Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ethan Bronner

Standing Respectfully But Staying Mute

It’s worth wondering whether the non-controversy over the decision by an Israeli Supreme Court justice to not sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, last week is worth the space of a full article. But Ethan Bronner’s fair-minded and sober treatment of the issue recently in the New York Times does highlight something very important: the way in which Israel and Israelis usually successfully navigate the fault lines that do exist in a state both Jewish and democratic.

The justice in question, Salim Joubran, is a Christian Arab, and the first Arab appointed to a permanent seat on Israel’s highest court. In a publicly televised ceremony marking the retirement of the current chief justice and the installation of the next, Joubran stood but did not sing the words to the national anthem, which includes within it a reference to a “yearning Jewish soul” and focuses quite explicitly on the long Jewish dream to return to political independence in the Land of Israel.

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It’s worth wondering whether the non-controversy over the decision by an Israeli Supreme Court justice to not sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, last week is worth the space of a full article. But Ethan Bronner’s fair-minded and sober treatment of the issue recently in the New York Times does highlight something very important: the way in which Israel and Israelis usually successfully navigate the fault lines that do exist in a state both Jewish and democratic.

The justice in question, Salim Joubran, is a Christian Arab, and the first Arab appointed to a permanent seat on Israel’s highest court. In a publicly televised ceremony marking the retirement of the current chief justice and the installation of the next, Joubran stood but did not sing the words to the national anthem, which includes within it a reference to a “yearning Jewish soul” and focuses quite explicitly on the long Jewish dream to return to political independence in the Land of Israel.

Bronner found intemperate voices on both the right and left who sharpened their swords over the non-event, with Haaretz seeing it as another opportunity to impugn the Jewish character of the state as inherently discriminatory. Yet Bronner also wrote, “Most Israeli Jews, however, seemed to feel comfortable with Justice Joubran’s approach — standing respectfully but staying mute.” In other words, they seem to know instinctively that it is appropriate for a democracy to align its identity with that of the majority of its citizens, but that it must also make allowances for those who do not share that identity.

For his part, Joubran – who holds a position in Israeli society he is likely to find thankless far too often –  seemed to hit the right balance in his approach. There is no use denying that identification with the lyrics of “Hatikvah” may be impossible for fair reasons for non-Jewish citizens of Israel. But it is not too much for that state – on a cultural level – to ask that all its citizens and its public officials in particular still show the anthem appropriate respect, which standing in silence certainly does.

Where Bronner and Noah Kleiger, the Israeli commentator he quotes, go wrong is in their depiction of the Israeli case as unique. Kleiger may think that “Any British or French citizen – regardless of whether he is Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Jewish – can utter the words ‘God Save the Queen’ without a problem, because these words are suitable for everyone,” but he should ask atheists (or even those not quite comfortable with the idea that the Queen’s role as head of the British state and the Anglican church is God-given) whether or not they feel the same. Like the Israeli anthem, the British one makes specific claims about the identity of the British state, and it is an identity not shared by all British citizens. As in Israel, none of it makes the country any less free or democratic.

So if you’ve taken a moment to consider the extremely minor affair of Salim Joubran and the singing of “Hatikvah,” use it to consider well the way in which Israel continues to do a fine job of living up to its billing that it is both Jewish and democratic, regardless of what the critics have to say.

 

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The Real Source of Media Bias on Israel

I have not been the biggest fan of Ethan Bronner of the New York Times. The reportage by Bronner, who spent the last four years as the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, was a mixed bag. Though he was clearly a talented reporter who often did some good work highlighting the realities of the Palestinian war on Israel, he was also prone–as virtually every other member of the foreign press corps in Israel–to take Palestinian claims at face value and to omit the context of Palestinian rejectionism from accounts of diplomatic and political encounters there.

Nevertheless, Bronner spent the last two years under constant fire, not so much for his role in the Times’s blatant bias against Israel (for which the editors back in New York were chiefly responsible anyway), but because his son served in the Israel Defense Force. Once the news came out about Bronner’s son serving in the army like most Jewish boys his age in Israel, he was subjected to withering criticism from the pro-Palestinian left as well as a nasty column from Clark Hoyt, the paper’s public editor at the time. Now that Bronner’s leaving the post after a four-year term, the story is being recycled, but the notion that he was compromised by his son’s service is just as absurd today as it was then.

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I have not been the biggest fan of Ethan Bronner of the New York Times. The reportage by Bronner, who spent the last four years as the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, was a mixed bag. Though he was clearly a talented reporter who often did some good work highlighting the realities of the Palestinian war on Israel, he was also prone–as virtually every other member of the foreign press corps in Israel–to take Palestinian claims at face value and to omit the context of Palestinian rejectionism from accounts of diplomatic and political encounters there.

Nevertheless, Bronner spent the last two years under constant fire, not so much for his role in the Times’s blatant bias against Israel (for which the editors back in New York were chiefly responsible anyway), but because his son served in the Israel Defense Force. Once the news came out about Bronner’s son serving in the army like most Jewish boys his age in Israel, he was subjected to withering criticism from the pro-Palestinian left as well as a nasty column from Clark Hoyt, the paper’s public editor at the time. Now that Bronner’s leaving the post after a four-year term, the story is being recycled, but the notion that he was compromised by his son’s service is just as absurd today as it was then.

Hoyt took the position, as did many cheerleaders for the Palestinians, that: “The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side.”

