December 28, 2011

Freedom without democracy?

A new book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, argues that the system is stacked in favor of the elite, regardless of which political party runs Washington.

With only five percent of the world's population, the United States nevertheless holds nearly one-quarter of all prisoners in the entire world. And yet, nearly no one ever goes to prison in America for violating the United States Constitution or crimes against the American people. That includes everything from illegal wiretapping of thousands of U.S. citizens, to the financial meltdown that engulfed our nation just over three years ago. In fact, our financial agencies are controlled by executives of Goldman Sachs and a few other major banking firms, regardless of which party controls Washington.

I've been blogging this past year about how Egypt will remain under the same military rule, regardless of whether the brave demonstrators in Cairo succeeded in getting Mubarak removed as the President (though I had hoped otherwise). Russia will continue to be run by the same security apparatus and moneyed classes as before, but this past month's popular protests will force them to scale back some of their control and possibly change one or both faces at the top. Whatever it takes...

In the United States, a previous generation mounted full-scale protests against military adventurism in Vietnam and racism at home, and truly changed the face of our land. New laws were enacted, freedoms were expanded, and public welfare enhanced for millions. 

But do we have effective and functional democracy today?

December 20, 2011

Netanyahu forfeits to New York Times - brilliant?

The Prime Minister of Israel has surrendered the debate on Israel. Amazingly, his senior adviser responded to a New York Times request for an op-ed by Prime Minister Netanyahu with a long explanation of why he was refusing. As usual, faithful American Jews will be expected to cheer this bit of audacity and be fortified by it, but the real target audience -- those Jews and non-Jews who still need to be convinced of the justice of Israel's cause (at least as the Prime Minister sees it) -- will not even miss it, because it wasn't submitted in the first place.

No matter that the latest Israeli response could have easily formed the basis for a powerful opinion piece making the case that one of the world's -- and America's -- most prominent newspapers (the "newspaper of record," as even the Prime Minister's Office refers to it) is in fact promoting anti-Israel bias.

According to the Israeli missive, the final straw was a distorted and dishonest op-ed published in the Times by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Just as Israel effectively withdrew from UNESCO as soon as Palestine was admitted, Israel has now withdrawn from The New York Times because the world is unfair to Israel. Boo-hoo.

For all the talk about engaging the American public to make Israel's case, if the Prime Minister is either too proud or afraid to even publish an op-ed in The New York Times, then all the complaints about Israel's bad PR, and the need to spend countless millions on positive "hasbara" outreach, are pointless.

December 19, 2011

Our debt to Vaclav Havel

The fear was palpable on our first family visit to Prague, 40 years ago. My parents had been in Vienna, packing for a visit, when Soviet tanks took over the streets of Prague in 1968. The Prague Spring was still fresh in people's minds, though for a five-year-old American no history lesson was necessary. My memories of that 1971 trip are only of darkness and desperation, like the Batman and Spiderman cartoons I later watched growing up, or the films noirs I eventually came to appreciate as a college student.

One of those who saw through the darkness was Vaclav Havel. Many years later, he would write: “The time of hard, everyday work has come, a time in which conflicting interests have surfaced, a time for sobering up, a time when all of us – and especially those in politics – must make it very clear what we stand for.” I believe that, for Havel, each moment was such a time.

Having suffered for his principled dissent and literary liberties, he used his moment to lead Czechoslovakia to democracy in what became known as the Velvet Revolution for its lack of bloodshed on either side, whether before or after. The fact that Czechoslovakia has a long tradition of cultural and political expression certainly helped usher in the post-Communist phase, but the situation could still have turned deadly – both before and after the revolution – and there was no guaranteed outcome. 

In retrospect, with so many people intent on putting the dark years behind them, the democratic transformation can seem obvious and inevitable. But back then, few people had the courage or creativity to see beyond the prison running across Eastern and Central Europe. 

December 13, 2011

"Israel Firster" charge crosses the line

One can argue, even persuasively, that the AIPAC model of pro-Israel advocacy provides a disincentive for the Jewish State and its leaders to act in their own national interest. While I welcome the advent of J Street and other full-blooded left-of-center approaches to U.S. Middle East policy, I am not ready to join their movement. But I reject the assumption that they must be anti-Israel if they oppose the current Israeli government and support more forceful efforts to re-engage Israeli and Palestinian leadership in direct and meaningful negotiations, as anyone generous enough to read my blog must have noticed.

