Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinians

A Draw Can’t Be Called a Hamas Defeat

Viewed objectively, the celebratory gunfire and ritualistic declarations of victory emanating from Hamas today after it accepted a cease-fire with Israel are pure bunk. Hamas’s decision to launch a new round of fighting in Gaza turned out to be a disaster from a military perspective as well as from the point of view of the suffering Palestinians who paid the price for this folly in blood and destruction of their homes. But their boasts are not entirely foolish.

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Viewed objectively, the celebratory gunfire and ritualistic declarations of victory emanating from Hamas today after it accepted a cease-fire with Israel are pure bunk. Hamas’s decision to launch a new round of fighting in Gaza turned out to be a disaster from a military perspective as well as from the point of view of the suffering Palestinians who paid the price for this folly in blood and destruction of their homes. But their boasts are not entirely foolish.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may have had little real choice but to go along with the formal end of hostilities, by emerging from 50 days of battle with its hold on Gaza intact, Hamas has ensured that its misrule over the strip and permanent block of any hopes of peace will continue.

Netanyahu’s decision to accept the cease-fire will be bitterly debated in Israel, but even his angriest critics will have to admit that the concessions given Hamas are minimal. The terms, which allow a slight increase in humanitarian aid and material into Gaza and an expansion of the zone allowed Gaza fishermen from three to six miles are more or less a rehash of the 2012 agreement that ended a previous round of fighting. The blockade of Gaza has not been lifted. Nor has Israel promised to allow the Palestinians to build an airport or seaport. Those requests will be discussed in negotiations that are supposed to take place next month in Cairo and will be placed alongside the Israeli demand for the demilitarization of Gaza. That means neither side will get what it wants, making the war, for all of Israel’s military achievements and the catastrophic impact on Gaza’s population, largely a draw.

That’s nothing for Hamas to brag about. It started the hostilities when its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then fired over 4,000 missiles at Israel during the past 50 days with little to show for the expenditure of much of its carefully assembled arsenal. While much of Israel’s population had to spend much of the last few weeks scurrying back and forth to shelters, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system effectively neutralized the rocket threat. Hamas also lost the complex network of tunnels along the border on which it had expended so much of the money that poured into the strip from foreign donors. Instead of being able to use the tunnels to pull off a mass atrocity inside Israel as they had hoped, they wound up being destroyed when Israeli forces invaded the strip.

But any Israeli claims of victory are just as hollow as those of Hamas.

Even a slight loosening of the blockade will inevitably mean that Hamas will be able to replenish some if not all of its supply of rockets and other armaments. Nor can anyone in the international community, let alone in Israel, have the slightest confidence that any safeguards put in place will prevent the construction materials that will be allowed into Gaza for rebuilding homes, schools, and other civilian structures won’t instead be used to restore Hamas’s military infrastructure, including command center bunkers, rocket storage facilities, and the infamous tunnels.

All of which means that the next time Hamas decides that the time is right for more fighting, Israel will be right back where it was two months ago. Even if the Israel Defense Forces improves its ability to detect tunnels and Hamas doesn’t figure out a way to defeat the Iron Dome, that is hardly an encouraging prospect for an Israeli people drained from a summer of conflict. A draw isn’t a victory for either side, but any result that leaves Hamas standing and ready to start fighting again when it chooses can hardly be called a defeat for the terrorists.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the implications of this result for both Netanyahu and the future of the conflict.

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Why AIPAC Matters and Its Critics Don’t

Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

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Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

The pro-Israel lobby has had its ups and downs and as Bruck’s article, which devotes a great deal of space to the history of the organization, demonstrates. The problems generally occur when Israel’s friends run into confrontations with sitting presidents and those stories always end the same way. Whether it was Ronald Reagan and his decision to sell AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia or Barack Obama’s attempts to head off plans for tough sanctions on Iran, no matter how much support AIPAC can amass on Capitol Hill, no lobbying group can beat the occupant of the mansion at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue if they go all in on a specific issue.

But even an attempt to write a critical history of AIPAC must acknowledge that it has helped forge a U.S.-Israel alliance whose enduring strength transcends party loyalties as well as the changing names of presidents and cabinet secretaries. As Bruck is forced to acknowledge in the lede of her piece, this summer’s congressional action to give Israel more funding for its Iron Dome missile defense system in the midst of the ongoing war in Gaza was a triumph for the lobby. It as also a timely rebuke from the leadership of both congressional caucuses to an Obama administration that had gone out of its way to try and delay the delivery of ammunition supplies to the Israel Defense Forces as part of its strategy to pressure the Jewish state into halting its counterattack on Hamas in Gaza and agreeing to unsatisfactory cease-fire terms. That two bitter foes like Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell who normally couldn’t agree to back a resolution saying the sky was blue would unite on behalf of Israel in this manner, with the Senate agreeing to delay its summer recess in order to get the measure passed, shows that AIPAC’s clout is undiminished. The fact that this is so despite the fact that, for all of its reputation as the most powerful lobby in Washington, AIPAC hasn’t nearly the money or the influence of other lobbies such as that of the oil or pharmaceutical industries only makes their achievement even more amazing.

But Bruck’s main point in a piece where she tries hard to work in quotes from the organization’s critics is not so much as to try and make a weak case about it losing ground on Capitol Hill. Rather it is to claim that AIPAC is out of touch with liberal American Jews who are increasingly distancing themselves from the Jewish state and who view Israel’s center-right government with distaste.

This is the same argument put forward over and over again by people like author Peter Beinart, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and was rehashed in the same newspaper on Sunday in another lengthy rant by British analyst Antony Lerman. They believe Israel’s refusal to make peace and insistence on occupation and rough treatment of the Palestinians disgusts most liberal Jews in the Diaspora, especially the youth that has grown up in an era in which the Jewish state is seen as a regional superpower rather than as the one small, besieged nation in the midst of Arab enemies determined to destroy it.

But the problem with this argument is that no matter how many times liberal critics of Israel tell us how disillusioned they are with the reality of a Jewish state at war, they invariably neglect, as did Lerman and Bruck, to discuss why it is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews see things differently. The point is, no matter how unsatisfactory the status quo may seem to most Israelis, unlike their Diaspora critics, they have been paying attention to events in the Middle East during the last 20 years since the Oslo Accords ushered in an era of peace negotiations. They know that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinian Authority peace deals that would have given them an independent Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and that it has been turned down flat every time.

Rather than Israel needing to finally take risks for peace, as liberal critics keep insisting, the Jewish state has done so repeatedly. It brought Yasir Arafat and the PLO back into the territories and empowered them and rather than trading land for peace, it got the terrorism and horror of the second intifada. It withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and instead of creating space for a productive and peaceful Palestinian state, it got a Hamas-run Islamist state that has rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used international aid funds and materials to build tunnels to facilitate terrorism.

This cruel reality has destroyed the once dominant left-wing Israeli political parties, but American liberals haven’t paid much attention to it or anything the Palestinians do or say. This is especially instructive this summer as Hamas launched a terror war that illustrated even for those not paying close attention that when it says it wants to end the “occupation,” it is not discussing the future of the West Bank but reasserting its goal to eradicate Israel and slaughter and/or evict its Jewish population.

It is true that American Jewry is changing in ways that may eventually cripple its ability to be a coherent force on behalf of Israel as well as its other vital interests. But, contrary to the liberal critics, that has little to do with the policies of Israeli governments and everything to do with statistics about assimilation and intermarriage that speak to a demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry.

That’s a serious problem as is the ongoing tension with an Obama administration whose barely concealed hostility to the Netanyahu government is making mischief on several fronts, including negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran that seems headed toward appeasement of the ayatollahs rather than a fulfillment of the president’s campaign pledges to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapon.

But it doesn’t point toward the irrelevance of AIPAC, let alone the ascendance of J Street, its left-wing rival that has gained virtually no ground on Capitol Hill or anywhere else during an administration that should have been their ally.

AIPAC counts because it is connected to the reality of a Middle East where Israel remains the sole democracy and a vital American ally while the Palestinians continue to embrace terror and reject peace. So long as that is the case, Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American people will remain firmly on Israel’s side and, by extension, AIPAC. Though we should expect that its critics will continue to carp away on the sidelines and predict its doom, so long as they ignore what the Palestinians do or say, they will remain irrelevant or sink into the same kind of conspiratorial anti-Semitism that sank Walt and Mearsheimer.

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All the Anti-Israel News That Fits

Bashing the New York Times’s coverage of the Middle East is a full-time occupation for some, but today the grey lady published a story out of Gaza that had to make even its most loyal readers wince. In a summer when much of the press, and in particular the Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, seemed to disgrace themselves by their lack of coverage of Hamas terror activities in Gaza, today’s piece marked a new low that is likely to reinforce the paper’s unfortunate reputation for anti-Israel bias.

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Bashing the New York Times’s coverage of the Middle East is a full-time occupation for some, but today the grey lady published a story out of Gaza that had to make even its most loyal readers wince. In a summer when much of the press, and in particular the Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, seemed to disgrace themselves by their lack of coverage of Hamas terror activities in Gaza, today’s piece marked a new low that is likely to reinforce the paper’s unfortunate reputation for anti-Israel bias.

The story concerns what the headline says was a teenager’s “ordeal as a captive of Israelis.” In it, 17-year-old Ahmed Jamal Abu Raida claims that he was captured by Israeli forces during the recent fighting in Gaza and then threatened, beaten, tortured, used as a human shield, and then forced to search for terror tunnels. But, as the article, which appears under the bylines of Times stringer Fares Akram and Rudoren, related, there are some problems with his story. Despite the detailed narrative provided by Abu Raida, he has no proof of any of it. The teenager couldn’t so much as show the Times correspondents a single bruise. Nor did his family take pictures of his terrible state when he was returned to them after his release from custody. They also say they disposed of the clothing he wore even though it might have bolstered his story or provided evidence that his story was true.

Oh, and one more thing about his family. Abu Raida is not your stereotypical poor Gazan kid. His father is, in fact, a high-ranking official in the Hamas government of Gaza.

Now it is entirely possible that a young Palestinian with close ties to Hamas who was captured in the area where terror tunnels were found had nothing to do with any terrorist activity and may have been roughly treated by Israeli soldiers. Indeed, the fact that Abu Raida was released after a relatively short time in Israeli hands indicated that the Israelis felt that he was not a combatant.