The problem with this formulation is the assumption that the Times ought to regard an ongoing war to extinguish the life of the Jewish state with complete objectivity. But that is no more reasonable than to expect any American journalist with relatives in the U.S. military to have no opinions or stake in attacks on the United States or its forces abroad. While news reporters ought not to take part in partisan politics or advocacy on issues related to their beats, the notion that they should take no position on wars between Western democracy and Islamist terrorists extends rules about objectivity beyond reason. Those who are neutral about the idea that it is okay to single out the one Jewish state in the world for destruction should be accused of a far worse sin than a lack of complete objectivity.

Just as American reporters can and do report stories that can put the government and/or the U.S. military in a bad light while still acting as loyal citizens of this country, so, too, can any person living in Israel report honestly while not choosing to remain completely aloof from that country’s war of survival. Having a son in the IDF did not make Bronner a stooge of the Israeli government.

On the contrary, the vast majority of the foreign press contingent in Israel who proclaim neutrality about the conflict but treat Arab terrorism with kid gloves and assist the delegitimization of the democratic state in which they are living are the ones who deserve censure for bias. Whatever Ethan Bronner’s sins, at least he was not guilty of that. Let’s hope his successor is no worse than him.

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The Nonviolent Victory That Wasn’t

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

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Humanitarian Crisis? No, Gazans Are Bored!

Left-wing propagandists have spent the last several years successfully painting a picture of Gaza as a place where children starve and where all are in need. In reply, Israel and her defenders have attempted to point out that such tales are pure myth and that, in fact, there is no shortage of food or medicine in Gaza despite the limited blockade that has been imposed on the region since Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup. But there’s no need to listen to the Israelis on that point. As the New York Times makes clear in a 2,500-word dispatch published today about life in Gaza, the residents of the strip have no reticence about refuting the lies about a humanitarian crisis:

There are plenty of things to buy in Gaza; goods are brought over the border or smuggled through the tunnels with Egypt. That is not the problem. In fact, talk about food and people here get angry because it implies that their struggle is over subsistence rather than quality of life. The issue is not hunger. It is idleness, uncertainty and despair.

The picture painted in this story of life in Gaza is not pretty. But it makes it clear that what is really bothering Gazans is how boring life in Hamasistan can be. The Gazans chose to be ruled by an Islamist terrorist group dedicated to perpetuating the war against Israel and to the idea that Israel can someday be destroyed. But they think it is unfair to pay any price for the state of belligerency that exists with Israel — even if their basic needs are guaranteed by both the international community and the country they wish to destroy.

To their credit, authors Michael Slackman and Ethan Bronner make clear that the Palestinians’ biggest problem is the civil war being waged between the Hamas and Fatah organizations, as the latter’s decision to shut off electricity to Gaza to get even with Hamas illustrates.

As far as Israel, Palestinians are a bit confused. They desire its destruction, but at the same time, they think it is unfair that they should not be allowed to work there or that trade between Israel and Gaza should be halted because of the terrorist campaigns waged against the Jewish state by the groups Palestinians support. They want war and vote for Hamas but think it is unjust that they have lost income because of Israel’s measures of self-defense that were created because of Hamas terrorism. This confusion is well illustrated in the quote from Abdel Qader Ismail, 24, a former employee of the military intelligence service who now produces anti-Israel plays:

Our play does not mean we hate Israel. We believe in Israel’s right to exist, but not on the land of Palestine. In France or in Russia, but not in Palestine. This is our home.

It never seems to occur to Ismail that Israelis have no wish to live in France or Russia but instead want their own homeland, which they have demonstrated time and again that they are willing to share with the Palestinians if only they will finally accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in part of that small country.

The tales in this report of Gaza’s abused wives and hopeless idle men are sad. But the answer to their isolation is an end to their war against Israel. If Palestinians would reject Hamas and an ethos of war to the death against Israel and accept a two-state solution with a Jewish state, Gaza’s isolation would end, and the Palestinian people could then concentrate their energies on development rather than on war. Until the Palestinians’ sense of identity is bound up with something more than merely rejection of Israel, the pathetic life they lead in Gaza will continue. And though they — and their foreign supporters — may prefer to rant about Israel, the truth is, the blame for their unenviable fate is largely their own.

Left-wing propagandists have spent the last several years successfully painting a picture of Gaza as a place where children starve and where all are in need. In reply, Israel and her defenders have attempted to point out that such tales are pure myth and that, in fact, there is no shortage of food or medicine in Gaza despite the limited blockade that has been imposed on the region since Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup. But there’s no need to listen to the Israelis on that point. As the New York Times makes clear in a 2,500-word dispatch published today about life in Gaza, the residents of the strip have no reticence about refuting the lies about a humanitarian crisis:

There are plenty of things to buy in Gaza; goods are brought over the border or smuggled through the tunnels with Egypt. That is not the problem. In fact, talk about food and people here get angry because it implies that their struggle is over subsistence rather than quality of life. The issue is not hunger. It is idleness, uncertainty and despair.

The picture painted in this story of life in Gaza is not pretty. But it makes it clear that what is really bothering Gazans is how boring life in Hamasistan can be. The Gazans chose to be ruled by an Islamist terrorist group dedicated to perpetuating the war against Israel and to the idea that Israel can someday be destroyed. But they think it is unfair to pay any price for the state of belligerency that exists with Israel — even if their basic needs are guaranteed by both the international community and the country they wish to destroy.

