Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinians

Real Estate, Jewelry, and the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute

Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

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Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

This post is not intended as a review, but rather a reflection on one of Professor Gribetz’s central insights. To call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a “dispute over real estate,” he writes, is like calling a fight over a family inheritance a “dispute over jewelry and china”: in both cases, the description misses the crux of the matter. In his book, Professor Gribetz demonstrates that, from the beginning, the Jewish-Arab conflict was a “struggle over history and identity”–played out over land, but involving fundamental issues that have always transcended the apparent subject of the dispute.

In the early years, there were frequent expressions of commonality between Jews and Arabs, epitomized by the 1919 agreement between Chaim Weizmann, the head of the Zionist Organization, and Faisal Hussein, the leader of the Arabs. The agreement cited “the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people” and declared Arab support for the 1917 Balfour Declaration and Jewish support for an Arab state adjacent to Palestine. Faisal thereafter wrote to Felix Frankfurter (then also a Zionist leader) that “we Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement,” and “will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.” That obviously did not last long.

Professor Gribetz ends his book by noting that while relations between Jews and Arabs worsened after 1919, his study itself shows that perceptions between peoples are not immutable; so it “stands to reason that they can improve as well.” He does not address what might lead to such an improvement, but perhaps we can determine what will be necessary by viewing his central insight in light of the peace proposals in the decades following the period he covers.

The 1919 Weizmann-Faisal agreement was never implemented, but in 1921 Great Britain divided Palestine and gave half to Transjordan. In later years, there were numerous two-state solutions proposed for the remaining half of Palestine, all of which ended exactly as did the 1919 pact:

(1) In 1937, the Jews accepted the two-state solution proposed by the British Peel Commission; the Arabs rejected it;

(2) In 1947, the Jews accepted the UN’s two-state solution; the Arabs rejected it;

(3) In 1967, Israel wanted to trade land for recognition and peace; the Arabs issued their three adamant “no’s”;

(4) In 1978, Israel agreed to Palestinian autonomy as part of the peace agreement with Egypt; the Palestinians rejected it;

(5) In July 2000, at Camp David, Israel offered the Palestinians a state; they walked away;

(6) In December 2000, Israel formally accepted the Clinton Parameters for a two-state solution; in January 2001, the Palestinians rejected them;

(7) In 2005, Israel removed every soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza and turned the entire territory over to the Palestinian Authority; so far there have been three rocket wars on Israel from the land Israel gave the Palestinians to build a state;

(8) In 2008, the Israeli prime minister begged the Palestinian president to accept a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would get land equal to 100 percent (after swaps) of the West Bank and Gaza; the Palestinians walked away again;

(9) In 2009, the new Israeli prime minister formally endorsed a Palestinian state, implemented an unprecedented settlement construction freeze, and met a stone wall.

Nearly 100 years after the first two-state solution was endorsed by the Zionists, the current Palestinian president repeatedly states he will “never” recognize a Jewish state; refuses to endorse “two states for two peoples” as the goal of the peace process; and will not give a Bir Zeit speech to match the Israeli prime minister’s 2009 Bar-Ilan address that endorsed a Palestinian state. He demands more of the remaining jewelry and china, while maintaining a “right to recover” the rest and repeatedly “reconciling” with those dedicated to killing the other side of the family.

The problem in that scenario is not the jewelry and china. Those who read Professor Gribetz’s book will likewise learn that the real estate was not the heart of the initial Jewish-Arab encounter. Middle East peace will not arrive simply by drawing a line on a map, because the crux of this dispute has never been the real estate.

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Gaza Residents: Hamas Kept Us from Fleeing Israeli Attacks

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian-Jordanian now living in Britain, has collected and published some truly shocking testimony from Gaza residents about Hamas’s behavior during this summer’s war with Israel. All his interviewees insisted on remaining anonymous, and it’s easy to understand why: They accuse Hamas of deliberately creating hundreds of civilian casualties by forcing civilians to stay in places Israel had warned it was going to bomb.

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Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian-Jordanian now living in Britain, has collected and published some truly shocking testimony from Gaza residents about Hamas’s behavior during this summer’s war with Israel. All his interviewees insisted on remaining anonymous, and it’s easy to understand why: They accuse Hamas of deliberately creating hundreds of civilian casualties by forcing civilians to stay in places Israel had warned it was going to bomb.

Here, for instance, is the testimony of S., a medical worker:

The Israeli army sends warnings to people [Gazans] to evacuate buildings before an attack. The Israelis either call or send a text message. Sometimes they call several times to make sure everyone has been evacuated. Hamas’s strict policy, though, was not to allow us to evacuate. Many people got killed, locked inside their homes by Hamas militants. Hamas’s official Al-Quds TV regularly issued warnings to Gazans not to evacuate their homes. Hamas militants would block the exits to the places residents were asked to evacuate. In the Shijaiya area, people received warnings from the Israelis and tried to evacuate the area, but Hamas militants blocked the exits and ordered people to return to their homes. Some of the people had no choice but to run towards the Israelis and ask for protection for their families. Hamas shot some of those people as they were running; the rest were forced to return to their homes and get bombed. This is how the Shijaiya massacre happened. More than 100 people were killed.

And here’s K., a graduate student at an Egyptian university who was visiting his family in Gaza this summer: “When people stopped listening to Hamas orders not to evacuate and began leaving their homes anyway, Hamas imposed a curfew: anyone walking out in the street was shot without being asked any questions. That way Hamas made sure people had to stay in their homes even if they were about to get bombed.”

And H., who lost his leg in an Israeli bombing: “My father received a text-message from the Israeli army warning him that our area was going to be bombed, and Hamas prevented us from leaving. They said there was a curfew. A curfew, can you believe that?”

T., a former (and evidently disenchanted) Hamas government official, explained the policy’s rationale:

Some people say Hamas wants civilians killed in order to gain global sympathy, but I believe this is not the main reason. I think the reason is that if all the people were allowed to evacuate their homes, they all would have ended up in a certain area in Gaza. If that happened, it would have made the rest of Gaza empty of civilians, and the Israelis would have been able to hit Hamas without worrying about civilians in all those empty areas. Hamas wanted civilians all over the place to confuse the Israelis and make their operations more difficult.

Nor is this the only crime of which Zahran’s interviewees accused Hamas. For instance, three different people–two aid workers and an imam–said Hamas stole humanitarian aid and either kept it for its own people or sold it to ordinary Gazans for exorbitant prices.

Altogether, Zahran interviewed more than 20 Gazans, all of whom had shocking things to say. That doesn’t guarantee that their stories are true. Palestinians frequently fabricate atrocity tales about Israel (see, for instance, the Jenin massacre that wasn’t, or the perennial favorite about Israel trying to turn Palestinians into drug addicts), so there’s no reason to think anti-Hamas Palestinians aren’t equally capable of fabricating atrocity tales about Hamas.

Moreover, the interviewees were clearly terrified of Hamas, so it wouldn’t be easy to get them to talk to the international media (which generally relies on either Hamas-approved fixers or local stringers), UN workers (many of whom are openly affiliated with Hamas), or human-rights organizations (which, like the media, generally rely on local investigators). Still, given how many crocodile tears the media, the UN, and human-rights groups have shed over alleged Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza, one would think they could spare some time and effort to investigate alleged Hamas war crimes against its own people.

That they haven’t merely confirms, once again, two basic truths: First, these self-proclaimed moral arbiters care very little about human rights unless Israel can be blamed. And second, they’re fundamentally lazy: They’ll always prefer the easy route of collecting “testimony” against Israel, which Gaza residents can give without fear of consequences, to the hard work of digging for information about the abuses of a terrorist government that tortures and kills anyone who dares speak against it.

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The ‘Klinghoffer’ Opera and the Mainstreaming of Jew Hatred

The Metropolitan Opera celebrates its annual opening night on Monday but most of the discussion about the 2014-15 season centers on a performance that won’t happen for another month. The debut of its production of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer will not occur until Oct. 20, but the year-long debate about the Met’s questionable judgment in staging an opera that treats the victim and the perpetrators in a terrorist murder as morally equivalent is heating up with predicable and utterly unpersuasive arguments arrayed in favor of the decision to ignore critics and move ahead with the performance.

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The Metropolitan Opera celebrates its annual opening night on Monday but most of the discussion about the 2014-15 season centers on a performance that won’t happen for another month. The debut of its production of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer will not occur until Oct. 20, but the year-long debate about the Met’s questionable judgment in staging an opera that treats the victim and the perpetrators in a terrorist murder as morally equivalent is heating up with predicable and utterly unpersuasive arguments arrayed in favor of the decision to ignore critics and move ahead with the performance.