But the question here is not so much whether we believe the teenager has embellished the story of his time in Israeli hands to appear like a greater victim/hero in the eyes of his family and other Palestinians or if his allegations are a concerted attempt by his father’s colleagues to put forward another false smear of the nation they seek to destroy. The real question is why the publication that still deems itself America’s newspaper of record would choose to go to print with a story that it admits it cannot independently verify and whose source is, to put it mildly, not someone who could be considered an objective or reliable witness where Israel is concerned.

You don’t have to have to be an expert on the Middle East or an experienced journalist to understand the reason why Hamas and a pro-Palestinian NGO brought Abu Raida forward with his tale of wicked Israelis insulting Allah and threatening to let dogs tear him apart. After several weeks of Israelis pointing out that Hamas was using the population of Gaza as human shields, the terror group and its allies were desperate to come up with a counter story that would reverse the narrative and make it appear as if the Israel Defense Forces were using Palestinians in this manner.

That the Times would choose to highlight this story and grant it the imprimatur of its pages is that the newspaper and many other mainstays of the liberal mainstream media have been angrily pushing back against accusations that they deliberately downplayed the way Hamas used mosques, hospitals, schools, and shelters and other heavily populated civilian areas to launch rockets at Israeli cities as well as to use them as entrances for terror tunnels. Throughout the course of the recent war, the Times hasn’t published photos of Hamas fighters. Nor did most members of the press manage to stumble into any of the thousands of rocket launches that were going on in the narrow strip right under their noses.

The explanation for this reluctance to photograph or report on Hamas using civilians as human shields in this manner isn’t a puzzle. Reporters were either intimidated into silence (something that Hamas boasted about) or they were sufficiently biased against Israel as to be unwilling to do anything to tell the truth about Palestinian terror activity. But despite the obvious nature of this glaring omission in their coverage, journalists like Rudoren openly scoffed at critics and denied that anything was amiss. Indeed, Rudoren mounted a spirited defense of the integrity of the foreign press in Gaza and insinuated that their critics were the ones who were biased.

But Rudoren’s decision to embrace a story that smears Israel even though she can’t independently verify, let alone prove, that a word of it is true gives the lie to any claims of journalistic integrity. Suffice it to say that if an Israeli who was the son of a Likud minister in the Netanyahu government were to come forward with a tale of Arab wrongdoing with the same lack of proof, they would be dismissed out of hand. If a story were to be published about such an accusation, it would be focused on an effort to debunk it and to portray the claim as transparent propaganda, not a credulous heart-rending account of suffering.

For the Times to go whole hog on Abu Raida’s tale says less about Hamas than it does about their own bias. It’s little surprise that Hamas would attempt to produce new Pallywood productions designed to harm Israel’s reputation at a time when the group’s cynical decision to launch a war and to conduct terror operations should be undermining any foreign support for their cause. But it is shocking that professional journalists that take umbrage at even the slightest accusations of bias lobbed in their direction would decide to print a story that is nothing more than a Hamas press release. The Abu Raida story is but a tiny footnote in the overall narrative of the fighting that has been going on in Gaza. But it provides new and damning evidence of the Times’s bias against Israel and the decline of the professional standards of its reporters and editors.

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Bias, Blood Libels, and the Media’s Race to the Bottom

If you are looking for a single headline that best sums up the state of American reporting on Israel, the Algemeiner has provided a good candidate: “TIME Magazine Retracts IDF Organ Theft Claim Following Criticism.” Do Jews kill gentile children to harvest their organs? It’s a question that has echoed throughout the ages, and was asked–and initially answered in the affirmative–by a major institution of American journalism in 2014. That question raises another one: Have the editors at Time magazine completely lost their minds?

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If you are looking for a single headline that best sums up the state of American reporting on Israel, the Algemeiner has provided a good candidate: “TIME Magazine Retracts IDF Organ Theft Claim Following Criticism.” Do Jews kill gentile children to harvest their organs? It’s a question that has echoed throughout the ages, and was asked–and initially answered in the affirmative–by a major institution of American journalism in 2014. That question raises another one: Have the editors at Time magazine completely lost their minds?

The headline is great in part because it shows that Time removed the sick fabrication only “following criticism.” Was the criticism unexpected? But read past the headline, and it only gets worse for Time. Here’s the lede: “Time Magazine retracted a report on Sunday which claimed the Israeli army harvested dead Palestinians’ internal organs after a watchdog group accused the publication of propagating a ‘blood libel.’”

That’s putting it kindly. The watchdog group–HonestReporting–did not so much “accuse” Time of propagating a blood libel as point out that Time was obviously propagating a blood libel. Is there another term for Time’s medieval delusions?

What happened was the following: Time produced a video about the Israel Defense Forces. At one point in the video, the narrator says that the “IDF is not without controversy.” That’s because, according to the video, “in 2009 a Swedish report came out exposing some Israeli troops of selling organs of Palestinians who died in their custody.”

Of course, it did nothing of the sort. A Swedish report had not only not “exposed” such activity but the author of its blood libel said: “whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue.” Time has flirted with turning Jewish stereotypes into “reporting” before–remember Karl Vick’s contention that the Jews were too rich and concerned with their money to care about peace with the Palestinians?–but never quite like this. Why Time magazine sees its role as the sewage treatment plant for the rotting refuse of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories is another question worth asking.

But also key here is the role of rumor–whether of the blood libel variety or simple unsubstantiated terrorist propaganda–in the West’s reporting on Israel’s conflict with Hamas. There is, in fact, real reporting being done. Just not by reporters.

For example, over at the popular Israel blog Israellycool, one of its primary contributors, Dan Smith, looked into the UN’s recently released report on damage to Gaza during the first month of Operation Protective Edge. Smith has used this “crisis atlas” to create interactive Google maps of the damage to compare with population maps and maps of terrorist targets in Gaza to create a picture of where the IDF is attacking and why. (He also repeats the crucial reminder that since so many Hamas rockets and mortars misfire, some of the damage is due not to Israeli strikes but to Hamas.)

I recommend reading Smith’s whole post, especially but not solely for the various maps. But Smith makes the following point about what the UN’s numbers–almost certainly exaggerating Israel’s culpability, it should be noted–reveal (emphasis in the original):

It now becomes very clear that most of the damage was caused to 5 locations right on the border with Israel. The rest of the Gaza Strip was, for the most part, undamaged. The main population areas of Gaza city, Jabaliya, Khan Yunes, Rafah and Deir el-Balah were disproportionately undamaged.

If we do a rough estimate of the damage area, it is once again clear the vast majority of the Gaza Strip was unscathed. With a fairly generous estimation that a damage point has a 25 meter radius – the footprint of a house, or the blast radius of a bomb – the total damage area of the 12,433 impacts was in the order of 15 KM2. The land area of the Gaza strip is 360 Km2. In other words, less than 5% of the land was affected.

It may not seem earth shattering, especially because it is unlikely to change many minds; the critics of Israel’s right to self-defense have never been particularly susceptible to facts. But it’s a glaring example of what the “official” media, the mainstream press, isn’t doing much of.

There isn’t nearly enough thoughtful analysis in the media or reporters willing to examine and question the assumptions and propaganda they’re fed by Hamas and its NGO allies, instead using reporters on the ground who worship Yasser Arafat. This is often the case when Israel is at war; in 2006, the Reuters practice of using photoshoppers masquerading as photographers led to the application of the term “fauxtography” to Reuters’ work in the Middle East.

But this lack of reporting appears to have spread to Time, and in a particularly offensive way. As hard as it is to believe, media coverage of Israel is actually deteriorating. The race to the bottom hasn’t stopped; it’s just gotten more crowded.

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Why Billions to Rebuild Gaza Will Go to Waste Yet Again

Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

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Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

Serry, who apparently inhabits a parallel universe, blithely asserted that the UN has successfully monitored projects in Gaza in the past and can do so today as well. This, of course, is the same UN that was shocked to discover Hamas rockets stored in three UNRWA schools in Gaza–and then promptly handed the rockets back to Hamas. It’s the same UN that allowed Hamas to booby-trap a UN clinic, resulting in its destruction when Hamas blew it up to kill nearby Israeli soldiers. It’s the same UN whose Gaza teacher’s union–i.e., the people who educate students at UNRWA schools–is run by Hamas, which controls all 11 seats on the union’s board, and whose “educators” include prominent members of Hamas’s military wing. And it’s the same UN whose own auditor recently released a damning report on the UN Development Program’s procurement in Gaza.

Inter alia, this report found that contract employees performed “core” procurement tasks that only regular staffers are supposed to perform, including for “significant” construction projects; that the UN wasn’t “monitoring and recording actual work” performed by contract employees handling “core” functions; that at least $8 million in construction spending was falsely recorded at far lower prices, thereby shielding it from scrutiny by higher-level officials who must approve major outlays; that many payments and receipts weren’t recorded; and that UNDP didn’t use an electronic fund transfer system that would let it monitor bank transactions and detect those “not made by UNDP.” In short, contrary to Serry’s assertion that “UN construction materials were not used for the [Hamas] tunnels,” the UN has no clue what was happening at its construction programs in Gaza.

Thus believing the UN could effectively monitor Gaza’s reconstruction is like believing cats can guard cream. Yet the main alternative–entrusting this task to the Palestinian Authority, bolstered by some unspecified “international monitoring and verification mission,” as the EU-3 proposes–is equally unrealistic.

Writing in The New Republic this week, Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky made a thoughtful case for the PA alternative, despite acknowledging that the PA is “monumentally corrupt.” And in principle, I agree with them. The fact that education, health, welfare, and development are currently largely handled by UNRWA encourages dysfunctional Palestinian government; Palestinian leaders can get away with being corrupt, irresponsible, and even diverting massive resources into rockets and tunnels precisely because the international community takes care of providing basic services to the public. Thus it’s long past time to defund UNRWA and force Palestinian governments–whether the PA or Hamas–to take responsibility for their own people.

But as veteran reporter Khaled Abu Toameh wrote this week, the idea that PA President Mahmoud Abbas can reassume control of Gaza now is ridiculous. First, he can’t afford to be seen as returning to Gaza “aboard an Israeli tank.” Second, Hamas remains the dominant military power in Gaza; Abbas’s forces are incapable of doing anything Hamas opposes, and even trying would be dangerous: Over the past month, Hamas has shot dozens of members of Abbas’s Fatah party just for daring to leave their homes. In other words, the PA can neither stop Hamas from firing rockets nor prevent it from diverting reconstruction aid. So all its return to Gaza would do is free Hamas of responsibility for day-to-day governance and allow it to focus all its energies on preparing for the next war.

