Back when Israel issued its apology to Turkey, we debated here at COMMENTARY whether Israel’s apology was wise. I was opposed to it and, while I hoped for the best, my distrust of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and castigation of his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu for making the deal now appears wholly justified. Part of the reason why Israel made the deal—despite a UN investigation finding that Israel’s raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was justified—was to get Israel-Turkey relations back on track and avoid the further downturn in relations that Turkish referral to the hopelessly politicized International Criminal Court (ICC) would bring.
The Mavi Marmara was a deliberate provocation, however, conducted as part of Erdoğan’s ideological agenda, just as the Turkish prime minister’s verbal assault on Shimon Peres at Davos was beforehand. Israelis can kid themselves that Turkey will honor its agreements or that it seeks peace and stability in the region. Turkey—at least under the current leadership—will never honor its agreements. Hence, the announcement that Turkey (through the proxy of the Comoros) will litigate against Israel at the ICC. The IHH, the al-Qaeda-linked charity to which Turkey’s ruling party turned to promote the flotilla to resupply Hamas, released a statement explaining:
In explaining his staunch support for Israel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper frequently cites the lessons of history: that those who make Jews “a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us.” The truth of that statement is visible throughout the Islamic world today, where countries that first got rid of their Jews are now turning in vicious fury on their Christians. Yet many Christian churches seem blind to the connection.
Christianity is currently the world’s most persecuted religion, and the heart of that persecution is the Islamic world. Churches have been attacked in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, among other countries; Christian ministers have been assassinated; and thousands of ordinary Christians have been killed. In Iraq, fewer than 500,000 Christians are thought to remain, down from 800,000 to 1.4 million a decade earlier (estimates vary widely). In Egypt, about 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled just in the last few months. This isn’t a new development; scholars estimate that “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century.” But it has accelerated greatly in recent years.
After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.
The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:
Last week, Pew Research published a poll with a seemingly encouraging headline: “Despite Their Wide Differences, Many Israelis and Palestinians Want Bigger Role for Obama in Resolving Conflict.” The poll indeed showed pluralities of both groups wanting President Barack Obama to up his involvement, and if you only read the headline, the implication would be clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solvable if America would just push a little harder, and both sides truly want it to do so.
Yet reading the entire poll produces the opposite conclusion: The conflict clearly isn’t solvable right now, because when asked whether there’s “a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully,” a whopping 61 percent of Palestinians said “no,” while only 14 percent said “yes.” (Israelis, in a triumph of hope over experience, said “yes” by a 50-38 margin.) In other words, a huge majority of Palestinians said that even if a Palestinian state is established, the conflict will continue as long as Israel continues to exist. So where does that leave the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace?
There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.
I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:
As Jonathan noted yesterday, it’s hard to blame the lack of Mideast peace on Israel’s “occupation of Arab lands” in 1967 when peace was singularly lacking even before 1967. But this theory rests on a more fundamental fallacy: that all human beings basically want the same things – peace and a good life – and therefore, what Westerners consider a reasonable compromise should satisfy Middle Easterners as well. To understand just how false this is, consider Wednesday’s unanimous vote by the lower house of Jordan’s parliament to expel the Israeli ambassador.
On Tuesday, a group of Jews visited Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount. They didn’t engage in “provocations” such as praying or reciting Psalms, but to many Arabs, the very presence of Jews at the site to which Jews have prayed for 3,000 years is a provocation. Palestinians therefore began hurling rocks and chairs at them, causing the police to intervene. And according to the Jordanian parliament, this sequence of events constituted “criminal attacks by the settlers” – i.e. Jews.
There was much relief when, earlier today, a spokesman for Cambridge University in England released a statement denying that Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist, had invoked the academic boycott of Israel as the reason for his decision to withdraw from the “Facing Tomorrow” conference, which will be hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in June.
As it turns out, Cambridge spoke too soon. Tim Holt, the spokesman who said that Hawking had backed out for health reasons, was compelled to issue the following clarification:
“We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.
“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”
The Obama administration’s ostentatious display of indecision over the threat of chemical weapons use in Syria will only be exacerbated by the report of Sarin gas use by the opponents of the Assad regime. But as Emanuele Ottolenghi noted earlier today, the notion that the dictator has lost control of all of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction should make it all the more imperative that the president’s Hamlet act about treating the “red line” he set for the country end as soon as possible. But the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah and possible chemical targets in Syria have again made it clear that for all the scurrilous talk from conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites who promote the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” theory about the pro-Israel tail wagging the American dog, it is once again Israel that is doing America’s dirty work in the Middle East.
