In the last year, the Western press has focused a great deal of attention on what has been described as a wave of violence committed by Jewish settlers living in the West Bank against Palestinians. The vandalism and other crimes committed by Jews—known as “price tag” attacks—have been widely condemned by the Israeli government and virtually everyone in Israeli society outside of the extreme right. But this marginal phenomenon—and even Israel’s sternest critics must concede that this is something that is the work of a tiny minority even of settlers, let alone Israel—that has received disproportionate news coverage is rarely contrasted with a far more widespread phenomenon: Arab violence against settlers and Israelis.
As we learn in a front-page story published today in the New York Times under the headline of “My Hobby is Throwing Stones,” violence directed at Jews isn’t just a troubling trend, it is something that has become more or less the national Palestinian sport. Children, adolescents, and even adults treat flinging lethal rocks at any passing car with Israeli license plates as not merely boys being boys but acceptable behavior that is somehow justified by the ongoing dispute between the two peoples over the land and a host of other issues. The conflict between Jews and Arabs over the land is complex and there are victims on both sides. But what this story tells us about contemporary Palestinian culture and its glorification of violence, as well as the rejection of alternate means of dealing with the Jewish presence in their midst, speaks volumes about how difficult it will be to ever achieve peace.
There are a couple of key points to understand about this wildly popular Palestinian “hobby.”
The first is that though the story only mentions the victims of the stone throwing in passing in one sentence, flinging a large rock at an individual or a moving vehicle is not a game. It is a form of terrorism. Such actions are felonious assaults by any definition of the law. The purpose of the stone throwing is not making a political statement but to inflict injury and even death on those so unfortunate as to be in range of these missiles. Anyone who wants to understand what is driving the “price tag” attacks by a small number of settlers need only read this piece and understand that what they are reacting to is routine illegal violence that is condoned by the entire Arab community.
Defenders of the Palestinians may say that stone throwing is a reaction to the “occupation” and that those who throw rocks have no other way of protesting the settlements or what they consider wrongful behavior on the part of the Israel Defense Forces. But this ignores the fact that most of the tense encounters between the IDF and Palestinians stems from the violence that the latter habitually commit.
That leads to the second point: nowhere in this story does anyone ever stop and say that perhaps it would be better for the Palestinians’ quality of life and even their political aspirations if they decided to treat the Jews who live near them as human beings rather than merely enemy targets.
It is worth noting that Beit Omar, the town featured in the Times story, is located nearby the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements in the West Bank. Jodi Rudoren, the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, notes that Beit Omar’s location is ideal for stone throwing since it abuts a major highway near a group of Jewish communities. But she leaves out the fact that there is an interesting history of Jewish-Arab interaction in the era that is instructive in understanding the conflict.
The Gush Etzion bloc is, after all, not built on stolen Arab land, as the cliché goes about all such West Bank settlements, but on the ruins of Jewish communities that existed prior to 1948. In the months prior to Israel’s birth as the ruling British stood back and allowed a civil war to rage on their watch, local Arabs, aided by foreign volunteers, laid siege to the Jewish villages in the Gush Etzion area. Efforts to reinforce them from Jerusalem (which was itself under siege) failed and eventually they fell to Arab attack. Many of the inhabitants were subject to indiscriminate massacre while others were captured. Their homes were destroyed as local Palestinian Arabs celebrated.
Nineteen years later, after Israel took possession of the West Bank ending an illegal Jordanian occupation, the process of rebuilding Gush Etzion began and today the various towns in the area flourish and are rightly seen as Jerusalem suburbs that are not centers of settler violence or intolerance. No one envisions its evacuation even in the unlikely scenario of a peace deal being signed.
If Palestinians still dream of repeating the events of 1948, at least as far as Gush Etzion is concerned, that is more than a public safety problem. It represents a basic unwillingness to live in peace alongside their Jewish neighbors. If Palestinians can think of nothing better to do than to steal from or attack Jews in the town over the hill, how can we believe they are ready to accept peace with Israel under virtually any circumstances?