In short, no international monitoring system can keep Hamas from rebuilding its war machine as long as it remains the dominant force in Gaza. And since the international community is vehemently opposed to letting Israel wage the kind of military operation needed to destroy Hamas, that means the billions it will soon spend to rebuild Gaza will be as wasted as all the previous billions were: All the gleaming new buildings will be destroyed again in another few years, when the next war erupts.

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Victory Isn’t a Dirty Word

One of the points of discord between the Israeli military establishment (plus much of its political establishment) and the West is the concept of victory. President Obama has long been criticized for wanting to “end” wars instead of win them, painting a picture of a fatigued America on the run. Western Europe has not exactly been a model of resolve in the face of aggression either. But Israelis don’t have the luxury of retreat and can’t treat as quaint the notion of victory. Military victory, in fact, has been the necessary precursor to peace for Israel.

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One of the points of discord between the Israeli military establishment (plus much of its political establishment) and the West is the concept of victory. President Obama has long been criticized for wanting to “end” wars instead of win them, painting a picture of a fatigued America on the run. Western Europe has not exactly been a model of resolve in the face of aggression either. But Israelis don’t have the luxury of retreat and can’t treat as quaint the notion of victory. Military victory, in fact, has been the necessary precursor to peace for Israel.

And now again we see Israel’s enemy, this time Hamas, on the ropes. Yet the international community either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t care. To wit: yesterday Israel killed three top Hamas commanders, including two involved in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. One of those terrorists, Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, was also the head of Hamas’s southern command. There were rumors, not confirmed but not debunked either, that Israel had also taken out Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif.

Hamas’s latest series of rocket barrages does not appear to have much of a strategy, and calls to mind Hamas’s visible desperation after Israel found and destroyed most of the terror tunnel network earlier in Operation Protective Edge. Furthermore, Walter Russell Mead points to a Wall Street Journal report on a planned donor conference led by Norway and hosted by Egypt to raise money for the postwar rebuilding of Gaza–a conference whose hosts don’t want Hamas in control of the cash:

“The people of Gaza are suffering, and emergency help is urgently needed,” said Borge Brende, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Basic infrastructure must be repaired, so that people get electricity, water and sewage.”

The Norwegian government said the damages in Gaza were still being assessed, but were more significant than after the 2008-2009 war. This is the third time in five years that donors have to support a reconstruction of Gaza, the government said.

“The donors want to send a clear signal that basic conditions in Gaza have to change. Gaza can’t be reconstructed as it was,” said Mr. Brende. “The international society can’t simply be expected to contribute to another reconstruction.”

Mr. Brende said the donors want President Mahmoud Abbas to receive the aid, with his Western-backed government of technocrats responsible for handling the reconstruction of Gaza.

That article is making two points: first, that Gazans will need basic infrastructure built after the war, and second–crucially–that Hamas is not the proper vehicle for that aid. It calls attention to something Israel and its supporters have been saying, and which the war has proved, time and again: giving money and goods to Hamas will not help the people of Gaza. It will, in fact, hurt them because it will enable their further deprivation at the hands of Hamas as well as turn them into human shields when Hamas uses the money and supplies to attack Israel.

This is something critics of Israel’s continued military campaign keep missing. Today, Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev tries to coax Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama into patching things up. After blaming Netanyahu for John Kerry’s absence from the ceasefire talks, Shalev writes:

But without America – even a weakened America headed by a reluctant president – there can be no long-lasting arrangement in Gaza: only America can guarantee Israel’s commitments, only America can give proper backing to the Palestinian Authority and only America can lead the kind of international effort that is needed in order to rebuild Gaza and hopefully bring about its disarmament as well. And with all due respect to the regional changes that Netanyahu mentioned in his press conference, only America is capable of facilitating the kind of diplomatic process that would lead to the “new political horizon” that Netanyahu alluded to on Wednesday, in a transparent effort to woo coalition partners on his left as well as Israel’s more centrist-minded public.

America the indispensable. Which it is. And yet, I can’t help but point out that there’s something missing here. Why was Kerry “ejected” (Shalev’s word) from the talks? It’s not because Kerry was trying to “lead the kind of international effort that is needed in order to rebuild Gaza and hopefully bring about its disarmament as well.” Kerry’s failure, in fact, was that he wasn’t doing so.

Kerry had been duped (to be generous) into presenting the kind of ceasefire that Israel’s enemies wanted and would have enabled Hamas to live to fight another day, perhaps even using those tunnels that were later destroyed. Kerry wasn’t on pace to bring about Gaza’s disarmament. What Shalev (correctly) wants out of a resolution to this conflict would have been made impossible if Kerry had his way.

Hamas once again appears to be on the ropes. A ceasefire that truly brings peace and prevents future war and terror is surely desirable. In its absence, the Israeli government shouldn’t be blamed for pursuing victory.

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Yes, Egypt Is Playing a Constructive Role in Gaza Conflict

With Hamas’s strategy of using human shields and threatening journalists, the blame-the-Jews strain running as strong as ever around the world, and the undeniably atrocious behavior of John Kerry, Egypt has mostly avoided the world’s ire as the conflict in Gaza continues. But with Cairo hosting the repeatedly failed talks, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s luck was bound to run out. And now his government is being unfairly castigated for its role in the ceasefire negotiations.

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With Hamas’s strategy of using human shields and threatening journalists, the blame-the-Jews strain running as strong as ever around the world, and the undeniably atrocious behavior of John Kerry, Egypt has mostly avoided the world’s ire as the conflict in Gaza continues. But with Cairo hosting the repeatedly failed talks, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s luck was bound to run out. And now his government is being unfairly castigated for its role in the ceasefire negotiations.

The complaint centers on Egypt’s post-Morsi role in the region. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was in power in Cairo, its Palestinian offshoot Hamas had a powerful friend next door. When violence last flared up between Israel and Hamas, Cairo facilitated a ceasefire–a process which left Hamas mostly unscathed and able to replenish its arsenal for the next round of fighting. But Sisi heads a military government that deposed the Brotherhood’s men in a coup. As such, Sisi doesn’t want Hamas to be able to rearm at will and cause trouble indefinitely.

It’s a logical position, and one that should be echoed in the West. But not everyone’s happy with Sisi’s lack of urgency in ending the fighting. An example of this argument comes from Michele Dunne and Nathan Brown:

This subtle shift — from mediator with interests, to interested party that also mediates — has led to a longer and bloodier Gaza war than might otherwise have been the case. And while a strong Egypt-Israel alliance was supposed to cut Hamas down to size, this strategy has also backfired on the diplomatic front. However much it has bloodied Hamas — and particularly the population of Gaza — the war has actually led to a breaking of international taboos on dealing with Hamas, a former pariah.

Egypt has always brought its own long-standing national security interests to the table in previous Gaza mediation efforts. Cairo has never wanted militants or weapons to enter Egypt from Gaza, nor has it wanted to take over responsibility for humanitarian or security affairs there, having had the unhappy experience of occupying the Gaza Strip for almost 20 years following 1948. Egyptian intelligence officials have always taken the lead in dealing with Gaza — even during the yearlong presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. While one might have thought that Morsi would have opened the floodgates to Hamas, the Brotherhood’s ideological bedfellow, in actuality Egypt kept the border with Gaza largely closed during his presidency and continued efforts to destroy tunnels. Whatever his personal sympathies, Morsi stayed within the lines of a policy designed to ensure that Egypt was not stuck holding the Gaza hot potato.

But after removing Morsi in a July 2013 coup, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, then defense minister and now president, transformed Egypt’s policy toward Gaza into part of his larger domestic and international political agenda. He is clearly using Gaza to prosecute his own relentless crackdown against the Brotherhood — an effort that also helps cement his alignment with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There are a few problems with this argument.

First of all, Nunne and Brown claim that Hamas has punctured its isolation thanks to Cairo’s tough line. I’m not at all convinced this is really the case, but let’s say it is. The more important question than whether the world is talking to Hamas is how the world is talking about Hamas. There is an unprecedented consensus that this is the moment to disarm Hamas and demilitarize Gaza. Is it a pipe dream? Maybe. But the Israeli/Egyptian opposition to letting Hamas off the hook has raised serious discussions about ending the Gaza blockade in return for demilitarizing the strip. And this idea has broad support at the Pentagon, in Europe, and among Arab states in the Middle East.

It might be true that if this doesn’t happen, Dunne and Brown have a case. But that leads to the second problem with their thesis: they have fallen into the classic trap of prioritizing ending this war over preventing future wars. They are nearly mutually exclusive goals. “This war” is not really a separate war, after all, from the last one or the one before that. As long as Hamas is in power in Gaza and able to rearm and threaten Israel, each truce is temporary and each ceasefire comes with an expiration date.

Another problem is that Dunne and Brown give Morsi a bit too much credit for containing Hamas. It’s true that Morsi cracked down on tunnels to Egypt. But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:

Under the protective umbrella of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist-led government, Hamas had imported large quantities of arms from Libya and Sudan, as well as money to pay the salaries of government officials and members of their armed wing, Israeli and U.S. officials said. His successor abruptly changed that.

That’s a significant difference. Enabling weapons flows to Hamas guarantees future violence, so it’s a bit rich to see Morsi praised and Sisi criticized on this score.

And finally, Dunne and Brown–and the other critics of Egypt’s new role under Sisi–don’t seem to appreciate the fact that Sisi’s goals align quite nicely with those of the West. Doesn’t the West want terrorist groups like Hamas, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the rest to be defeated? I would think so.

And this is even more important in light of the news yesterday that Israel derailed an attempted West Bank coup by Hamas. According to Israel’s security officials, as the Times of Israel reported, “the plot was orchestrated by senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri, who is based in Turkey and enjoys the support of the local officials there.”

Any assessment of the balance of power in the Middle East has to incorporate the fact that Turkey is now not only helping Hamas, but enabling the planning of a coup against Mahmoud Abbas’s government in the West Bank. Egypt’s shift to dedicated foe of Hamas is a boon to the West’s otherwise fading influence in the region, and persuasively rebuts the idea that Cairo’s actions don’t align with Western strategic objectives.

