Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

The Palestinians’ UN Charade Collapses

In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

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In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

The resolution that was presented to the Security Council was so extreme that Jordan, the sole Arab nation that is currently a member, didn’t want anything to do with it. But, after intense lobbying by the Palestinian Authority representative, the rest of the Arab nations prevailed upon Jordan and they put it forward where it will almost certainly languish indefinitely without a vote since its fate is preordained.

The terms it put forward were of Israeli surrender and nothing more. The Jewish state would be given one year to withdraw from all of the territory it won in a defensive war of survival in 1967 where a Palestinian state would be created. That state would not be demilitarized nor would there be any guarantees of security for Israel which would not be granted mutual recognition as the nation state of the Jewish people, a clear sign that the Palestinians are not ready to give up their century-long war against Zionism even inside the pre-1967 lines.

This is a diktat, not a peace proposal, since there would be nothing for Israel to negotiate about during the 12-month period of preparation. Of course, even if the Palestinians had accepted the slightly more reasonable terms proposed by the French, that would have also been true. But that measure would have at least given the appearance of a mutual cessation of hostilities and an acceptance of the principle of coexistence. But even those concessions, let alone a renunciation of the “right of return,” was not possible for a PA that is rightly fearful of being supplanted by Hamas. So long as Palestinian nationalism remains wedded to rejection of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, no one should expect the PA to end the conflict or actually make peace.

Though many of us have been understandably focused on the question of how far President Obama might go to vent his spleen at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, that petty drama is, as it has always been, a sideshow distraction from the real problem at the core of the Middle East peace process: Palestinian rejectionism.

Though the administration has tirelessly praised PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace in order to encourage him to live up to that reputation, he had other priorities. Rather than negotiate in good faith with the Israelis, Abbas blew up the talks last year by signing a unity pact with Hamas that he never had any intention of keeping. The purpose of that stunt, like the current UN drama, isn’t to make a Palestinian state more likely or even to increase Abbas’s leverage in the talks. Rather, it is merely a delaying tactic, and a gimmick intended to waste time, avoid negotiations, and to deflect any pressure on the PA to either sign an agreement with Israel or to turn it down.

That’s not just because the Palestinians wrongly believe that time is on their side in the conflict, a dubious assumption that some on the Israeli left also believe. The reason for these tactics is that Abbas is as incapable of making peace as he is of making war.

This is not just another case of the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” in Abba Eban’s immortal and quite accurate summary of their actions over the years. It’s that they are so wedded to unrealistic expectations about Israel’s decline that it would be inconceivable for them to take advantage of any opening to peace. That is why they turned down Israeli offers of statehood, including control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem, three times and refused to deal seriously with a fourth such negotiation with Netanyahu last year.

And it’s why the endless quarrels between Obama and Netanyahu over the peace process are so pointless. No matter how much Obama tilts the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction or how often he and his supporters prattle on about time running out for Israel, Abbas has no intention of signing a peace agreement. The negotiations as well as their maneuverings at the UN and elsewhere are nothing but a charade for the PA and nothing Netanyahu could do, including offering dangerous concessions, would change that. The sooner Western leaders stop playing along with their game, the better it will be for the Palestinian people who continue to be exploited by their leaders.

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New Harvard Doctrine: Palestinians Matter More than Jews

Some, but by no means all, Palestinians, think that SodaStream, a company that does business in the West Bank, should be boycotted on the grounds that it profits from the “occupation.” I say some but by no means all because the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement does not represent all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians, for example, balk at the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians cooperating. But the BDS movement views such cooperation, unless it is explicitly anti-Israel, as “normalization.” An observer from Reuters describes Sodastream’s West Bank factory this way: “Inside the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees — a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” That’s the kind of thing BDS cannot tolerate, especially if it means that Palestinians are able to earn a higher wage than they could elsewhere.

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Some, but by no means all, Palestinians, think that SodaStream, a company that does business in the West Bank, should be boycotted on the grounds that it profits from the “occupation.” I say some but by no means all because the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement does not represent all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians, for example, balk at the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians cooperating. But the BDS movement views such cooperation, unless it is explicitly anti-Israel, as “normalization.” An observer from Reuters describes Sodastream’s West Bank factory this way: “Inside the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees — a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” That’s the kind of thing BDS cannot tolerate, especially if it means that Palestinians are able to earn a higher wage than they could elsewhere.

Some, but by no means all, Jews consider the BDS movement anti-Semitic because, among other reasons, it calls for an end to the only Jewish state. This group includes some Harvard University students.

Nonetheless, Harvard University has apparently chosen to stand with BDS. According to a Harvard University Dining Services spokesperson, the HDS has agreed “to remove SodaStream labels on current machines and purchase machines from other companies such as American firms EverPure and Crysalli in the future.” Although BDS has a history of claiming victories prematurely, and although HDS has not said why it is removing SodaStream labels from the machines, it is hard to imagine any justification other than the one set forth by Rachel J. Sandalow, a student leader in the pro-BDS Open Hillel movement: “These machines can be seen as a microaggression to Palestinian students and their families and like the University doesn’t care about Palestinian human rights.” The HDS action followed a meeting which included Harvard professors and administrators, and representatives of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee.

Let’s set aside whether Harvard should make policy based on perceived “microaggressions.” What’s striking here is that Harvard cares only about the “microaggressons” perceived by certain groups. One participant at the meeting apparently pointed out that wiping out SodaStream’s name may be perceived as an endorsement of anti-Israeli politics. That participant wasn’t wrong, but insofar as BDS also represents, for at least some Jewish students, anti-Semitism, it could also be perceived by them as an endorsement of anti-Jewish politics. If Harvard is serious about rooting our microaggressions, then they should take the concerns of those students seriously.

Of course, there is no action Harvard could have taken that would not have offended someone, which tells us something about the wisdom of enacting policies simply to avoid offending people. In the end, you have to choose whom you’re going to offend. Harvard shamefully judged it safest to offend the Jews.

Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, has recognized that academic boycotts against Israel are unacceptable. She should also recognize that this mini-boycott is unacceptable and reverse the decision.

UPDATE: Harvard’s provost Alan M. Garber strongly suggests that this decision will not stand. “Harvard University’s procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals’ views of highly contested matters of political controversy,” Garber wrote in an emailed statement in response to the report of the decision shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. “If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now.” President Faust has requested in investigation.

 

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Exonerating Hamas and Europe’s Moral Bankruptcy

Considering the amount of time that European Union politicians and diplomats channel into obsessing about Israel, one would assume that Europe has no problems of its own. After all, today, in addition to the European Parliament voting in favor of Palestinian statehood there have been reports that the Europeans and Palestinians have now agreed upon a joint resolution to take to the UN Security Council. But perhaps the most glaringly reprehensible decision to have come out of the EU today is the ruling by the union’s General Court that Hamas must be struck from Brussels’s terror blacklist.

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Considering the amount of time that European Union politicians and diplomats channel into obsessing about Israel, one would assume that Europe has no problems of its own. After all, today, in addition to the European Parliament voting in favor of Palestinian statehood there have been reports that the Europeans and Palestinians have now agreed upon a joint resolution to take to the UN Security Council. But perhaps the most glaringly reprehensible decision to have come out of the EU today is the ruling by the union’s General Court that Hamas must be struck from Brussels’s terror blacklist.

The EU’s foreign ministry has reportedly asked the Israeli government not to cause a storm over this ruling and at the moment the official line from Brussels is that they will be appealing the court’s decision. And yet given that at the time of the signing of the short-lived Hamas-Fatah unity deal the EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the move, or the huge amount of funding that the EU channels into Hamas-controlled Gaza, one wonders where exactly EU officials really stand on condemning Hamas. After all, during Israel’s war with the terror group this summer, the EU was particularly vocal in its support for imposing a ceasefire that would leave Hamas in control of Gaza and grant many of Hamas’s key demands in return for more paper promises about ending the rocket fire.

The timing of this ruling also seems more than a little coincidental. Not only is there the expectation of an imminent Palestinian UN statehood bid, but it also coincides with today’s Geneva Convention conference, which among other things is expected to cover issues of international law and alleged war crimes in Gaza. Removing Hamas from the terror list at this time only gives added weight to the arguments of those looking to exonerate Gaza’s Islamist rulers while wishing to have Israel indicted as the key aggressor. And of course, Hamas and its supporters worldwide are hailing the decision as a great breakthrough and victory.

But if there is no politics at work here then it is still far from clear why this ruling came about now, or indeed at all. After all, Europe’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization has been good since to 2001. Apparently, the change in designation only comes after a petition to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the designation of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers as terrorists. It seems that the case of the Tamil militants has then been used to springboard this subsequent ruling on Hamas. Indeed, the court’s reasons for annulling the Council of the European Union’s 2001 decision appears incredibly feeble. The court’s grounds for suddenly ruling that the initial classification was invalid simply rests on the claim that the earlier decision was based on evidence that had come from “the press and Internet” and as such must now be deemed insufficient.

Given everything that happened this summer, Hamas’s terrorist credentials should hardly be in doubt. Indeed, both the court and the EU foreign ministry have insisted that the decision was technical and not political. But as anyone who knows how the EU elites function will attest, this is a world in which the technical is consistently manipulated to suit the political. As Daniel Hannan describes in his excellent book How We Invented Freedom, unlike in the English speaking democracies (and indeed the Jewish tradition), within the EU the rule of law is routinely subordinated in favor of political whims and interests. As Hannan points out, the recent economic bailouts of several European states were illegal under the EU’s own laws, but those inconvenient laws were then simply dismissed when they started getting in the way of the greater quest for European federalism. And when the British press noted this hypocrisy the eurocrats mocked what they saw as “Anglo-Saxon literal-mindedness.”

The reality is that European lawmakers are notorious for manipulating the procedures and language of legality to suit political ends. It is simply not conceivable that those who made this ruling were not to some degree swayed by their own slanted view of Hamas, a group which all too many Europeans regard as oppressed freedom fighters. The EU now has just three months to appeal the court ruling, and if it fails to put together a successful case in that time then presumably the existing legislation that prohibits the funding of Hamas and Hamas activities within Europe will become null and void. Although the UK has at least confirmed that it will unilaterally keep Hamas blacklisted anyway.