The Palestinians’ culture of violence goes much deeper than stone throwing. It is in fact merely a symptom of the hatred of Jews and Israelis that is fomented in their official media and throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Whatever your opinion about settlements or where the borders of Israel should be located, the longer Palestinians condone routine violence and train new generations of children to take part in this mayhem, the longer they are putting off the day when peace will arrive.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Culture of Violence: A Palestinian Hobby
Must-Reads from Magazine
On July 16, 2017, Iranian Judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi announced that Iran had sentenced an American to ten years in prison for alleged espionage. An Iranian judiciary website subsequently identified the American as 37-year-old, China-born Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University Ph.D. student in history.
Hostage-taking is nothing new for the Islamic Republic. Indeed, since revolutionary students acting on behalf of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini first seized the U.S. Embassy on November 4, 1979, hostage-taking has become a central pillar of Iranian policy. For authorities in Tehran, the reason for hostage-taking is simple: It’s a strategy which has repeatedly paid off. The Carter administration rewarded Iran with millions of dollars and diplomatic concessions. Ronald Reagan, for all his tough rhetoric as a campaigner, did likewise with the arms-for-hostages policy, a scheme that backfired when Iran seized even more hostages once it had received the last delivery of weaponry and spare parts.
President Obama likewise rewarded Iranian hostage-taking by paying Iran over $1 billion for the release of imprisoned Americans, although he inexplicably left Robert Levinson, the longest-held American hostage, behind. No sooner had the U.S. government transferred the ransom in cash to a waiting Iranian plane (controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), then Iranian security forces seized several more Iranian Americans and permanent residents, most prominently Iranian American businessman and political activist Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer.
What makes Wang’s arrest and imprisonment different is that Wang presumably had an Iranian visa. Americans must get a visa in advance and, on the off-chance Wang was traveling on a Chinese passport, he would likely also have required a visa, although there is some wiggle-room for Chinese citizens with confirmed bookings in five-star hotels.
Other Americans who were arrested in Iran in the years since the Embassy seizure were traveling on Iranian passports: Iran does not recognize dual citizenship for Iranians and requires Iranian-Americans to travel on Iranian documents. Renouncing Iranian citizenship takes an act of Iran’s parliament, and so it is beyond the means for pretty much every Iranian-American. The Iranian government has no desire to ease that restriction for both ideological reasons—it’s hard to demonize “the Great Satan” when so many Iranian citizens want to live in the United States—and because the requirement for Iranian-Americans to register births and keep passports current is a cash cow for the Iranian foreign ministry. When Iran has seized Americans, there, it has operated under the legal fiction that those arrested were simply Iranian citizens. Often, Iranian diplomats tell State Department and the Swiss diplomats who look out for American citizen interests in Iran to buzz off.
Levinson was a slightly different case: He traveled without a visa to Kish Island, an Iranian free trade zone which is visa-free (but which is dominated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ business interests). Regardless, the fact remains: previous Americans seized in Iran were not traveling on U.S. passports with Iranian visas.
Wang’s arrest hits home for me as I went to Iran—with proper Iranian visas in my passport—for a total of seven months while I was working on my history Ph.D. Since I received my doctorate and since I won’t self-censor what I think or write about the Iranian regime in order to gain access, I have since been unable to get the Iranian visa, even when I have been invited for academic conferences in my field. There’s never an outright rejection—just an endless series of “maybe tomorrow”—until the conference has come and gone. For academics and other Americans, however, there was always an understanding, that if the Iranian foreign ministry (and behind-the-scenes, the Iranian intelligence ministry) issued a visa and the visa-holder behaved him or herself, there would be no serious problems.
So what does Wang’s arrest mean? First, he represents the human cost of the Obama administration’s willingness to pay ransom. Second, that the security forces and judiciary targeted him suggests both that they have augmented and consolidated control despite all the Western self-deception about Iranian moderation and also that they wish to humiliate the United States. Wang’s arrest is also a signal by those who control Iran that Americans should think twice about traveling to the country. The New York Times may profit handsomely from its Iran tours, but Iran may profit more if they refuse to allow one or more of those tourists to depart.
