Jonathan Tobin is absolutely right to dampen optimism regarding the restoration of Turkey-Israel ties following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology for the botched interception of the Mavi Marmara. Make no mistake, the apology is a disaster. Not only will it not lead to a revival of Israel-Turkey ties, but it will—in the long run—make them worse. Netanyahu has affirmed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy. Wishful thinking—be it Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza or Ehud Barak’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon—does not bring peace so long as enemies believe that terrorism or, in Erdoğan’s case, its facilitation and his support, has paid dividends.
Erdoğan is a deeply ideological man who, at his core, does not believe Israel should exist. It is a mistake for Turkey-watchers to dismiss Erdoğan’s rants, most recently his description of Zionism as a crime against humanity, as merely posturing for his central Anatolian base. Projection is perhaps the most corrosive mistake in which any analyst can engage. Incitement is not simply a strategy; sometimes, it truly is heartfelt. Just as with Yasir Arafat. And Khaled Meshaal. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Mohammad Khatami. And Kim Jong-un.
I was traveling last week, so have not had an opportunity until now to comment on President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem and his visit to Israel in general. I only now read the speech and, like many of Obama’s speeches, it is a rhetorical masterpiece. It is also a tacit repudiation of his entire first term, which began, as far as Middle East policy was concerned, with his speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009.
This was a conscious attempt by Obama to hit the “reset button” on U.S. relations with the Muslim world, which he thought had been harmed by George W. Bush’s hawkish ways. Obama went so far to ingratiate himself with the Arabs that he even seemed to equate Jewish suffering in the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering “in pursuit of a homeland”–as if the Palestinians had been the victims of genocide too. Obama pointedly did not visit Israel on that swing through the Middle East and subsequently he put unprecedented pressure on the government of Israel to halt all construction in the West Bank–not as the ending point of talks with the Palestinians but as a precondition for such talks.
Yesterday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received two significant mentions in the press. The first was from President Obama, who quoted Sharon in his speech to Israeli youth. “If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all,” Obama said in Sharon’s name, telling the crowd to make peace with the Palestinians and warning against the quest for a Greater Israel. Quoting Sharon was a wise choice to express this sentiment. It isn’t just American presidents, Obama was saying, who believe in the necessity of the two-state solution; King Arik–once the architect of a sovereign Greater Israel–said so too.
But the other instance of Sharon’s name cropping up again yesterday was far less laudatory of the man still in a coma. The Times of Israel posted a video released by the Palestinians in Gaza, in which Palestinian women, under the proud, smiling gaze of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, used Sharon’s face as target practice on a public shooting range. This is relevant to Obama’s speech as well. The address, which was well written and well delivered, had passages everyone could agree with. But no paragraph was more observant or insightful than when Obama said this:
Israeli leftists may not be excited about President Obama’s trip to Israel, as Jonathan wrote yesterday, but they are taking it a lot better than the Palestinians. The president is not in Israel to try to play Weekend at Bernie’s with the moribund peace process, and that’s not a bad thing. A friendly visit from the American president and a chance to interact with Israelis in person is a fairly low-risk way to try to build some good will, especially for a president who feels he has been misunderstood by Israelis.
But the Palestinians don’t see it that way. The New York Times reports today that the Palestinian leadership is promising to make President Obama regret this trip by punishing him for his lack of interest in pressuring Israel while he’s here. One of the great mistakes made by Obama in his first term was his demand for a Jewish building freeze as a precondition to negotiations–a demand that boxed Mahmoud Abbas in as well. But now Abbas is threatening that if Obama doesn’t repeat this mistake now, Abbas is going to the International Criminal Court:
The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage. But that doesn’t mean the Times isn’t still trying to make waves. Indeed, since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend with its depraved magazine cover article cheerleading a new intifada against Israel.
As Jonathan wrote yesterday, the Times has chosen to greet President Obama’s trip to Israel with the magazine piece on the Palestinian settlement of Nabi Saleh and the story by Jodi Rudoren on the supposed injustice of allowing Jews to live in Jerusalem. Jonathan ably deconstructed the Rudoren piece and explained quite clearly why the author of the magazine piece, Ben Ehrenreich, who trumpets the nobility of anti-Zionism, lacks any credibility on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can’t be argued that the Times didn’t know exactly what it was getting with Ehrenreich. And so it should be asked, instead, why the Times’s editors wanted a piece openly supportive of another intifada. After all, the article is crystal clear about its intentions. One key part comes late in the piece, when Ehrenreich writes:
Between the national security cuts in the sequester and the new scrutiny to which foreign aid is being subjected in a time of budget belt-tightening, those abroad looking for American taxpayer cash have something of a hill to climb. And just like with any foreign affairs issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict commands its fair share of attention. With regard to foreign aid to Middle East governments, it can be argued that while such aid should come with strings, those checks should still be signed lest rogue regimes fill the vacuum with their own cash and influence.