And so on the same day that the European Parliament voted in favor of Palestinian statehood and Switzerland convened the signatories of the Geneva Convention to pass judgment on Israel’s activities in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, let it also be remembered that the General Court of the European Union ruled that Hamas should be removed from the union’s terror list. Europe’s moral bankruptcy has never been clearer.

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Writing a Better UN Resolution Won’t Work

European and American diplomats have spent the last week locked in negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian Authority over a draft resolution that may be presented tomorrow to the United Nations Security Council. The measure will be an attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state in the lands taken by Israel in the Six-Day War and to force the Jewish state to accept this diktat. But the effort expended trying to modify the resolution so as to make it a genuine step toward peace is a waste of time. If the Palestinians wanted to negotiate peace with Israel, the conflict would have ended a long time ago. The purpose of this exercise is not to jumpstart negotiations; the purpose is to help the Palestinians avoid them while placing intolerable pressure on Israel to make dangerous concessions.

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European and American diplomats have spent the last week locked in negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian Authority over a draft resolution that may be presented tomorrow to the United Nations Security Council. The measure will be an attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state in the lands taken by Israel in the Six-Day War and to force the Jewish state to accept this diktat. But the effort expended trying to modify the resolution so as to make it a genuine step toward peace is a waste of time. If the Palestinians wanted to negotiate peace with Israel, the conflict would have ended a long time ago. The purpose of this exercise is not to jumpstart negotiations; the purpose is to help the Palestinians avoid them while placing intolerable pressure on Israel to make dangerous concessions.

In theory, the work of the Americans and the Europeans, especially the French, after whom the current draft is being called, is laudable. Knowing that the Palestinians intend to push hard for a resolution at the Security Council, the diplomats have reacted instinctively and sought to create a draft that will do as little harm as possible. In practice that means they have tried to include language that would call for the parties to recognize each other and even hinted at a text that would recognize in some way that Israel is a Jewish state. They’ve also sought to make it require the two sides to negotiate peace before Israel would be forced to withdraw to the 1967 lines and allow a sovereign Palestinian state to be created in the West Bank and part of Jerusalem.

On the surface, that sounds fair to most people. After all, Israel’s position all along has been that it is willing, even eager to negotiate peace with the Palestinians and even the supposedly “hard line” Netanyahu government has said that it was willing to accept a two-state solution. But contrary to the conventional wisdom of the mainstream media, it has never been Israel or Netanyahu that was the obstacle to negotiations or peace. The Palestinians turned down Israeli offers of peace and statehood including Gaza almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008 and blew up the talks with Netanyahu last year because PA leader Mahmoud Abbas feared being put in a position where he would have to either accept an accord or formally turn it down.

What Abbas wants is to avoid being put in such a difficult position again. That is why he has undertaken an end-run around the peace negotiations sponsored by the U.S. The purpose of the stunt is not to jumpstart more talks but to avoid them altogether.

The point is, even if the draft produced by the French and the Obama administration were to include language about mutual recognition of “Palestine” and a specifically Jewish state of Israel and stating that a withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem would have to be preceded by talks between the parties, that wouldn’t motivate the Palestinians to negotiate peace. Indeed, once they have the force of a UN resolution mandating Israel’s complete withdrawal from the territories they would be officially absolved of any need to talk. They would then merely sit back and wait until the two-year deadline expired and then demand, with the support of the rest of a world that is irredeemably hostile to Israel, a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the land including Jerusalem without paying for any of it in terms of mutual recognition, security guarantees, or any real assurance that they are prepared to end the conflict.

The reason why this is not an abstract point is that Palestinian nationalism remains inextricably tied to a war against Zionism that has lasted more than a century. Abbas, the supposed moderate, remains adamantly opposed to recognition of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn and continues to speak of a “right of return”—a measure that is synonymous with Israel’s destruction. Meanwhile his erstwhile partners/rivals, the Hamas terrorist group that operates an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, remain wedded not merely to the principle of Israel’s destruction but to waging active war upon it.

A Security Council resolution that will have the effect of binding international law will not merely further stiffen the resistance of either Hamas or Abbas’s Fatah to making the sort of concessions that are required for peace; it will embolden them never to do so. Indeed, that is why the wording of the final text doesn’t matter. So long as it contains language that demands that Israel withdraw from all of the land, there will be nothing to negotiate about. The Palestinians will simply demand everything and unless it is prepared to repeat the experiment of the Gaza withdrawal in the West Bank, Israel must say no and face mounting international isolation.

This may please some Americans, including the Obama foreign-policy team, which has always sought to pressure the Israelis into wholesale withdrawals regardless of the consequences for its security or its rights to what is disputed territory. But such a resolution is a guarantee that not only is peace impossible but that the process the U.S. has worked so hard to revive will be dead as well.

That is why the Obama administration should cease wasting time negotiating with the French over the language of the resolution and instead concentrate on ensuring that it does not get the nine voters in the Council that would force a vote. If it does come to a vote, the U.S. must, regardless of President Obama’s antipathy for Netanyahu, veto it. The alternative is the end of any hope for peace as well as of any U.S. influence over events.

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Should Obama Care Who Wins Israel’s Knesset Elections?

The latest polls out of Israel show basically a dead heat between Labor and Likud in the upcoming Knesset elections. Likud still has the advantage, because it will likely be easier for Likud to assemble a blocking coalition than for Labor to assemble a governing coalition should they win. But a Labor-Likud race is, in some ways, just like old times. And in the past, when there has been a close left-right election and a Democrat in the White House, the American president tended to dive into the Israeli election and seek to manipulate the outcome in favor of the left. Which raises the question: Will Barack Obama do the same this time around?

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The latest polls out of Israel show basically a dead heat between Labor and Likud in the upcoming Knesset elections. Likud still has the advantage, because it will likely be easier for Likud to assemble a blocking coalition than for Labor to assemble a governing coalition should they win. But a Labor-Likud race is, in some ways, just like old times. And in the past, when there has been a close left-right election and a Democrat in the White House, the American president tended to dive into the Israeli election and seek to manipulate the outcome in favor of the left. Which raises the question: Will Barack Obama do the same this time around?

Actually, the more interesting question is: Should Obama care who wins? Obviously we know he does care. He hates Netanyahu, and Obama and co-president Valerie Jarrett tend to make policy based on personal grievances and petty grudges rather than on basic rationality. So Obama will care who wins, and perhaps even seek to, yet again, influence the results.

But he shouldn’t care. (Even if he did, he shouldn’t meddle, but the days when Obama could be convinced to respect the sovereignty and democracy of allies are over, if they ever existed.) Bibi Derangement Syndrome has caused American politicos and commentators to do very strange things. For Obama, this has meant downgrading the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war. For commentators, this has meant trying to recruit the corrupt and unpopular Ehud Olmert to return to politics.

So, being that the results of the Western left’s interaction with Israeli politics range from terrible to awful, it would benefit everyone involved if Obama gave up on trying to sabotage Israeli governments. And perhaps one way to convince him of that is to explain very clearly why it would be futile for him to meddle anyway.

That’s not because the left doesn’t have a chance to unseat Bibi; indeed it does (though still a longshot). Rather, it’s because the outcome of a Labor victory is unlikely to fundamentally change anything about the peace process.

Obama’s interest in Israel starts and ends with his attempts to get the Jewish state to give away land so he can boost his own presidential legacy. This is in part why Israelis have never come to trust Obama. He doesn’t know much about Israel, and he doesn’t show any interest in learning. For all his mistakes, this was simply not true of Bill Clinton. It was the opposite of true for George W. Bush, who gave moving speeches in Israel that testified to his love of the country and his deep knowledge and appreciation of its people and its history. Obama’s lack of intellectual curiosity is not limited to Israel, of course, but it certainly applies to it.

And so if his interest in Israel starts and ends with the peace process, his interest in Israeli national elections starts and ends there too. Thus Obama might assume that since Labor is traditionally more supportive of the peace process than Likud, and since Labor has added Tzipi Livni, who was Netanyahu’s peace envoy, to its combined electoral slate, therefore this election presents a stark choice between those Obama can manipulate and those Obama cannot. The reality, however, is more complicated, as reality tends to be.

The Israeli right is still benefiting from the collapse in public confidence in the left’s prosecution of national-security policy. Labor has recovered somewhat, but in recent years economic issues have hovered pretty close to the surface for Israeli voters. If Labor wins the election, it almost certainly won’t be seen as a mandate for giving away land to the Palestinians.

This is not only because Labor has less room to maneuver on this issue than the more security-trusted Likud. It’s also because the peace process is at a low point of the modern era, and it’s there because of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. The Clinton administration made some progress on this front, even if the ultimate failure of the Clinton initiative led to a wave of Palestinian violence. The Bush administration made more genuine progress on this front with the Gaza disengagement and the eventual proffer of a generous peace deal from Olmert to Mahmoud Abbas.

The Obama era has seen the resort to a wave of Palestinian violence but no progress leading up to it. In fact, the two sides have been pushed by Obama and Kerry farther apart than they’ve been in decades. When Obama gets involved in the peace process, there is simply no upside, only downside. If Labor wins, there is no room right now for a renewed peace process, and Obama only has two years left in office anyway.

Additionally, Labor would have to do more than just win the election. They would have to put together a governing coalition, and the math is aligned against them. This also mitigates against the Obama agenda; any coalition Labor could put together would probably have to include Avigdor Lieberman and/or the ultra-Orthodox.

It is doubtful that anything significant will change after the Knesset elections in March. That may be disappointing to Obama, but it also might stop him from once again recklessly meddling in the messy world of Israeli politics.

