfortable middle-class home in Kenya.

Miss Hirsi Ali, who cut short a book tour in America to return to Holland and address the media storm, is expected to announce she is moving to Washington DC, to take up a post at the neo-conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute, the newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

Since the allegations surfaced, Miss Hirsi Ali has said she is the victim of a "smear campaign".

Monday, May 15, 2006


No, no, no, calm down. These are not my words nor are they words I endorse in any way, shape or form. No, this is the headline of a blogpost which you can find here.

The post starts like this:
Got this over email this evening - thaught [sic] it might be good to pass it along. It's a little long but everyone [sic] of these facts is interesting by themselves - all together - it looks preatty [sic] good - not bad for a Banana republic:

HERE ARE SOME FACTS ONLY from many more they only can envy and be jealous of, and some of the real reasons why they can not accept us as more gifted then [sic] them and why they continuously try to [...]

There then follows a long list of Israel's achievements, before the author of the blogpost concludes:
. . . . AND WHEN THE FRENCH AMBASSADOR IN ENGLAND SAYS, what others also think: "ISRAEL IS NOTHING BUT A SHITTY LITTLE COUNTRY" Makes one wonder, "Who are really in truth the people full of shitty heads [sic] and soles [sic], or culture!?"

The part on the French Ambassador was what seriously alarmed me. Could it be that a European top-ranking diplomat had made such a colossal gaffe? Was it possible I had somehow missed this on the news? Immediate googling, using also the Blogsearch (beta) facility yielded nothing. The latter unearthed only the blogpost in question.

It seemed very unusual to me that the article provided no references to its source and didn't mention names, places or dates. Nothing, nada, zilch...

So I decided to ask for clarification via the blog's comment section. One of the blog's team members (but not the author) then came up with this little gem:
I tried to find a credible source but all I could find was the BBC, so you will have to forgive me.

"Anti-Semitic" French Envoy under fire

Turns out that the "shitty little country" story is almost certainly a canard and one that dates back to 2001! There appears to be no evidence that Mr Bernard actually ever said anything like that. Conrad Black has in the mean time compromised himself rather plentifully (but that doesn't constitute proof either).

Yet the author presents the story as fact and recent fact at that. Very misleading to say the least. Could it be that the blogowners are a little trigger-happy when it comes to looking for anti-Semitism?


Saturday, May 13, 2006

IDF Heavy-Handedness?

Reprinted from International Solidarity Movement

To view the video footage that Phil, who was hit in the head with a rubber bullet, was filming when he was shot click one of these links:
Streaming. Download.
In the clip you can see how close the demonstartors were to the soldiers when the soilders opened fire - the sound of the shots fired is clearly audible.

[Photos, full article and links:
click here]

“I saw blood gushing out of his head, and helped bandage it. As we were getting him into the ambulance an Israeli soldier grabbed his long hair and they all tried to stop him from leaving in the ambulance even though they knew he was injured”, said American eyewitness Zadie Susser who saw Phillip Reiss from Austraila sitting in shock immediately after he was hit.

At today’s Bil’in demonstration, Israeli soldiers shot seven Palestinians with rubber bullets. One Australian and one Danish demonstrator were hospitalised after being shot in the head with rubber bullets at close range.

AFP Cameraman Jamal Al Aruri was shot in the hand with a rubber bullet while he was filming two of his fingers were broken. Adeba Yasin (65) was hit by a rubber coated bullet under her eye while she was sitting on the balcony of her home.

Phillip Reiss (25) from Sydney, Australia was shot as he was running away – he had been filming the demonstration. BJ Lund (21) from Ry, Denmark was also shot as he was standing near army jeeps. Both Phil and BJ are currently in Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel-Aviv. The bullet caused a hemorrhage to Phil’s brain, though he is now conscious. BJ required stitches to the head.

Abed Al Karim Khatib (60) was hit by a rubber coated bullet in his private parts, Abed Albased Abu Rahme (15) was hit on his thigh by a rubber coated bullet and Waleed Mahmoud Abu Rahme (20) was hit in his abdomen by a rubber coated bullet. Mohammad Ahmad Issa was hit in the leg with a rubber bullet. Wajdi shokut (18) was hit by a rubber coated bullet in the hand

Ashraf Muhammed Jamal (24) was hit by a tear gas canister aimed at his head.

Abdullah Abu-Rahme (35 and the Co-ordinatior of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall), Muhammad Al Katib (32, also from the Popular Committee) and Akram Al Katib (34) were beaten.

The demonstration of about 300 people had marched, singing, chanting and waving flags to the gate in the apartheid barrier.