It should be recalled that back in June, the Met attempted to compromise with those outraged by its plan to run Klinghoffer by cancelling the HD broadcast of the opera around the world in theaters and on radio. But it refused to back down on producing the opera. At the time, the New York Times criticized the Met for implicitly acknowledging that a broadcast of an opera that depicts and rationalizes both anti-Semitism and murder of Jews would be problematic at a time when Jew hatred is on the rise around the globe. But in an editorial published Friday, the paper expressed its satisfaction at the Met’s decision to keep the performances of Klinghoffer on its schedule. The fact that, if anything, the plague of anti-Semitism has grown even worse over the summer as Israel-haters bashed the Jewish state for defending itself against Islamist terrorists with similar attitudes toward Jews as the ones in Klinghoffer means nothing to the Times; it praised Met general manager Peter Gelb for being “true to its artistic mission.”

The Times dismisses concerns about the opera’s content and its potential role in fomenting more hate with facile arguments defending artistic freedom against political pressures that don’t stand up to scrutiny. No one is saying that the Met doesn’t have the right to put on Klinghoffer. What its critics are pointing out is that by putting on a piece that treats terrorism and hate for Jews, the Met is coming down on the wrong side of a moral question.

A more nuanced defense of the opera comes from Opera News, the most widely read publication about the art form in North America that also happens to be the Met’s house organ (although it is allowed to critically review Met performances much to Gelb’s ongoing dismay). In the September issue of the magazine, Phillip Kennicott, the Washington Post’s chief arts critic, attempts to take up the cudgels for Klinghoffer but in doing so without the sort of cant and generalizations that the Times has indulged in, he unwittingly helps make the case for the opera’s detractors.

Rather than merely attempt to pretend that the opera doesn’t justify the motivations and the actions of the murderers of Leon Klinghoffer during the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, Kennicott acknowledges that there is a clear imbalance in the way Palestinians and Jews are depicted by composer John Adams. In discussing the two opening choruses of members of the two groups, Kennicott admits that there is a clear difference in both the text and the musical language deployed by the artist:

There is a powerful musical difference between the choruses, and that difference helps trace the moral trajectory of the opera. The Palestinian chorus begins in a dream-like phantasmagoria, but as the memory of grievance becomes more powerful, it ends in a paroxysm of rage: “Our faith will take the stones he broke / and break his teeth.”

The Jewish chorus, by contrast, remains vague and undirected, full of the detail of memory, but without the clear trajectory of anger that preceded it in the Palestinian song.

He then acknowledges the crux of the matter:

How you interpret these choruses becomes key to how you interpret the opera. Many of the work’s critics found the mix of lyricism and anger in the Palestinian music (including long parlando passages from the four terrorists later in the work) to be too seductive, essentially a humanizing musical language that romanticized or in some way justified their violence. And they found the Jewish characters (including a scene that was later dropped from the opera that depicted a family at home in America chatting, sometimes ironically, about travel) antiheroic, scattered and pallid representations bogged down in the material world.

In other words, the Palestinians are real people with justifiable grievances while the Jews are shown in a distinctly unfavorable light. Kennicott is then forced to perform linguistic back flips in order to try to argue that the unflattering portrayal of the Jews is somehow indicative of the “real world” in which the Jews live and therefore a more compelling and complex narrative than the palpable anger of the Palestinians that the music keeps telling us is more attractive and more deserving of support. It’s a nice try but it doesn’t work.

More to the point, Kennicott claims the point of the opera is to criticize the whole idea of “forward-driven narratives of heroism and anger” and to choose instead more “wandering narratives” that leave us with no satisfying conclusions about events. That’s just a rather complicated way of saying that Adams views one of the most callous acts of international terrorism as one that no one should view as a simple matter of murder driven by hatred of Jews. Which is to say that he is doing exactly what his critics allege when they say the whole point of the piece is moral relativism. Indeed, as Kennicott admits, Adams’s goal is to “posit a continuity of humanity between the terrorists and their victims.”

In defense of this position, Kennicott argues, “A continuity of humanity is the only hope for peace.” That’s true. But while both sides in the Achille Lauro hijacking are, of course, human beings, a piece whose purpose is to put the terrorist and their victims on the same plane is one that is not merely depicting hate, as the opera’s defenders claim, but implicitly endorsing it as being no more objectionable than the position of those who are the objects of hatred.

The critic defends the piece because he thinks it is a good thing that we have discussions about serious issues in the opera house, a position that few would dispute. Yet in making that argument, Kennicott and the Met itself are being more than a little disingenuous. There are, after all, a lot of issues that no one wants debated in the public square, let alone in the opera house or concert hall. No one, or at least no one who had any hope of getting their work produced at the Met or any other respected arts institution, would seek to make similar comparisons between say, African-American victims of lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan or between blacks subjugated by apartheid and white South Africans. That is true despite the fact that a composer could give us choruses depicting the suffering of Confederates during and after the Civil War or the wrongs done to Afrikaners in the past, much like that of the Palestinians who are meant to humanize the terrorists who shoot the old Jew Klinghoffer and throw his body overboard. Nor did John Adams choose to use his much praised choral work commemorating the 9/11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls, to explain the reasons why Islamists think they have a bone to pick with the West.

The reason why the Met doesn’t produce operas rationalizing Jim Crow or apartheid and the classical music world doesn’t celebrate al-Qaeda is not because the arts world doesn’t embrace works that stir up emotions or are controversial. Kennicott is right when he says there is a consensus about that being the business of artists. We don’t hear such pieces because there is also also a consensus that racism is beyond the pale of such discussions and may not be justified even in the guise of high art. What Klinghoffer’s critics have noticed and its defenders seek to ignore is that the opera’s embrace by arts and media Mandarins illustrates that they consider Jew hatred to fall under the rubric of those expressions that may be debated rather than one that should be merely condemned by members of decent society as they would racism.

It is an unfortunate fact that in recent years forms of anti-Semitism have crept in from the margins of society and been mainstreamed. That is exactly what an opera that rationalizes the murder of an old man merely because he was a Jew does. This is not an issue on which intellectuals should think themselves free to agree to disagree. That is why those who are angry about the Met’s decision are right and the arts community and anyone else who embraces this deplorable decision are not merely wrong but opening the door to a new era of anti-Semitism.

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The Only Refugees in the World Denied the Right of Resettlement

The news that hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza drowned last week when the boats in which they were trying to reach Europe sank once again highlights the hypocrisy of the world’s attitude toward the Palestinians. After all, the “international community” has designated two-thirds of all Gaza residents as bona fide refugees, even though the vast majority of them were born in Gaza and have lived there all their lives. And as bona fide refugees, they shouldn’t have had to board rickety smugglers’ boats in a desperate attempt to reach Europe; they should have been able to apply to the UN for orderly resettlement right from their refugee camps, just as thousands of other refugees do every year. But they can’t, because Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who are denied the basic right of resettlement.

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The news that hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza drowned last week when the boats in which they were trying to reach Europe sank once again highlights the hypocrisy of the world’s attitude toward the Palestinians. After all, the “international community” has designated two-thirds of all Gaza residents as bona fide refugees, even though the vast majority of them were born in Gaza and have lived there all their lives. And as bona fide refugees, they shouldn’t have had to board rickety smugglers’ boats in a desperate attempt to reach Europe; they should have been able to apply to the UN for orderly resettlement right from their refugee camps, just as thousands of other refugees do every year. But they can’t, because Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who are denied the basic right of resettlement.

Granted, they are also the only “refugees” in the world for whom refugeehood is an inheritable status that can be passed down to one’s descendants in perpetuity, generation after generation. Under the definition used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which deals with all the world’s refugees except Palestinians, only a few thousand elderly Gazans who were personally displaced in 1948 would be considered refugees today, rather than the 1.2 million actually on UN rolls. So if the “international community” were to argue that Gazans don’t deserve a right to resettlement because they aren’t really refugees, that would be perfectly legitimate.

But it doesn’t. In fact, not only has the world adopted the unique definition of refugeehood promulgated by the Palestinians’ personal refugee agency, UNRWA, but it actively supports this definition by funding UNRWA’s ever-expanding budget to keep pace with its ever-expanding number of “refugees.” And once having accepted the claim that these born-and-bred Gazans are actually refugees from an Israel they’ve never seen, the international community is morally obligated to ensure that they enjoy the same rights as all other refugees.

Instead, Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who are denied the right of resettlement. Whereas UNHCR resettles tens of thousands of refugees every year, UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single refugee in its 65 years of existence. On the contrary, the schools it runs for Palestinian refugees indoctrinate them from kindergarten on that there is one, and only one, way for them to end their refugee status: by “returning” to the towns or villages in Israel that their ancestors fled–which most of them have never seen, and some of which no longer even exist. In short, since Israel would never voluntarily accept all five million “refugees” on UNRWA’s rolls, it’s telling them that the only solution to their refugeehood is Israel’s destruction.