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Natural Gas Strengthens Israel, But It Won’t End Conflict

Give the New York Times credit. Though much of the rest of the journalistic world has long ago given in-depth coverage to the story of how Israel’s development of natural gas fields is in the process of making it an energy superpower, the so-called newspaper of record eventually got around to it. In a story published today, the Times discusses how the development of the offshore Tamar field and the even larger Leviathan site is making the Jewish state energy independent and putting it in a position to become a major source of gas for neighboring Arab nations and eventually Europe. This is an enormous achievement. But despite the implications of this event, the Times is unfortunately exaggerating one aspect of it. While the gas may make Israel even stronger and solidify its ties with moderate Arab nations, it won’t end the conflict with the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

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Give the New York Times credit. Though much of the rest of the journalistic world has long ago given in-depth coverage to the story of how Israel’s development of natural gas fields is in the process of making it an energy superpower, the so-called newspaper of record eventually got around to it. In a story published today, the Times discusses how the development of the offshore Tamar field and the even larger Leviathan site is making the Jewish state energy independent and putting it in a position to become a major source of gas for neighboring Arab nations and eventually Europe. This is an enormous achievement. But despite the implications of this event, the Times is unfortunately exaggerating one aspect of it. While the gas may make Israel even stronger and solidify its ties with moderate Arab nations, it won’t end the conflict with the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

The development of the offshore fields turns the old joke about Moses leading the Jewish people to the only country in the region without oil on its head. As Arthur Hermann wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, these new sources of energy have the ability to make an already growing and strong Israeli economy even greater. Though there are serious questions about Israel’s ability to, even with the help of foreign investors and contributors like the Texas-based Nobel Energy Company that runs Tamar, properly exploit this bonanza, there are also reasons to be concerned about whether the rising tide of hate for Israel in Europe and elsewhere will interfere with the ability of global investors to help fund the effort.

But even the most gloomy pessimist about Israel’s prospects must concede that the energy boom has the ability to both further energize the Jewish state’s economy and to provide a basis for solid economic partnerships with Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.

But some of the optimists quoted in both the COMMENTARY feature and in the Times need to scale back their expectations with respect to the connection between natural gas and peace. Anyone who thinks the prospect of profitable economic partnerships with Israel will convince Palestinians to give up their fight to destroy it have not been paying attention to the history of the conflict.

From the earliest days of the movement that saw the Jews return to their historic homeland, Zionists have dreamed about economic cooperation providing the magic formula that would persuade the Arabs to accept the new reality. In particular, the pre-state Labor Zionist movement was heavily invested in the notion that the Palestinian working class and agricultural laborers would find a common bond with their fellow workers among the Jews and reject the calls for violence from their leaders who came from the local landowners. But this hope went unfulfilled. Far from seeing the obvious benefits to their livelihood that ought to follow from the work the Zionists did in developing the country, Arabs viewed each new economic achievement or infrastructure developed as a threat. The Arabs may have wanted more prosperity but they valued their conception of national honor—which viewed any thought of Jewish sovereignty over even an inch of the country as an intolerable insult and injury—far more than their pocketbooks or the wellbeing of their families.

That trend continued through the period of the pre-state era past the creation of the Jewish state and to the present day. Indeed, were the welfare of individuals or even of plight of the 1948 refugees and their descendants a national priority, the Palestinians would have long ago given up their futile calls for a right of return that would destroy Israel and instead concentrated their efforts on resettlement and acceptance of peace offers that would give them a state on almost all of the land outside of the 1967 lines they claim.

If economic development meant anything to Palestinian public opinion Israel’s retreat from Gaza would have turned out very differently. Though foreign investors purchased the greenhouses to be left behind by departing Israeli farmers, the structures were all torched within hours of the retreat in an orgy of destruction. Nor would former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have found himself a man without a party or even a constituency when he pushed for good government measures and an end to the official Fatah corruption that blights the West Bank.

The natural gas fields do have an indirect impact on the chances of peace. By making Israel stronger, they give the Jewish state the ability to hold on rather than making rash concessions that will only allow the Palestinians to continue the conflict in the future on even more advantageous terms. The “iron wall” that Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote about in the 1920s when he dissented from Labor’s optimism about peace with the Arabs continues to be the only factor that can persuade Arabs to end the conflict as it did with Egypt and Jordan’s governments though most inhabitants of either country are implacably hostile to Israel.

Friends of Israel should be heartened and its foes discouraged by the development of the gas fields. But so long as Palestinian nationalism remains inextricably tied to the cause of eliminating the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, they won’t end the conflict. Nor will they make it easier for Europeans who believe the lies about Israel being a colonial, apartheid state to merely do businesses with it rather than aiding those working for its destruction.

Israel must stand up for its right to its land, not merely its right to security or the possibility that it can help supply Europe with an alternative to Arab or Russian energy sources. If it doesn’t all the natural gas in the world won’t stop the international community from seeking to destroy it.

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Reveling in the Anti-Israel Double Standard

Speaking at the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic conference on Thursday, Danish Ambassador Jesper Vahr told a stunned audience that Israelis should welcome, and indeed expect, the double standard that Europeans apply to the Jewish state. The ambassador spun it as complimentary for Israel to be held to what he described as a European standard, as opposed to the standard applied to Israel’s neighbors. Of course, the truth is that Israel is held not to a “European” standard, but to an entirely unique one. And while Vahr’s suggestion should be considered deeply offensive for what it says about the European view of Arab countries, more concerning still is that this is not the attitude of anyone who wanted to see Israel survive long in such a region.

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Speaking at the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic conference on Thursday, Danish Ambassador Jesper Vahr told a stunned audience that Israelis should welcome, and indeed expect, the double standard that Europeans apply to the Jewish state. The ambassador spun it as complimentary for Israel to be held to what he described as a European standard, as opposed to the standard applied to Israel’s neighbors. Of course, the truth is that Israel is held not to a “European” standard, but to an entirely unique one. And while Vahr’s suggestion should be considered deeply offensive for what it says about the European view of Arab countries, more concerning still is that this is not the attitude of anyone who wanted to see Israel survive long in such a region.

During a panel session at the conference, Denmark’s ambassador to Israel argued that when it comes to how Europe judges Israel, “Israel should insist that we discriminate, that we apply double standards, this is because you are one of us.” With regard to how Europe judges neighboring Arab countries, Vahr told Israelis “those are not the standards that you are being judged by. It is not the standards that Israel would want to be judged by.”

The reality is that far from judging Israel by their own standards, Europeans, like the Obama administration, hold Israel to an entirely unique standard. And rather than making allowances for the terrible existential war Israel has found itself trapped in since its birth, Israel is somehow expected to fight this war without causing any harm to civilians or civilian infrastructure on the other side. More than that, Israel often seems to be expected to avoid fighting its enemies altogether. As we saw this summer, the moment that Israel responded to attacks emanating from Gaza, John Kerry joined the foreign ministers of Europe in the clamor to impose an immediate ceasefire before too much damage could be done to Hamas’s terror infrastructure.

Also noticeable this summer was how international news stations maintained round-the-clock updates on the casualty figures for Gaza. Yet when European powers have gone to war in recent years—in Mali, Libya, and Afghanistan—no such 24-hour tally of the dead and injured was kept running at the bottom of every news screen. Similarly, while European politicians speak of ending the Israeli presence in the West Bank as a matter of great urgency, the ongoing Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus (an EU member state) is hardly something European diplomats are frantically engaged in attempting to resolve.

No less unforgivable were Vahr’s insinuations about the Arab world. Human rights are surely something that should be enjoyed universally, presumably by virtue of everyone sharing a certain common humanity. And international law, if it is to have any kind of validity at all, has to be applied to all nations equally. Yet while the ambassador’s comments may well have been a most brazen expression of the bigotry of low expectations, they also end up doing Israel’s enemies a great service.

If people like Jesper Vahr really think as poorly of Israel’s neighbors as they claim, then surely they would grant Israel some allowances when she is forced to confront these neighbors-turned-assailants. By instead holding Israel to an impossible standard, one that she must always necessarily fall short of, while also constantly excusing the most unspeakable crimes of Israel’s adversaries, these aggressors are awarded the appearance of possessing the moral high ground. Worse still, this double standard has practical ramifications for Israel’s ability to survive and prosper.

As already mentioned, this attitude obliges Israel to fight with both arms tied behind her back even while her enemies employ the most barbaric and underhanded tactics, terrorizing Israel’s civilians while hiding among their own civilian population. Furthermore, Europe’s obsessive focus on Israeli shortcomings, while ignoring the infinitely worse crimes of her neighbors, lays the groundwork for Israel being singled out as a pariah state. It is this supposedly complimentary double standard that Vahr speaks of that has persuaded European banks, pension funds, supermarkets, and city councils to implement boycotts of the Jewish state.

It’s puzzling. If European diplomats really think so highly of Israel and so little of her adversaries, then shouldn’t they be doing everything possible to bolster Israel’s standing in the world? But during the panel event Vahr let something else slip. Asked if his position wasn’t actually demeaning to Palestinians the Danish ambassador retorted that Israel was the stronger party, hence the higher standard expected. And here we have the truth about Vahr’s agenda. In the European worldview–shot through with a reflexive leftism–the Palestinians are the weaker party; the downtrodden victims. Israel, however, is the stronger and wealthier party, and so its military advantage must be inhibited so that the two sides are battling on more of a level playing field. The Palestinians aren’t held to the same standard because they are the “vulnerable” party. Israel, on the other hand, is a Western (and indeed Jewish) power, so must be brought down a peg or two.

Given that Israel faces existential threats European countries could hardly imagine, there is a strong case for granting Israel some allowances. At the very least everyone should be held to the same standard. But if Europeans were serious about assisting the survival of a genuinely liberal democracy, or if they cared about the defeat of religious fanatics and tyrannies, then the last thing they would be doing is serving Israel with a disadvantage in the court of world opinion. But then one has to wonder, how much does the question of Israel’s long-term survival really bother the likes Jesper Vahr and his fellow European diplomats?

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Librarians for BDS: When Librarians Burn Books

Much has been written here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere regarding the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement, its hypocrisy, and the anti-Semitic attitudes which too often seem to motivate some of its most vocal supporters.

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Much has been written here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere regarding the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement, its hypocrisy, and the anti-Semitic attitudes which too often seem to motivate some of its most vocal supporters.

That too many academics conflate scholarship with politics, and believe free speech trumps academic rigor is old news. There is nothing wrong nor intimidating about outsiders shining the limelight on professors who abuse their positions or on any scholarly ideas that those scholars put forth. After all, if professors’ research has been conducted with rigor, it will withstand criticism. But if it has not, then it should be subject to ridicule. Only in an Orwellian world is free speech synonymous with affirmation. And only to the immature or unprofessional must speech codes or stacked panels prevent disapproval.

Professors should be judged by their research and their teaching. University librarians should be held to another standard entirely. A university librarian’s purpose is to accumulate books, journals, and archival materials ranging the gambit of the field irrespective of their own personal politics, or the popular political directives of the day. Once they acquire those resources, a librarian should organize and ease access to it.