No hostage-taking is acceptable, and the fact that any Western diplomat would trust, let alone tolerate, their Iranian counterparts absent an Iranian renunciation of the practice past and present reflects poorly on both the United States and Europe. The fact that Iran targeted an Iranian visa holder rather than an “Iranian citizen” suggests the Islamic Republic is crossing lines even they have long avoided.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
The hen house is secured.
Eric Edelman–a former undersecretary of defense in the Bush administration, an aide to Vice President Cheney, and one of the most respected foreign policy hands in Washington–wrote that the July 7 meeting in Hamburg between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was the most disastrous superpower summit since John F. Kennedy met Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. That Cold War-era summit emboldened the Soviets to put up the Berlin Wall and send missiles to Cuba, thus bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war. It’s a harsh judgment, but its essential accuracy is being confirmed by what we have learned since July 7.
Trump appears proud of the fact that he actually raised with Putin the issue of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. But the way he did so engenders no confidence. According to Edelman, “Tillerson is reported to have told associates privately that he was stunned that the president opened the discussion by saying ‘I’m going to get this out of the way,’ in effect signaling his lack of seriousness about the issue.”
Trump’s own account is hardly more reassuring. On July 12, on his way back to Europe, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One: “I said to [Putin], were you involved with the meddling in the election? He said, absolutely not. I was not involved. He was very strong on it. I then said to him again, in a totally different way, were you involved with the meddling. He said, I was not–absolutely not.” Having failed to extract a confession from Putin, Trump then moved on to talking about Syria. What else can you do, he told reporters—“end up in a fist fight”?
What Trump should have done—what any other president would have done—was not ask Putin whether he did something that the U.S. intelligence community knows he did. The president should have said, “We know you did this—and here are the consequences.” Only Trump himself won’t publicly accept that Russia was the sole hacker, and he’s not interested in meting out any consequences. Indeed, his administration is lobbying to water down in the House a Russia-sanctions bill approved by the Senate.
One of the summit achievements that Trump trumpeted initially was an agreement to form with Russia an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, [and] many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.” This fox-guarding-the-hen-house proposal was met with such universal derision that within hours Trump disowned the idea, shortly after his Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin had loyally praised it on TV.
But Trump is still standing by the other summit take away, which was the announcement of a limited ceasefire in southwestern Syria. “We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives,” Trump tweeted. “Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
In point of fact, the agreement between the U.S. and Russia did nothing more than ratify a unilateral truce announced the previous week by the Syrian government in this area so that Bashar Assad could focus his hard-pressed forces on other parts of the country. The truce is unlikely to hold for long, but it is already being met with considerable concern in Israel, since the territory in question borders the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and the land of Israel’s ally, Jordan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out in stark terms against the ceasefire on Sunday, breaking with Trump to do so, because the Israeli security establishment is worried that the ceasefire will allow Iran and its Hezbollah proxies to consolidate their control of this strategically important land.
This development highlights the tension between Trump’s anti-Iran policy (his national security adviser at the time, Mike Flynn, put Iran “on notice” in February) and his more accommodating stance toward Iran’s ally, Russia. Contrary to what Rex Tillerson naively says, Russia does not have the same interests in Syria as the U.S. does. Russia is in Syria to consolidate Bashar Assad’s rule—not to fight ISIS or other Sunni terrorist groups, except insofar as they pose a danger to Assad’s rule.
To achieve its aims in Syria, Russia is working hand-in-glove with Iran, which remains Assad’s most important sponsor. Iran’s goal is to create a new Iranian sphere of influence stretching from Tehran to Beirut, and it is well on its way toward achieving that objective. The expansion of Iranian power is a mortal threat to Israel and a serious danger for other U.S. allies in the region.
Given the way that Moscow is collaborating with Tehran, Trump cannot be anti-Iran and pro-Russia. It’s a package deal—choose one or the other. The worry is that at Hamburg Trump may have chosen Russia.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
No more Sister Souljah moments.