To their credit, authors Michael Slackman and Ethan Bronner make clear that the Palestinians’ biggest problem is the civil war being waged between the Hamas and Fatah organizations, as the latter’s decision to shut off electricity to Gaza to get even with Hamas illustrates.

As far as Israel, Palestinians are a bit confused. They desire its destruction, but at the same time, they think it is unfair that they should not be allowed to work there or that trade between Israel and Gaza should be halted because of the terrorist campaigns waged against the Jewish state by the groups Palestinians support. They want war and vote for Hamas but think it is unjust that they have lost income because of Israel’s measures of self-defense that were created because of Hamas terrorism. This confusion is well illustrated in the quote from Abdel Qader Ismail, 24, a former employee of the military intelligence service who now produces anti-Israel plays:

Our play does not mean we hate Israel. We believe in Israel’s right to exist, but not on the land of Palestine. In France or in Russia, but not in Palestine. This is our home.

It never seems to occur to Ismail that Israelis have no wish to live in France or Russia but instead want their own homeland, which they have demonstrated time and again that they are willing to share with the Palestinians if only they will finally accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in part of that small country.

The tales in this report of Gaza’s abused wives and hopeless idle men are sad. But the answer to their isolation is an end to their war against Israel. If Palestinians would reject Hamas and an ethos of war to the death against Israel and accept a two-state solution with a Jewish state, Gaza’s isolation would end, and the Palestinian people could then concentrate their energies on development rather than on war. Until the Palestinians’ sense of identity is bound up with something more than merely rejection of Israel, the pathetic life they lead in Gaza will continue. And though they — and their foreign supporters — may prefer to rant about Israel, the truth is, the blame for their unenviable fate is largely their own.

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Gaza Through Fresh Eyes Reveals Normality, Not Horror

The image of the Middle East in general and the Palestinian territories in particular is one of squalor and bloodshed. There has been plenty of the latter throughout the years, but anyone who visits the Palestinian areas knows how far from the truth is the commonly held assumption that the West Bank and Gaza in particular are awful places where the inhabitants are barely hanging on for dear life. There are plenty of poor Palestinians – and more than a few living in poverty across the border in Israel, too. But many of the towns and cities on the West Bank are bustling, prosperous, and largely middle-class. And while no one will mistake Gaza for the Cote d’Azure, the reality of even that unhappy place does not conform to the image of Israeli-imposed horror.

But don’t take my word for it; just read this week’s Sunday New York Times Week in Review section for a glimpse of “Gaza Through Fresh Eyes,” a photo essay by Katie Orlinsky with text by Ethan Bronner. What did Orlinsky find in Gaza? As Bronner writes:

For some, it’s the relative modernity — the jazzy cellphone stores and pricey restaurants. For others, it’s the endless beaches with children whooping it up. But for nearly everyone who visits Gaza, often with worry of danger and hostility, what’s surprising is the fact that daily life, while troubled, often has the staggering quality of the very ordinary.

The pictures show that life is going on in a very normal fashion. They depict a busy intersection in Rafah, a Gaza beach scene, shoppers in Gaza city where wedding dresses are on sale, and fishermen and farmers. Even the photos that show the less happy side of Gaza – a girl living in a tent, a crowded tenement, and a pregnant widow whose husband died of unspecified war-related injuries (had he been a truly innocent bystander who fell to Israeli fire, we probably would have been told as much, which means it’s just as likely as anything else that he was a Hamas terrorist who died in a “work accident” when explosives blew up prematurely or that he was killed while trying to kill Israelis) – show scenes that are not exactly depictions of the Israeli atrocities that so many around the world are so worked up about.

Even more interesting is what the pictures don’t show. None tell us about the Islamist government of the region, which is imposing on the people not only its vow of war to the death against Israel but also an extremist religion. None, not even the saddest picture, tells the reader the true context of life in Gaza: the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to make peace despite many offers of statehood and recognition from Israel. And none show the fact that the region was completely evacuated by Israel five years ago, but instead of using their independence to better their lives, the Palestinians have chosen more war.

While pictures can tell us a lot about Gaza and even make it plain that life there isn’t all that terrible, they can’t tell us why Hamas and its followers still prefer war to peace.

The image of the Middle East in general and the Palestinian territories in particular is one of squalor and bloodshed. There has been plenty of the latter throughout the years, but anyone who visits the Palestinian areas knows how far from the truth is the commonly held assumption that the West Bank and Gaza in particular are awful places where the inhabitants are barely hanging on for dear life. There are plenty of poor Palestinians – and more than a few living in poverty across the border in Israel, too. But many of the towns and cities on the West Bank are bustling, prosperous, and largely middle-class. And while no one will mistake Gaza for the Cote d’Azure, the reality of even that unhappy place does not conform to the image of Israeli-imposed horror.

But don’t take my word for it; just read this week’s Sunday New York Times Week in Review section for a glimpse of “Gaza Through Fresh Eyes,” a photo essay by Katie Orlinsky with text by Ethan Bronner. What did Orlinsky find in Gaza? As Bronner writes:

For some, it’s the relative modernity — the jazzy cellphone stores and pricey restaurants. For others, it’s the endless beaches with children whooping it up. But for nearly everyone who visits Gaza, often with worry of danger and hostility, what’s surprising is the fact that daily life, while troubled, often has the staggering quality of the very ordinary.