And yet, with this statement released by Middle Eastern Studies scholars and librarians endorsing the BDS call and seeking the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, librarians at some major universities are effectively embracing the notion that they will filter acquisitions according to their own political predilections. What librarians such as Mastan Ebtehaj at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University; Blair Kuntz at the University of Toronto; Mahmoud Omidsalar at California State University, Los Angeles; and Anais Salamon at McGill University are effectively saying is that they will not consider acquiring, cataloguing, or making available titles published by such Israeli scholarly presses such as Tel Aviv University Press, or the Truman Institute’s press. That may not literally be burning books, but how shameful it is for university librarians to do the figurative equivalent, filtering knowledge by whether or not they agree with the author or, as BDS demands, whether or not they like his or her nationality or that of the scholar’s publishing company. How ironic it is that librarians—those who should dedicate their professional life to protecting access to knowledge—have read so few of the history books they supposedly guard, for if they did, they might not be comfortable with past parallels to their present actions.

And while librarians might justify affixing their signatures to the statement cited above in being true to their political conscience or even free speech, they should recognize that free speech does not trump or excuse professional responsibility, any more than free speech would absolve a doctor who refused to touch an Israeli patient or who, because of their own personal beliefs, decided to treat cancer patients only with crystals and aromatherapy. Librarians should write what they want, sign what they want, and preach what they want. Professional competence and responsibility are not endlessly subjective. If a librarian at California State University—a state institution—for example, declares openly that he will not fulfill his duty, perhaps then the state should not entrust him with such responsibility. Under no circumstance do librarians who ban books embrace free speech.

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Another Palestinian Sacrificed to Conflict

The death of Ziad Abu Ein is more than another statistic in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A member of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet, Abu Ein died after leading a demonstration that sought to break into land claimed by an Israeli settlement. The 55-year-old died in the aftermath of a clash he initiated with soldiers guarding the site. That was bad enough but, as is par for the course in this situation, the team of doctors who performed an autopsy on him split along national lines. A Palestinian doctor says he died from the blows he got from the soldiers. The Israeli doctors say he had heart disease and died from the stress caused by the incident. Predictably, the U.S. is calling for an inquiry into the incident but rather than get caught up in the question of which doctor is telling the truth, the real answer as to what killed Abu Ein is the commitment of his Fatah Party to perpetuating the conflict rather than accepting a compromise that would end it.

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The death of Ziad Abu Ein is more than another statistic in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A member of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet, Abu Ein died after leading a demonstration that sought to break into land claimed by an Israeli settlement. The 55-year-old died in the aftermath of a clash he initiated with soldiers guarding the site. That was bad enough but, as is par for the course in this situation, the team of doctors who performed an autopsy on him split along national lines. A Palestinian doctor says he died from the blows he got from the soldiers. The Israeli doctors say he had heart disease and died from the stress caused by the incident. Predictably, the U.S. is calling for an inquiry into the incident but rather than get caught up in the question of which doctor is telling the truth, the real answer as to what killed Abu Ein is the commitment of his Fatah Party to perpetuating the conflict rather than accepting a compromise that would end it.

The big picture about the peace process tends to get lost whenever the rights and wrongs of specific incidents become the issue. In this case, the truth is not complicated but is still open to interpretation.

The Palestinian position is that Abu Ein died as result of brutality inflicted on him during the demonstration. Abu Ein and the demonstrators he led into a line of armed soldiers clearly invited a forceful response. Whether he took a blow to the chest or was hit by a tear gas canister, there is no question that those involved in the scrum were likely roughed up. Israeli soldiers may have used too much force or it may be that Abu Ein simply expired because his heart disease made him vulnerable to collapse when he tried to break through a line of armed soldiers.

It should also be remembered that when we speak of him being a Cabinet minister, this was not some bureaucrat in charge of the Palestinian treasury or some other responsible officeholder. He was in fact the Cabinet member in charge of staging provocations against both settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank. A convicted terrorist who took part in a bomb plot that resulted in the murder of two Israeli teenagers, he was eventually released in a prisoner exchange before becoming a PA official. His goal was to create violent confrontations and to generate Palestinian casualties that could be paraded before the world as evidence of Israeli cruelty. The only difference between this and other such violent demonstrations is that Abu Ein was the statistic rather than some anonymous Palestinian.

But no matter what happened when he led the charge into a line of soldiers or what we might think of his job or his background, the real reason for Abu Ein’s death can be attributed to the core ideology of the Palestinian national movement that he served in various violent capacities during his life.

Four times in the last 15 years, the Palestinian Authority Abu Ein served was given a chance to negotiate a peace deal that might have given them independence and statehood. Twice under Yasir Arafat’s leadership they turned offers of sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, as well as Gaza down flat. Once Abbas fled the negotiations after receiving an even more generous offer. In the past year, Abbas stonewalled the negotiations and then blew them up so as to prevent getting even close to an agreement.

It is in that context that the discussions about settlements and the behavior of Israeli soldiers must be understood. The PA has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t want peace or a two-state solution. What it wants is to keep the conflict just hot enough to prevent Abbas from being cornered into agreeing to peace but not so hot as to stop the Israelis from protecting him against his Hamas rivals or to force the U.S. and the Europeans from cutting off the flow of cash that allows the PA kleptocracy to exist.

Like the Palestinian children who are encouraged to pick fights with soldiers by flinging gasoline bombs and rocks in the hope the army will fire back, Abu Ein was sacrificed on the altar of the unending Palestinian war against the existence of Israel. Instead of blaming the Israelis, Palestinians need to look inward and ponder the political culture they have created that makes it impossible for their leaders to consider peace on any terms but the destruction of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. Until that changes, there will never be an end to such confrontations and the inevitable casualties that follow from them.

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Putting Lipstick on the BDS Pig

The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel has had more success in the Kafkaesque confines of the modern American university than in the real world. Yet even in the academy, where both the rule of law and basic constitutional rights are heavily curtailed and anti-Semitism is tolerated if not fostered, it has begun to lose battles. That’s because a few principled American academics still support academic freedom, and make their argument convincingly. Yet now another group of leftist academics is offering a way to target Israel while maintaining a façade of academic integrity.

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The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel has had more success in the Kafkaesque confines of the modern American university than in the real world. Yet even in the academy, where both the rule of law and basic constitutional rights are heavily curtailed and anti-Semitism is tolerated if not fostered, it has begun to lose battles. That’s because a few principled American academics still support academic freedom, and make their argument convincingly. Yet now another group of leftist academics is offering a way to target Israel while maintaining a façade of academic integrity.

The group is a leftist organization called the Third Narrative, which seeks to replace the prevailing anti-Israel narrative on the left with their own anti-Israel narrative, which they consider morally superior. It’s as though one Illinois governor is claiming to be less corrupt than one of his predecessors. Fine, but let’s remember just how relative your morality is here.

The Third Narrative’s mission statement criticizes the overheated anti-Israel rhetoric of the left, but still wants the left to take aim at Israel:

The Third Narrative initiative is our response to this situation. We hope to engage people on the left who suspect that it is wrong to lay all blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict at the feet of Israeli Jews…but aren’t sure how to respond to Israel’s most vitriolic critics. Some of what these critics say is true, some of their accusations are justified. Some of what Israel’s traditional defenders say is also accurate. When it comes to this conflict, the truth is rarely black or white; it resides in a gray area where advocates on either side typically don’t like to venture. That is where we try to go with The Third Narrative.

In theory, it sounds good. A less hateful left is still thoroughly intellectually dishonest, but still an improvement. (It’s a low bar.) Once fiercely opposed to BDS, the organization now seems to have been opposed to the form the mainstream BDS movement was taking, especially the anti-Semitic umbrella BDS organization. The Third Narrative apparently thinks there’s a third way between BDS and no BDS, as it explained in an open letter titled “A Time for Personal Sanctions”:

That response, we believe, should not take the form of generalized boycotts and other sanctions that indiscriminately target Israeli society and Israeli institutions. Such measures are both unjust and politically counterproductive. In particular, campaigns for boycotts and blacklists of Israeli academia attack the most basic principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange.

Moreover, a response to Israel’s settlement and annexation policies should not suggest that Israel bears exclusive responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, or that, if pressured, Israel could solve it unilaterally. Achieving a just and durable negotiated solution requires constructive efforts by actors on all sides of the intertwined Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts. However, if the door is to be held open to the possibility of a just, workable, and peaceful solution, one requirement is to prevent actions that would sabotage it. For this reason, we propose targeted sanctions to focus on political actors engaged in such sabotage.

Although they single out four Israeli figures to sanction, the point is really to attack Naftali Bennett, the first politician on their blacklist and a rising star in Israeli politics, on the eve of a national election. (Uri Ariel, Moshe Feiglin, and Zeev Hever are the others.)

Signatories to the letter include Michael Walzer (Princeton), Todd Gitlin (Columbia), Alan Wolfe (Boston College), Michael Kazin (Georgetown), and Gershon Shafir (UC San Diego) among others. As you can see from the names, they are not only academics but also writers. And as you might expect from American academics and left-wing journalists, they have no idea what they’re talking about. A read-through of their open letter shows them to be ignorant of basic international law and deceitful about Israeli actions.

They want to sanction Israelis whose opinions they disagree with, but since those Israelis are not professors at Tel Aviv University they can convince themselves they are better than those other BDSniks. This is their version of a kosher BDS. It is nothing of the sort.

Since their concern about political figures getting in the way of the two-state solution is surely genuine, I eagerly await the follow-up open letter detailing the Palestinian figures they’re also sanctioning: figures who support or encourage terrorism, those involved in Palestinian media who fuel incitement; etc.

And why stop there? As they must know, the political figures who do the most to torpedo Israeli-Palestinian peace sit in Tehran. Which Iranian government officials–obviously President Rouhani, but there must be others–will Third Narrative advocate personal sanctions for?

What’s dangerous about the Third Narrative’s supposedly kosher BDS is that it offers the legions of thought police throughout academia an outlet for their anti-Israel fervor that also flatters their unearned sense of academic integrity. But they can put all the lipstick they want on this pig, it won’t make it kosher.

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Another Myth About Israel Debunked; Will Media Acknowledge the Truth?

“Israeli security forces revived a controversial antiterrorism policy,” the New York Times reported in November, “demolishing the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian man who plowed his car into pedestrians last month, killing a baby and a young woman.” Anyone who follows the conflict knew precisely what they were going read, without a doubt, at some point in the article. And sure enough, Times reporter Jodi Rudoren gets there eventually: Israel halted “the widespread practice in 2005, when a commission found that it rarely worked as a deterrent.” For a decade, this claim has been used against Israel. And now we know it’s false.