Republicans didn’t always scoff dismissively at the self-destructive, reactionary, fractious collection of malcontents who call themselves The Resistance. The hundreds of thousands who marched in the streets following Donald Trump’s election once honestly unnerved the GOP. This grassroots energy culminated in January’s Women’s March, a multi-day event in which nearly two million people mobilized peacefully and, most importantly, sympathetically in opposition to the president. It was the perfect antidote to the violent anti-Trump demonstrations that typified Inauguration Day, and it might have formed the nucleus of a politically potent movement. The fall of the Women’s March exposes the blight weakening the left and crippling the Democratic Party.
The fever sapping Trump’s opposition was evident in microcosm on Monday in the meltdown of the Women’s March’s social-media presence on Twitter. “Happy birthday to the revolutionary #AssataShakur,” the organization wrote, dedicating the day’s resistance-related activities in her “honor.” Shakur is perhaps better known as Joanne Chesimard, the name that appeared on the court documents in connection with her being tried and convicted of eight felonies, including the execution-style murder of a New Jersey State Trooper. She currently resides in communist Cuba, a fugitive from American justice.
The outrage that followed the Women’s March’s endorsement of a cop-killer, exile, and unrepentant black nationalist was such that the organization was compelled to explain itself. “[T]his is not to say that #AssataShakur has never committed a crime, and not to endorse all of her actions,” the group flailed. “We say this to demonstrate the ongoing history of government [and] right-wing attempts to criminalize and discredit political activists.” This fanatical display of befuddlement perfectly encapsulates the logic of “intersectionality.” It demonstrates why this vogue ideology shackles its devotees to doomed causes and sinking ships.
“Intersectionality,” the beast born in liberal hothouses on college campuses, slouches now toward the halls of power. It is a Marxist notion that all discrimination is linked because it is rooted in the unjust power structures that facilitate inequality. Therefore, there are no distinct struggles against prejudice. Class, race, gender, sexual identity; these and other signifiers are bound together by the fact that oppression is institutional and systemic. The problem with this ideology is it compels its adherents to abandon discretion. To sacrifice anyone with a claim to oppression is to forsake every victim of prejudice. So, sure, Assata Shakur robbed, assaulted, incited violence, and killed a cop. But she also hates capitalism and white supremacy. Therefore, she’s one of us.
It is this logic that has rendered the “Sister Souljah moment” a relic of the past, and The Resistance is drowning in Sister Souljahs.
One of the March organizers, Linda Sarsour, has enjoyed newfound popularity and legitimacy in the age of Trump. She is a self-styled organizer for civil rights and the Muslim-American community of which she is a part, and she’s been acclaimed by organizations like the ACLU and Demos. Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand described Sarsour and her colleagues as “the suffragists of our time.” In return for this lavish praise, Sarsour has only forced her defenders into awkward positions.
Sarsour has praised Saudi Arabia’s social welfare state as appropriate compensation for stripping women of privileges such as driving a car. “I wish I could take their vaginas away,” she wrote of women like the Somali-born Dutch-American activist and genital-mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “You’ll know when you’re living under Sharia Law if suddenly all your loans [and] credit cards become interest-free. Sound nice, doesn’t it?” she asked. While delivering the keynote address to a Muslim-American conference, Sarsour advocated “jihad” against Donald Trump, defining the term to mean only speaking truth to power. Rather than admonish their political ally for this obvious indiscretion, the American left went to the mattresses to explain that only they understand the true meaning of the word “jihad.”
For some on the left, advocating violence is not only justified but fashionable. Misanthropic so-called “anti-Fascist” activists like Shanta Driver and Yvette Felarca have become a ubiquitous presence in pro-Resistance mythology. People like Driver advocate for “militant actions” while Felarca appears at the head of armed mobs “resisting” the white supremacist alt-right “by any means necessary” (which happens to be the name of the organization to which she belongs). For this “activism,” these and other “anti-fa” organizers are feted by left-wing magazines like Mother Jones and The Huffington Post.
Amid the celebration of left-wing political violence, a man who had been radicalized by liberal politics attempted the mass assassination of Republican members of Congress. Far from dwelling on this potentially generation-defining attack, the event passed through the national consciousness like an apparition. We don’t talk about that now. Perhaps we don’t want to think about what it might portend.