According to a poll taken in late August, a whopping 43 percent of Gazans would like to emigrate. Many of these would-be emigrants are presumably among the two-thirds of Gazans registered as refugees, meaning they ought to be entitled to resettlement aid. So here’s a modest proposal: Western countries, which are UNRWA’s main donors, should take a big chunk of the over $1 billion a year they give UNRWA and spend it instead on resettling those Gazans who want to leave. Not only would that help the Gazan refugees themselves, but it would save money in the long run by significantly reducing the number of refugees under UNRWA’s care.

Alternatively, they could tell UNRWA they’re no longer willing to go along with the fiction that its five million “refugees” are really refugees, and from now on will provide funds only for those refugees who actually meet UNHCR’s definition. The remaining money would go to the governments under which most of UNRWA’s registered refugees live–primarily Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon–to help them provide the services UNRWA now provides.

But to continue defining Palestinians as refugees while denying them the basic right to resettlement is unconscionable. And all those Westerners who claim to be so concerned over Palestinian rights should be the first to protest this hypocritical and discriminatory practice.

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Bill Clinton: Bibi Derangement Syndrome’s Patient Zero

Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

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Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

The latest episode of Clinton’s condition took place at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, when Clinton was goaded into defending his Middle East policy by a pro-Palestinian activist. Caleb Howe has the transcript of the video captured by C-Span cameras:

Activist: If we don’t force [Netanyahu] to make peace, we will not have peace.

Clinton: Wait, wait, wait. First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something that I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

Activist: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

Clinton: So, they got … I agree with that, but we had, I had him a state, they would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swap in Gaza, appropriate water rights … and East Jerusalem! Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.

And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it. They said, they said, ‘we changed our minds, we want it now’ and by then they had a government wouldn’t give it to them.

Let’s unpack this. First of all, Clinton agrees that Netanyahu must be forced by the U.S. to make peace. Presumably Clinton doesn’t agree with Samantha Power that the U.S. should invade Israel to force this peace, but he never says exactly which gun he’d prefer be held to Bibi’s head. (Perhaps holding up weapons resupply during wartime, as President Obama has done?)

He also agrees with the protester that Netanyahu is “not the guy” with whom such a peace agreement can be signed. This will likely not make Israelis too happy, because they know from experience that when Clinton doesn’t want an Israeli prime minister in office, he jumps right into the elections to try to arrange his preferred outcome.

In 1996, this meddling took the form of Clinton pretty much openly campaigning for Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres. In 1999, this meant Clinton’s advisors helping to run Ehud Barak’s campaign. The first time he was nearly successful–if memory serves, many Israelis went to sleep with Peres leading the election returns and woke to prime minister-elect Netanyahu. The second time he was successful.

But all along it was personal animus that guided Clinton–a deeply dangerous and thoroughly irresponsible way to conduct foreign policy, which helps explain why Clinton’s foreign policy was such a mess. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s case for regime change in Iraq, but it rested on more than “There’s something about this guy I just don’t like.” The same cannot be said for Clinton.

Indeed, it wasn’t as though Netanyahu was intransigent on matters of peace with the Palestinians. Once in office, Netanyahu too struck deals with Arafat. He agreed to the Wye River accords despite his belief that Clinton went back on a promise to free Pollard, and he agreed to redeploy troops from Hebron while continuing to implement Oslo.

Next, we have Clinton’s assertion that giving Palestinians sovereignty in East Jerusalem is “Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.” This is obviously untrue. During the Bush presidency, Ehud Olmert made such an offer to Mahmoud Abbas, who walked away. Not only that, but even Netanyahu has hinted at a willingness to divide Jerusalem.

That also undercuts the latter part of that claim by Clinton, that Abbas regretted saying no but by the time he wanted such a deal it was off the table. It was not off the table; it was offered, again, to Abbas directly.

So is anything Clinton said true? Actually, there is a kernel of truth–no doubt purely accidental–in what he said about Barak and Rabin. But it further undermines his point. Rabin was far from the two-state-cheerleader the left makes him out to be. He was far more reluctant to consider dividing Jerusalem and establishing a fully independent Palestinian state than his later successors–including Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi now is to the left of where Rabin was then on pretty much all the main issues.

So is Barak, of course, which was Clinton’s point. But the real story here is the fact that you can’t simply jump from Rabin to Barak: Netanyahu was in between, and he played a significant role by forcing the right to accept and implement Oslo in order to govern and by showing the Israeli right could be talked into withdrawing from territory, even places as holy and significant as Hebron. The rightist premiers that followed Barak continued withdrawing from territory and offering peace plans to the Palestinian leadership.

When it comes to Israel, liberal politicians tend to fall into one of two categories: either they’re ignorant of Israeli history and politics, or they assume their audience to be. For Clinton it’s almost surely the latter, which makes it all the more ignoble.

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Palestinian Elections Postponed, Obviously

As a rule, Palestinians don’t tend to do democracy. The last time there was a proper parliamentary election was in 2006. That one had been essentially foisted upon them by the United States, but Hamas topped the polls and most people have regretted it ever since. There should have been another in 2009, but it was simply never held and few seemed greatly troubled by this fact.

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As a rule, Palestinians don’t tend to do democracy. The last time there was a proper parliamentary election was in 2006. That one had been essentially foisted upon them by the United States, but Hamas topped the polls and most people have regretted it ever since. There should have been another in 2009, but it was simply never held and few seemed greatly troubled by this fact.

Similarly, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has managed to spin his four-year term into almost a decade as the head of the Palestinian Authority. When Abbas sabotaged the peace negotiations with Israel in May and instead signed a unity deal with the terrorists of Hamas, it was announced that Palestinian elections would be held within six months. European governments applauded. They welcomed the Palestinian return to democracy. But now, quite predictably, we hear that elections have been “postponed” once again.

This time the reason given is the aftermath of Hamas’s war with Israel. The PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah has claimed that rebuilding in Gaza is more of a priority than elections right now and that the war has made voting unpractical. This of course is nonsense. If elections could be held in the most war-torn parts of Iraq and Afghanistan then there is no material reason why they couldn’t be held in Gaza and in the West Bank.

A far more practical reason for why free and fair elections can’t be held in Gaza right now has nothing to do with the fact that parts of it are in ruins, and far more to do with the fact that it is run by Hamas. Of course the terror group’s left-wing apologists never tire of telling anyone who will listen that Hamas are the democratically elected government of Gaza. The fact that once Hamas took power they then promptly executed large numbers of their political opponents never seems to register with these people. And just like Abbas in the West Bank, Hamas has failed to ever hold any elections since.

Indeed, Abbas’s own record is little better than that of Hamas’s. At one point reports of how Hamas supporters in the West Bank were being imprisoned and tortured were common. Gradually, however, Fatah’s power in much of the West Bank has weakened. More recently in cities such as Nablus, Hebron, and Jenin PA security forces have seemingly abandoned their efforts to suppress Islamist groups such as Hamas and others.

This is the real reason that it was always impossible to imagine the Palestinian Authority giving the green light for another election. Back in 2006 Abbas’s Fatah had been assured that they would win. They are not about to make the same mistake again. Indeed, in the wake of Hamas’s recent war with Israel, the Islamists are boasting the kind of approval rating that Abbas could only dream of. Recent polling has shown that even In the West Bank, some 66 percent of Palestinians would vote for Hamas if elections were held today.

And so elections won’t be held today, or any time soon for that matter. Supposedly they are being put off until sometime next year. Of course, by then there will be a new reason not to hold elections. But the important thing for Abbas is that he is maintaining the veneer of democracy. It’s an act that only fools those who wish to be fooled by it. But for those in the Obama administration and the European Union who insist that Abbas is legitimate and that Israel and the world must treat him as such, these pretentions toward democracy are very convenient. In reality, however, Abbas is a despot.

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Israel’s Predetermined Guilt and the Irrelevant Left

If you’ve been around Israeli politics long enough, you pick up on the one thing that bothers leftist “human-rights” groups more than anything: their irrelevance. At times, their frustration boils over into quite humorous attempts to coopt credit for Israel’s democratic achievements when in fact, as usual, they’ve had nothing to do with it. Today’s New York Times marks yet another such instance.

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If you’ve been around Israeli politics long enough, you pick up on the one thing that bothers leftist “human-rights” groups more than anything: their irrelevance. At times, their frustration boils over into quite humorous attempts to coopt credit for Israel’s democratic achievements when in fact, as usual, they’ve had nothing to do with it. Today’s New York Times marks yet another such instance.

The Times story is on official Israeli investigations into possible wrongdoing on its part during its recent war in Gaza. This is exactly what Israel does after wars, and what it has done for decades. Not only does Israel tend to investigate individual strikes, but it puts the IDF’s strategic command under the microscope, and sometimes, as with the 2006 Lebanon war, takes the investigation right up to the Israeli prime minister himself.