This week, the gate had been locked open, so the Israeli soldiers relied on their jeeps and barbed wire to stop the people of Bil’in from walking into their land. After a while, some of the demonstrators started to open the barbed wire. The Israeli soldiers started hitting people with clubs. A few rocks were thrown from a small group of youth who were away from the main demonstration in front of the jeeps. The soldiers then started firing on the peaceful demonstrators at near point-blank range as they were running away – they were a maximum distance of 10 meters away when shot.

According to Israeli Human Rights group B’Tselem, Israeli Military Regulations stipulate that “the minimum range for firing rubber-coated steel bullets is forty meters. The Regulations emphasize that the bullets must be fired only at the individual’s legs, and are not to be fired at children” Israeli soldiers fire rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinian children during the Bil’in demonstration every week. Israeli demonstrator Matan Cohen was recently shot in the eye during a demonstration in Beit Sira. He now has only partial sight in that eye.

The Israeli military usually uses rubber bullets during demonstrations when Israeli and international activists are present. When Palestinians demonstrate on their own the military uses live ammunition or rubber coated steel bullets.

Two of the demonstrators that were shot from close range were filming the demonstartion. British attorney general, Lord Goldsmith confirmed on the 6th of May he was considering whether to seek the extradition and prosecution of an Israeli soldier who shot dead British cameraman James Miller in Gaza, after a jury in a British inquest unanimously agreed that “Mr Miller was indeed murdered”

Eleven Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers during non-violent demonstrations against the apartheid wall.

On Sunday, May 14, the Israeli Supreme Court will hear Bil’in’s legal challenge over the theft of their land by the illegal wall.

Bili’in villagers have been protesting the wall nonviolently for the last 15 months and have become a symbol of Palestinian-Israeli-International cooperation.

The route of the wall in Bil’in is designed to annex the settlement of Modi’n Elite and it’s outpost, Matityahu Mizrah, to Israel along with the land belonging to Bil’in so that these illegal settlements can continue to grow.

In a separate court case brought by the village and Peace Now against the new settlement of Matityahu Mizrah, the High Court was told of a land-laundering scheme that allowed the real-estate dealers and settler organizations to convert private land - “purchased” sometimes through dubious means - into “state land..” Then, before the construction of the separation barrier, the land was “returned” to the buyers so that they could establish facts on the ground and press the Defense Ministry into moving the route of the fence to the east of the new illegal neighborhood.

After being prodded by the Supreme Court, the Israel Police’s National Fraud Squad opened a criminal investigation into the illegal construction of hundreds of housing units in the Matityahu East “neighborhood” of the Modi’in Ilit settlement.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, hundreds of millions of dollars are believed to have changed hands in the affair.

Hat tip: Les Politiques.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Hazel Blears gets a Hammering

Guardian News Blog.

Anyone who watched the mauling of Hazel Blears on Question Time last night was left in no doubt about how much trouble New Labour is now in. She was derided and scorned by panel and audience alike, even when Ms Blears was defending the perfectly defensible over the 7/7 London bombings (if we couldn't stop the provisional IRA detonating large bombs when we knew who half its members were and had the organisation riddled with informers, can we really blame the government for failing to stop a jihadist atrocity?). Even if you discount the obvious partisan allegiances of some in the audience their attitude to her and all things Tony Blair was unremittingly hostile.

The blogger in question (Oliver King) missed an important point here. The mauling of Ms Blears, a staunch Blairite, went in crescendo and reached climax when she was reiterating the usual lies regarding how according the HMG there is no link between the 7/7 bombings (and possibly three other foiled plots) and British involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Let's have another look at the arguments:

  • Other extremist Islamist attacks had taken place prior to 9/11: yes, Hazel, amongst others an attack on a US embassy and an attack on the USS Cole, both American targets. Ask yourself why.

  • After Afghanistan/Iraq other were attacks perpetrated in other countries: yes, Hazel, one on a British Embassy in Istanbul and one in Madrid, the latter causing the withdrawal of Spain from the Coalition of the willing. The only other attacks that cannot be explained so easily are the Bali bombings.


Do remind yourself that the British Government had been warned (by intelligence) of the possibility of Britain being perceived as a "Crusader State" by Muslims worldwide and the possible consequences. In the aftermath both invasions an Islamist terror attack on British soil was widely seen as inevitable, a case of "when", not "if".

Do also remind yourself of one of the bombers' last words (Siddique Khan).

Do ask yourself why al-Qaeda doesn't attack Sweden.

Do remind yourself that Britain went to war for entirely the wrong reasons.

Do remind yourself that your Government has attempted to erode civil liberties in a number of knee-jerk reactions, intended to stem the tide of Islamic terrorism, a phenomenon for which the ill-conceived actions of your Government was at least partly responsible for.

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