None of these individuals have roots in Democratic politics so deep that they cannot be deracinated relatively painlessly. Indeed, their counterproductive behavior would compel any competent political operation to make an example or two—particularly an operation struggling to demonstrate that it can be trusted again to govern seriously and effectively. Yet the Democratic Party and the liberals who animate it have come under the spell of a philosophy that explicitly forbids the exorcism of its demons.
Republicans have their devils, too. The excision of which may not seem a terribly urgent project today, given the GOP’s political dominance. They will confront that crisis soon enough. In the interim, Democrats should be remaking themselves to appeal to the existing electorate; the one that delivered to the GOP near total control of state and federal government over just six years. Instead, Democrats are voluntarily yoking themselves to their most radical elements even as the number of Americans who describe the party as “too extreme” continues to climb.
Republicans may have their troubles, but a competent opposition is not among them.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Even “Game of Thrones” has not quite rescued medieval studies from its reputation for stodginess. Yet the organizers of this year’s International Medieval Congress must have thought their fellow scholars would think them a teensy bit cool for selecting the theme “otherness.”
There were plenty of panels on gender, gendering, ungendering, and various gendered things. There was one devoted to “Hagiography Beyond Gender Essentialism: Trans and Genderqueer Sanctity: Rethinking the Status Quo.” There was plenty on ethnicity, a bit on race, and, for those who like their politics unsauced, a panel entitled “The Historical Is Political: Understanding the Backlash against the Study of Race, Gender, and Representation in Medievalism.”
I note these titles not to bash the conference, whose program contains many interesting things, or to suggest that medieval studies can cast no light on contemporary problems. I am saying only that the 2,400 scholars from 56 countries who descended on England’s University of Leeds earlier this month may have thought they’d gone some way toward appeasing the academic left.
Nope. Some of their fellow medievalists are accusing them of abetting white supremacy.
This remarkable charge, though related to longstanding discontent about the field of medieval studies, is at the moment tied to a panel entitled “The Medieval Concept of Otherness.” For the sake of focus, invited panelists were all historians of the early Middle Ages. The idea behind the panel was that whatever the medieval understanding of “us” and “them” or “self” and “other” was, it is was quite different from what ours is today. So the Leeds International Medieval Conference had a white supremacy problem because—no, really—this one panel consisted of “white Europeans” who were not steeped in critical race and postcolonial theory. You cannot have a discussion of how people in the early Middle Ages thought of “the other” without panelists of color versed in highly politicized contemporary theories of oppression.
Don’t believe me? Here is one “rant” on the subject by Dorothy Kim, an assistant professor of English at Vassar College. Her politics may be guessed at by her apparently approving retweet of birthday wishes for the convicted (but left-wing, so hurray!) murderer, Assata Shakur and her decision to defend the academic boycott of Israel. Kim begins by being outraged that although the panel in question is about otherness, “the entire panel is filled w/ white Europeans.”
She goes on to complain about scholars who are skeptical about the value of explicitly left-wing critical race and postcolonial theory for the study of the Middle Ages. The “other” under discussion in the panel has little to do with the scholars or tradition of scholarship captured under the “critical race theory” umbrella. But never mind. Kim informs us that it’s “racist” to neglect critical race theory when you discuss “the other” in the early Middle Ages. And if you are among those who think that critical race theory is too political, Professor Kim has news for you. “The public sees medieval studies as political. It is political.”
So there are only two choices for the scholar of the Middle Ages. “Decide if u want to uphold white supremacy or fight it.” This ridiculous theme–that the public is somehow aware of medieval studies, that white supremacists sometimes appeal to the Middle Ages, and so the whole field now needs to be reconstituted to reject this appeal–is picked up with great earnestness by the Chronicle of Higher Education here.
Fortunately, for professors who undermine the reputation of academics by recklessly charging others with racism, the public is, I would venture to guess, completely unaware of what scholars of the Middle Ages are up to. If they were aware of it, they might be irritated by Kim’s reference to the “free emotional/affective labor” academics like her are compelled to undertake to persuade others, who strangely are surprised and even upset when they are groundlessly charged with serious moral crimes. They might be appalled by Kim’s contemptuous dismissal of such others—isn’t she supposed to be some kind of expert on “others”—who should quit “having their white feelings.”