Because human-rights groups are thus irrelevant to the process of Israel defending human rights, they seek to convince credulous reporters (or reporters who know better but prefer to keep up the propaganda war against the Israeli government) that when Israel does something right, it’s because of them. It may sound laughable to those who know the basics of Israeli life and politics, but these activist groups have a trump card: the New York Times will publish their self-congratulatory blathering.

Today that’s precisely what the Times does. It starts out with the headline: “Israel, Facing Criticism, to Investigate Possible Military Misconduct in Gaza.” If you didn’t know better, you might read that headline and think the beginning and the end of the headline are related. They are not. It’s true that Israel is facing criticism. It is also true that Israel will investigate possible military misconduct. It is not true, however, that Israel is investigating possible misconduct because fringe activists are lobbing spitballs at the IDF.

The Times continues down this road, in the process offering an illuminating portrait of just what Israeli human-rights groups do:

Some said the timing of the inquiries appeared to be an attempt by the Israeli government to pre-empt the impact of international investigations into allegations of possible Israeli war crimes committed in Gaza. They also pointed out that the cases, opened by Israel’s Military Advocate General Corps, included obvious episodes that had already drawn condemnation.

One prominent Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, refused to participate in the investigations and said history showed that the Israeli military could not possibly conduct a credible prosecution of itself.

“Based on past experience, we can only regretfully say that Israeli law enforcement authorities are unable and unwilling to investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law committed during fighting in Gaza,” the organization said in a statement. “Should the existing whitewashing mechanism be replaced with an independent investigative body, we would gladly cooperate with it.”

So Israel will investigate without being prompted by B’Tselem. Also, B’Tselem won’t get involved in the investigation. What will they be doing? Whatever it is, it has no bearing on justice and truth and morality in war. (This 2011 COMMENTARY essay by Noah Pollak remains the indispensable profile of the group.)

Earlier in the piece, however, the Times delivered a truly telling message:

The announcement, conveyed at a briefing by the Israeli military, came only two weeks after a cease-fire in the conflict, an unusually speedy response. But critics, including human rights advocates in Israel, said it remained to be seen whether the investigations would yield significant criminal indictments and punishments.

Think about that second sentence. It “remained to be seen” if there would be indictments from the investigation that just began. You would be hard-pressed to think of a more superfluous sentence to appear in a major newspaper. But the key is who the Times is supposedly paraphrasing: “critics, including human rights advocates.”

That’s right: the human-rights groups are upset that Israel isn’t considered–or considers itself–guilty until proved innocent. In fact, they don’t even care if those under investigation are proved innocent. They want “significant criminal indictments and punishments.” Not just punishments: significant punishments.

Punishments for what? Well, nobody knows that yet because Israel–which is far more trustworthy in such investigations than outside organizations like the UN, which the Goldstone affair compellingly demonstrated–hasn’t completed its investigation. And “human-rights” groups like B’Tselem don’t know either, and won’t know, because they refuse to participate in the investigation.

What Israel’s critics want is not justice. They want show trials. Israel has long been more than willing to be its own toughest critic and to discipline anyone who earns it, in the military or in its political establishment. But Israel’s critics there and in the international community, including so-called human-rights groups, want Israelis punished for defending themselves lawfully and morally. For surviving and thriving in the face of their genocidal enemies.

To Israel’s critics in the “human-rights” NGO community, Israel’s guilt is simply taken for granted. The irrelevance of those groups is a testament to Israel’s collective judgment.

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“Occupation” and Anti-Semitism

A Yale University chaplain recently resigned “on his own initiative” over a letter to the New York Times blaming Israel and the Jews for anti-Semitism. Clearly, nothing Israel does or doesn’t do justifies attacks on Jewish citizens of other countries, but even if did, Rev. Bruce Shipman’s reasoning would have been fallacious. According to Shipman, “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad” to pressure Israel “for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” Yet based on the evidence, the Israeli policy change most likely to reduce anti-Semitic outbreaks isn’t ending its “continuing occupation of the West Bank,” but reoccupying evacuated Gaza.

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A Yale University chaplain recently resigned “on his own initiative” over a letter to the New York Times blaming Israel and the Jews for anti-Semitism. Clearly, nothing Israel does or doesn’t do justifies attacks on Jewish citizens of other countries, but even if did, Rev. Bruce Shipman’s reasoning would have been fallacious. According to Shipman, “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad” to pressure Israel “for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” Yet based on the evidence, the Israeli policy change most likely to reduce anti-Semitic outbreaks isn’t ending its “continuing occupation of the West Bank,” but reoccupying evacuated Gaza.

After all, every major upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks in recent years has coincided with a war that began when terrorists attacked Israel from territory it had vacated: spring 2002, when Israel reinvaded parts of the West Bank it had left under the Oslo Accords to stop a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings; summer 2006, when Hezbollah sparked a war by launching a deadly cross-border attack from south Lebanon, which Israel had vacated six years earlier; and two ground operations in Gaza, one in winter 2008/09 and one this past July and August, both launched in response to the incessant rocket fire from that territory ever since Israel withdrew every last soldier and settler in 2005. During the intervening years, incidents of anti-Semitism were hundreds or even thousands of percent lower, despite Israel’s “continuing occupation of the West Bank.”

The latest Gaza war epitomizes this counterintuitive truth. In July, anti-Semitic attacks were up 130 percent in America, 436 percent in Europe, 600 percent in South Africa, and a whopping 1,200 percent in South America compared to July 2013. To cite one typical example, Scotland recorded more anti-Semitic attacks during the first week of August alone than in all of 2013.

In other words, what really spurs anti-Semites to come out of the woodwork isn’t “the occupation,” but Israeli-caused casualties. And while one might have though withdrawals would decrease such casualties by eliminating day-to-day friction between Palestinians (or Lebanese) and Israeli troops, in reality, the opposite has occurred: Every such withdrawal has resulted in terrorist organizations taking over the vacated territory and using it to launch attacks on Israel, which in turn has produced a sharp rise in casualties, for two reasons.

First, in territory it controls, Israel can prevent terror by routine policing. But once it has quit an area, counterterrorism operations require reinvading–and military operations are obviously far more lethal than police work. Second, in territory it controls, Israel can prevent terrorists from embedding military infrastructure like tunnels and rocket launchers amid a civilian population. But once it evacuates a territory, terrorists are free to do exactly that, and they do. Consequently, any counterterrorism operation becomes far more deadly to the terrorists’ own people.

The result, as I explained here last month, is that Palestinian casualties have soared since Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza. In the current war, for instance, the UN claims 2,131 Palestinians were killed. That’s more than the 1,727 fatalities Gaza suffered during the second intifada of 2000-2005. In other words, Gaza just lost more people in 50 days than it did during the bloodiest five years of the period when Israel controlled the territory.

Mark Gardner of CST, which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, pithily explained the problem last month: During wartime, “The British public is constantly exposed to pictures of wounded or dead Palestinian children, and the effect is apparent.” And because such wars have been occurring every two to four years, “the issue is ignited almost continually. The Jewish community gets hit again and again, without reprieve, and the situation is not given a chance to return to relative normalcy.”

So if anyone really thinks Israeli policy should be blamed for global anti-Semitism, the data shows there’s only one policy change that might actually be effective: reoccupying Gaza. Somehow, I doubt that’s what the Bruce Shipmans of the world really want.

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Abbas’s Rigged Peace Plan

Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

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Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

Washington is noticeably less confident. After Abbas dispatched his chief negotiators to meet with Secretary Kerry, U.S. officials have criticized the plan as “unilateral” and even hinted that there would be an American veto should Abbas seek to pursue his plan at the United Nations and in the Security Council.

This chilly response from the administration, usually so impetuous about racing ahead with the peace process, should certainly send some alarm bells ringing. After all, given that Abbas all but shut down the last round of peace negotiations, finally fleeing them just at the moment at which a decision had to be made about their extension, one has to wonder why he is suddenly so eager to resume the talks. And why now exactly? Having apparently been only too pleased to escape the negotiation table, why is Abbas suddenly so determined to be seen as reengaging?

After all, Abbas had every opportunity to continue with the U.S. sponsored negotiations that the Palestinian Authority had been participating in until May of this year. Yet Abbas had refused to extend the talks unless his extensive list of demands were met in advance, insisting that the Palestinians would instead pursue membership of several key international bodies. The Israelis had agreed to a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinian terror prisoners that they would release provided that Abbas agreed to press on with negotiations and stay away from the international bodies. Abbas chose to forgo both the additional prisoner releases and an extension of the talks. Now he insists he is ready to get back to talking peace with Israel.