The pictures show that life is going on in a very normal fashion. They depict a busy intersection in Rafah, a Gaza beach scene, shoppers in Gaza city where wedding dresses are on sale, and fishermen and farmers. Even the photos that show the less happy side of Gaza – a girl living in a tent, a crowded tenement, and a pregnant widow whose husband died of unspecified war-related injuries (had he been a truly innocent bystander who fell to Israeli fire, we probably would have been told as much, which means it’s just as likely as anything else that he was a Hamas terrorist who died in a “work accident” when explosives blew up prematurely or that he was killed while trying to kill Israelis) – show scenes that are not exactly depictions of the Israeli atrocities that so many around the world are so worked up about.

Even more interesting is what the pictures don’t show. None tell us about the Islamist government of the region, which is imposing on the people not only its vow of war to the death against Israel but also an extremist religion. None, not even the saddest picture, tells the reader the true context of life in Gaza: the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to make peace despite many offers of statehood and recognition from Israel. And none show the fact that the region was completely evacuated by Israel five years ago, but instead of using their independence to better their lives, the Palestinians have chosen more war.

While pictures can tell us a lot about Gaza and even make it plain that life there isn’t all that terrible, they can’t tell us why Hamas and its followers still prefer war to peace.

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The Symbol Fetish

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

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Palestinians Beat Their Swords into Rocks

While marketing gurus in Israel and the United States ponder the proper methodology for “rebranding” the Jewish State to make people think better of it, the Palestinians continue to eschew ad agencies and rely on The New York Times. That’s the only way to explain the Gray Lady’s curious dispatch today, which claims that the Palestinians have put away their decades-long predilection for violence and become disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.

According to the Times’s Ethan Bronner, “Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested.” How inspiring! It would seem that finally the Palestinians have decided to beat their swords into plowshares and find a way to live with Israel. “It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

But rather than Fatah focusing on improving life in its putative state or encouraging peaceful people-to-people exchanges with their Jewish neighbors, the whole point of this allegedly non-violent action is to merely carry on their struggle against Israel without all the bad press associated with suicide bombings. Hence, the “self-empowerment” that Minister Abu-Libdeh is referring to is a campaign to boycott the goods produced by Jews who live in the territories and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in and around the settlements to give up their jobs. As for the non-violent “protest marches,” they are directed at Israel’s security fence and consist of throwing stones at any Jews present and attempts to damage or destroy the barrier that was erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and committing mass murder. How any of that empowers ordinary Palestinians in any way is left unexplained.

If there is any change of tactics on the part of Fatah, it is only because Israeli military actions in the West Bank and the erection of the fence have effectively taken the terrorist card out of the P.A.’s hand. Take down that fence and terrorism becomes an attractive option again for a movement that continues to vie with Hamas for popularity in a political culture that continues to value the shedding of Jewish blood over the building of an economy.

Thus it is hard to escape the conclusion that even the most attractive manifestation of Palestinian nationalism is still obsessed with expunging any manifestation of Jewish life around them. Far from a “third way,” as Bronner claims it to be for Palestinians who are frustrated with the “failure” of either terrorism or diplomacy to achieve their goals, the new tactic seems to be merely a way of creating pressure on Israel to lower its guard and make terrorism a bit easier. And if their goal was merely to declare a Palestinian state (as Bronner says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants to do in 2011) what is the point of the ongoing obsession with eradicating the scattered Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank as a precondition for statehood? Apparently, the notion of sovereignty is only meaningful for them if every Jew has been thrown out of the territory.

More to the point, diplomacy hasn’t failed the Palestinians. Rather, it is the Palestinians who have failed to embrace the diplomatic option as 17 years of peace talks have proved that their leadership isn’t interested in taking yes for an answer since they have repeatedly refused Israel’s offers of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, including a share of Jerusalem. The last refusal came in 2008 when the same PA that now claims to be pursuing non-violence turned down Ehud Olmert. Thus, the attempt to convince the world that this is an argument about settlements or the fence (which, as Bronner notes, has made of the village of Bilin an international tourist attraction for celebrities, such as Rajmohan Gandhi or Martin Luther King III, who want to get a little attention for bashing Israel) rather than an ongoing existential struggle against any manifestation of Zionism, is absurd.

While marketing gurus in Israel and the United States ponder the proper methodology for “rebranding” the Jewish State to make people think better of it, the Palestinians continue to eschew ad agencies and rely on The New York Times. That’s the only way to explain the Gray Lady’s curious dispatch today, which claims that the Palestinians have put away their decades-long predilection for violence and become disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.

According to the Times’s Ethan Bronner, “Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested.” How inspiring! It would seem that finally the Palestinians have decided to beat their swords into plowshares and find a way to live with Israel. “It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

But rather than Fatah focusing on improving life in its putative state or encouraging peaceful people-to-people exchanges with their Jewish neighbors, the whole point of this allegedly non-violent action is to merely carry on their struggle against Israel without all the bad press associated with suicide bombings. Hence, the “self-empowerment” that Minister Abu-Libdeh is referring to is a campaign to boycott the goods produced by Jews who live in the territories and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in and around the settlements to give up their jobs. As for the non-violent “protest marches,” they are directed at Israel’s security fence and consist of throwing stones at any Jews present and attempts to damage or destroy the barrier that was erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and committing mass murder. How any of that empowers ordinary Palestinians in any way is left unexplained.