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (THE pro-Israel lobby), like many major American Jewish organizations, is simultaneously a source of pride, regret and frustration for many activists in the American Jewish community. And I certainly have my own ideas about how they could do better. But AIPAC is successful in many ways, and it represents many thousands of mainstream American Jews. Like it or not, AIPAC matters.

I also have ideas about reforming the whole Washington system of influence-peddling, but not because it undermines progressive Zionism. It's not all about Israel, nor should it be.

The latest brainstorm by my friends in the progressive lobby (but NOT J Street) has been to label AIPAC and many prominent Jews of the center-right and neo-conservative wings as "Israel Firsters". This is both brilliant, as a way of reframing the parameters of debate, and absolutely deplorable. By "absolutely", I mean there's no way to justify it, no context to make it acceptable. M.J.'s most recent column, pointing out that the "Israel Firsters" are not really "Israel Firsters" (because they don't even care about Israel!!) begs the question: Why call them "Israel Firsters" in the first place, if not for the shock value?

December 1, 2011

Yet another Israeli PR flop

Has Israel finally run out of new immigrants?

The official website of Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption has a new theme: "Before 'Motek' turns into 'Honey'... It's time to return to Israel." In other words, Israelis are being urged to get their children to move back from overseas (notably the United States) before they fall in love with non-Israelis or raise children who don't realize that Jews celebrate Chanukah rather than Christmas.

Thanks to The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg for flagging this new campaign, which includes a couple of crass new video ads. One ad just seems pointless -- as Goldberg points out, the young Israeli could easily use the opportunity to explain the meaning of Israeli Memorial Day to her clueless American kowabunga-dude boyfriend. Goldberg also picks up on the thick layers of condescension toward American society.

The second video shows an Israeli couple -- with the Chanukah lights burning behind them -- Skype-ing their children in the States. When they ask their granddaughter -- in Hebrew -- what holiday it is, she answers, "Christmas". C'mon, Really?? Someone who speaks Hebrew doesn't know that Jews celebrate Chanukah? And the 10-year-old granddaughter is so dense, she can't even pick up on the candelabra on the computer screen?

Seriously, here are a few of my own takeaways from this substantively flatfooted yet technically slick campaign:

1. The main plug on the Absorption Ministry website is to bring Israelis back to Israel. This seems to confirm that the era of mass Aliyah (immigration to Israel) has come to an end. If large numbers of new immigrants were still arriving, the Ministry wouldn't be prominently dedicating its website to getting dropouts to return. So, thanks for that memo. 

November 28, 2011

Arab League sanctions aren't so altruistic

Let's be honest for a moment about the Arab League's unprecedented sanctions against Syria. Despite the legitimate humanitarian impulses of some Arab rulers, they all realize that violent crackdowns are failing to stem the populist, democratic trend across the Middle East. The defiance of ordinary Syrians in the face of brutal repression is helping to inspire citizens in other Arab states to stand up for their own rights.

For the first time ever, mass killings by Arab regimes are proving bad for business -- for the business of autocracy, that is.

November 27, 2011

Be very scared. Then be smart.

Be very scared.

That's the message from extremists on the right and the left. Take Israel, where the right wing warns of Israel's destruction if any concessions are made to Palestinians, or "terrorists" as they call them. For the left wing, the actions of the right are putting Israel on the path to its own destruction. So everyone acts out of fear, except for the soft middle which is alternatively attacked by both sides as either treasonous or abetting genocide.

In the United States, where half of all registered Republicans still doubt that President Obama was born in the United States, right-wing fear of all authority is palpable. This may explain why the Second Amendment "right to bear arms" has become such a GOP rallying cry. On the left, the idea that most Republican candidates for President deny the science of climate change and evolution -- or the comparative track records of Keynesian vs. supply-side economics -- is serious cause for alarm. The possibility of a reversal of Roe v. Wade is chilling, even for some Republicans.

Fear is a poor consideration when making existential choices. People sometimes tell me of their fear -- of Muslims, Palestinians, minorities -- and seemingly expect me to support their (usually right-wing) political agenda because of that fear. From my perspective, expressing one's fear is an admission of vulnerability, not a way to make the case for one's own political stand. It's all right to admit your fears to others, but don't expect them to agree with you just because you're scared. Fear no longer needs to be a badge of shame, but it's still no claim to glory.