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Anti-Zionism Always Equals Anti-Semitism

The reaction to the fighting in Gaza — which may or may not be formally concluding soon with a cease-fire — continues to produce symptoms of Europe’s age-old disease: anti-Semitism. The latest evidence of this vile behavior not only raises questions about the precarious position of European Jewry but also gives the lie to the claim that one can be an anti-Zionist without slipping inevitably into Jew hatred.

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The reaction to the fighting in Gaza — which may or may not be formally concluding soon with a cease-fire — continues to produce symptoms of Europe’s age-old disease: anti-Semitism. The latest evidence of this vile behavior not only raises questions about the precarious position of European Jewry but also gives the lie to the claim that one can be an anti-Zionist without slipping inevitably into Jew hatred.

The incident involves a branch of chain supermarket store called Sainsbury’s in central London’s Holborn neighborhood. The store was the object of an anti-Zionist protest that sought to remove all foods from its shelved of Israeli origin. Such efforts have become commonplace, especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland where anti-Israeli activists are no longer content to call for boycotts of the Jewish state but are now taking matters into their own hands and entering stores and removing the offensive goods from the shelves without permission. But at this particular Sainsbury’s outlet, the demonstrators became so aggressive that they scared the store management into going even farther toward ensuring that the store was off limits to anything with a Jewish taint.

According to the Guardian:

A Sainsbury’s branch removed kosher food from its shelves over fears that anti-Israeli protesters would attack it.

The branch manager of the store in Holborn, central London ordered the section to be emptied on Saturday afternoon, while protesters outside picketed it calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. The move prompted outrage after a photo of the empty shelves was posted on social media.

Colin Appleby, who took the photo, said the kosher section contained food made in the UK and Poland. He added that a staff member defended the decision, saying: “We support Free Gaza.”

“I didn’t try to point out that kosher goods were not Israeli goods but they walked away,” he wrote on Facebook.

This marks a new low in anti-Zionist agitation but also illustrates that despite the hair-splitting by some ideologues and their apologists the distance to travel between hatred for Israel and that directed at all Jews isn’t very far.

This protest also illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of those claiming to protest Israeli actions in the name of human rights. Those who have taken to the streets against Israel as well as storming stores with Israeli or kosher goods say they support “Free Gaza.” But what, in fact, they are supporting is not a free Gaza but a Hamas-ruled Islamist state. Their protests are implicit endorsement not so much of the right of Gazans to go about their lives without being subjected to attack as they are backing of Hamas’ genocidal war on Israel. Were they actually the least bit concerned about the Palestinians who have been killed or wounded in the fighting they would, instead be directing their protests against the strip’s Hamas rulers who have squandered foreign aid on the infrastructure of terror including tunnels aimed at facilitating cross-border raids and an arsenal of thousands of rockets that have rained down on Israeli cities.

Protests against Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Hamas are, almost by definition, exercises in hypocrisy.

Even if one disagrees with Israeli policies on the West Bank, Hamas’s “resistance” against the “occupation,” has nothing to do with hilltop settlements on land that could theoretically become part of a Palestinian state but are, instead, focused on “liberating” all of pre-1967 Israel and evicting or slaughtering its Jewish population. But even if the Gaza protests were solely about what happens on the West Bank (which could have already become an independent Palestinian state had the Palestinian Authority been willing to say yes to peace offers in 2000, 2001, 2008 and this past spring), it bears pointing out that the frenzy that the fighting in Gaza has generated is out of all proportion to the scale of suffering there when compared to other conflicts. The fact that those who protest against alleged Israeli brutality have nothing to say about the fact that other Muslims in Syria and half a dozen other Arab countries are currently killing far more Muslims than who have died in Gaza is significant.

Anti-Zionists are ready to deny to the Jews the same rights of self-determination and self-defense that every other people planet is granted without controversy. As such, they are practicing a form of prejudice. Since the term of art for prejudice against Jews is called anti-Semitism, there is no doubt that those who agitate against Israel’s existence are anti-Semites.

Were these people merely seeking to rid supermarket shelves of Israeli products rather than anything kosher no matter its country of origin it would not be any more defensible. But when anti-Zionists start targeting anything connected with Jews they are merely pointing out that the gap between their positions and those of the Nazi-like Hamas is a distinction without a difference. Their zeal to target Jews shows they are rapidly absorbing the crude Jew-hatred that is being imported to Europe from the Middle East.

Europe’s streets have been filled with protesters against Israel’s anti-terror counter-offensive in Gaza spewing all kinds of hate speech and sometimes, as in Paris, morphing into anti-Semitic riots. But this behavior is also being encouraged by stunts like the decision of Glasgow’s City Hall to fly a Palestinian flag in a gesture of support for Hamas, it’s easy to see why some of the demonstrators are feeling free to vent their anti-Semitism rather than stick to more defensible behavior. A Europe that has come to view Hamas and its platform as acceptable is not only ready to believe anything, no matter how preposterous. It also showing that there may be no turning back from a descent into a new period of European barbarism toward Jews.

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What Happened to the Press in Gaza?

Yesterday, the spokeswoman for the Hamas government in Gaza let the shoe drop. Isra al-Mudallal told a Lebanese television station that the Islamist group routinely intimidated foreign journalists in efforts to “persuade” them to stop trying to take pictures of rocket launches or Hamas fighters.

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Yesterday, the spokeswoman for the Hamas government in Gaza let the shoe drop. Isra al-Mudallal told a Lebanese television station that the Islamist group routinely intimidated foreign journalists in efforts to “persuade” them to stop trying to take pictures of rocket launches or Hamas fighters.

This admission jibes with the complaint issued earlier this week by the Foreign Press Association about Hamas intimidation and interference with reporters in Gaza. Indeed, it explains a lot about the fact that, as I noted last week, throughout the four weeks of fighting, the hordes of foreign reporters that flooded the strip failed to produce a single video of the thousands of rockets shot at the Jewish state or of the armed Hamas cadres that were fighting the Israel Defense Force. Indeed, the first videos of Hamas terrorist activity launches only came in the waning days of the conflict and were released by Finnish and Indian TV only after their reporters had left Gaza? Until then, the only videos coming out of Gaza were those that bolstered the Palestinian narrative about Israeli attacks on civilians as pictures of dead children played in an endless loop on cable news stations.

Yet when put to the question about what was going on in Gaza, most members of the foreign press weren’t very forthcoming about what was, admittedly, a difficult problem. Some claimed they never saw a Hamas fighter or that a massive force numbering thousands operating in what we were endlessly told was a tiny and densely populated area operated out of sight. Others denied the charge of intimidation and claimed to have not seen any evidence of Hamas using civilians as human shields even though they know that the terrorist group was operating in and around civilian targets continuously.

While none of those who knuckled under to Hamas intimidation should be nominated for any awards for journalistic integrity, let alone courage, it’s easy to sympathize with their plight. Hamas is a terrorist organization whose members have no scruples about violence. It plays for keeps and reporters in areas under their control who don’t get with the program do run a very real risk of never seeing their homes and families again.

But the frustrating thing about this situation is not just that the foreign press was forced to tell only part of the story that was happening in Gaza. It is that most of them seem to think there was nothing wrong with their coverage. Indeed, many seem not to have needed a talking-to from Hamas thugs in order to agree with al-Mudallal that the only proper thing to do in Gaza for a journalist was to take as many pictures of injured Palestinian civilians while ignoring the fact that they were put in harm’s way by terrorists shooting and tunneling from within their midst, including the vicinity of schools, hospitals and mosques.

What’s even more interesting is that one journalist who reported from the Israeli side of the border, New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, protested the Foreign Press Association complaint against Hamas. On Monday, Rudoren tweeted that: “Every reporter I’ve met who was in Gaza during war says this Israeli/now FPA narrative of Hamas harassment is nonsense.”

That may well be true since so many of those who reported for the Times and the broadcast and cable news networks seemed to think the narrative of this war was solely about Israeli attacks on Gaza while ignoring or minimizing the fact that Hamas started the war and launched thousands of rockets and prepared dozens of terror tunnels, the purpose of which was to kill as many Jews as possible. This selective presentation of information about the fighting skewed both the coverage and the climate of public opinion in most of the world. The lies by omission committed by journalists helped feed an atmosphere in which anti-Semitism became respectable in Europe, Asia and Africa and caused even some fair-weather friends of Israel in this country to claim that Israeli beastliness was undermining the Jewish state’s right to self-defense.

This shouldn’t be terribly surprising to those who have closely followed the media’s coverage of the conflict in recent years. Hamas spokeswoman al-Mulladal was, after all, treated by many in the press as a symbol of the new, moderate and modern Hamas as this profile published in Germany’s Der Spiegel in the weeks before the fighting started testifies.

This blatant media bias isn’t bothering most Israelis who long ago gave up on the idea of getting a fair shake from a foreign press corps that often arrives in the region deeply prejudiced against Zionism and determined to find stories that fit with their pre-existing biases about the Palestinians. But it should profoundly upset those who care about the profession of journalism.

We’ve heard a lot in the last weeks about whether Israel and its friends have drawn the proper conclusions from this war as pundits warned them that the coverage of Palestinian casualties would cost them dearly in the court of public opinion. But we’ve heard very little soul searching from journalists about the crisis in their profession that the failure of reporters operating in Gaza highlights.

It is no cliché to say, as Americans have been repeating since the earliest days of our republic, that a free press is essential to a functioning democracy. But journalists who set out to distort the truth about a major conflict and skew their reporting to further isolate the one Jewish state on the planet and boost their image of a bloodthirsty terrorist organization have lost their moral compass as well as their professional integrity. It may well be that the controversy over the missing pictures in Gaza will soon fade from memory and the press will, as is their wont, go back to business as usual blasting Israel and ignoring the ethical questions raised by their one-sided actions. But no one who reads al-Mudallal’s admission and ponders the otherwise inexplicable failure of journalists to tell both sides of the story will ever trust Rudoren or any of her colleagues again.

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Drawing Conclusions From the Myth of Middle East Moderates

In today’s Washington Post, that inveterate peddler of foreign policy conventional wisdom Fareed Zakaria tells a great truth about the myth of Arab moderation. That he does so in order to cover up for the failures of President Obama and while also hedging his bets about the Palestinians does not detract from the general truth of his thesis.