It is true, as Alon Pinkas writes in today’s Haaretz, that the Israeli strikes on Syrian targets are likely not directly related to the question of the use of chemical weapons. Israel’s interests in the Syrian conflict are immediate and tactical rather than strategic, meaning that it is far more concerned with the transfer of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon than the ultimate fate of the regime. However, far from dragging the United States into the conflict, as Israel-haters were alleging after Israeli sources confirmed the use of chemical weapons, it is the armed forces of the Jewish state that are playing a vital role in keeping a lid on the conflict. While Israel has no desire to become embroiled in a Syrian civil war between factions that likely share only their hate for the Jews, its ability to interdict the regime’s efforts to transfer its weapons to a fellow ally of Iran is giving Obama time to continue to make up his mind.
The spat between New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad must be afflicting liberals with severe cognitive dissonance. But there’s a very important lesson to be drawn from it.
The contretemps began when Cohen published a column on Friday that included numerous direct quotes from Fayyad, many of which were highly unflattering to the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah. “This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment,” Cohen quoted Fayyad as saying. “Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on. It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”
In his post supporting a referendum on any Palestinian peace agreement (“Democracy is Not an Obstacle to Peace”), Jonathan Tobin asked why peace processors would possibly fear a referendum:
It is true that if a peace agreement were to be submitted to a vote, that would raise the possibility that Israel’s voters would reject it. But if a deal was truly in Israel’s best interests, what exactly are advocates of a two-state solution worried about?
It’s a good question. Let me try to address it–because the answer is probably something other than a fear that the referendum might fail.
If you listen to the Pentagon and the White House, there is no viable military option in Syria—even American air strikes supposedly would be too dangerous because of Bashar Assad’s anti-aircraft defenses. The Israeli Air Force doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo, however.
For at least the second time since January, Israel attacked a target in Syria, hitting a warehouse in Damascus on Friday that apparently stored advanced Fateh-110 missiles shipped from Iran and intended for Hezbollah. In late January, Israel similarly struck SA-17 anti-aircraft weapons intended for Hezbollah. There are so-far unconfirmed reports of yet another Israeli air strike in Damascus on Sunday morning.
Israel is doing what it must to defend itself—to prevent Hezbollah from taking advantage of the current conflict to further enhance its already formidable arsenal of weapons aimed at Israel. Its neighbors know that Israel is a serious country that acts when threatened. Not so with the U.S. that has announced a “red line” over the use of chemical weapons in Syria but refuses to act even when that line has been crossed. Instead, administration officials are leaking word that the “red line” phrase was an off-the-cuff mistake by the president.
Academics don’t agree about much, but the members of the Association for Asian American Studies agree, at least, that a “boycott of Israeli academic institutions” is warranted. That is what they resolved, not by a mere majority vote, but unanimously, on April 20, the last day of the Association’s national meeting.
Reportedly, only 10 percent of the members were present for the vote. So when I learned of the resolution, I assumed that we would soon hear from professors of Asian American Studies, enraged, or at least perplexed, that the AAAS had become the first U.S. academic organization to support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. But although one can find almost anything on the Web, you will not find even one professor of Asian American Studies who has respectfully disagreed with, let alone denounced, this move. The Asian American Studies professor who diverges publicly from the party line is that rare a beast.
Despite a stalled peace process and a recent Arab Peace Initative that has no hope of achieving its stated goal (as Jonathan and Seth discussed yesterday), there have been interesting developments in the region this week, albeit in cyberspace. The Google main search page for those searching within the West Bank and Gaza has been changed from “Palestinian Territories” to simply “Palestine.” Foreign Policy’s blog reported on the change and indicated it may have been inspired by the somewhat recent vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN.
This isn’t the first time an online giant has become involved in the conflict. Last year it was noted by many Israelis that the location of their postings from within Israel were tagged “Palestine” and “East Jerusalem” on Facebook. One blogger for the Times of Israel noted:
Prolific blogger and commentator Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted an apt reminder yesterday that not everything in the Middle East revolves around the Israel-Palestinian conflict, even if U.S. policymakers often see it that way. Writes Goldberg:
Syria and Iraq are melting down, and the State Dept. and the Arab League are focused on…. the West Bank. The peace process is vital but there are more urgent matters than the peace process that are not linked to Israel-Palestine, that demand more attention.