One reason for Abbas’s sudden turnaround stems from his own Fatah faction’s standing in the wake of the recent war in Gaza. It might be assumed that after the death and destruction that Hamas’s war wrought on the people of Gaza, that terror group would have fallen permanently out of favor. Yet perversely the bloodletting has apparently only endeared Hamas to the Palestinian public. Recent polling shows that in both Gaza and the West Bank Hamas enjoys unprecedented levels of approval, with 74 percent expressing a desire to see Hamas’s terror tactics extended to the West Bank. Unlike Fatah, Hamas is seen as engaging in real “resistance.” And because both the Obama administration and the Europeans put such considerable pressure on Israel to reward Hamas’s terror war by granting far-reaching concessions, the message was received loud and clear on the Palestinian street: terrorism gets things done.

Abbas is desperate to be seen to be regaining the initiative. Yet given his past record, it would be mistaken to imagine that he has suddenly become serious about ending the conflict with Israel. Abbas has had multiple opportunities to achieve Palestinian statehood but has shirked the responsibility every time, knowing full well that an Israeli withdrawal would mean his inevitable overthrow by Hamas. Rather, as becomes apparent when one looks more closely at what is being put forward by Abbas, the focus is less on achieving peace and more on establishing a series of penalties against Israel for when the talks fail to bear fruit, as Abbas knows will be the case. This isn’t about reconciliation, this is about demonstrating to the Palestinian public that diplomacy is still an effective way of waging warfare by other means.

From what we know about the plan–from Abbas’s own words to Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog and from what has been leaked by former PA minister Mahmoud al-Habash–the plan is booby-trapped against Israel at every turn. The plan allows for negotiations to take place for a maximum of nine months, with that period being broken down into a timetable for reaching agreement on the key issues of Abbas’s choosing, with borders clearly featuring as his highest priority. If at any point this process doesn’t go according to plan and Abbas’s timetable isn’t kept to then Abbas is threatening to drag Israel before the International Criminal Court, to end cooperation on security in the West Bank and to resume efforts to achieve statehood via the UN.

There were many reasons to suspect that the last round of U.S. sponsored negotiations were unfavorable to the Israeli position, but even that playing field wasn’t uneven enough for Abbas. The only negotiations Abbas is interested in are ones that are fixed in his favor–fixed to ensure he gets what he wants, and more importantly, fixed to punish Israel if he doesn’t. For the moment even John Kerry appears nervous about backing so outrageous a proposal as this one. But with Abbas expected to announce his initiative later this month at the UN General Assembly meeting, we’ll see if the administration’s opposition holds out.

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“Scholarship and Politics Don’t Mix!” Say Those Who Mix Scholarship and Politics

By now, many COMMENTARY readers will have heard of Steven Salaita, about whom I wrote here. Salaita resigned from his position in Virginia Tech’s English Department to take a job at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, in its Department of American Indian Studies. But Salaita’s job offer was contingent on the approval of UIUC’s Board of Trustees, and last month, after being made aware of a series of incendiary anti-Israel statements Salaita had made on Twitter, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to send Salaita’s appointment to the Board. The Board has stood behind Wise.

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By now, many COMMENTARY readers will have heard of Steven Salaita, about whom I wrote here. Salaita resigned from his position in Virginia Tech’s English Department to take a job at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, in its Department of American Indian Studies. But Salaita’s job offer was contingent on the approval of UIUC’s Board of Trustees, and last month, after being made aware of a series of incendiary anti-Israel statements Salaita had made on Twitter, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to send Salaita’s appointment to the Board. The Board has stood behind Wise.

In my previous post, I gave a sample of the tweets in question, so I’ll mention just two here: in one, Salaita responds to the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys that ignited the most recent Gaza conflict: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” The second mocked young American men who died in the conflict fighting for Israel: “No wonder Israel prefers killing Palestinians from the sky. It turns out American college kids aren’t very good at ground combat?”

I don’t know whether the university administration should have stepped in so late in the game—Salaita was already scheduled to teach courses in the fall—to refuse to approve Salaita’s appointment. Sensible people are worried both about the implications for the academic freedom of conservatives and about the influence of donor money on academic appointments. But whatever the merits of the administration’s position, at least one line Salaita’s defenders are taking should be, as Liel Leibovitz has shown, viewed with great suspicion.

According to a petition, now signed by over 17,000, Salaita is a “brilliant, ethical, and prolific” professor, blacklisted for “his political views on Israel.” He is, says one of his academic defenders, a “world renowned scholar,” exercising his “ freedom to found new knowledge, which is often only possible by . . . continually retesting norms and assumptions, without fear of reprisals from entrenched interests.” According to this complaint, Salaita, chosen by a department using scholarly standards to judge his scholarly work, was ousted by non-scholarly Neanderthals who dislike his politics.

Is Salaita a “world renowned scholar?” Although he has published works with university presses, including Temple University Press and Syracuse University Press, his resume, which also includes work for deeply politicized presses like Zed Books and Pluto Press, is not the stuff of which international scholarly renown is made. But Leibovitz has done more than read Salaita’s resume; he has read Salaita’s book, Israel’s Dead Soul.

In it, he finds the same propagandistic streak that one finds in Salaita’s tweets. For example, in a chapter devoted to showing that the Anti-Defamation League should be regarded as a hate group, Salaita says, “it is worth noting that numerous cases of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2007 and 2008 were found to actually have been committed by Jews.” Salaita provides four examples of such vandalism and claims that one of the vandals was “trained by the Mossad.” In fact, the New York Times, which Salaita cites, says only that the evidently deranged suspect claimed to be trained by the Mossad. Never mind. Salaita implies, not at all subtly, not only that anti-Semitism is exaggerated but also that this exaggeration is the deliberate result of, well, a secretive Jewish—I mean Israeli!—plot.

I don’t want to rest my case on Leibovitz’s reading of Israeli Dead Souls. But it is disingenuous for Salaita’s defenders to make so much of the distinction between scholarship, which Salaita and the department that chose him supposedly practice, and politics, which Salaita’s detractors supposedly practice. Leibovitz wonders how it can be that Salaita, who has done little work on Native Americans, was hired by a Department of American Indian Studies in the first place. The answer is that American Indian Studies, or Native American Studies, emerged as part of the movement toward Ethnic Studies in the late 1960s.

This movement explicitly sought to break down the wall between scholarship and politics. This statement from the Critical Ethnic Studies Association sums up the view well: “Ethnic studies scholarship has laid the foundation for analyzing how racism, settler colonialism, immigration, imperialism, and slavery interact in the creation and maintenance of systems of domination, dispossession, criminalization, expropriation, exploitation, and violence that are predicated upon hierarchies of racialized, gendered, sexualized, economized, and nationalized social existence in the United States and beyond.”

From this point of view, whether you study the domination of Palestinians by Israelis, the domination of blacks by whites, or the domination of Native Americans by the descendants of Europeans is neither here nor there. What matters is that you are judged capable of making a contribution to the anti-colonialist program. Steven Salaita, who has been best known for his role in the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, in which the chair of UIUC’s American Indian Studies department is also engaged, certainly filled that bill.

Yet Salaita’s defenders are shocked, simply shocked, that politics may play a role in academic appointments. I think that the specific character of those tweets, not Salaita’s political views, sunk Salaita. Many professors who favor a boycott of Israel have been hired, tenured, and promoted without incident, and anti-Israeli sentiment is far more visible at our colleges and universities than pro-Israel sentiment. But even if the trustees did decide to reject Salaita because they disagreed with his politics, how can Salaita’s crowd blame them? They merely would be taking seriously the idea that there is no distinction between politics and scholarship and concluding, properly, that scholars deserve no special deference.

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Ignoring Real Syrian Refugees to Support Fake Palestinian Ones

I realize it’s been a busy week, what with ISIS beheading journalists, Russia invading Ukraine, and deadliest of all (to quote the inimitable Sultan Knish), Israel threatening to build new houses. But it’s nevertheless shocking that one UN announcement last week should have attracted so little international attention: Last Friday, the number of registered Syrian refugees topped the 3 million mark. And those are just the ones who have made it out of Syria and registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The agency estimates that another 6.5 million are internally displaced, bringing the total number of displaced Syrians to almost half the country’s population.

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I realize it’s been a busy week, what with ISIS beheading journalists, Russia invading Ukraine, and deadliest of all (to quote the inimitable Sultan Knish), Israel threatening to build new houses. But it’s nevertheless shocking that one UN announcement last week should have attracted so little international attention: Last Friday, the number of registered Syrian refugees topped the 3 million mark. And those are just the ones who have made it out of Syria and registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The agency estimates that another 6.5 million are internally displaced, bringing the total number of displaced Syrians to almost half the country’s population.

But buried about halfway through the announcement is a sentence that goes a long way toward explaining the international apathy: “Syrians are now the world’s largest refugee population under UNHCR care, second only in number to the decades-long Palestinian crisis.” In other words, even as it tries to solicit aid for distressed Syrians, the UN itself is telling people that another refugee crisis is even greater, and hence presumably more deserving of their money and attention. And it has peddled this nonsensical claim so successfully, for so long, that it now finds itself unable to meet the needs of a real crisis: The $2 billion it’s desperately seeking to keep Syrian refugees alive through the upcoming winter has already been squandered on five million faux refugees, most of whom don’t need it at all.