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In today’s Washington Post, that inveterate peddler of foreign policy conventional wisdom Fareed Zakaria tells a great truth about the myth of Arab moderation. That he does so in order to cover up for the failures of President Obama and while also hedging his bets about the Palestinians does not detract from the general truth of his thesis.

Zakaria is merely stating what has long been obvious to critics of the political culture of the Arab and Muslim world. In that toxic environment, “moderation” is political poison and extremism, especially of the Islamist variety has become mainstream. As Zakaria rightly notes, the dynamic that has brought ISIS to the brink of overrunning Iraq has been manifested throughout the Middle East over the last generation as Islamists have become more powerful and their so-called moderate opponents have become less moderate as well as unpopular.

The purpose of this Obama cheerleader’s detour into reality is not, however, to debunk the fantasy that Israel must make concessions to the Palestinians in order to strengthen their moderates. Nor is he seeking to pour cold water on those promoting the delusion that Iran’s leaders are becoming more moderate and that justifies American appeasement of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Those are two fallacies that Zakaria is perfectly happy to continue promoting in his writing and on the bully pulpit he occupies on CNN.

No, the only reason that Zakaria is interesting in shooting down the idea of Arab moderation is because that is a convenient way to defend the Obama against the criticisms lodged against him by Hillary Clinton last week in her Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. Clinton rightly noted that an early and vigorous Western intervention in Syria would have probably toppled the brutal Assad regime. But even more importantly, the chaos that stemmed from the protracted civil war there led to the rise of ISIS, a vicious Islamist terror group that has overrun parts of Syria and much of Iraq.

But Zakaria is determined to absolve Obama and therefore declares that there were never any real moderates in Syria and that any Western intervention would have been in vain. Like the president, whose alibi for a record of almost unbroken foreign policy failure during his time in office is that the world is a complicated and confusing place he can’t be expected to do much about, let alone fix, Zakaria’s response to Syria is to throw up his hands and to say that nothing could be done.

To be fair, the Syrian opposition was never very impressive and is now totally overshadowed by the extremists in the field against Assad. But to assert that inaction was the only reasonable option in Syria is to promote a different kind of myth. History is fluid, not set in stone. As uncertain as the situation in Syria was three years ago, there’s little doubt that Assad was on the ropes and, like Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, would have fallen if Obama (who kept predicting the demise of that regime) had acted. While it is possible the country would have descended to chaos as was the case in Libya where the president’s lead from behind style led to disaster, could it have been worse than what is happening now, with the country divided between Iran’s ally Assad and Islamists who are also threatening to take over Iraq?

But even if we leave the Syria out of the discussion, what’s most disappointing about Zakaria’s truth-telling about the missing Muslim and Arab moderates is that even as he tries to debunks Clinton’s criticisms of Obama, he refuses to connect the dots between his thesis and the president’s Middle East policies that he has supported.

Zakaria insists that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a genuine moderate. But, if he was being consistent or had a shred of intellectual integrity, he would note that the same dynamic that has driven other moderate regimes to extremism has applied to Abbas as well. Abbas talks like a moderate at times when speaking to Westerners or left-wing Israelis. But his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or to denounce Palestinian Islamists gives the lie to the talk about his moderation, although even the Israeli government regards him as a necessary evil these days.

Zakaria also distorts the truth when he says the reason why there have been no Palestinian elections in recent years (Abbas is currently serving the 10th year of a four-year presidential term) is that the Israelis and the West have postponed them. That is nonsense even though he’s right when he says there is good reason to believe the Hamas terrorists might win. The autocratic and utterly corrupt Fatah run by Abbas needs no prompting from the Israelis or the Americans to act to protect themselves from the trappings of democracy.

But the main failing of Zakaria’s piece is that he refuses to draw the proper conclusion from his correct diagnosis about the failure of Arab moderation. If it is a fantasy to imagine that there are no moderates who can make peace with the Jewish state and live with the West without resorting to terror or nuclear blackmail, then it behooves the U.S. to stop trying to hammer the Israelis into making dangerous concessions that will only strengthen Hamas in Gaza. It would also be good reason for Obama to sober up about the prospects of détente with Iran and to realize that rather than loosening sanctions on Tehran, tougher ones along with a credible threat of force is the only way to avert the nuclear threat.

For Zakaria, Arab and Muslim moderation is a myth. But only a myth when it serves the purpose of absolving Obama from his responsibility to lead, not when it comes to pressuring Israel or appeasing Iran.

Update: This afternoon, The Washington Post responded to complaints such as the one I made about Zakaria’s wrongly blaming Israel for the failure to hold Palestinian elections. It reads as follows:

An earlier version of this column erred in stating, “the Israeli government and the West have happily postponed elections in the West Bank.” The elections have been postponed by the Palestinian Authority.

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How the West Helps Suppress Gaza Dissent

With the fighting in Gaza seemingly winding down, stories are starting to trickle out about Gaza residents’ unhappiness with Hamas for starting a new war every few years. The Associated Press devoted its “big story” to the topic yesterday; the Washington Post ran a similar story on August 12. Seemingly, that’s an encouraging development. But closer analysis leaves little ground for optimism.

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With the fighting in Gaza seemingly winding down, stories are starting to trickle out about Gaza residents’ unhappiness with Hamas for starting a new war every few years. The Associated Press devoted its “big story” to the topic yesterday; the Washington Post ran a similar story on August 12. Seemingly, that’s an encouraging development. But closer analysis leaves little ground for optimism.

First, the criticism was primarily over tactics: People objected to Hamas launching rockets from their backyards or thought it should have accepted a cease-fire earlier. But as the Washington Post noted, there was virtually no disagreement over strategy: “Most Palestinians, even Hamas’s biggest detractors, say they back the current war against Israel, believing it is the only way to achieve the short-term Palestinian demands of lifting the Israeli and Egyptian economic blockades of Gaza and opening the strip’s border crossings.”

In other words, Palestinians still haven’t grasped the simple fact that the blockade was imposed in response to the nonstop rocket fire on Israel from Gaza, and its primary goal is to limit Hamas’ ability to import war materiel. They have evidently forgotten that when Israel first withdrew from Gaza in mid-2005, a U.S.-brokered agreement arranged for the border crossings to open under Palestinian Authority and European supervision; only two years and thousands of rockets later, after Hamas booted the PA out of Gaza in mid-2007, did both Israel and Egypt institute stringent restrictions at the crossings. Thus instead of concluding that the best way to get Israel to end the blockade would be to stop shooting at it, Palestinians still think the best way to end the blockade is to bombard Israel with even more rockets.

Even worse, however, is that both Washington and Europe seem hell-bent on proving them right. One might have thought the discovery that Hamas diverted enormous quantities of imported cement – enough, as one Israeli officer noted, to build “two hospitals, 20 clinics, 20 schools, and 100 kindergartens” – into building tunnels to attack Israel would have led the West to realize that Israel’s insistence on regulating construction imports had some merit. Instead, Western leaders are pressing Israel to agree to significant concessions during the Cairo cease-fire talks. On July 27, for instance, a White House readout of a call between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Obama had demanded a cease-fire “that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs,” while relegating Israel’s demand for Gaza’s disarmament to an ever-elusive “lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – i.e., the far-distant future.

In short, the West has been pressuring Israel to show Gaza residents that Hamas’ strategy works, and that a war every few years really will force it into concessions. And Israel has begun capitulating to this pressure, having reportedly agreed to several steps to ease the blockade, though not yet to removing it totally.

Even without this, the chances of Gaza residents revolting against Hamas were slim, given the organization’s reign of terror. As one Gazan critical of Hamas bluntly told Haaretz last week, “One mustn’t express an opinion about the war. They’ll make you trouble if you say anything. I speak my mind, but others, if they say what they think, they’ll say they’re collaborators, or they’ll beat them or even kill them.” AP similarly warned that “Under Hamas rule, it’s rare and dangerous to share even as much as a hint of criticism of the government with outsiders”; indeed, few Hamas critics quoted in any of the articles were willing to be identified by name.

But if Hamas had nothing to show for its endless wars, even cowed Gazans might someday decide they’d had enough. Instead, Hamas seems likely to return from Cairo with Israeli concessions that will force even its critics to shut up and admit that its strategy works. It’s hard to imagine a better way to ensure that the countdown to the next Israel-Hamas war will be short.

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Change the Game in Gaza Talks

It’s no secret that Hamas seeks to win through post-war diplomacy what it cannot on the battlefield. Israelis—or at least Israel’s intellectual elite—can be their own worst enemies in this regard, as they seek Western gratification by downplaying Israel’s security needs and spinning reality. Just look at the pages of Haaretz on any given day. And Israel journalist Ronen Bergman describes the conclusions of many in this recent piece in the New York Times.

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It’s no secret that Hamas seeks to win through post-war diplomacy what it cannot on the battlefield. Israelis—or at least Israel’s intellectual elite—can be their own worst enemies in this regard, as they seek Western gratification by downplaying Israel’s security needs and spinning reality. Just look at the pages of Haaretz on any given day. And Israel journalist Ronen Bergman describes the conclusions of many in this recent piece in the New York Times.

Dictatorships–and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are both dictatorships–have an advantage in shaping messages, because democratic discourse makes message discipline more difficult. That’s not to castigate democracy; individual liberty should be paramount. Still, the situation Israel finds itself in is reminiscent of the aftermath of the 2006 Hezbollah war, when so many journalists concluded Israel had lost, and never bothered to report Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s admission to Lebanese journalists that had he known how Israel was going to react in the face of Hezbollah’s kidnap attempt across Israel’s northern border, he never would have launched the mission. Nor did they report the protests of Iranian labor unions who condemned Iran’s funding of so-called Lebanese resistance at the expense of Iranian people in need.

It’s time Israel changes the game. As the Gaza talks continue, Hamas will certainly try to win the diplomatic round of its fight with Israel. Hamas knows that the international community seldom assesses the true impact of its aid and many diplomats and foreign officials are loath to let a good crisis go to waste, never mind the implications of their actions. So here is the New York Times castigating Israel for not fulfilling the Oslo Accords’ call for a Gaza seaport, never mind that Hamas doesn’t accept the Oslo Accords. Norway, of course, has begun preparations for a new donor conference for Gaza, in effect rewarding Hamas for the violence it began with is missile salvos and diverted humanitarian supplies channeled into tunnel and bunker construction. And here’s the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which by its own founding charter should have ceased to exist a half century ago, using the crisis in order to fundraise, never mind its own complicity in the crisis by allowing its schools to be transformed into weapons depots.