This is evidently the new thing. Indeed, in the one nuanced piece I read on this subject, Rachel Stone, a medievalist who actually was on and knew something about the panel, made the mistake of quoting Kim’s characterization of her own comments as a “rant.” In response to those who then accused her of belittling Kim by, you know, reporting exactly what she said, Professor Stone removed the offending word. This was not enough for lily white male medievalist Karl Steel, who complained that Stone’s post “still comes off as white fragility.” This sounds like “mansplaining” to me, but I admit I am not conversant in these newfangled ways of settling arguments.
In any case, I am glad that Professor Stone spared herself the emotional labor of responding to Steel. If the persistent attempts of Ph.Ds to make themselves look foolish proves one thing, it is that some people never learn.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Keeping the lights on.
Progressives, environmentalists, politicians, and even many corporations have dedicated themselves to increasing the amount of alternative energy Americans produce and use. To many Americans, this means foregoing coal and oil in favor of wind, hydroelectric, or solar power. Fights over the Keystone XL pipeline or Dakota Access Pipeline have less to do with fears of spillage or respect for Native American sacred ground and more to do with antipathy toward expanding gas and oil use and encouraging any further development or exploitation of Canadian oil reserves, especially from Alberta’s tar sands.
None of these trendy renewable energy sources is a panacea. Wind farms shred migratory birds, and solar farms fry them. Dams can wreak havoc on ecosystems. None produce energy as cheaply as fossil fuels, even after decades of government incentives and subsidies. Too often, however, alternative energy advocates ignore nuclear energy.
Nuclear power plants are shutting down across the United States; the Three Mile Island plant famous for a partial meltdown in 1979 will close completely in 2019. Nuclear plants produce zero emissions, and utilities (and, by extension tax payers), have paid off the capital investment decades ago. Even if many of the arguments against oil are spurious, oil alone won’t provide energy security, especially as, history shows, its price rotates between peaks and valleys. As Americans shift toward alternative energy, can the United States meet its energy needs without nuclear power?
A new book being released next month by the Hoover Institution suggests not. Written by Jeremy Carl and David Fedor, two energy experts who respectively have experience making nuclear power plants safer and building them, Keeping the Lights On at America’s Nuclear Power Plants argues that, while nuclear power alone is not a panacea to resolve energy problems, the United States won’t be able to solve its energy needs without nuclear power playing a major role.
They make a persuasive case: While nuclear power provides about 20 percent of U.S. electricity today, it accounts for two-thirds of carbon and pollution-free power produced. They do not ignore the downside of nuclear power, but nor do they exaggerate it. They note that nuclear power releases less radioactivity into the surrounding environment than burning coal. Nuclear power has also produced less death and injury to humans than any other form of energy production.
Security matters. The U.S. investment in nuclear plants has given the United States unique leverage. “We know that our country’s dominance in civilian nuclear power has been a key part of America’s ability to set norms and rules not just for power plants in less stable places around the world but also for the control of nuclear weapon proliferation,” they write. The nuclear plant building boom in East Asia and the Middle East means that reactor technology will continue to develop and become safer.
The authors are realists. They lament the polemics and “zero-sum mindset” so many activists adopt. Instead, they recognize that “Fans of gas or nuclear, electric cars or oil exports, fracking or rooftop solar—in the end, all are linked by common markets and governments. Each shot fired in anger ricochets through the system, sometimes with unexpected consequences.”
The whole monograph is worth reading. The authors are both academics and experts, but write clearly and make the technical and regulatory issues easily digestible. They are environmentalists but do not allow politics or polemics blind them to science. They are policy prescriptive, and make the case that—whether Democrat or Republican and whether at the federal or state levels—nuclear power is not going away. If the United States turns its back on nuclear energy generation, the consequences will be felt environmentally, economically, and in terms of global energy influence. Keeping the Lights On should be on the reading list of any serious executive or legislative branch energy-issue policymaker, and the journalists who cover them.