If there is any change of tactics on the part of Fatah, it is only because Israeli military actions in the West Bank and the erection of the fence have effectively taken the terrorist card out of the P.A.’s hand. Take down that fence and terrorism becomes an attractive option again for a movement that continues to vie with Hamas for popularity in a political culture that continues to value the shedding of Jewish blood over the building of an economy.

Thus it is hard to escape the conclusion that even the most attractive manifestation of Palestinian nationalism is still obsessed with expunging any manifestation of Jewish life around them. Far from a “third way,” as Bronner claims it to be for Palestinians who are frustrated with the “failure” of either terrorism or diplomacy to achieve their goals, the new tactic seems to be merely a way of creating pressure on Israel to lower its guard and make terrorism a bit easier. And if their goal was merely to declare a Palestinian state (as Bronner says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants to do in 2011) what is the point of the ongoing obsession with eradicating the scattered Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank as a precondition for statehood? Apparently, the notion of sovereignty is only meaningful for them if every Jew has been thrown out of the territory.

More to the point, diplomacy hasn’t failed the Palestinians. Rather, it is the Palestinians who have failed to embrace the diplomatic option as 17 years of peace talks have proved that their leadership isn’t interested in taking yes for an answer since they have repeatedly refused Israel’s offers of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, including a share of Jerusalem. The last refusal came in 2008 when the same PA that now claims to be pursuing non-violence turned down Ehud Olmert. Thus, the attempt to convince the world that this is an argument about settlements or the fence (which, as Bronner notes, has made of the village of Bilin an international tourist attraction for celebrities, such as Rajmohan Gandhi or Martin Luther King III, who want to get a little attention for bashing Israel) rather than an ongoing existential struggle against any manifestation of Zionism, is absurd.

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False Charges of Israeli Racism Are No Defense of Obama’s Bias

Roger Cohen’s decision to join the crowd piling on Israel with a column that seeks to fan the flames of anger at Israel over the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was to be expected. Just about everything the Times columnist has written in the last year, including his shameful apologia for Iran’s dictators, has been related to his animus for Israel. Cohen’s bile is nothing new. Nor is his absurd characterization of a housing project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem as an example of “the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine” or the “cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood.” If the Palestinians wanted their own sovereign state with its capital in part of Jerusalem, they could have had it in 2000 or in 2008 when the Israelis offered it to them. They don’t, but rather than focus on the fact that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but about Israel’s existence, Israel-bashers like Cohen pretend that it’s all the fault of the Jews for insisting on their right to live in Jerusalem.

But Cohen’s column concludes with a new slur: the idea that the hostility with which most Israelis view Barack Obama is the result of racism. He writes that a cartoon in Ma’ariv depicts “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot.” But this is, he helpfully points out, not a symbol of an American trying to put an Israeli politician in hot water but “the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.”

Israel’s liberal critics in this country are flummoxed by the fact that Obama is the least-liked American president by Israelis since Jimmy Carter. But rather than admit that this is the result of the administration’s conscious decision to distance itself from the Jewish state, writers like Cohen spin this understandable antagonism as being somehow the result of an Israeli character flaw. This is not the first time that the notion of Israeli racism has been claimed as the source of Obama’s unpopularity. On March 8, on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner made the same claim when they discussed Obama’s low standing in Israel, though Bronner tried to put in some sort of context:

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know.

But had Barack Hussein Obama come into office ready to make good on his campaign pledges of support for Israel and not chosen to pick pointless fights with Israel’s government or downplay the threat from Iran, his poll numbers would be very different. George W. Bush also came into office with low Israeli popularity ratings, but he proved his friendship for the Jewish state with actions that eventually overshadowed the hostility most Jews felt for his father. Had Obama not sought to downgrade the alliance with Jerusalem, no one would be talking about the color of his skin having any impact on the way Israelis think of him. The attempt to blame the justified skepticism of Israelis about Obama’s intentions toward their country on Jewish racism is nothing but a contemptible slur.

Roger Cohen’s decision to join the crowd piling on Israel with a column that seeks to fan the flames of anger at Israel over the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was to be expected. Just about everything the Times columnist has written in the last year, including his shameful apologia for Iran’s dictators, has been related to his animus for Israel. Cohen’s bile is nothing new. Nor is his absurd characterization of a housing project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem as an example of “the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine” or the “cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood.” If the Palestinians wanted their own sovereign state with its capital in part of Jerusalem, they could have had it in 2000 or in 2008 when the Israelis offered it to them. They don’t, but rather than focus on the fact that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but about Israel’s existence, Israel-bashers like Cohen pretend that it’s all the fault of the Jews for insisting on their right to live in Jerusalem.

But Cohen’s column concludes with a new slur: the idea that the hostility with which most Israelis view Barack Obama is the result of racism. He writes that a cartoon in Ma’ariv depicts “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot.” But this is, he helpfully points out, not a symbol of an American trying to put an Israeli politician in hot water but “the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.”

Israel’s liberal critics in this country are flummoxed by the fact that Obama is the least-liked American president by Israelis since Jimmy Carter. But rather than admit that this is the result of the administration’s conscious decision to distance itself from the Jewish state, writers like Cohen spin this understandable antagonism as being somehow the result of an Israeli character flaw. This is not the first time that the notion of Israeli racism has been claimed as the source of Obama’s unpopularity. On March 8, on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner made the same claim when they discussed Obama’s low standing in Israel, though Bronner tried to put in some sort of context:

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know.