Diplomacy is war by other means. Israel’s diplomats have long been the keystone cops of Israeli officialdom, as the best and the brightest try more for careers in the private sector, military, or intelligence. Let us hope that they hold firm at the table and, rather than mow grass with all due respect to Efraim Inbar, they seek to change the game permanently.

Israeli historian and writer Moshe Dann emails with some good ideas:

The government of Israel could require that funds for reconstruction be used to build in uninhabited areas south of Gaza City and far from Israel’s borders. Under no circumstances should UNRWA be allowed to rebuild its facilities, as they have proven incapable of supervising their properties. In addition, El Arish can be used by Gazans as a port for exporting produce. Gazans should be allowed to relocate in the uninhabited areas between El Arish and the Gaza Strip, as well as other areas of Sinai. Reconstructions funds should be allocated to build a water desalination plant. Neighborhoods which were used to fire rockets should not be reconstructed. They should be used only for public purposes — parks, playgrounds, etc.

Let’s put the El Arish question aside for another day. Dann is absolutely right that UNRWA should not be permitted to rebuild facilities which it allowed to be corrupted. I would go further and suggest that any deal include the provision for the phased withdrawal of UNRWA altogether. The Palestinians want to govern their own affairs? Let them, without the promise of endless subsidy.

The urban planning—some of which admittedly takes on a security dimensions—is under-discussed but extremely important. With Western diplomats and UN officials essentially acting as zoning officers, telling Israel where it can and cannot build, there is no reason why they cannot reprise that role in the Gaza Strip.

A ceasefire is not enough, nor should the Gaza Strip become the scene for some sort of lethal Groundhog Day. It’s time to change the rules of the diplomatic game.

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Why Hamas Isn’t Falling

As I noted earlier today, much of the debate about who won or lost the lingering conflict in Gaza centers on the question of whether Palestinians in Gaza are ready to shuck off the despotic and destructive rule of Hamas. The assumption is that Gazans will draw the only logical conclusion from the Islamist terrorists’ mad decision to launch a war that only increased their suffering. But as in much else that characterizes the Middle East, logic doesn’t necessarily apply here.

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As I noted earlier today, much of the debate about who won or lost the lingering conflict in Gaza centers on the question of whether Palestinians in Gaza are ready to shuck off the despotic and destructive rule of Hamas. The assumption is that Gazans will draw the only logical conclusion from the Islamist terrorists’ mad decision to launch a war that only increased their suffering. But as in much else that characterizes the Middle East, logic doesn’t necessarily apply here.

We’ve heard a great deal recently about the likelihood that Hamas’s weakened military state due to Israel’s successful military action must mean that the group’s hold on Gaza must be slipping. Given that Hamas has achieved none of the principle goals it stated for the conflict, including the release of terrorist prisoners and the end of the international blockade of Gaza, it stands to reason that Palestinians must be thinking seriously about replacing the movement that has ruled over them since taking power in a 2007 coup.

But despite all the talk about the imminent demise of Hamasistan, there is actually no sign whatsoever that its grip on power is slipping. The reasons for that have every thing to do with the peculiar dynamic of Palestinian politics and a basic rule of history. As the Times of Israel notes in a feature today, support for Hamas’s goals and fear of dissent provides the terror group with a strong insurance policy.

Though no one in Gaza had to like the results of the fighting, Hamas’s political stock may actually have gone up due to the perverse culture of Palestinian life. Throughout the last century Palestinians have always given the bulk of their support to whichever faction proved to be the most violent. That dynamic kept Yasir Arafat at the top of the Palestinian pyramid and has inspired the ongoing competition between Hamas and Fatah in the last generation. Since Palestinian national identity has always been inextricably linked to their war on Zionism, peacemaking has always been political poison. Instead of concentrating on development or providing services for their backers, Hamas and Fatah have both concentrated on demonstrating their belligerence, with even moderates like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas understanding that agreeing to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state is simply impossible. That’s why no matter what Hamas does it appears that Gazans will blame their suffering on Israel.

As for possible dissent, it should be noted that the one demonstration held in Gaza against Hamas was met with a stern response. Those involved were executed. That is where the iron rule comes in.

Throughout history, tyrannies have only fallen when they are ready to liberalize, not when they are still prepared to spill the blood of their people. The French revolution happened during the reign of the least tyrannical of the Bourbon kings, not under that of the most bloodthirsty. The Soviet Union fell after glasnost and perestroika, not during the era of Stalin’s bloody purges that took the lives of millions.

Hamas is isolated, militarily defeated, and bankrupt. But so long as it is prepared to use its weapons to suppress possible dissent, intimidate the press, and/or to ensure that Fatah is not in a position to retake Gaza, the odds of it losing power are slim and none.

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Obama Doesn’t Worry About Israel’s Survival. That’s Why We Should.

In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

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In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

Here’s the quote:

I asked the president whether he was worried about Israel.

“It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades,” he answered. “To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people. And because Israel is so capable militarily, I don’t worry about Israel’s survival. … I think the question really is how does Israel survive. And how can you create a State of Israel that maintains its democratic and civic traditions. How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel. And, in order to do that, it has consistently been my belief that you have to find a way to live side by side in peace with Palestinians. … You have to recognize that they have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well.”

It’s nice that the president admires Israel’s achievements. But his complacence about its military achievements combined with his patronizing concern about its democratic and civic traditions is the sort of left-handed compliment that tells us more about his animosity for the Jewish state’s government than his fidelity to the alliance between the two allies. You don’t have to read too closely between the lines to understand that the subtext of these comments—Hamas’s genocidal intentions and Iran’s nuclear ambitions—make Obama’s blasé confidence about Israel’s ability to defend itself deeply worrisome.

The president is, of course, right to note that Israel has a formidable military. In particular, Israel’s dedication to technological advances such as the Iron Dome missile defense system have both saved many lives in the last month’s fighting with Hamas and provided a substantial long-range benefit to its American security partner. But his complacency about its security situation is hardly reassuring.

Israel remains under siege by hostile neighbors in the form of terrorist states on both its northern (Hezbollah) and southern borders. Both remain committed not just to Israel’s destruction but also the genocide of its Jewish population. While Israel is in no current danger of military defeat, the spectacle of Hamas forcing the majority of Israelis in and out of bomb shelters for a month encouraged the Islamists and their supporters to believe their cause is not yet lost. The fact that their efforts are being cheered on by a worldwide surge in anti-Semitism fueled by hatred of Israel also ought to leave any true friend of Israel worried.

Even more to the point, the principal sponsor of those terror groups—Iran—is working hard to gain nuclear capability, a (to use Obama’s own phrase) “game changing” factor that could destabilize the entire Middle East, threaten the security of the U.S. as well as endanger Israel’s existence. But despite paying rhetorical lip service to the effort to stop Iran, Obama has spent the last years hell-bent on pursuing détente with Tehran. The weak interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. last fall undermined the sanctions that had cornered the Iranians and discarded virtually all of the West’s leverage. If the Iranians are currently playing hard to get in the current round of negotiations (now in the equivalent of soccer’s injury time as the deadline promised by Obama for talks has been extended), it is because they know the president’s zeal for a deal (and an excuse to abandon his campaign promises to stop Iran) outweighs his common sense or his resolve.

The bulk of Friedman’s interview with Obama concentrated on the disaster in Iraq and related troubles. But here, as with many domestic problems and scandals, the president’s priority is to absolve himself and his policies. The world is, he seems to be constantly telling us, a complex and confusing place where all of our possible choices are bad. There’s some truth to that, especially in places like Syria and Iraq. But what comes across most in his account of America’s declining affairs is that this is a president who is overwhelmed by events and has little understanding of them. The best he can do is to spew clichés about his bad options and to blame others.

Obama’s chief whipping boy in the Middle East is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the world leader with whom he has quarreled the most in his years in office. Despite the events of the last month that have proved again that any territory Israel hands to the Palestinians will become a terror base, Obama continues to obsess about the need for Netanyahu to make territorial concessions that will create the possibility of, as the Israeli says, 20 Gazas in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of Israelis reject such mad advice but Obama dismisses their common sense as merely being a case of a lack of vision. Despite his talk about supporting Israeli democracy he has been doing everything possible to thwart the will of Israel’s voters by undermining Netanyahu. Israelis want peace but understand that subjecting themselves to terror governments won’t bring the conflict to a close.

Obama also believes that the obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t Hamas. This conveniently ignores the fact that it is Hamas that plunged the region into war and whose hold on power there is being guaranteed by American pressure on Israel to restrain its counter-attacks on Islamist rocket fire and terror tunnels. The problem is, Obama says, that Netanyahu is “too strong” and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is “too weak.” That explains Obama’s constant attacks on Israel and his praise for the feckless—and powerless—Abbas. If he were serious about supporting democracy, he’d be wary of the autocratic Abbas and his corrupt PA gang and understand that asking Israel to further empower a Palestinian leadership that won’t make peace is not the act of a friend.

Even if we take the president’s assurances of his friendship for Israel at face value, this interview confirms what has been obvious since January 2009. This is a president who believes Israel’s security is not his priority or even a particular concern. Rather, he wants to save Israel from itself and acts as if it has not already made several offers of peace that have been consistently turned down by the Palestinians. Though Obama is right that Israelis won’t allow their country to be destroyed, his apathy about the deadly threats it faces from Iran and its terrorist proxies, cheered by a chorus of anti-Semitic haters, does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. The world has gotten less safe on his watch. The Israeli objects of his pressure tactics do well to ignore his advice. Friedman’s interview gives those who do care about the Jewish state’s future even more reasons to worry.

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The Uncritical and Intemperate Partisans of the Boycott-Israel Movement

In a case that has roiled the academic community, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has rescinded an offer to Stephen Salaita, who had, for reasons unknown, resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech before his new appointment had been confirmed. Salaita, now out of a job, is a leading figure in the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement.

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In a case that has roiled the academic community, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has rescinded an offer to Stephen Salaita, who had, for reasons unknown, resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech before his new appointment had been confirmed. Salaita, now out of a job, is a leading figure in the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement.