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“Israeli security forces revived a controversial antiterrorism policy,” the New York Times reported in November, “demolishing the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian man who plowed his car into pedestrians last month, killing a baby and a young woman.” Anyone who follows the conflict knew precisely what they were going read, without a doubt, at some point in the article. And sure enough, Times reporter Jodi Rudoren gets there eventually: Israel halted “the widespread practice in 2005, when a commission found that it rarely worked as a deterrent.” For a decade, this claim has been used against Israel. And now we know it’s false.

In an important piece on the issue on Monday, Yishai Schwartz explained how this narrative took hold:

The problem is, the commission conducted no serious study of the demolitions’ effects, and the latest evidence actually points in the opposite direction. The 2005 Times article on which much of the subsequent coverage seems to have been based is itself an overstatement of a contemporaneous account in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. But Haaretz made no claims about conclusive findings, simply stating that the military committee recommended ending the program and referencing a general, preliminary “study of the first 1000 days of the conflict” from 2003 that merely stated, “as of today, there is no proof” of effective deterrence from the demolitions.

The ineffectiveness trope was just simple enough for the media to understand. Schwartz explains that the Israeli leadership was looking for a justification to end the practice of demolishing the homes of terrorists. Violence from the intifada had been waning, and Israeli leaders wanted a return to normalcy of sorts.

The problem is that if home demolitions worked, how could they justify ending them? The commission’s report was not based on a real study of the practice and was never intended to be the last word on the topic. It was simply to give the political class cover. Yet the media absorbed the spin all too well, and it became conventional wisdom.

Now that conventional wisdom is about to be upended. Schwartz writes of a forthcoming study by Israeli academics (who personally weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the practice), which comes to a very different conclusion:

In fact, they found two separate correlations. Precautionary demolitions resulted in a significant increase in suicide attacks, a “48.7 percent increase in the number of suicide terrorists from an average district,” according to the study. By contrast, punitive demolitions led to a significant decrease in terror attacks, between 11.7 and 14.9 percent, in the months immediately following the demolition. The study suggests that, at least in the aggregate, terrorists can be understood as “rational actors”: “The results support the view that selective violence is an effective tool to combat terrorist groups and that indiscriminate violence backfires.”

This will not be the last word on the debate over home demolitions, nor should it be. It’s only one study, a snapshot of one (albeit important) time period. Additionally, you can separate the moral implications of the policy from its efficacy, to some degree.

I say “to some degree” because they are connected in one respect: the media can paint Israel as an irrationally violent actor if it can also declare that Israel knows the demolitions don’t have practical benefits. Of course, even if Israel believes it deters terrorism, that does not automatically give it a clean ethical bill of health. Lots of tactics would deter terrorism, many of them repellant. Israeli leaders must still grapple with the moral considerations of the policy.

There’s also a difference in how the policy is implemented. What’s interesting is that the clearly “more moral,” so to speak, use of the tactic is also more effective. Yet punitive demolitions, as Schwartz notes, can still be considered by critics to be a form of collective punishment. (Who else lives in the home? What was their involvement in the terrorist attack? These things matter a great deal.)

But there is far less ambiguity on the media’s role in all this. How this narrative formed actually belongs on the syllabus of a Media Bias 101 course (which Rudoren should take–or teach, depending on how you feel about media bias against Israel). There was a politicized commission used to produce a foregone conclusion to support a decision political leaders had already made. On top of this politicized intelligence/research, you had Haaretz report it–a sure sign of trouble ahead. When Haaretz reports something, despite its well-known truthfulness deficiency, the leftist media abroad picks it up. (Haaretz is not a newspaper for Israelis but rather for foreign correspondents.)

That means the New York Times will be among the first to broadcast it, especially if it’s critical of Israel’s security establishment, and regardless of its accuracy. That can (and will) persist even after initial stories get debunked, which is why the Western reporting on Israel is so unimaginably terrible. Will the Times stop referencing the now debunked narrative on housing demolition? Whether they do will indicate if there is still any room at all for the facts in the paper’s reporting on Israel.

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BDS Is About Israel, Not Settlements

The campaign to boycott Israel–the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement–is undoubtedly a fringe campaign. But where this small band of anti-Israel extremists have experienced some traction is among those whom they have been able to convince that BDS is only against settlements. The argument goes that a boycott of Israeli settler produce will somehow persuade the Israelis to abandon their security concerns and bring an end to their so-called occupation of the West Bank. Yet one only has to look to how BDS conducts its campaigns in practice to see that this alleged concern with the “occupation” is just one of many disingenuous claims from what is, at its heart, an entirely disingenuous movement.

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The campaign to boycott Israel–the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement–is undoubtedly a fringe campaign. But where this small band of anti-Israel extremists have experienced some traction is among those whom they have been able to convince that BDS is only against settlements. The argument goes that a boycott of Israeli settler produce will somehow persuade the Israelis to abandon their security concerns and bring an end to their so-called occupation of the West Bank. Yet one only has to look to how BDS conducts its campaigns in practice to see that this alleged concern with the “occupation” is just one of many disingenuous claims from what is, at its heart, an entirely disingenuous movement.

Listening to the words of BDS leaders such as Omar Barghouti you soon realize that the end goal of BDS is nothing less than the total elimination of the Jewish state. But unlike Barghouti, most of the BDS movement has the common sense not to state this so publicly. As such, BDS efforts have been ostensibly focused around boycotting settlements; although in practice this still allows campaigners to attack most Israeli companies by making flimsy arguments about guilt by association. So for instance the Israeli national theater company Habima was targeted on the grounds that it had previously performed in settlements. In Europe this argument is beginning to take hold. Supermarket chains, churches, city councils, and now EU diplomats are all coming round to the idea that boycotting the Jewish state outright may be going too far, but boycotting Jews who dare to live on the “wrong side” of a defunct armistice line is perfectly acceptable.

For BDS, SodaStream was the ideal target. This high-profile company, with its popular products and Super Bowl commercials featuring Scarlett Johansson, had one of its factories just to the east of Jerusalem in the West Bank. The fact that SodaStream boasted of being the largest commercial employer of Palestinians in the world did nothing to dissuade BDS from its efforts. Indeed, just a few months back when it was announced that SodaStream would relocate its factory from the West Bank to the Israeli Negev, BDS expressed no remorse for the Palestinian workers losing their jobs, but only exuberance at their own apparent victory.

Still, now that SodaStream is relocating from the West Bank BDS will be dropping the boycott, right? Wrong! As if proof was needed that fleeing the settlements will do nothing to appease those who simply hate the Jewish state in its entirety, BDSniks have said that they will continue to boycott SodaStream. Now the pretext for boycotting is the allegation that the new factory will be based “close to” a town being built to provide local Bedouin with housing. And supposedly this renders SodaStream “implicated in the displacement of Palestinians.” One can scarcely believe that the movement’s leaders believe such claims, but then these are the feeble excuses of bigots trying to hide and justify their unacceptable agenda.

The true character of BDS is becoming increasingly apparent as the boycotters shift their attention toward targets that even they can’t bracket in with settlements and “stolen land,” except of course for the fact that BDS clearly considers all of Israel stolen land and any Jewish enterprise on that land to be a pollution. Israeli-Arabs are of course exempt from boycotts. Because at its core BDS is a movement that makes ethnicity the dividing line that determines who is to be boycotted and who isn’t. As such, it comes as no surprise that BDS activists in the UK have launched action against Sabon, an Israeli cosmetics company that has always been based within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Sabon opened its first luxury cosmetics store in London at the beginning of November and BDSers were demonstrating outside within just four days of its arrival. Over the weekend activists staged a particularly aggressive gathering, in which one of the ringleaders was heard employing the most shameless blood libel language, barking coldly down the megaphone: “you don’t want to be going into this shop, buying beautiful smelling lotions to smear over your body, because if you do you will be smearing yourself in the blood of Palestinians.” And yet this particular Saturday morning protest appears to have been spearheaded by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, the extremist fringe of an already extremist sect.

As can be seen in the video, the activists are few in number and their efforts have consistently failed to persuade consumers to reject Israeli products. Yet by standing in front of the entrance of Israeli owned stores, intimidating shoppers from stepping inside, it only takes a handful dedicated fanatics to get a stranglehold on a small store. Just a few streets over from the new Sabon outlet is the storefront that was once home to London’s Ahava Dead Sea spa. But in 2011 BDS activists succeeded in hounding Ahava out, not by persuading customers with their arguments, but rather by creating so much noise and disturbance on the salubrious Covent Garden street that–under pressure from surrounding businesses–the building owner eventually discontinued Ahava’s lease. The protesters now seek to do the same to Sabon simply because it, like Ahava and SodaStream, is owned by Israeli Jews.

A few years ago the fierce critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein attacked some on his own side, calling BDS “a cult.” It is a cult, but more than that, it’s also a fundamentally racist movement, and that is what the world needs to be hearing about BDS.

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Remembering Forced Expulsions in the Arab World

There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

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There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

Attending the concurrent NGO fair, I spent some time at the booth of the Association des Marocains Victimes d’Expulsion Arbitraire d’Algérie (AMVEAA). Basically, there story is this: On December 18, 1975, the Algerian government expelled 45,000 families—about 500,000 people—who were legally resident in Algeria, and many of whom had lived in Algeria for decades. Houari Boumediene, the chairman of Algeria’s Revolutionary Council, ordered the Moroccans detained and expelled in response to the Moroccan “Green Marchinto the Western Sahara.

The condition of the Moroccans’ expulsion was appalling, and it was done without prior notice. Algerian police hunted down Moroccans wherever they could be found and dumped them across the border. Many Moroccans died, and the humanitarian crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of individuals strained the Moroccan government. Meanwhile, the deportation split mixed families, and the expelled Moroccans lost pensions, and left behind bank accounts and personal property.

AMVEAA wants restitution for lost property and cites language from the UN’s Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families to support their claim.

Realistically, the chance they will collect is between zero and null. But, there case does illustrate just one more case—the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands following Israel’s independence being the other—of the hypocrisy of the refugee issue. The 500,000 persons expelled from Algeria are greater than the 472,000 Palestinians which the United Nations Mediator on Palestine concluded had left Israel in 1948.