Goldberg is right, but he doesn’t ask why. Perhaps this is one more example of the failure of Middle Eastern studies. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has a membership database that lets users sort by discipline. For example, the MESA faculty database finds 151 students and professors who specialize in Iraq; and 223 who specialize in Syria. In contrast, 290 specialize in Palestine, and additional 33 who specialize in the West Bank specifically; and 20 in Gaza. Israel studies is growing, with 171 members. Almost as many focus on refugees and Diaspora studies.
The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.
The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:
Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom throughout the world today at an event sponsored by the Newseum in Washington. But along with the usual and appropriate condemnations of dictatorships and totalitarian states, the group decided to slam the one democracy in the Middle East as well as one of the few states in the region where press freedom actually exists: Israel.
Karin Karleklar, the organization’s project direct for monitoring press freedom, told an audience at the Newseum streamed live over the Internet this morning that Israel’s status was being downgraded from “free” to “partly free.” This is astonishing by itself, but the bizarre nature of this judgment is only made clear when one hears the reasons. Two of the reasons stated by Karleklar—the indictment of a journalist for possessing stolen classified materials and the problems that one television station has had in getting its license renewed—are hardly violations of freedom but do speak to issues that could be misinterpreted as tyrannical if they were discussing a country where there wasn’t a vibrant free press. But the third is so absurd as to call into question not merely the judgment but the impartiality of the entire report.
The report claims that the appearance on the scene of Israel Hayom, a relatively new Israeli newspaper, is a threat to press freedom because it is a success that has hurt the business prospects of its competitors. No, you didn’t misread that sentence. Freedom House is taking the position that the fact that Israel Hayom has claimed an impressive share of the hyper-competitive newspaper market is undermining the freedom of the press. The justification for this ridiculous claim is that Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and well-known contributor to Republican candidates, has “subsidized” the paper and that its editorial line favors Prime Minister Netanyahu. The paper, which is distributed free of charge, is now the most-read paper in Israel, a state of affairs which Freedom House not unreasonably connects to the demise of Maariv, a longtime mainstay of the Hebrew daily press. But the question readers of this report have to ask is what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does the ability of Adelson’s paper to succeed where many other print papers are failing have to do with freedom of the press?
Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.
The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Today’s violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories contains some uncomfortable truths for Israel’s detractors, but also serves as a helpful microcosm of the larger conflict. A 30-year-old Israeli man, Eviatar Borovsky, was stabbed to death at a bus stop at Tapuach Junction by a Palestinian man, who was captured by border guards and taken into custody. A few hours later in Gaza, Haitham al-Mishal, a Palestinian involved in the production of rockets, was killed in a targeted strike by the IDF.
But the details that fill in the rest of the picture are a useful guide to the behavior of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, as I noted last week, is often simply ignored by the journalists and academics who should be bringing it to public attention. But no less troubling is the fact that on the rare occasions when they do report it, they frequently try to explain it away. These “explanations” offer little insight into the actual sources of Muslim Jew-hatred. But they offer a very disturbing insight into opinion leaders’ motives in concealing this hatred.
A good example is an article published by the New York Times in January that described two cases in which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made virulently anti-Semitic remarks. In one, he said Egyptians should “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists; in another, he described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
Western opinion leaders too often ignore the Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, argues a new book reviewed recently in The Jerusalem Report. It’s unfortunate that Tibor Krausz’s review is behind a paywall, since it’s a must-read for anyone who doesn’t plan to read the full book: In example after chilling example, it demonstrates the depth and extent of this Jew-hatred, while also showing that it has nothing to do with Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.” In a televised sermon in 2009, for instance, Egyptian cleric Muhammad Hussein Ya’qub said, “If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not … The Jews are infidels not because I say so but because Allah does… They aren’t our enemies because they occupy Palestine; they would be our enemies even if they had not occupied anything.”
But what moved Neil Kressel, a professor of psychology at William Patterson University, to write The Sons of Pigs and Apes wasn’t merely the existence of this hatred; rather, Krausz noted, it was his dismay over “what he sees as a blind spot — ‘a conspiracy of silence’ — among Western academics, policymakers and journalists about the extent of Muslim anti-Semitism.” Policymakers may not actually belong in this list; I suspect many are genuinely ignorant about this hatred. But if they are, it’s because of this “conspiracy of silence”: The journalists and academics whose job it is to inform them consistently fail to do so.