Of course, there are real Palestinian refugees–primarily the 500,000 in Syria, whose plight, like that of other Syrians, is dire. Moreover, though most of the Palestinians temporarily displaced by the Hamas-Israel war are now returning home, Gaza will need reconstruction aid.

But of the 5 million Palestinians registered as “refugees” with their own private UN agency, UNRWA, most aren’t displaced in any fashion: They have lived in the same places for decades, and have houses, jobs, extended families, friends, schools, health care, and all the other accoutrements of normal life. Moreover, most live in places that, by Mideast standards, are exceptionally safe and stable, including 2.1 million in Jordan and 750,000 in the West Bank.

Nevertheless, UNRWA’s staff and budget dwarfs that of UNHCR. It has 30,000 employees to deal with 5 million “refugees,” while UNHCR has 8,600 to handle 10.5 million refugees plus more than twice as many other “people of concern,” including 17.7 million internally displaced. UNRWA’s regular budget is $1 billion a year, bolstered by periodic emergency appeals ($300 million in 2013); UNHCR had a regular budget of $4 billion plus $1.3 billion in emergency appeals as of mid-2013, but for a population seven times as large–35.8 million “people of concern.”

Thus UNRWA has one staffer for every 167 Palestinians while UNHCR has one for every 4,163 non-Palestinians, and UNRWA has $260 for every Palestinian while UNHCR has $148 for every non-Palestinian. Yet the needs of the people UNHCR cares for–who have lost their homes, their jobs and their entire lives–are incomparably greater than those of the Palestinians, most of whom lead completely normal lives.

Much has been written, correctly, about how UNRWA helps perpetuate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But to my mind, the greater outrage is the degree to which UNRWA diverts international money and attention from those who need it desperately–like the Syrian refugees–to those who don’t need it at all, like the many Palestinian “refugees” who became Jordanian citizens decades ago.

And unlike the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this is a problem the West can easily solve. Western nations provide most of UNRWA’s budget, so all they have to do is reallocate this money–some to UNHCR, and some, at least initially, to Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and perhaps Lebanon, to cushion the shock of suddenly having to provide health, education, and welfare services to millions of people who currently receive those services from UNRWA.

Then, with five million faux refugees out of the picture, perhaps the real ones will finally get the attention they deserve.

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A Rabbi Upsets the Church of Liberalism

Last week, Rabbi Richard Block caused a bit of a stir by announcing he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times. It caused a stir because of who he is: “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber,” as he wrote in Tablet.

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Last week, Rabbi Richard Block caused a bit of a stir by announcing he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times. It caused a stir because of who he is: “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber,” as he wrote in Tablet.

Every so often, someone surprises and offends the intelligentsia by revealing they don’t read the Times. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger wrote the definitive column on the subject back in 2004 (reprinted online at NRO a few years ago). Because Block represented a somewhat prominent liberal defector, the true believers of the religion of liberalism were aghast.

Perhaps no one took this more personally than Chemi Shalev, columnist for Haaretz. Most of Shalev’s column is pretty silly, accusing Block of intellectual retreat because he no longer will give his money to the house organ of the Church of Liberalism. This is, essentially, the I know you are but what am I response to Block, since the Times’s extreme ideological rigidity and enforced narrative conformity are precisely what Block objects to about the newspaper. But Shalev’s column–actually, one sentence of the column–is interesting for two reasons.

The first is the extent to which the rise of conservative and pro-Israel alternative media has slowly driven the left mad. Shalev writes:

Really, Rabbi Block? You won’t miss the New York Times? You’ll make do with Fox News and the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Free Beacon, because they report on Israel in the way you deem acceptable? You’ll give up the Times because they upset you on Gaza?

It’s the third sentence there, of course, that is the interesting one. Can you imagine, Shalev asks, someone giving up the Times? What will they read, the Washington Free Beacon? This is supposed to be an insult directed at the Free Beacon, but of course a Haaretz columnist taking a shot at the reporting chops of the Beacon is actually punching up. (Sample piece from today’s Haaretz: Sefi Rachlevsky’s argument that the country’s Orthodox Jewish schools are putting Israel in danger of transforming the Jewish state into “the world of ISIS.” Haaretz tweeted out a link to the article, writing: “Israel needs humanistic science education, not religious – or else it will become like ISIS.”)

The other reason that line is interesting is because it offers an opportunity to point something out about the Wall Street Journal. Shalev includes the Journal with Fox and the Beacon, presumably to impugn the objectivity of its reporting. Shalev, in other words, has no idea what he’s talking about. As everybody knows, the Journal’s editorial page is conservative but its reporting–as the data make explicitly clear–is not. There is a view among many leftists that if the editors of a publication are reliably supportive of Israel, the entire publication isn’t to be trusted. It would be shame if Shalev subscribed to this mania.

But more importantly, the summer war with Gaza made clear that when it comes to reporting on the conflict in the Middle East, no one holds a candle to the Journal. It was by far the most important newspaper to read, at least outside of Israel, to understand the complex web of diplomacy before and during the war. Adam Entous, in particular, was head and shoulders above any of his peers.

Entous had two major scoops during the war, in addition to excellent general reporting. The first told the story of how the alliance between Israel and Egypt’s new strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi formed after the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in a coup. The story explained how Egypt’s policies changed toward Gaza, how Israel’s assessment of Sisi developed, and how and why the ceasefire diplomacy during the war took shape.

The second was the major scoop that the Obama administration had downgraded its military cooperation with Israel during the war and even withheld a missile shipment in order to tie Israel’s hands and force it to accept a ceasefire opposed not just by Israel but by the Arab states in the immediate vicinity who understood the deal would benefit Hamas and its benefactors, Qatar and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Times was making a fool of itself. It wasn’t just biased; it was, as the better reporting elsewhere showed, creating a version of events so far removed from reality as to make the reader wonder which war the Times was covering. This wasn’t altogether surprising: the Times Jerusalem bureau chief has had a disastrous tenure and does not appear to be at all familiar with the basic geography of the country she covers and the municipality out of which her bureau is based. And the Times’s Gaza correspondent was apparently using a photo of Yasser Arafat as his Facebook profile picture.

In sum, the point is not about bias: that’s nothing new. The point is that if you read the Times’s war coverage you did not learn anything about the war. You simply read proofread versions of Hamas press releases. I can’t speak for Rabbi Block, but I get the impression he’s not canceling his Times subscription because he can’t deal with inconvenient facts. I imagine he’s canceling his subscription because he is seeking out the facts, and this summer proved he’d have to go elsewhere for them.

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Abbas’s Fake Ultimatum to Israel

Mahmoud Abbas has come up with what seems like a foolproof plan to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank and allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority leader is reportedly planning to give an ultimatum to the Israelis demanding they agree to the borders of such a state and threatening to withdraw security cooperation and go to the United Nations for redress if they don’t. It sounds smart but, like virtually every other initiative undertaken by the PA, it’s entirely fake, and his threats are, for the most part, a transparent bluff.

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Mahmoud Abbas has come up with what seems like a foolproof plan to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank and allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority leader is reportedly planning to give an ultimatum to the Israelis demanding they agree to the borders of such a state and threatening to withdraw security cooperation and go to the United Nations for redress if they don’t. It sounds smart but, like virtually every other initiative undertaken by the PA, it’s entirely fake, and his threats are, for the most part, a transparent bluff.

Abbas’s plan is to set up a nine-month negotiating period that would start with Israel being forced to agree to a map for a Palestinian state largely along the parameters of the 1967 lines at the outset. After that, the parties would negotiate other issues including refugees, water, settlements, and security cooperation. If the Israelis don’t do as Abbas bids, he will not only run to the UN to get it to grant the Palestinians independence and to the International Criminal Court to get the Jewish state indicted for their “crimes” against the Palestinians. He will also withdraw security cooperation.

Given the anger about Israel in the international community in the wake of the war in Gaza and the destruction and death suffered by the Palestinians during that conflict, Abbas thinks the timing is perfect for a round of pressure directed at the Jewish state. With President Obama openly displaying his anger and resentment about Israel’s government, the Palestinians may believe Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deeply divided government will crack up and give him what he wants.

While President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry may take Abbas seriously and use this initiative as the excuse for another round of Middle East diplomacy, I doubt that Netanyahu is foolish enough to take the bait. Despite his grandstanding, Abbas won’t sign any peace deal no matter where his putative state’s borders would be drawn. Nor has he the slightest interest in withdrawing security cooperation with Israel.

Why can Israel be so sure that Abbas doesn’t mean what he says?