Israel, however, settled the refugees as did Morocco. They are cases to be celebrated, and examples of responsible governance. Why the world continues to subsidize Palestinian refugees rather than disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and handling management of any remaining issue to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is beyond any logic and, indeed, UNRWA’s founding purpose.

Whether or not Algeria comes clean on its actions taken against the backdrop of Cold War animus, let us praise the Moroccans for doing the right thing. It’s time to recognize that Rabat and Jerusalem represent the best practices in refugee resettlement, and UNRWA the worst. Let’s replicate a model that works, and recognize UNRWA not only betrays Palestinians, but refugees around the world, many of whom desperately need aid not to build rockets but rather to get their lives restarted after suffering dislocation and tragedy.

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Bennett Routs Indyk, In a Victory for Truth

Over the weekend, the Brookings Institution held its annual Saban Forum, designed to better facilitate the practice of American think-tankers lecturing Israelis on their own country. The forum heard from high-ranking American and Israeli officials, such as Vice President Joe Biden, professional speech-giver Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the main event was surely the “conversation” between Israeli economy minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party and Middle East arsonist extraordinaire Martin Indyk.

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Over the weekend, the Brookings Institution held its annual Saban Forum, designed to better facilitate the practice of American think-tankers lecturing Israelis on their own country. The forum heard from high-ranking American and Israeli officials, such as Vice President Joe Biden, professional speech-giver Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the main event was surely the “conversation” between Israeli economy minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party and Middle East arsonist extraordinaire Martin Indyk.

Bennett’s challenge was twofold. First, he had to exhibit restraint and treat Indyk as a legitimate interlocutor. Indyk, of course, has spent the past decade and a half representing Democratic U.S. governments in the peace process intent on undermining the sitting Israeli prime minister, subverting Israeli democracy, and poisoning the well by badmouthing Israeli officials to the press behind their backs. The current violent turmoil in and around Jerusalem is a hangover from the failed peace talks. And the failed peace talks were due in large part to Kerry’s team, led by Indyk.

The second part of Bennett’s challenge was to recognize that amid current or former Obama administration officials, he had a tough crowd. That was only exacerbated by the upcoming Israeli elections. Before the last elections liberal American journalists and commentators, whose opinions are considered fringe in Israel but who live in a bubble of unearned self-righteousness here in the States, engaged in a collective freakout over the prospect of Naftali Bennett succeeding. He was projected to win as many as fifteen seats; they projected the end of the world.

Both were wrong: Bennett fell to a late surge by Yair Lapid, and the earth didn’t open up and swallow humanity whole as punishment for the electoral success of religious Zionists. Now there is another Israeli election looming; Bennett is projected to fare rather well; and liberal American commentators and journalists are once again, like the late Harold Camping, marking their calendars for the reckoning.

It was into this atmosphere that Bennett sat down for his on-the-record discussion with Indyk, after which he took questions from the audience. The transcript is here, and I recommend the full discussion, but there are a couple of points worth highlighting.

Bennett’s strategy was to be a forceful defender of Israel without lapsing into humorlessness. He succeeded, and at no point in this discussion was that success more impressive than when Indyk–who took potshots at the Israeli government after the talks’ collapse and was later found to be rambling at a bar to all who would listen about Israel’s perfidy–accused Bennett of being disrespectful to the U.S. government. It was milestone in the annals of hypocrisy, a particular talent of Indyk’s that repeated failure has only sharpened.

But Bennett was unafraid to hit back. He repeatedly made an important point that generally goes ignored in the Western press: Israel’s citizens make their own decisions. He knew his audience, he just refused to kowtow to it. When Indyk kept badgering him about global opinion, Bennett said:

Now, it’s the people of Israel — I want to point something out. The audience here and, you know, these sort of conferences does not at all — if I put a poll here probably Zahava Gal-On would be prime minister and maybe Tzipi Livni number two. The only problem with Israel is that for some strange reason they put the polling booths all across Israel and they actually let the public speak up. And the public, which is a very healthy public, does not think that Jerusalem should be split. It does not think that our land is occupied. It does not want to commit suicide.

Later, Bennett pressed Indyk on the fact that the peace process was supposed to bring, you know, peace. And yet, everyone wants to continue without learning from those failures. When Indyk told Bennett “I just think you live in another reality,” Bennett responded:

How many missiles need to fall on Ashkelon until you’ll wake up? How many? How many people need to die in our country until you wake up from this illusion? You know, the Oslo process took more than a thousand lives in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, and I didn’t hear anyone say, you know what, I made a mistake. When are you going to wake up? When is Tzipi Livni going to wake up?

This will not endear him to his critics on the left, especially in America. But it will be seen as a breath of fresh air to the reality-based community. And when Indyk foolishly propagated the long-debunked myth of the so-called root causes of terrorism that put the blame on Israel, Bennett shot back: “Right, because that’s why ISIS is cutting off heads because of Judea and Samaria. Come on, give me a break.”

One of the most important comments Bennett made was an otherwise unremarkable line about Israel’s reputation. In response to Indyk’s warning of Israel’s isolation, Bennett said that Israel’s government has to learn to change the conversation and challenge the false accusations leveled against its democracy: “if something is false and it’s repeated enough times, it becomes sort of common wisdom. We have to undo that.”

And in this Bennett was also revealing something else: one reason for the rise of Bennett and others on the right is the fact that the international community–including now the Obama administration–pulls the conversation so far to the left that Israel must defend itself. The more the world delegitimizes Israel’s rights, the more Israel will need to put those like Naftali Bennett front and center, to pull the conversation back closer to sanity. It’s ironic that the Martin Indyks of the world lament the rise of people like Naftali Bennett, when they do so much to bring it about.

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An Insider’s Account of Open Hillel

Holly Bicerano is no friend of ours. In her Times of Israel blog, she has defended the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.’s) indefensible divestment vote, denied that Israel’s most recent Gaza incursion was “self-defense,” and complained that Israel is sabotaging Palestinian democracy. It therefore is telling that, for this former member of the Open Hillel Steering Committee and Jewish Voices for Peace, Open Hillel is too dishonest and malicious to command her allegiance.

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Holly Bicerano is no friend of ours. In her Times of Israel blog, she has defended the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.’s) indefensible divestment vote, denied that Israel’s most recent Gaza incursion was “self-defense,” and complained that Israel is sabotaging Palestinian democracy. It therefore is telling that, for this former member of the Open Hillel Steering Committee and Jewish Voices for Peace, Open Hillel is too dishonest and malicious to command her allegiance.

Open Hillel was founded in 2012 at Harvard University. (Aiden Pink’s account of the organization is worth reading in its entirety.) Harvard’s Hillel had refused to co-sponsor an event with Harvard’s Palestinian Solidarity Committee, which supports the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel. According to Hillel International’s “Standards of Partnership,” a Hillel will not “partner with, house, or host” organizations that support BDS. The Open Hillel movement encourages campus Hillels to defy that standard.

Because Open Hillel claims to stand for “inclusivity and open discourse,” and it is hard to be against those things, it has attracted some support. Vassar College and Swarthmore’s Hillel organizations have officially rejected the Standards of Partnership and declared themselves Open Hillels. But Jonathan Tobin and Ben Cohen have warned in these pages that Open Hillel’s talk of inclusiveness is a ploy. The intent of Open Hillel is a hostile takeover of as many Hillels as its members can gain influence over, with a view to turning Hillel, the central Jewish organization in American campus life, into an instrument of the campaign to turn Israel into a pariah state. Bicerano, an insider, says that Open Hillel’s critics are absolutely right.

“While Open Hillel’s stated aims are open dialogue and inclusiveness,” Bicerano explains, “the organization in actuality has something else in mind. The people who claim that Open Hillel’s main objective is to garner support for the BDS movement may not realize just how right they are.” First, leaders of Open Hillel voted to form a committee to explore an “anti-normalization” campaign “to end joint discussions and programs between Jews and Palestinians unless they subscribe to the BDS movement.” Although the committee allegedly was created to foster “open discussion” about anti-normalization, it has in fact, according to Bicerano, stacked discussions in favor of the campaign.

Moreover, Open Hillel never publicly announced the formation of the committee, presumably because any fool can see that one does not “create open dialogue by empowering people who are against it.” Bicerano concludes, based on her experience on the steering committee, that Open Hillel “has fallen into the hands of anti-normalization activists.”

Second, Bicerano has apparently just noticed that students involved in the BDS movement have no interest in inclusiveness or dialogue. “Bringing pro-BDS groups into Hillel,” she has realized, “will not mean more open dialogue and inclusiveness. From disrupting pro-Israel events to blocking Birthright tables, these groups regularly employ tactics that create a hostile atmosphere for pro-Israel students.” Bicerano even concedes that “anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism often go hand in hand.”

Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership are not perfect. For example, Hillel will not host speakers who hold Israel to a “double standard.” This maddeningly vague guideline would seem to rule out liberal Zionists who adamantly oppose BDS but think that the Jewish state should indeed abide by higher standards than most states. But as Bicerano points out, this guideline has been applied in such a way that advocates of a settlement boycott are “already permitted to speak at Hillel.” It is tolerably clear to a fair-minded observer that what Hillel seeks to prevent is not criticism, even harsh criticism, of Israel, but the use of its name to further the destruction of Israel. Bicerano’s insider confirmation that Hillel is, if anything, understating the extent to which Open Hillel is out to destroy it, is welcome.

Note: Legal Insurrection’s account, of which I just became aware, is here and worth reading.

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Does ISIS Threaten Israel?

Popular wisdom has it that ISIS poses no direct threat to Israel. Yet there is no convincing reason for believing that ISIS is somehow innately disinterested in Israel. Right now it might simply be a question of limited means. But that may not stop others inspired by ISIS ideology from affiliating themselves with this most extreme of jihadist terror groups.

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Popular wisdom has it that ISIS poses no direct threat to Israel. Yet there is no convincing reason for believing that ISIS is somehow innately disinterested in Israel. Right now it might simply be a question of limited means. But that may not stop others inspired by ISIS ideology from affiliating themselves with this most extreme of jihadist terror groups.