I do not want to weigh in here on the question of whether the Chancellor at UIUC did right to refuse to forward Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees. Salaita was reportedly undone by a series of comments he made on Twitter. In one, he says that “too much of Israeli society is cheering the bloodletting in [Gaza] for me to make a firm distinction between the government and the people.” In another, responding to the kidnapping of Israeli boys, he says, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” In another, he asks, “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” He also reposted this statement, in a context that left no doubt he endorsed it, on journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who has evidently been too critical of Hamas: “Jeffrey Goldberg’s story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv.” William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has done us the service of collecting these and other statements.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether refusing to hire Salaita on the basis of statements like these is a threat to academic freedom. The excellent Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is worried about it. Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors and an authority on academic freedom argues that the chancellor made the right call.

But speaking of authority, a number of pro-boycott professors, have signed on to a letter demanding that the UIUC hire Salaita. Their argument is that administrators have no business interfering with scholarly “experts”: “It seems that popular knowledge about the Israel Palestine conflict in the US public space has overwhelmed what is well known by academic experts. This cannot be allowed to happen in a serious university.” They go on to quote the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure to the effect that boards of trustees should stay out of matters “in which the conclusions expressed are the tested conclusions of trained scholars.”

That’s rich. First, Salaita, like a number of the letter’s signers, is a scholar of literature with no special claim to expertise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, the boycott movement in academia has been engaged primarily in getting scholarly organizations with no claim to expertise in the conflict, including the American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, and (unsuccessfully) the Modern Language Association, to declare their opposition to Israel. The 1915 Declaration is based on a separation between expertise and political action that academics in the boycott movement emphatically do not endorse. The authors of that Declaration anticipated that those who politicized the academy could expect precisely the reaction the BDS movement is now complaining about: “if this profession should prove itself unwilling to purge its ranks of the incompetent and the unworthy, or to prevent the freedom which it claims in the name of science from being used as a shelter for inefficiency, for superficiality, or for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”

Salaita is, his public utterances suggest, an uncritical and intemperate partisan, and the letter I have referred to, which, among other things, declares it a matter of settled expert opinion that Israel is targeting Palestinian civilians, is itself an example of uncritical and intemperate partisanship masquerading as a deference to expertise.

Academics are right to be concerned about threats to academic freedom because academic freedom is, as the 1915 Declaration tells us, is an essential defender “not of a propaganda [institution], but of a non-partisan institution of learning.” But their concern should be directed at the professors who have for decades worked to efface the distinction between scholarship and politics and who have more recently worked to persuade scholars who know next to nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to use their scholarly credentials to advance their personal conceptions of justice.

It is a wonder that the backlash has not been more pronounced.

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We Now Know: Gaza Edition

The fog of war often means the first draft of history makes the greatest impact but needs to be corrected by later drafts. After the Cold War was over, historian John Lewis Gaddis called his updated book on the conflict “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History.” More famous is Kinglsey Amis’s suggestion that Robert Conquest call his new edition of The Great Terror “I Told You So, You F—ing Fools.” Yet now we have a rare opportunity in Gaza to apply what we now know to additional fighting in a war thought to be over.

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The fog of war often means the first draft of history makes the greatest impact but needs to be corrected by later drafts. After the Cold War was over, historian John Lewis Gaddis called his updated book on the conflict “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History.” More famous is Kinglsey Amis’s suggestion that Robert Conquest call his new edition of The Great Terror “I Told You So, You F—ing Fools.” Yet now we have a rare opportunity in Gaza to apply what we now know to additional fighting in a war thought to be over.

With no deal reached for a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist organization in Gaza wasted no time in renewing its attacks on Israel today. And it’s worth wondering if the atrocious media coverage of the war, which abided by Hamas’s threats and only showed what Hamas wanted the world to see, will be any different for this round of fighting. After all, as Israeli ground troops left Gaza and journalists went with them, reporters began to admit: we now know.

We now know, that is, that Hamas was firing rockets from civilian areas and among neighborhoods where journalists were staying. That meant they were getting a twofer: reporters wouldn’t expose their war crimes and they would draw return fire from Israel that would endanger foreign journalists and Palestinian civilians. As we know from the Tet Offensive, if you can spook the reporters you can get your sky-is-falling coverage made to order.

The political world was transfixed earlier this week by a New Delhi Television (NDTV) visual report on Hamas firing from outside the reporters’ hotel. This was a broadcast that American and other Western media didn’t have–in fact, major Western media spent the war explaining why you could follow their coverage for weeks of war reporting and not see a single Hamas fighter. The NDTV correspondent has written about the experience of filming the dramatic rocket launching:

There is an important detail about that spot which I mention in our video report which may not have fully registered – this was the exact location from where a rocket was fired five days prior. It happened around midnight, so it was impossible to film. Panic ensued. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) sent a warning to two hotels across the road to evacuate; within minutes they were empty. Those in our building slept in a safe room on the ground floor. And so that spot was seared in our memory.

So when we saw the tent on the same location with two men (later three) moving in and out, working on something inside which they seemed to be burying into the ground, it wasn’t hard to conclude what this was. When they started running wires out of the tent, the final steps before covering the earth with a spade, moving some shrubbery on top and then slinking away, it was even clearer.

We had all of it on tape, but wrestled with the dilemma of what to do with it. Two considerations weighed on our mind. One, the fear which hobbles the reporting such material: fear of reprisals from Hamas against us and those who worked with us, fear of inviting an Israeli response on the spot (these have been known to miss). Two, we needed to be 100 % sure that this was a rocket launch site. So we did nothing, setting off on our assignment for the day, mulling over the material in our possession.

The concern over Hamas reprisals is real and legitimate. There has been some pushback against the criticism of reporters in Gaza for not showing an accurate picture of the war. Much of that pushback is misplaced. The argument is not that journalists are wimps for not risking their lives to fill out the narrative for the public at home, but that the media have been using the inaccurate reporting without adding the appropriate context.

It’s understandable, I suppose, why they don’t add that context. In practice what they are doing is abiding by Hamas’s rules, which require them to basically broadcast a steady stream of Hamas propaganda footage. Adding the context–explaining that they are just showing the folks at home what Hamas wants them to see–would be admitting their own lack of credibility.

We will also see–as Evelyn points out this morning–that the statistics used by international organizations, human-rights groups, and UN monitors are completely unreliable. That means the accusations against Israel are generally bunk as well. We now know. And we’ll know more. But now that we see the war might not be over after all, everyone should keep that in mind.

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Exposing the UN’s Unreliable Data on Gaza Casualties

Okay, it’s official: Even the BBC now admits the UN has been essentially collaborating with a terrorist organization to libel Israel. Of course, the venerable British broadcaster doesn’t say so explicitly; it even assures its readers that UN officials aren’t to blame for the misinformation they’ve been propagating. But it’s hard to reach any other conclusion after reading this analysis of Gaza’s casualty figures by the station’s head of statistics, Anthony Reuben.

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Okay, it’s official: Even the BBC now admits the UN has been essentially collaborating with a terrorist organization to libel Israel. Of course, the venerable British broadcaster doesn’t say so explicitly; it even assures its readers that UN officials aren’t to blame for the misinformation they’ve been propagating. But it’s hard to reach any other conclusion after reading this analysis of Gaza’s casualty figures by the station’s head of statistics, Anthony Reuben.

As Reuben notes, the figures on Palestinian casualties cited by most news organizations come from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. As of August 6, this agency was reporting 1,843 Palestinian fatalities, including at least 1,354 civilians; 279 hadn’t yet been identified. Thus civilians ostensibly comprise at least 73 percent of total fatalities, and since the UN excludes unidentified casualties from its calculations, it usually cites an even higher figure–currently 86 percent.

But as Reuben writes, “if the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.” Quoting a New York Times analysis, he noted that men aged 20-29, who are the most likely to be combatants, are “also the most overrepresented in the death toll,” comprising 9 percent of Gazans but 34 percent of identified fatalities. In contrast, “women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.”

So Reuben asked the high commissioner’s office how it explains this statistical anomaly. Here’s the mind-boggling response: “Matthias Behnk, from OHCHR, told BBC News that the organisation would not want to speculate about why there had been so many adult male casualties.”

In other words, confronted with a glaring statistical anomaly, the UN opted “not to speculate” about whether this cast doubt on the credibility of its claim that over 80 percent of fatalities were civilians. Instead, it kept right on feeding that number to journalists–most of whom promptly regurgitated it with no questions asked.

The statistical anomaly is compounded by other known facts: Terrorists don’t usually fight in uniform, so they arrive at the morgue in civilian clothing; the Hamas Interior Ministry explicitly ordered Gazans to identify all casualties as “innocent civilians” even if they aren’t; and Hamas has a history of mislabeling militants as civilian casualties: It did so during the 2009 war in Gaza as well, only admitting years later that, just as Israel claimed, most of the dead were militants rather than civilians. All this provides further grounds for suspecting that many male combat-age “civilians” were actually militants, and thus for caution about declaring them civilians. But the UN evinced no such qualms.

Finally, there’s the minor detail that some civilian casualties were caused by Hamas’s own misfired rockets. We know for certain about some such cases; for instance, an Italian journalist confirmed (after leaving Gaza) that one Palestinian rocket killed 10 Palestinians, including eight children, in a park in al-Shati. But there are undoubtedly many more that we don’t yet know about, because according to IDF data, almost a sixth of all Palestinian rockets launched–475 out of 3,137–landed in Gaza rather than Israel. That statistic is highly credible, because the Iron Dome system tracks every rocket’s trajectory to determine whether it needs intercepting, and couldn’t have achieved the success it did if its trajectory tracking system weren’t extremely accurate. And since Gaza has neither Iron Dome nor bomb shelters, Hamas rockets would be far more lethal there than they were in Israel. Yet the UN unhesitatingly blames Israel for all Palestinian casualties.

Reuben insists the UN shouldn’t be blamed for its misleading data, since “their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.” But that’s ridiculous. If the UN had doubts about the data’s veracity, it should have told the media it “would not want to speculate” about the civilian-to-combatant ratio. Instead, it opted to publish wildly exaggerated civilian casualty counts as unqualified fact while declining “to speculate” about the glaring statistical anomalies in its data.

In short, it collaborated wittingly and willingly with Hamas’s strategy to smear Israel by accusing it of massacring civilians. And most of the world’s media unhesitatingly played along.