First, it should be remembered that despite Abbas’s claims that Israel has yet to put forward a map of where an acceptable Palestinian state might be, the PA has already received several such maps and turned each one of them down over the course of negotiations stretching back to 2000. When former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a map pretty much along the lines he is demanding in 2008, he fled the negotiations and wouldn’t return to the table for years. In the latest round with the Netanyahu government during the past year, Abbas wouldn’t negotiate seriously on any issue and again seized the first pretext to break them off.

The reason for this behavior is that although Abbas sometimes talks a good game about peace, he knows his public is not ready for a deal that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one. So as much as he has put on a good show in recent years about wanting a state, his goal has always been to avoid a peace deal or even being put in a position where he would be forced to say either yes or no to one.

Abbas does like the idea of going to the UN and the ICC since that allows him to avoid making reciprocal agreements with Israel, recognizing a Jewish state, and acting as if the future of the Palestinians lies in cooperation rather than futile “resistance.” But he also knows that the UN can’t give him a state.

As for the threat of Abbas ending security cooperation with Israel, that’s a bad joke. While the Israelis do view any help they get from the various PA security forces as useful, the main beneficiary of the cooperation is not the Jewish state; it’s Abbas. As the revelations of a planned Hamas coup against the PA uncovered by the Israelis proved, the PA leader’s hold on his office as well as his personal security depends on Israel’s good will.

That fact should also factor into an understanding of why Israelis are so reluctant to hand over more territory to Abbas. While his more moderate brand of Palestinian nationalism is certainly to be preferred over that of Hamas’s Islamist rejectionism, the lack of enthusiasm for peace among Palestinians and the popularity of Hamas both restrains the PA leader’s ability to make peace and would render any such deal a perilous risk for Israel.

These conclusions are bolstered by a new poll of Palestinian public opinion that shows Hamas’s popularity skyrocketing in the wake of the destructive war they imposed upon the country this summer. As the Times of Israel reports:

According to the data collected on August 26-30 by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) headed by pollster Khalil Shikaki, 79 percent of Palestinians questioned in Gaza and the West Bank said that Hamas had won the war against Israel, while only 3% said Israel had won. …

In stark contrast to predictions voiced during Operation Protective Edge by senior Israeli military officers saying the extent of damage in Gaza would likely turn the civilian population against Hamas, 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with Hamas’s performance in confronting the IDF and 78% were pleased with the movement’s defense of civilians in Gaza. Eighty-six percent of the 1,270 adults questioned in the survey said they supported the continuation of rocket attacks at Israel as long as the blockade on Gaza is maintained.

In other words, despite the expectations of some in both Israel and the United States, the war has not created an opening for Abbas or for the advancement of moderate Palestinian policies. To the contrary, the results make it all too plain that any withdrawal from the West Bank might ultimately produce the same result as in Gaza when the removal of every soldier, settler, and settlement paved the way for a Hamas terror state rather than peace and development. Even if Israel wanted to grant Abbas his wishes and accept his ultimatum on territory, the likelihood of the creation of another, larger and more dangerous Hamas state in the West Bank would make such a move impossible. Even if Abbas wasn’t bluffing—and he almost certainly is—no Israeli government of any political stripe will risk such an outcome. And it would be irresponsible for any of those who purport to be Israel’s friends to urge it do so.

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The Israeli “Land Grab” and Hopes for Peace

Those intransigent Israelis have done it again. Just when the world was hoping for gestures of peace, they’ve done something making the two-state solution with the Palestinians harder to implement. Or so most of the world is claiming today after Israel’s government declared that 988 acres of vacant land in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem is “state land” and therefore might be used for development. But the diplomatic condemnation raining down on the Israelis today is illogical and has very little to do with the terms of what a real peace deal might look like. If the Palestinians really wanted peace, this move wouldn’t affect it in the least.

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Those intransigent Israelis have done it again. Just when the world was hoping for gestures of peace, they’ve done something making the two-state solution with the Palestinians harder to implement. Or so most of the world is claiming today after Israel’s government declared that 988 acres of vacant land in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem is “state land” and therefore might be used for development. But the diplomatic condemnation raining down on the Israelis today is illogical and has very little to do with the terms of what a real peace deal might look like. If the Palestinians really wanted peace, this move wouldn’t affect it in the least.

As the New York Times reported today, the seizure of the vacant land is being considered proof that the Netanyahu government doesn’t want peace. It was condemned by the Palestinian Authority, the United Kingdom, and even criticized by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. But the way the story is being presented in the mainstream press is highly misleading.

The New York Times simply refers to the land in its headline as “West Bank Land Near Bethlehem.” That’s true in that the place is in the area taken by Israel in June 1967 and it is near the city of Bethlehem. But savvy readers should have picked up on the mention in the story of the fact that it is “in” a settlement bloc. Though the Peace Now organization condemned the move as one that would “dramatically change the reality” in the area, since it is already inside an area that is heavily populated by Jews and claimed by the Jewish state, it’s hard to see how anything that happens inside it would affect the future of other parts of the West Bank which might theoretically be conceded to the Palestinians as part of an independent state.

But this isn’t just any settlement bloc; it’s Gush Etzion. That may not mean much to Americans, let alone Europeans who can be counted on to condemn anything the Israelis do, but it does put the matter of whether this decision actually affects possible peace negotiations in perspective.

It needs to be remembered that most peace advocates keep telling us that the terms of peace between Israel and the Palestinians are well known and that all that is needed is the will to implement them rather than more discussions about the details. But among those terms is the concept of territorial swaps that was endorsed by President Obama and even approved by the Palestinian participants in the Geneva initiatives. The swaps would allow Israel to keep the blocs of settlements—most of which are adjacent to the 1967 lines—in exchange for other territory to be given to the Palestinians. While there is some dispute as to which blocs are part of this consensus, there is no doubt that one of them is the Etzion bloc.

There are two reasons for the assumption that Gush Etzion stays inside of Israel even if a Palestinian state is created in the West Bank.

One is that it is just south of Jerusalem and requires no great manipulation of the map. It guards the southern flank of Israel’s capital and the area containing 22 Jewish communities with over 70,000 living there can be retained while leaving Bethlehem inside a putative Palestinian state.

But this land is also significant because, contrary to the narrative in which Jews are portrayed as “stealing” Arab land, Gush Etzion was actually populated and owned by Jews not only prior to 1967 but also prior to Israel’s War of Independence. Gush Etzion was a bloc of Jewish settlements that was overrun by Jordanian army units and local Palestinians after a bitterly contested siege. Its inhabitants were either massacred or taken prisoner and their homes and farms destroyed. As such, it was the first land to be reclaimed for Jewish settlement after the 1967 war put it back in Israeli hands.

Let’s be clear about this. Neither the ownership nor the future of Gush Etzion is up for debate in any peace talks. In every peace plan, whether put forward by Israel’s government or its left-wing opponents, the bloc remains part of Israel, a reality that most sensible Palestinians accept.

The legal dispute about whether empty land can be converted to state use for development or settlement or if it is actually the property of neighboring Arab villages is one that will play itself out in Israel’s courts. Given the scrupulous manner with which Israel’s independent judiciary has handled such cases in the past, if the local Arabs can prove their dubious assertions of ownership, the land will be theirs.

But no matter who wins that case, it won’t affect the territory of a Palestinian state since whether individual Arabs own these lots or Jews won’t make a difference in peace talks. If Jews wind up living there it won’t impact the future borders of a Palestinian state any more than the fact that Arabs are building on lots in Bethlehem.

Why then is the Gush Etzion land decision being represented as such a blow to a peace process that was already torpedoed earlier this year by the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation fact and rendered even more unlikely by the terrorist war of attrition launched by Hamas this summer?

The reason is fairly obvious. The Palestinians and their cheerleaders aren’t really interested in negotiating peace and drawing lines that could effectively divide the land even on terms favorable to their side. The Obama-endorsed land swaps that would include Gush Etzion or any other possible provisions to achieve peace are irrelevant to their goals because it is still impossible for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

That’s a fact that pro-peace Israelis like Livni and others here in the United States need to understand. Livni didn’t condemn the Etzion announcement because she believes it actually could impact the terms of a peace deal. She knows it won’t. Rather, she thinks that the move will draw attention to the area and encourage Arabs and foreign governments to advocate for Israel to give up even this land that Jews originally owned. But whether or not attention is drawn to the bloc, the Palestinians are no more willing to let the Jews keep it than they are to let them keep any other part of the West Bank or those lands that were inside the pre-67 lines.

Livni, like some other Israelis, is also uncomfortable with the idea that the motivation for this decision is to send a message to the Arabs about terrorism. Giving more land for Jewish settlement in this area may also be a response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers that set off the war with Hamas since the trio were taken and killed in this very area. Sending such a message is a policy that can be debated, but whether or not it is wise or appropriate has nothing to do with the terms of peace.