The most brazen attempt by ISIS-linked militants to attack Israeli targets came last month when an Islamist group from the Sinai hijacked four Egyptian vessels and made off into the southern Mediterranean with the apparent intent to target either Israeli gas installations or Israeli ships further up the coast. That attempt, which took place November 12 and was ultimately foiled by the Egyptian navy, involved an al-Qaeda linked group which now appears to have shifted its allegiances to ISIS. The name of the terror cell in question, “Ansar Bait al-Maqdis” is itself a direct reference to Jerusalem and the land of Israel: “Bait al-Maqdis.” This is one of many Islamist groups operating in the Sinai, several of which are al-Qaeda affiliated and may be inclined to recognize the authority of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the legitimate caliph of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. ISIS itself was after all in part an outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Still, for Israel the influence of ISIS also strikes far closer to home. It is well known that a number of Israel’s Arab and Bedouin citizens have already left to fight with ISIS. So far the numbers in question have been small; Shin Bet is aware of perhaps just thirty such individuals. But more recently there have been reports of ISIS using social media in an attempt to woo Israeli-Arabs with medical expertise to come to ISIS’s assistance. The concern of course is that at some point these battle-hardened individuals will attempt to return to Israel, or that they will simply seek to form cells in Israel itself.

So far rumours of such ISIS linked cells have remained just that. At the time of the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers this summer, a West Bank group claiming to represent ISIS attempted to take responsibility for the kidnapping. In recent days there have been online postings by a group claiming to be “ISIS–Gaza Province.” Naturally Hamas has denied the existence of an ISIS branch in Gaza, but Hamas has had its own struggle with Salafist splinter groups in Gaza and it is conceivable that some of these would identify with ISIS. The number of Palestinians sympathetic to ISIS is impossible to judge right now, but when images appeared of the ISIS flag being displayed on the Temple Mount, this certainly gave Israelis legitimate cause for concern.

Beyond Israel’s own borders ISIS is still being kept at some distance. ISIS is of course strong in Syria, but more to the eastern region of the country. Along Israel’s Golan border there are other extremely hostile Islamist groups, most notably al-Nusra. Israel’s longest border is with Jordan and for the moment secure from ISIS. That said, the Hashemite monarchy has looked particularly weak in recent years and the influx of some 630,000 Syrian refugees into Jordan—a country where a quarter of the population is thought to be sympathetic to Salafism—has hardly been a stabilizing factor. Ironically, the border most secure from ISIS is probably the northern border, on account of the strength of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Nevertheless, ISIS has launched assaults on Lebanese towns along the Syrian border and there is a risk of more intense fighting spreading to that front.

Perhaps the clearest indication of all that ISIS has designs on Israel can be found in the group’s very name. Before rebranding as simply the Islamic State, ISIS went by the Arabic acronym Daesh: al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. Al-Sham refers to the entirety of the Levant, including Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. It is for this reason that some incarnations of pan-Arabism have viewed Palestine as simply being Southern Syria. But for ISIS, the reference to al-Sham makes very clear the full extent of the group’s ambitions.

Over the summer ISIS’s media wing al-Battar released a series of images and statements depicting the Dome of the Rock and threatening the Jews that ISIS is on its way. The Israeli left knows a security sensitive Israeli public will be all the more averse to territorial concessions and so it is natural it should wish to play down the threat from ISIS. That threat may not be immediate, but Israelis should have no illusions about ISIS’s intentions, or indeed the draw ISIS’s ideology may have for some Palestinian militants.

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New Israeli Elections Highlight Obama’s Missed Opportunities

Yesterday it was announced that new Israeli Knesset elections will be held in March. That means today there were rumors, and tomorrow there will be rumors, and so on and so forth until March, of various electoral strategies and party slate maneuverings that could change everything or nothing at all. Today’s rumor started the great Season of Speculation off with a bang: Gideon Sa’ar, Benjamin Netanyahu’s recently-resigned second in command, is reportedly considering challenging Bibi for the Likud leadership in the party’s early-January primary.

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Yesterday it was announced that new Israeli Knesset elections will be held in March. That means today there were rumors, and tomorrow there will be rumors, and so on and so forth until March, of various electoral strategies and party slate maneuverings that could change everything or nothing at all. Today’s rumor started the great Season of Speculation off with a bang: Gideon Sa’ar, Benjamin Netanyahu’s recently-resigned second in command, is reportedly considering challenging Bibi for the Likud leadership in the party’s early-January primary.

There are also rumors that Tzipi Livni, in need of a life raft, will join Labor to bring along enough seats to top a stagnant Likud. Livni has also been acting as though she’s angling for a combined slate with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which was the great centrist hope and therefore, like all great centrist hopes before it, has been fading precipitously since its debut election. Could Livni be some sort of kingmaker for a centrist party? Could she–would she–turn heel on her pedigree and help crown Labor? Will Elijah the Prophet appear from the mists and announce a joint slate with Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi? Hey, it’s the Season of Speculation; anything’s possible.

Americans often find Israeli politics perplexing, and this goes double for the American members of the press. Early elections, and the silly season they inspire, are a fixture of Israeli democracy. Americans are used to a de facto two-party system. But for Israelis looking for an alternative there always seems to be another option or two or ten. So it’s easy for a foreign observer to get caught up in the endless possibilities, even if those possibilities rarely transform into reality.

But the belief in the wide-open character of Israeli leadership at any moment has been a huge mistake for the Obama administration. That’s because the Israeli electorate tends to care less about which specific party has how many seats and more about the general shape of the government.

The key moment that established this pattern in recent years was, not coincidentally, the beginning of the second Netanyahu era. I’ve referred to it before: the 2009 elections saw Israeli voters give Livni’s party one more seat in the Knesset than Bibi’s. But she had no one to form a government with because her potential coalition partners were rightists who didn’t want her at the head of the government. She won the popular vote because Israelis assumed Netanyahu had it in the bag and voted instead for other parties to Bibi’s right to ensure the shape of the ruling coalition would be a center-right government. And that’s what they got.

The Obama White House learned precisely the wrong lesson from it. They saw what looked like the two-party system of old–Labor and Likud hovering over the polity, with only minor satellites rotating in orbit around them. But the fact that Labor wasn’t involved–that this time it was Likud vs. a splinter faction–should have told them something. They thought Livni was a genuine rival to Netanyahu, and that she was an alternative waiting in the wings. Livni supported the peace process so Washington desperately wanted to believe she was personally more popular than she really was.

Fast-forward almost six years. Livni had six seats in the dissolved Knesset, with polls showing her getting as few as four in the next elections. It wasn’t Livni that was popular in Kadima (a party she left anyway to found Hatnua); it was the remnant of Ariel Sharon’s popularity. The delusions of the Obama White House required completely ignoring the will and intent of the Israeli people. And so it has been six years of missed opportunities.

The Sa’ar rumors illustrate that perfectly. Sa’ar has been at odds with Netanyahu, but he also didn’t believe he could beat Bibi in a primary. When he abruptly announced his retirement from the Knesset in September (but not until he could help Ruby Rivlin win the presidency–a not-insignificant footnote), it was not to start his own party. The broad speculation was that he would wait Bibi out and then return to reclaim the Likud.

Sa’ar was one of the few who could afford to do so. The other Likud bigwigs are around Netanyahu’s age (65); Sa’ar is 47. It’s possible he now believes he has a chance to beat Netanyahu in a primary, though. This prospect is being taken seriously. While Sa’ar is still the underdog, such an upset is not totally unthinkable.

And what would the fallout be? Well, you’d have a transfer of power from Likud to … Likud. This is what Obama never understood about Bibi: the most likely alternatives have been Lieberman, then briefly Bennett, now possibly Sa’ar. Of those three, Sa’ar is the furthest left, yet he is no squish. Obama wants Shimon Peres (the one Israeli he might actually like) and Tzipi Livni (the one Israeli he believes he can control).

It’s always possible the left will make a comeback, and it might be sooner than anyone thinks. Who knows. But six years of delusional American policy toward Israel have revolved around trying to undermine a prime minister who has been in office this entire time, and who heads a democratically elected coalition that has been trying to pull him right, almost completely unsuccessfully. It turns out that all this time, the Obama White House had an ally in the Prime Minister’s Office, if only they would have been willing to admit it.

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Symbolic Votes and Anti-Semitic Incitement

Yesterday the French parliament voted to recognize the nonexistent state of Palestine in a nonbinding move, in keeping with France’s firm commitment to base its foreign policy on delusions, appeasement, and surrender at the first sign of trouble. My initial instinct was to dismiss it, both because of France’s general irrelevance to the defense of the free world and because of its symbolic nature. But I was wrong to do so. In fact, the symbolic nature of France’s action is precisely what makes it so deadly, so dangerous, and so utterly indefensible.

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Yesterday the French parliament voted to recognize the nonexistent state of Palestine in a nonbinding move, in keeping with France’s firm commitment to base its foreign policy on delusions, appeasement, and surrender at the first sign of trouble. My initial instinct was to dismiss it, both because of France’s general irrelevance to the defense of the free world and because of its symbolic nature. But I was wrong to do so. In fact, the symbolic nature of France’s action is precisely what makes it so deadly, so dangerous, and so utterly indefensible.

What specifically changed my mind was the story accompanying this headline in the Algemeiner yesterday: “Paris Jewish Community in Shock Over Rape, Home Invasion ‘Because You Are Jews’.” On Monday, anti-Semitic thugs robbed a Jewish family in a Paris suburb and raped the 19-year-old woman, telling them it was because they were Jewish. I was far from alone in making the connection between the two stories–not because one caused the other (the vote happened after the rape) but because it makes clear the French government has no interest in protecting its Jews and no intention of combating–when it isn’t promoting it itself–the anti-Semitism that courses through the blood of French society.

The barbaric has become the prosaic in France today, and the parliamentary vote on “Palestine” is a good indication of why that is and will continue to be the case. Of course such votes against Israel are not victimless crimes, since Israel does suffer in the court of world opinion and subsequently at home: two more Israelis were stabbed today by an Arab terrorist who knows the world won’t muster outrage at the targeting of Jews simply for being Jews. After all, that’s how it is Western Europe today.

Yet aside from the impact on Israel’s diplomatic isolation, it’s also not a victimless crime at home. Indeed, the fact that the votes are symbolic is no justification at all. If the “Palestine” vote were replaced with something more than symbolic, if the French were playing some constructive role in an active (and actual) peace process, they could at least claim they were helping all parties take steps toward peace. The Israelis make sacrifices for peace all the time.

But the French are admitting that they are not doing anything of the sort. The vote is symbolic, meaning that it’s simply a case of the French government yelling again about the Jews and how the French government believes they must be blamed.