But had Barack Hussein Obama come into office ready to make good on his campaign pledges of support for Israel and not chosen to pick pointless fights with Israel’s government or downplay the threat from Iran, his poll numbers would be very different. George W. Bush also came into office with low Israeli popularity ratings, but he proved his friendship for the Jewish state with actions that eventually overshadowed the hostility most Jews felt for his father. Had Obama not sought to downgrade the alliance with Jerusalem, no one would be talking about the color of his skin having any impact on the way Israelis think of him. The attempt to blame the justified skepticism of Israelis about Obama’s intentions toward their country on Jewish racism is nothing but a contemptible slur.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Clark Hoyt’s “attempt to placate the barking cadre of anti-Israel watchdogs” by suggesting that the Gray Lady’s Jerusalem bureau chief be sacked because his son is in the Israeli army comes to naught. Executive editor Bill Keller — yes, a broken clock is right twice a day — says Ethan Bronner can stay put.

Jay Nordlinger reminds us that Sarah Palin is one of the few politicians to say she “loves” Israel.

Sounds like a joke: the Obami’s terrorism policies are so untenable, even MSNBC reporters don’t buy the White House spin any more. But it’s true.

Steven Calabresi is fed up with the excuse-mongering: “The Obama Administration’s claims that ‘Bush did it too’ sound pathetic coming from a President who won election by promising to be an agent of change and hope who would alter our politics and the way things are done in Washington. … Is Miranda any less stupid because prior presidents have implemented it rather than pushing the Supreme Court to scrap the decision? The claim that ‘Bush did it too’ sounds uncomfortably like the arguments I get from my grade school children when I correct them for having done something wrong.”

And speaking of change, Bill Kristol writes: “Perhaps embracing the concept of  ‘regime change’ spooks the Obama administration. It’s awfully reminiscent of George W. Bush. But one great failure of the Bush administration was its second-term fecklessness with respect to Iran. Bush kicked the Iran can down the road. Does Obama want an achievement that eluded Bush? Regime change in Iran — that would be an Obama administration achievement that Joe Biden, and the rest of us, could really celebrate.”

Andy McCarthy explains why the Richard Reid case is a poor example for the Obami to cite in justifying its criminal-justice approach to terrorism. “When Reid tried to blow up his airliner, 9/11 had just happened. We had not spent eight years grappling with the question of how international terrorists who carry out attacks in the United States should be dealt with. It is important to remember that there was no military-commission system in place when Reid was captured. President Bush had issued the executive order authorizing the Defense Department to set up the system, but that had not been done yet. It wasn’t ready until March 2002.”

What a difference a year makes: “After miserable House elections in ’06 and ’08 saw the GOP virtually disappear in the northeast, it was hard not to write the party’s obituary in the region. No GOPers were left standing in New England, and just 3 remained in the 29-member NY delegation. It only worsened in ’09, when the GOP failed to hold a rural sprawling CD in upstate NY, dropping its representation in the state to just 2 members. But evidence suggests that the ’10 wave that’s building for the GOP could even manage to reach the untouchable Northeast.” Democrats Tim Bishop in Suffolk County and  Bill Delahunt in Massachusetts look especially vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of independents disapprove of Obama’s performance.

What would Republicans do without opponents like this? “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is rewriting a jobs bill after Democrats complained of too many concessions to Republicans. Reid announced Thursday that he would cut back on the jobs bill Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced only hours earlier, essentially overruling the powerful chairman.”

Maybe outsiders did bump off an Iranian nuclear scientist.

Clark Hoyt’s “attempt to placate the barking cadre of anti-Israel watchdogs” by suggesting that the Gray Lady’s Jerusalem bureau chief be sacked because his son is in the Israeli army comes to naught. Executive editor Bill Keller — yes, a broken clock is right twice a day — says Ethan Bronner can stay put.

Jay Nordlinger reminds us that Sarah Palin is one of the few politicians to say she “loves” Israel.

Sounds like a joke: the Obami’s terrorism policies are so untenable, even MSNBC reporters don’t buy the White House spin any more. But it’s true.

Steven Calabresi is fed up with the excuse-mongering: “The Obama Administration’s claims that ‘Bush did it too’ sound pathetic coming from a President who won election by promising to be an agent of change and hope who would alter our politics and the way things are done in Washington. … Is Miranda any less stupid because prior presidents have implemented it rather than pushing the Supreme Court to scrap the decision? The claim that ‘Bush did it too’ sounds uncomfortably like the arguments I get from my grade school children when I correct them for having done something wrong.”

And speaking of change, Bill Kristol writes: “Perhaps embracing the concept of  ‘regime change’ spooks the Obama administration. It’s awfully reminiscent of George W. Bush. But one great failure of the Bush administration was its second-term fecklessness with respect to Iran. Bush kicked the Iran can down the road. Does Obama want an achievement that eluded Bush? Regime change in Iran — that would be an Obama administration achievement that Joe Biden, and the rest of us, could really celebrate.”

Andy McCarthy explains why the Richard Reid case is a poor example for the Obami to cite in justifying its criminal-justice approach to terrorism. “When Reid tried to blow up his airliner, 9/11 had just happened. We had not spent eight years grappling with the question of how international terrorists who carry out attacks in the United States should be dealt with. It is important to remember that there was no military-commission system in place when Reid was captured. President Bush had issued the executive order authorizing the Defense Department to set up the system, but that had not been done yet. It wasn’t ready until March 2002.”