The Gush Etzion announcement is no land grab. It concerns vacant lots inside an area that will always be kept as part of Israel. But the anger that it generated does send a signal to Israel that the Palestinians aren’t going to accept their continued presence in any part of the country. That’s bad news for peace but remedying it will require a shift toward acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy among the Palestinians, not the surrender of Jewish communities.

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Yale and the Causes of Anti-Semitism

Last week, the New York Times published a series of letters in response to an op-ed by Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, entitled, “Why Jews are Worried,” which examined the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Last week, the New York Times published a series of letters in response to an op-ed by Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, entitled, “Why Jews are Worried,” which examined the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

One of the letters caught my eye. It blamed the rise of anti-Semitism on Israel and seemed to hint that Jews themselves are to blame for their support of Israel. Here is the letter in full:

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond. The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank. As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

The author of the letter is Bruce M. Shipman, the Episcopal chaplain at Yale University.

The firestorm initiated by the letter has spread far beyond New Haven. Rabbi Shua Rosenstein, from Chabad at Yale, released the following statement, transposed here by David Bernstein at the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy blog:

Reverend Bruce Shipman’s justification of anti-Semitism by blaming it on Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza is frankly quite disturbing. His argument attempts to justify racism and hate of innocent people, in Israel and around the world.  One can and should study the Israeli policies regarding human rights, and the honest student will realize the painstaking efforts undertaken by Israel to protect innocent civilians. Hamas, ISIS and other radical groups make it their mission to torture, rape and kill as many civilians as possible. Yet, no moral person however, would attempt to justify blatant global anti-Moslem hatred in light of these atrocities. I call upon Bruce Shipman to retract and apologize for his unfortunate and misguided assertion. Instead of excusing bias and hatred against others, he should use his position to promote dialogue, understanding, and tolerance.

Shipman at first responded to the controversy by doubling down but, when the controversy continued, issued what can best be called a non-apology apology.

Let’s assume Shipman is sincere in wanting to walk back the crisis. That’s fine, but what he omits–even days into the controversy–suggests he is wrong on any number of levels. He appears ignorant of Hamas’s founding charter which promotes genocide against Jews. While Nazi analogies are sometimes overused, they are relevant to Hamas or Hezbollah, both of whom make no secret that they seek to target not only Israel, but also Jews. On October 23, 2002, for example, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah encouraged all Jews to gather in Israel, thereby saving Hezbollah “the trouble of going after them worldwide.” The land dispute between Palestinians and Israelis is secondary to these movements. He also seems to forget that the occupation of Gaza ended nearly a decade ago and, as with the Oslo Accords and the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Israel’s compromises were met with a massive increase in Israelis killed at the hand of terrorists.

The problem is not just Shipman. In 2011, Yale University shut down the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism after it had been in operation for only six years. Professors complained that the program’s consideration of contemporary anti-Semitism was too political and not academic enough. This charge, of course, was nonsense as the program attracted the foremost scholars in the field to its conferences and colloquia. Perhaps—with Yale University actively seeking donations from and partnerships with Arab governments as well as a predominant attitude on campus encapsulated by Shipman—the idea of the study of contemporary anti-Semitism simply hit too close to home amongst the Yale faculty, many of whom might not like to consider the uncomfortable questions such study might encourage.

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Bibi, Guerrilla Warfare, and Public Opinion

The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

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The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

But as Jonathan Tobin and other realists have pointed out, the cost of seeking victory is simply too high for the Israeli public to stomach. Sure, Israelis may want to wipe out Hamas; who doesn’t? But once they saw what it actually took to accomplish that objective, they would likely turn against the military operation just as they previously turned against the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which was designed to eradicate the PLO. Or as the American public turned against wars in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Haviv Rettig Gur argues in the Times of Israel, part of the problem is a mismatch between general Western, including Israeli, conceptions of what war should be like and what war is actually like most of the time. Quoting the great military historian Victor Davis Hanson, Gur notes “that for 2,500 years, democracies have held to a particular view of wars as brief, decisive, winner-takes-all confrontations between like-minded opponents.” Yet the IDF has been denied such a decisive battle with a regular enemy force since the end of the Yom Kippur War. “Defeated on those decisive battlefields,” Gur notes, “Arab opponents of Israel have turned to new arenas, to the very terror, guerrilla and irregular tactics that Israelis consider immoral and cowardly.”

Yet whatever the morality of guerrilla tactics, as a practical matter they are much harder to defeat than a conventional attack–as the U.S. discovered in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and as Israel has learned in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, and as both the governments of Iraq and Syria are now learning. While it’s easy to say that the IDF should “defeat” or “destroy ” Hamas, actually accomplishing this task would involve a painful and protracted occupation of the Gaza Strip that few Israelis want to undertake. Gur writes: “The IDF believes it could take years to ‘pacify’ such a crowded, politically hostile territory, at the cost of hundreds of IDF dead and untold thousands of Palestinian dead, massive international opprobrium, and vast drains on the IDF’s manpower and financial resources that could limit its operational flexibility on other dangerous fronts, especially Syria-Lebanon and Iran.”

As a practical matter, moreover, Israel would be hard-pressed to wage such a conflict over the opposition of President Obama who would surely try to punish Israel by denying its request for more armaments and possibly by refusing to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

Such a war might still be well-advised if Hamas were an existential threat, but it’s not. Despite all of the rockets it rained on Israel, Hamas thankfully managed to kill few Israelis.

Netanyahu’s judgment clearly is that a ceasefire which restores the status quo ante bellum is the best Israel can do right now, and he is surely right. That is not satisfying for those who hunger for an idyllic version of war in which the bad guys surrender after being bombed for a few days, but it is line with the complex reality of irregular war as it has been waged over the centuries.

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Why Exposing the Facts Doesn’t Change the Media’s Anti-Israel Narrative

Anybody who has worked in an actual newsroom knows that mainstream media bias–most pungently against conservative cultural mores and the State of Israel–is real and pervasive. The question that crops up time and again is: Why? Where does the bias come from, why can’t it be corrected? Yesterday Matti Friedman, in an in-depth piece on media coverage and the Arab-Israeli conflict, gave an answer, at least with regard to media bias against Israel. He’s right. And much of the pro-Israel world wishes he weren’t.

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Anybody who has worked in an actual newsroom knows that mainstream media bias–most pungently against conservative cultural mores and the State of Israel–is real and pervasive. The question that crops up time and again is: Why? Where does the bias come from, why can’t it be corrected? Yesterday Matti Friedman, in an in-depth piece on media coverage and the Arab-Israeli conflict, gave an answer, at least with regard to media bias against Israel. He’s right. And much of the pro-Israel world wishes he weren’t.

Friedman worked for the Associated Press, and saw firsthand how the Western media operates when the subject turns to Israel. It’s an experience shared by all but the most liberal reporters, who don’t notice the bias because of their cloistered worldview. In fact, Friedman considers himself “a liberal, and a critic of many of my country’s policies.” It’s just that he has an affinity for the truth and a belief in the noble role the media can and should play in disseminating the facts.

As a prelude to a rundown of examples of how the AP and other major news organizations omit much of importance in service to their blame-Israel narrative, Friedman writes:

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

After listing much of what is missing from coverage of the conflict, he gives a particularly glaring example:

The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.

Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.

This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.

It was a big story (when it was finally revealed), and it really would have been quite a scoop. Many observers would be frankly shocked to learn about the proclivity of editors to lose out on an important scoop because the facts of the story aren’t anti-Israel enough. But that’s the reality of the international, especially Western, media.

And seemingly minor stories can also make a big difference. A good example came in late 2012 from New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, whose tenure thus far has been undeniably disastrous. Slanting a story is one thing, but Rudoren has taken to simply redrawing maps. She wrote a patently ridiculous story asserting that building in the E-1 corridor near Jerusalem would divide the West Bank in two. The article contained even more errors than that, and they were mistakes that could have been prevented by glancing at a map.

Does the Times have access to a map? Has anyone at the Times looked out a window while in Jerusalem? Of course. What’s happening is not a series of slip-ups–no one with any experience in the matter could possibly make Rudoren’s claims with a straight face. What’s happening is bias-as-policy, as Friedman points out.

Rudoren’s story is just one of many examples. But the point is that while defenders of the anti-Israel press tend to think Israel’s defenders read the coverage of the conflict in the hopes of finding bias wherever and whenever possible, the opposite is true. Israel and her defenders, in general, wish fervently that Friedman’s assessment is wrong.

That’s because if the unreliable reporting were simply a matter of inexperience and ignorance, it could be remedied. Israel has made far more effort in recent years to get its side of the story out. If the media were truly interested in getting the story right, this would make a difference. It isn’t, and so it hasn’t. That’s the bleak reality of the mainstream media’s coverage of Israel.

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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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