This is certainly the argument that usually prevails when it comes to the Palestinian Authority. Though some in Congress considered punishing the PA for its unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued against cutting their funding, which could risk the collapse of Mahmoud Abbas’s government and speed up the rise of Hamas in the West Bank. But there’s another Palestinian interest group in Washington this week to lobby for taxpayer cash, and it will likely not find nearly so sympathetic an audience: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has worked for decades to keep Palestinians in squalid refugee camps and radicalizing schools while helping to prop up Hamas, provide terrorists with jobs, and fleece American taxpayers–all while utilizing a definition of “refugee” at odds with American law and practice. Josh Rogin reports on his interview with UNRWA commissioner general Filippo Grandi:
The human costs of last fall’s outbreak of fighting between Hamas and Israel was all too real on both sides of the border. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable, but should never be seen as anything but a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. But the willingness of the Jewish state’s critics in the media to embrace a Palestinian narrative of Israeli beastliness has led to a double standard that has distorted accounts of the conflict. Palestinian terror attacks that lead to Israeli counter-measures tend to be ignored unless they succeed in achieving their goal of mass slaughter. Israeli attacks on terrorists are depicted as disproportionate with little context to put them in perspective. And when Palestinian children are killed in a conflict in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields, the result is often an emotional account in which images of supposed Israeli atrocities substitute for a reasoned explanation of what has occurred.
But occasionally, facts have a way of outstripping even the formidable Palestinian propaganda machine. An example of this came this month when, as the New York Times explains, a report from–of all sources–the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the audacity to point out that a highly publicized case in which the death of an Arab infant in Gaza was blamed on Israel was actually the fault of the Palestinians.
One may say that when a death such as this happens the identity of the person or force that pulled the trigger is almost beside the point. The child is just as dead no matter who did it. But in this case, the revelation that 11-month-old Omar al-Masharawi’s death was the result of a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel that fell short of its target rather than of an Israeli army missile deliberately fired at his home goes straight to the heart of the slanted accounts of the conflict that are commonplace.
Is it worth the effort to debate those who question Israel’s legitimacy? In one sense, the answer has to be no. Israel’s right to exist should no more be a matter for debate than that of any other nation on the planet. If no one questions the right of Saudi Arabia to exist as a nation-state predicated on an extremist view of Islam (where practitioners of other faiths have no rights) or the rights of any European state, including those based on narrow ethnic identities (such as that of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, for whose benefit the United States went to war in 1999), then why should we bother even answering those who question whether the one Jewish state in the world is one too many?
And yet there are some instances in which there is no choice but to acknowledge such arguments and to answer them. The deluge of abuse directed at Zionism and Israel from much of the Arab and Muslim world is easily dismissed even if the sheer volume of these expressions and the way they have seeped into European popular culture have serious consequences. But when the New York Times devotes space on its website to an attempt by an academic to justify the position that Israel has no right to exist, attention must be paid. That’s what happened this past weekend when the Grey Lady published a lengthy article along these lines by University of Massachusetts philosophy professor Joseph Levine. Levine’s purpose was not just to try to prove that Israel shouldn’t exist but to claim that holding such a position was not anti-Semitic. He failed on both counts, calling into question not only the disreputable arguments that can be arrayed against Israel but also the Times’s decision to treat the question as one which is worthy of legitimate debate.
Ben Birnbaum’s thoughtful, well-reported piece on the Israeli peace process is one of those articles that can easily be interpreted as in accordance with anyone’s preexisting worldview: it’s a Rorschach. If you think Mahmoud Abbas is primarily responsible for the lack of peace, that will be confirmed by the description of Ehud Olmert practically begging him to take an incredibly generous deal and Abbas walking away. If you think Olmert is to blame for offering a peace plan on which he could not follow through simply to save his reputation as he prepared to leave office under a cloud of scandal and an approval rating close to zero, you will shake your head at the desperation he showed.