What a difference a year makes: “After miserable House elections in ’06 and ’08 saw the GOP virtually disappear in the northeast, it was hard not to write the party’s obituary in the region. No GOPers were left standing in New England, and just 3 remained in the 29-member NY delegation. It only worsened in ’09, when the GOP failed to hold a rural sprawling CD in upstate NY, dropping its representation in the state to just 2 members. But evidence suggests that the ’10 wave that’s building for the GOP could even manage to reach the untouchable Northeast.” Democrats Tim Bishop in Suffolk County and  Bill Delahunt in Massachusetts look especially vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of independents disapprove of Obama’s performance.

What would Republicans do without opponents like this? “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is rewriting a jobs bill after Democrats complained of too many concessions to Republicans. Reid announced Thursday that he would cut back on the jobs bill Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced only hours earlier, essentially overruling the powerful chairman.”

Maybe outsiders did bump off an Iranian nuclear scientist.

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Everything You Need to Know About Jewish-Arab Dialogue in America

It is a staple of well-meaning community-relations work as well as journalism: the tale of two people from clashing groups who are rising above their differences to forge a friendship on behalf of a common goal. The New York Times provides a classic example in today’s sports section, which tells the story of two members of Princeton University’s women’s basketball team: “Princeton Duo, Palestinian-American and Jewish, Puts Aside Politics.” It’s a feel-good feature about Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky, who are close friends and teammates on a good Tiger hoops squad.

But while the friendship seems genuine, the premise of the piece, that the two have “put aside politics,” isn’t even close to being true. While Rasheed is a fervent supporter of Palestinian nationalism and a critic of the “Israeli government,” Polansky has no such commitment to the other side of that argument. She is merely the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. She was, we are told, “raised Jewish.” But whatever that means, it didn’t include any strong feelings about the State of Israel or Zionism. “None of that political stuff that is going on the other side of the world is that important to me,” Polansky says. That’s all well and good. Rasheed has the right to enthusiastically support her relatives’ political cause; and Lauren Polansky has the right not to give a hoot about the right of the Jewish people to their own state in their historic homeland or their right of self-defense against Palestinians who wish to destroy that state for the sake of their own conception of a just solution to the conflict.  Just don’t tell us this is a tale of two people who have risen above a conflict to make friends — because there is clearly no conflict between the two on this issue. Rasheed cares about her cause, and Polansky is indifferent to it.  The piece is clearly imbalanced — the Palestinian mother is allowed to pose as tolerant because she claims to “love” Polansky despite the fact that she is Jewish — but that is almost unimportant, as there is really no dialogue about the conflict going on here to rise above.

This is, of course, all too familiar to observers of more formal attempts at Jewish-Arab dialogue in this country. Inevitably, they consist of Arabs who are passionately opposed to Israel alongside Jews who either completely agree with the Arabs or, as is the case with Lauren Polansky, have no strong convictions about the issues. Such exchanges do nothing to enhance the cause of community relations or peace because they merely reinforce the Arabs’ conviction that they are in the right without causing them to question any of their own premises. That so many American Jews play this game to enhance their own sense of themselves as broad-minded and pro-peace is absurd and another testament to the truth of Edward Alexander’s dictum that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.”

A better example of a story of Jews and Arabs rising above their differences was printed in the Times last week. In it, Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner wrote about two families whose children were wounded in the fighting around Gaza who have bonded while spending time alongside each other in the hospital. Its virtue lies not only in its recounting of two tragedies — a little Israeli boy critically wounded by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza and a Palestinian girl paralyzed by a missile fired at the Hamas terrorists — but also in that it mercifully eschews the sort of political cant and smarmy writing that was on display in the story about the Princeton students.

It is a staple of well-meaning community-relations work as well as journalism: the tale of two people from clashing groups who are rising above their differences to forge a friendship on behalf of a common goal. The New York Times provides a classic example in today’s sports section, which tells the story of two members of Princeton University’s women’s basketball team: “Princeton Duo, Palestinian-American and Jewish, Puts Aside Politics.” It’s a feel-good feature about Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky, who are close friends and teammates on a good Tiger hoops squad.

But while the friendship seems genuine, the premise of the piece, that the two have “put aside politics,” isn’t even close to being true. While Rasheed is a fervent supporter of Palestinian nationalism and a critic of the “Israeli government,” Polansky has no such commitment to the other side of that argument. She is merely the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. She was, we are told, “raised Jewish.” But whatever that means, it didn’t include any strong feelings about the State of Israel or Zionism. “None of that political stuff that is going on the other side of the world is that important to me,” Polansky says. That’s all well and good. Rasheed has the right to enthusiastically support her relatives’ political cause; and Lauren Polansky has the right not to give a hoot about the right of the Jewish people to their own state in their historic homeland or their right of self-defense against Palestinians who wish to destroy that state for the sake of their own conception of a just solution to the conflict.  Just don’t tell us this is a tale of two people who have risen above a conflict to make friends — because there is clearly no conflict between the two on this issue. Rasheed cares about her cause, and Polansky is indifferent to it.  The piece is clearly imbalanced — the Palestinian mother is allowed to pose as tolerant because she claims to “love” Polansky despite the fact that she is Jewish — but that is almost unimportant, as there is really no dialogue about the conflict going on here to rise above.