During this past summer’s Gaza war, France saw an uptick in anti-Semitic violence. This is because bigots draw no distinction between the Jewish state and the Jewish people. When they are angry at Israel, they start a pogrom; they aim their violence not at embassies but at synagogues. And when the French government makes a show of standing against Israel, it serves only one purpose: incitement.

As the New York Times reports, Europe’s Jewish community is bracing for the fallout:

Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, an organization in Brussels representing European Jews, played down the political consequences of the vote, calling it toothless. But he said it reflected a worrying attitude in some quarters of Europe that threatened to further undermine the faltering Middle East peace process.

Mr. Cwajgenbaum said he feared the vote was an effort by some on the French left to curry favor with Muslim voters.

“Such votes can have negative consequences for the Middle East peace process because it can radicalize people, while pushing Palestinians to abandon the negotiating table in favor of seeking recognitions,” Mr. Cwajgenbaum said.

“I can’t exclude the possibility that there can be repercussions of the vote on the Jewish community,” he added, “as criticism of Israel can be construed by some extremists as an excuse for incitement against Jews.”

French President Francoise Hollande can distance himself from the vote all he wants, he’s done nothing to change course. When the last bout of anti-Semitic violence broke out, the French Jewish community mobilized to defend itself, since the state wouldn’t. The state then moved to disarm the Jews.

Hollande is overseeing the further disintegration of civilized French society. I’m sure he and others would love to believe that, as the Times claims, “the strident tone of parts of the parliamentary motion and the wide margin of passage reflect Europe’s growing impatience with the breakdown of negotiations over a two-state solution,” rather than the truth, which is a far greater indictment of European society and its leaders.

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MESA Resolution Shows What’s Wrong with Academe

Martin Kramer has already written about his experience at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), both past and present. This year’s meeting ended with members voting on a resolution which:

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Martin Kramer has already written about his experience at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), both past and present. This year’s meeting ended with members voting on a resolution which:

Affirms that 1) calls for institutional boycott, divestment and/or sanctions are protected free speech and legitimate forms of non-violent political action; 2) the right of MESA members to engage in open discussion of the BDS movement at the Annual Meeting and other forums and 3) the right of the membership of other organizations to discuss, debate, and endorse or not endorse the BDS campaign;

Deplores intimidation directed against organizations who have adopted BDS resolutions, such as the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies;

Urges MESA to organize discussions at its Annual Meeting and for the MESA Board to create opportunities in 2015 to discuss the academic boycott and consider an appropriate position for MESA.

So rare it is that such a short resolution says so much about an organization. Academics love to embrace free speech in order to defend their work. And, certainly, free speech should be sacrosanct. But MESA members, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of this resolution, misunderstand free speech in two very important ways.

First of all, free speech was never meant to be a substitute for professional competence. Steven Salaita may be provocative; racists, anti-Semites, and anyone who expresses hatred for a class of people usually are. But provocation is not synonymous with path-breaking research. If a tenured professor of astronomy declared the world flat, or if a biologist claimed oxygen had no role in life on Earth, they might claim it to be their right to say what they want, but that doesn’t mean that they can say bluster without having done the work to prove their case. Salaita, of course, wrote an entire book on Israel without speaking or reading Hebrew, and penned a book on Palestinian literature without discussing poetry, arguably the most important element of the Palestinian literary canon. The scandal isn’t so much that the University of Illinois rescinded its preliminary tenure offer after learning about Salaita’s incitement on twitter; rather, it’s that he was seriously considered in the first place.

More importantly, however, the MESA resolution reflects the mindset and thin skin of the academic community. It declares discussion of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning (BDS) Israel to be a right of academics. Honestly, I have no problem with academics discussing whatever the heck they want. But then it continues to suggest that criticizing academics or organizations for embracing the BDS movement is out of line. That is what the statement “Deplores intimidation directed against organizations who have adopted BDS resolutions” means.

Criticism is not intimidation, and false cries of intimidation in order to avoid defending arguments are dishonest. Perhaps MESA members don’t like the fact that some donors might withhold funds. But donations are not an entitlement. Avoiding true diversity of opinion and intellectual challenge really has become the norm rather than the exception in academe. When Salaita brought his tour to Brooklyn College, Professor Corey Robin effused about the quality of the resulting conversation, never mind that Salaita, his fellow panelists, and Robin himself were all of the same mind. In academe, “conversation” and, for that matter, “teach-ins,” have become synonymous with one-sided declarations; debate is shunned as intimidation.

The MESA resolution confirms the narrowing of the academic mind, the prioritization of politics above competence, and the shunning of real debate in favor of group affirmation of the politics of the day.

Academics often complain policymakers do not listen to them. This is not true. What academics say is heard loud and clear. They scream free speech, but have forgotten what free speech was meant to protect: a desire to improve and advance knowledge; not limit and confine it to conform to the precepts of the day.

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When Anti-Israel Media Bias Is Undeniable

In August, in the wake of the most recent Israel-Gaza war, the journalist Matti Friedman sparked a debate over institutionalized media bias against Israel. Friedman had spent several years in the Associated Press’s Jerusalem bureau as a reporter and editor, and wrote an essay for Tablet explaining why the press gets the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so wrong. Friedman has now followed-up with a piece in the Atlantic on the topic, this one focusing on the role of NGOs in media bias.

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In August, in the wake of the most recent Israel-Gaza war, the journalist Matti Friedman sparked a debate over institutionalized media bias against Israel. Friedman had spent several years in the Associated Press’s Jerusalem bureau as a reporter and editor, and wrote an essay for Tablet explaining why the press gets the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so wrong. Friedman has now followed-up with a piece in the Atlantic on the topic, this one focusing on the role of NGOs in media bias.

It’s an important story, because while most of the NGOs that operate in the Middle East are manifestly biased against Israel (see, for example, the recent COMMENTARY story on Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth) and flagrantly dishonest in their work, their role has generally been to facilitate anti-Israel stories instead of being subjected to impartial journalism themselves. Friedman explains why this is so.

He begins with a quote from a 2010 story by Philip Gourevitch in the New Yorker, writing about journalists’ relationships with humanitarian agencies: “Why not seek to keep them honest? Why should our coverage of them look so much like their own self-representation in fund-raising appeals? Why should we (as many photojournalists and print reporters do) work for humanitarian agencies between journalism jobs, helping them with their official reports and institutional appeals, in a way that we would never consider doing for corporations, political parties, or government agencies?”

Friedman then writes of how this affects the Middle East. Reporters not only see the NGOs as a possible professional destination, but also are in need of guidance when they arrive in a new place with minimal background and language skills and are expected to navigate the contours of a complex geopolitical conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about as complicated as they come, so it’s surely understandable that incoming journalists would seek out contacts and sources they can communicate easily with.

He writes:

In my time in the press corps, I learned that our relationship with these groups was not journalistic. My colleagues and I did not, that is, seek to analyze or criticize them. For many foreign journalists, these were not targets but sources and friends—fellow members, in a sense, of an informal alliance. This alliance consists of activists and international staffers from the UN and the NGOs; the Western diplomatic corps, particularly in East Jerusalem; and foreign reporters. (There is also a local component, consisting of a small number of Israeli human-rights activists who are themselves largely funded by European governments, and Palestinian staffers from the Palestinian Authority, the NGOs, and the UN.) Mingling occurs at places like the lovely Oriental courtyard of the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem, or at parties held at the British Consulate’s rooftop pool. The dominant characteristic of nearly all of these people is their transience. They arrive from somewhere, spend a while living in a peculiar subculture of expatriates, and then move on.

In these circles, in my experience, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry. I don’t mean a critical approach to Israeli policies or to the ham-fisted government currently in charge in this country, but a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills, particularly those connected to nationalism, militarism, colonialism, and racism—an idea quickly becoming one of the central elements of the “progressive” Western zeitgeist, spreading from the European left to American college campuses and intellectuals, including journalists. In this social group, this sentiment is translated into editorial decisions made by individual reporters and editors covering Israel, and this, in turn, gives such thinking the means of mass self-replication.

I recommend reading the whole thing, because there is a great amount of detail culled from Friedman’s personal experience. And personal experience is the key to understanding not only Friedman’s essay but his critics.

Friedman has presented a unique problem for the AP and its likeminded fellow journalistic institutions. Because the media coverage of Israel is so easily picked apart by those who know the basics of the conflict, so obviously filled with the convenient fictions of the left, there is so much criticism of it. And because there is so much of it, individual cases of criticism aren’t generally newsworthy. The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief has decided that criticism of her Israel coverage will be ignored because she regards the possession of knowledge itself to be a disqualifying factor in writing about Israel.

But it’s not so simple when the criticism comes from an insider with firsthand knowledge. After Friedman’s Tablet piece ran, his former bureau chief at the AP wrote an impassioned response insisting Friedman was wrong. But he didn’t rebut any of the specific instances of bias Friedman highlighted, because Friedman had witnessed it, and he was right.

The same was true of Friedman’s latest. The AP pushed back on the accusations to the Washington Free Beacon, but most of it was of the “because I said so” variety. Elsewhere, Friedman’s critics resorted almost immediately to insults. My favorite was probably BuzzFeed’s Tom Gara, who tweeted: “I get why Israeli propagandists would want to weaponize smarm to that extent. I don’t get why any serious outlet would choose to publish it.”

Weaponized smarm. If you’re going to beclown yourself by throwing food at someone who knows infinitely more than you about a given topic, go with the weaponized smarm of “Israeli propagandists.” Without BuzzFeed’s intrepid keyboard warriors, who would reveal to us the extent of the infiltration of Zionist smarm? Perhaps it can be found among purchasers of the invasive Zionist marshmallows, which Brooklynite hipsters tried to ban. The Zionist marshmallows probably arrived here surreptitiously on the backs of the Zionist sharks we are told roam the seas. But neither of those is quite as dangerous as weaponized Israeli smarm, delivered right to your computer. It’s like Stuxnet for those who can’t handle words and facts.

But such silliness is actually quite helpful, because it completes the picture. You can’t really understand just how right Friedman is about the institutionalized anti-Israel bias among the media and NGOs, or the generally unethical behavior of those groups, until you witness the counterarguments (and bitter name calling) directed back at Friedman. If there were a serious defense of the press and NGOs, you’d hear it. That you instead get “weaponize[d] smarm” is a pretty good indication that Friedman has the facts on his side.

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