If you think Olmert and Abbas were peacemakers surrounded by petty schemers, you will not be convinced otherwise as you read of Tzipi Livni’s advisors telling Abbas not to take the deal so she could swoop in and claim the glory for herself, or by the same old mindless and manipulative game being played by “advisors” and “negotiators” on the Palestinian side who have been there forever and a day. (The Israeli names change over time, but the Palestinian names are always Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, and Hanan Ashrawi.) So that’s the politicians; what about the people? In Israel, the people support peace, Birnbaum reports. The Palestinian people, however–that’s another story. Birnbaum chooses a delicate framing when he references a recent poll that “showed Palestinians preferred Hamas’s approach to ending the Israeli occupation over that of Abbas by a two-to-one margin.” I’m sure everyone can imagine what “Hamas’s approach” would mean, but for the record here’s the actual question from that poll (results, from left to right, are: total, in the West Bank, and in Gaza):
Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.
Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.
The AIPAC Policy Conference ended this morning, after an evening gala where the 13,000 delegates were joined by 63 percent of the Congress: 65 senators and 274 House members. The conference has nearly doubled in size from the 7,000 delegates who attended in 2008. The plenary hall extended almost two football fields wide. But the hall was not large enough to hide what Shmuel Rosner called, after the first day of the conference, “the elephant in the room”:
[The] elephant is American policy in the region. In one session after another one hears criticism of American inaction, American hesitation, American lack of coherence. The criticism is at times subtler, and at times more direct, but it’s almost always there. You hear it from the experts on the different panels, from Americans and Israelis. You get less of it, but still some, even in the larger gatherings where the politicians and the leaders speak, where the politicians attempt to make it seem as if there are no problems and no daylight between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. Americans and Israelis are now all walking on eggshells, making sure not to interfere with the “reset” of relations, not to add new tensions into the delicate relations between the second Obama administration and the second Netanyahu government. The elephant is there though … There’s surely doubt in Israel, and there’s concern in pro-Israel circles in the US (“we need a national security team that is pro-Israel”, Senator McCain said Monday morning).
President Obama’s frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seen by many as a missed opportunity for Obama. Israeli voters tend to punish leaders who can’t get along with the American president, and thus prime ministers are usually willing to work pretty hard to stay on the president’s good side. But Israelis across the ideological spectrum thought Obama’s treatment of Netanyahu was disrespectful, and they blamed the president more than they blamed Netanyahu for the state of affairs.
That gave Netanyahu a certain degree of leverage in his relationship with Obama that Netanyahu didn’t have during his first stint as premier when Bill Clinton was president. But both the recent Israeli and American elections tipped the scales somewhat back in Obama’s direction. Obama was re-elected and now doesn’t have to face the voters again, and Netanyahu won far fewer seats in the January Knesset elections than he had expected, and sits mired in negotiations to form a coalition in which his rivals are setting the agenda. Yet as a new poll from the Hill shows, Obama shouldn’t be enjoying the spectacle too much–he has something to lose as well:
In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:
In recent months, a new consensus has emerged: For the first time in millennia, Judaism has lost its title as the world’s most persecuted religion; today, that dubious honor goes to Christianity. “Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers,” wrote Rupert Shortt in a 54-page report for the London-based Civitas institute in December, which meticulously documented their persecution on a country-by-country basis. Even politicians have begun grasping this fact: German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly deemed Christianity “the most persecuted religion in the world” in November. In short, as one commentator put it last week, Christians have become the new Jews.
There are two reasons why Christianity has displaced Judaism as the world’s most persecuted religion. One, obviously, is increased persecution of Christians, which stems largely from the rise of radical Islam: Though non-Islamic countries like China also repress Christians, only radical Islamists kill them wholesale. The other is that today, Jews face less persecution than ever before in history. And that is entirely due to the existence of the State of Israel.
It hasn’t been a good week for free and open debate about the Jewish state on campuses in the United Kingdom. Two separate incidents, one at the University of Essex and a second at Oxford University, have shown just how low opponents of Israel will stoop in order to delegitimize her and squash the free speech of Israel’s citizens and defenders.
Immediately following the announcement of a speech at Essex by Alon Roth-Snir, deputy ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, anti-Israel activists on campus began to organize. Their goal was simple: stifle Roth-Snir’s right to free speech on their campus. Avi Mayer, the director of new media for the Jewish Agency for Israel, created a Storify account of the incident and the university’s response. What Mayer describes speaks volumes about the opposition Israel faces on campus from both faculty and students. Mayer quotes the University of Essex Students’ Union President Nathan Bolton from the Facebook event organizing the protest:
You couldn’t make this up: The Palestinian Authority is furious that Israel and Hamas are reportedly holding indirect talks in Cairo to firm up their cease-fire, because “only the PLO was authorized to conduct such negotiations in its capacity as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.’” Never mind that the PLO, aka the PA (both are headed by the same man, Mahmoud Abbas, and dominated by the same party, Fatah) has refused to hold talks with Israel for four years now; if Hamas had to wait for the PLO to discuss its pressing concerns with Israel, it might still be waiting when the Messiah comes. In the PA’s world, ordinary Palestinians’ real problems–of which residents of Hamas-run Gaza have plenty–always come a distant second to its own prestige. If it doesn’t feel like talking with Israel, then Gazans should just wait patiently until it does.