This is, of course, all too familiar to observers of more formal attempts at Jewish-Arab dialogue in this country. Inevitably, they consist of Arabs who are passionately opposed to Israel alongside Jews who either completely agree with the Arabs or, as is the case with Lauren Polansky, have no strong convictions about the issues. Such exchanges do nothing to enhance the cause of community relations or peace because they merely reinforce the Arabs’ conviction that they are in the right without causing them to question any of their own premises. That so many American Jews play this game to enhance their own sense of themselves as broad-minded and pro-peace is absurd and another testament to the truth of Edward Alexander’s dictum that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.”

A better example of a story of Jews and Arabs rising above their differences was printed in the Times last week. In it, Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner wrote about two families whose children were wounded in the fighting around Gaza who have bonded while spending time alongside each other in the hospital. Its virtue lies not only in its recounting of two tragedies — a little Israeli boy critically wounded by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza and a Palestinian girl paralyzed by a missile fired at the Hamas terrorists — but also in that it mercifully eschews the sort of political cant and smarmy writing that was on display in the story about the Princeton students.

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Abbas Still Says No to Talks but Everyone Still Blames Bibi

The decision of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a freeze on building homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank has earned him little credit either in Europe or among his country’s Arab foes. Rather than respond to Israel’s gesture aimed at re-starting peace talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raised the ante today by telling the PLO Central Council that he won’t engage in talks unless the international community recognize the 1967 lines as the borders of a Palestinian state and unless Israel halt all construction work not only in the settlements but also in Israel’s capital Jerusalem. In other words, until the Israelis make concessions that ensure that nothing be left to negotiate about, he won’t engage in negotiations.

Abbas, whose term in office will probably be extended without holding an election because his Fatah Party knows it might lose to the Islamists of Hamas, has been telegraphing his lack of interest in talks all year. Given the fact that the Palestinian public still won’t accept any deal with Israel no matter where the borders are set, it’s not likely that this will change. Having turned down a Palestinian state in virtually all of the territories as well as East Jerusalem when former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert offered it last year, it’s hard to understand why anyone would think the supposedly moderate Abbas would make peace now. But the focus of pressure and international speculation about peaceful intentions continues to be put on Netanyahu, not on the Palestinians.

Thus the conceit of Ethan Bronner’s latest “Mideast Memo” in the New York Times, which ponders the sincerity of Netanyahu’s desire for peace. The notion that Netanyahu is possibly undergoing some kind of conversion to a love for peace is, of course, absurd. His formal embrace this past summer of a two-state solution was a departure but he has always been on record as favoring a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The question is whether or not he’s willing to bend to the dictates of the West as to borders or the terms of Palestinian statehood, not whether a peace agreement would provide the Palestinians with sovereignty over part of the country.

But the frustrating aspect of this discussion isn’t so much in the condescension toward Netanyahu, but rather in the way the peace process is framed—that is, in such a way as to put the entire onus on Israel to make concessions, while the Palestinians continue complete refusal to accept the concept of peace with a Jewish state is virtually ignored. The point is, rather than wasting time worrying whether editorial writers at Ha’aretz or President Shimon Peres think Netanyahu is sincere, foreign correspondents based in Israel might want to spend a little more time paying attention to the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians makes peace an impossibility even for their allegedly moderate leader.

The decision of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a freeze on building homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank has earned him little credit either in Europe or among his country’s Arab foes. Rather than respond to Israel’s gesture aimed at re-starting peace talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raised the ante today by telling the PLO Central Council that he won’t engage in talks unless the international community recognize the 1967 lines as the borders of a Palestinian state and unless Israel halt all construction work not only in the settlements but also in Israel’s capital Jerusalem. In other words, until the Israelis make concessions that ensure that nothing be left to negotiate about, he won’t engage in negotiations.

Abbas, whose term in office will probably be extended without holding an election because his Fatah Party knows it might lose to the Islamists of Hamas, has been telegraphing his lack of interest in talks all year. Given the fact that the Palestinian public still won’t accept any deal with Israel no matter where the borders are set, it’s not likely that this will change. Having turned down a Palestinian state in virtually all of the territories as well as East Jerusalem when former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert offered it last year, it’s hard to understand why anyone would think the supposedly moderate Abbas would make peace now. But the focus of pressure and international speculation about peaceful intentions continues to be put on Netanyahu, not on the Palestinians.

Thus the conceit of Ethan Bronner’s latest “Mideast Memo” in the New York Times, which ponders the sincerity of Netanyahu’s desire for peace. The notion that Netanyahu is possibly undergoing some kind of conversion to a love for peace is, of course, absurd. His formal embrace this past summer of a two-state solution was a departure but he has always been on record as favoring a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The question is whether or not he’s willing to bend to the dictates of the West as to borders or the terms of Palestinian statehood, not whether a peace agreement would provide the Palestinians with sovereignty over part of the country.

But the frustrating aspect of this discussion isn’t so much in the condescension toward Netanyahu, but rather in the way the peace process is framed—that is, in such a way as to put the entire onus on Israel to make concessions, while the Palestinians continue complete refusal to accept the concept of peace with a Jewish state is virtually ignored. The point is, rather than wasting time worrying whether editorial writers at Ha’aretz or President Shimon Peres think Netanyahu is sincere, foreign correspondents based in Israel might want to spend a little more time paying attention to the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians makes peace an impossibility even for their allegedly moderate leader.

Read Less




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