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Israel Does Not Exist to Make Liberal Jews Feel Good

In one of the most important pieces written during the course of this conflict, Shmuel Rosner has taken to the website of the New York Times, where he is a contributing opinion writer, with a profoundly thoughtful riposte to the disapora Jews who have expressed their disaffection with Israel as a result of the goings-on—from Jon Stewart to Ezra Klein, from Peter Beinart to Roger Cohen.

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In one of the most important pieces written during the course of this conflict, Shmuel Rosner has taken to the website of the New York Times, where he is a contributing opinion writer, with a profoundly thoughtful riposte to the disapora Jews who have expressed their disaffection with Israel as a result of the goings-on—from Jon Stewart to Ezra Klein, from Peter Beinart to Roger Cohen.

Rosner says these men may be right that Israel is in danger of losing its bedrock support among American Jews in particular. He says that would put Israel in a difficult position and represent a near-tragic development. But his central point is this: Israel is not actually their country. They do not live in Israel, they do not vote in Israel, their children are not in the Israeli army. Israel is a nation of 8 million people,  and it must act in accordance with the views of its electorate and the existential needs of its people as Israelis define them. These liberal Jews, Rosner writes,

seem to believe that the implied threat that Israel might lose Jewish supporters abroad will somehow convince the government to alter its policies. This is a self-aggrandizing fantasy and reveals a poor grasp of the way Israel operates. To put it bluntly: These Jews are very important, but not nearly important enough to make Israelis pursue policies that put Israeli lives at risk.

Let me be clear: I believe Israel’s relations with Jews around the world are crucially important. Indeed, I’ve devoted a great deal of my career to thinking and writing about this topic. I often find myself preaching to Israelis about the need to be more considerate of more liberal Jewish views on issues ranging from religious conversion to women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. But I would never expect Israelis to gamble on our security and our lives for the sake of accommodating the political sensitivities of people who live far away.

American Jews who condition their support of Israel by standing in superior judgment of the extremely difficult choices it has been forced to make, for decades now, are guilty of converting a country of flesh-and-blood people into a one-dimensional player performing in an abstract moral pageant of their own staging and design.

These “fair weather friends,” as Rosner dubs them, hold Israel to a standard to which they do not hold other countries—and then claim they do so out of commonality and brotherhood. Light unto the nations and all that. But of course the act of separating yourself from your brethren by being their harshest critics is almost the polar opposite of true familial behavior, as Rosner notes:

If all Jews are a family, it would be natural for Israelis to expect the unconditional love of their non-Israeli Jewish kin. If Jews aren’t a family, and their support can be withdrawn, then Israelis have no reason to pay special attention to the complaints of non-Israeli Jews.

Or, to be cutesy about it, your grandmother might tell you to be a mensch while she’s stuffing you with brisket, but she does so while she stuffs you with brisket, not while she wags her finger at you and sends you to bed without your supper.

Moreover, she would be a fool if she told you that menschlichkeit required you to allow yourself to exist in a state of constant peril lest you violate some abstract moral stricture. And your grandmother is not a fool.

Which is why the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone all too often taken by these fair-weather critics is so utterly and infamously disingenuous. They are using what they have in common with Israel as a weapon against it, all the while claiming they are acting on its loving behalf.

Read Rosner’s piece. 

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Israel’s Conduct in Gaza Is a Model for Other Nations

During his press conference yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once again asked whether Israel had acted with enough care in responding to the attacks by Hamas (h/t to Scott Johnson of Powerlineblog.com).

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During his press conference yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once again asked whether Israel had acted with enough care in responding to the attacks by Hamas (h/t to Scott Johnson of Powerlineblog.com).

“Do you feel your actions, Israel’s actions, were proportionate?,” he was asked. “And were you using the appropriate precision weapons, even if Hamas is using [innocent Palestinians] as human shields?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu gives an exquisite response, pointing out that Israel has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure civilian casualties. And Mr. Netanyahu then posed a question to the journalist. What would you do in a similar situation, in which your nation was being attacked by 3,500 rockets and your territory was being infiltrated by terrorist death squads?

Which got me to thinking about how Israel has acted versus how other nations, including admirable nations, have acted during wartime. And so I went back and read an account from World War II which is worth considering in the context of how Israel has conducted itself in its war with Hamas.

This story comes from the BBC on February 14, 1945:

British and US bombers have dropped hundreds of thousands of explosives on the German city of Dresden… Last night, 800 RAF Bomber Command planes let loose 650,000 incendiaries and 8,000lb of high explosives and hundreds of 4,000lb bombs in two waves of attack. They faced very little anti-aircraft fire.

As soon as one part of the city was alight, the bombers went for another until the whole of Dresden was ablaze.

“There were fires everywhere with a terrific concentration in the centre of the city,” said one Pathfinder pilot.

The contemporary BBC, in putting the firebombing of Dresden in context, said this:

The attack was authorised by British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, known as “Bomber Harris” for his enthusiastic support of the area bombing strategy. The idea was to target large urban areas to whittle away at German public morale, cut off relief supplies to the eastern front and give support to the approaching Soviet armies.

According to this analysis found at History.com:

On the evening of February 13, 1945, a series of Allied firebombing raids begins against the German city of Dresden, reducing the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames, and killing as many as 135,000 people. It was the single most destructive bombing of the war—including Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and all the more horrendous because little, if anything, was accomplished strategically, since the Germans were already on the verge of surrender… More than 3,400 tons of explosives were dropped on the city by 800 American and British aircraft. The firestorm created by the two days of bombing set the city burning for many more days, littering the streets with charred corpses, including many children.

My point in raising this isn’t to condemn Great Britain (or the United States) for what it did in Dresden, though the morality of firebombing Dresden is certainly fair to debate. My point, rather, is that in war, terrible things happen. In war, innocent people die. In war, victorious nations–even the most humane nations–make mistakes. Civilian casualties happen in every conflict; and in the history of war, atrocities by the victorious side are the norm. Of course they shouldn’t be excused; but neither should we judge wartime acts without any understanding of the circumstances of the time, at a safe distance, writing from a keyboard when the main hassle of the day is rush hour traffic. The morality of war is a terribly complicated matter to sort through.

What is so unusual when it comes to Israel is that by historical standards it has conducted itself in its conflict with Hamas (to say nothing of past conflicts) with remarkable care and decency. I’m not sure there are many parallels to it. (America’s conduct in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been similar, I think, to the care taken by Israel in Gaza.) Israel could have decimated Gaza and Hamas within hours, causing far more civilian deaths. It chose a far more humane, and historically rare, option. For much of the world and much of the Western media, then, to judge Israel harshly for how it’s acted in not only wrong; it is historically ignorant and morally obtuse.

The way Israel has handled itself in this conflict is a model for other nations to follow; and the fact that Israel is on the receiving end of venomous attacks is evidence of dark and ugly impulses that need to be named.

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“Parallel States” Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is a Recipe for Disaster

I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

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I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

With that said, solutions that are radically different are not automatically preferable just because of their radicalism. At Tablet, Mathias Mossberg has published an adaptation from the new book on the conflict he edited, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. It is a long read, but interesting and imaginative. It is also, however, deeply misguided, unrealistic, and a formula for trouble as far as the eye can see.

Mossberg’s basic idea is one of “Parallel States,” in which both Israel and the Palestinian territories would become part of one state structure but divide sovereignty among the individuals of this modified “condominium” based on religion, ethnicity, or personal preference. It’s worth reading the whole piece to see how Mossberg has fleshed out the plan, but here is the crux:

In a Parallel States structure, one Israeli state and one Palestinian would both cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In such a scenario, military, political, and economic barriers would be lifted, and a joint security and defense policy, a common and equitable economic policy, and joint and harmonized legislation would replace existing divisions. Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and would permit free movement over the whole area for both peoples, as well as providing a vision for an end of conflict.

There are a few points to make in response. The first is that the bureaucracy such a structure would create would be a nightmare–it would make the current Israeli bureaucracy look like a floating libertarian utopia in comparison. How to adjudicate a neighborly dispute when each is a “citizen” of a different state authority on the same land? What if someone changes citizenship, since personal choice is an option here? Which law applies to their past contracts? Employment terms? Accumulated physical and intellectual property?

Second, Mossberg relies on a few tropes to sign the two-state solution’s death certificate, such as discredited demographic time bomb fears and the idea that settlements contribute to a state of affairs that is making a Palestinian state in the West Bank virtually impossible, which is not remotely true and glosses over the lack of outward expansion of the settlements over the last decade-plus. Any solution to the conflict that’s based on false premises, as Mossberg’s is, should raise red flags immediately.

Third, Mossberg doesn’t–at least in this lengthy essay–really grapple with the toughest obstacles. Here is his section on security:

Security and defense would be of paramount importance in a Parallel States structure, as well as in a more conventional two-state structure. This poses particularly vital questions, in that security is a basic need for each side in existential and concrete ways. To craft a common Israeli-Palestinian security strategy, outlining how Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate and ultimately join forces in a common security system, covering external borders as well as internal order, is a challenge that should not be underestimated.

A joint external security envelope, with a high degree of cooperation on external security and with joint or coordinated external border control, has to be envisaged. It is worth noting, though, that already today there are elements of an internal security structure that contains separate institutions and security forces, but also a high degree of coordination.

Yes, it would be a challenge. How might it be solved? Not with academic platitudes, that’s for sure.

Fourth, Mossberg all but cheers the end of the Westphalian order. This strikes me as a mistake. Just because the nation state is struggling in the modern era does not mean it deserves to perish. It’s true that Mossberg is not removing sovereignty when he removes the nation state. But it would be a step backward in global order–possibly with major repercussions elsewhere.

Finally, there is the reason we are having this discussion, at least according to Mossberg: Gaza. The recent Gaza war, he says, probably signals the end of the traditional two-state solution. But his Parallel State structure calls for the erasure of borders. Israel and the PA in the West Bank have established some very constructive avenues for security cooperation, though they would be challenged significantly by this state condominium-esque arrangement.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. Yet Mossberg mostly treats Gaza as a question of economic integration, with not nearly enough energy devoted to the much greater question of security. Gaza is led by Hamas. The terrorist group won’t disappear just by having its official authority taken away. How could Hamas be integrated into a borderless Israeli-Palestinian state project? The answer is: it couldn’t, not in a way that would enable the survival of the state structure.

If the answer is, then, that Hamas has to be routed and replaced in Gaza, then that seems to be an argument for the rejuvenation of the two-state solution, not its abandonment. In any case, the Parallel States structure is not the answer.

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