But this story also highlights just how irrelevant the PA’s refusal to talk with Israel is making it. Hamas would prefer going through Egypt rather than the PA for many reasons, but one is the simple fact that Egypt can deliver the goods. Egyptian officials are still willing to talk with Israel; that’s how they brokered the Israel-Hamas cease-fire in November, and why they can mediate between the parties now. In contrast, Abbas can’t.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maneuvers to put together an expansive governing coalition by handing out ministries and portfolios to a diverse group of political partners, he has a lot of mouths to feed. Not only will there be several party heads looking for placement in the next government, but Netanyahu also has at least one high-profile politician to whom he may owe a commensurate rank in Avigdor Lieberman, and one he probably hoped to have a place for in recently retired Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Yet in Israel, where I spent the last week, there is another name that comes up that commands more respect and curiosity than all the others: Stanley Fischer.
Fischer announced in January that he would be leaving his job as the head of Israel’s central bank earlier than expected. The Israeli press is normally a tough crowd, but Fischer has earned rare and almost universal praise from the Israeli fourth estate for successfully guiding the Israeli economy through the global downturn while many Western and OECD economies continued to struggle. He is often regarded as the adult in the room and was one of the most influential economics professors in U.S. history during his time at MIT. And now, if you listen to the chatter, he can be anything he wants: chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve or even president of Israel (let alone foreign minister, a post he appears to actually covet but which, for political reasons, would ironically be more difficult to attain than the others).
On Fox News Sunday this morning, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward said that some Democratic senators have called the White House asking if Chuck Hagel will withdraw from the battle to confirm him as secretary of defense. The apparent answer to that question is not yet. But the furor over the Washington Free Beacon’s reporting of a statement Hagel made in 2007 alleging that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was running the U.S. State Department is turning up the heat on the nominee.
On Thursday, Contentions called on some of the major Jewish organizations that have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate about Hagel to finally break their silence on the issue and to demand an explanation about the 2007 speech given at Rutgers University during which Hagel is alleged to have made the crack about the Israelis and the State Department. Last night, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have made such statements. The ADL told JTA Hagel needed to explain the remark but the American Jewish Committee went farther in saying that “further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”
These comments are part of the growing furor over Hagel that is not going to be defused by the nominee’s assurance to Senator Lindsay Graham that he “doesn’t recall” making the controversial statements about Israel and the State Department. The allegations about the Rutgers speech are credible not just because of the contemporaneous account of the event but also because of Hagel’s history of saying similar things about the “Jewish lobby” and disavowals of past stands favoring outreach to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. As Hagel “twists in the wind” — a Watergate allusion made today by Woodward —pressure is growing on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon him.
There has been considerable pushback from many in the chattering classes–and some public officials, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–to those who have stood up to the BDS campaign against Israel. As I wrote earlier in the week, the mayor thinks we should pipe down when it comes to complaints about Brooklyn College or other institutions of higher learning hosting conferences devoted to supporting the effort to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Others have denigrated the position we’ve taken, on the necessity for Jewish groups to refuse to work together or co-sponsor events with BDS campaigners, as both intolerant and extremist. But this issue is not about academic freedom or the Jewish establishment repressing idealistic dissent against unpopular policies of the Israeli government. It is about hate speech and anti-Semitism.
That is a hard sell for many American Jews who think anti-Semites only come in one package. They think anti-Semites are only neo-Nazi troglodytes or conservative Christians (a terrible slander since the overwhelming majority of evangelicals and other conservative Christians in this country are fervent supporters of Israel and friends of the Jewish people). They refuse to believe that academics and students that couch their rhetoric in the language of human rights and the cause of the downtrodden and oppressed Palestinian people are acting from prejudice and promoting hatred. But they are wrong. And it is nice to know that the American group that is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring anti-Semitism is willing to say so. That’s why we must applaud the Anti-Defamation League for its ad in today’s New York Times refuting Bloomberg and calling the BDS movement by its right name. The ad, an essay by ADL national director Abraham Foxman, framed the issue in the same manner as I have done here at Contentions:
The BDS movement is not merely advocating boycotts of Israel, which in our mind is hateful on its own, but in its support for the “right of return” of refugees, they are advocating something even more hateful, the destruction of the Jewish state through demography. Anyone who is serious about the survival of Israel knows what this is about.
So we are talking here about hate, not mere criticism. The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.