November 23, 2011

The real meaning of Sarkozy-Obama chat

Many people still seem curious or worried about what the recently overheard exchange between President Obama and French President Sarkozy reveals about their bias against Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. There is reason to worried and buoyed, but not in the way most observers -- whether left-wing or right-wing -- might think.

The first lesson is not that Sarkozy's statement -- that Netanyahu is a "liar" -- reflects the innate anti-Semitism of European leaders. (Obama commiserated, noting that he has to deal with Netanyahu "every day".) It's that Netanyahu has managed to forfeit the trust of one of Israel's most ardent champions on the Continent. The French invented modern diplomacy, so they are used to bearing the endemic deceit and betrayal of international wheeling and dealing.

(It would be ironic if the publication of memoirs by the son of Israel's former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was the impetus for Sarkozy's claim, since Sharon famously uttered the same charge to Netanyahu in person.)

Sarkozy has been committed to assuring Israel's security and to tolerating Israeli actions that most of his colleagues roundly condemn. He has long contended -- at least in off-the-record meetings -- that if the West does not stop Iran's nuclear program, then Israel will do so on its own. So, if Netanyahu has managed to alienate Sarkozy, one of Europe's most powerful politicians, that speak more to Netanyahu and Israel's own course than to anything else.

November 21, 2011

Daniel Pipes proves he has no shame, but who cares?

Did anyone else come across an amazing rant by Daniel Pipes? I say "rant" because it ends with the words, "Shame on them," referring to the leaders of the State of Israel, who authorized the asymmetric prisoner swap that freed Gilad Shalit. 

I occasionally get condemned for my own critiques of Israeli policies and diplomacy, but I've never presumed to pass judgment on Israeli leaders. As a Jew and a supporter of Israel who doesn't live in Israel and never served in the Israeli military, I just don't feel it's my place. For all his claims of concern that Israel be allowed to act in its own interest -- and for all the opprobrium against centrists and liberals who dissent from Likud orthodoxy -- it's amazing that Dr. Pipes has gotten away with this self-righteous pitch. 

Despite a Haaretz column by Bradley Burston a few weeks ago, no one else seems to be taking Pipes to task. Even I happened across Pipes' blog post almost by random. My own post on the Shalit release focused on the atmospheric and spiritual aspects, figuring that Israeli leaders were not acting cynically in winning Sergeant Shalit's freedom -- and even if they were, it's not my call.

It's not just that The Daniel Pipes openly said, "Shame on them," despite always presenting himself as the oh-so-loyal and courageous defender of Israel -- willing to defend his ideology down to the last Israeli -- it's that no one on the right seems to either notice or care about it. Regardless of the legitimate arguments waged in Israel over the Shalit deal, or questioning the right of Israelis to decide for themselves, it is at least worth noting that -- by his own words and the lack of criticism from his neo-conservative or otherwise conservative constituency -- Daniel Pipes and his supporters demonstrate that they do in fact have no shame.

November 18, 2011

What J Street has over the Emergency Committee

Once again, the Washington Jewish Week's Adam Kredo has conveniently informed one of the questions immediately facing American Jews. This time, it's the comparison between J Street and the Emergency Committee for Israel.

When it was launched a few years ago, J Street -- a left-wing political organization -- was ridiculed by right-wingers for not representing a significant constituency among American Jews or the pro-Israel community. But today, J Street has 177,000 online "supporters" and drew 2,000 participants to its latest policy conference, including 500 students.

The Emergency Committee is a right-wing political organization that appears to claim no membership beyond a three-person board and a small staff. Behind the scenes, some Bush administration veterans are helping out, too. It was founded back in 2010, just in time to help win Republicans the House of Representatives and a cloture-proof Senate. 

Of course, J Street also has a national political agenda, focused on helping Democrats, and plenty of its own limitations. But there were already many influential right-wing voices in the pro-Israel community before the Emergency Committee came along, while J Street is the first full-scale, pro-peace, Israel-focused group in a long time, if ever.

Both organizations do represent significant segments of American Jewish opinion, but -- ironically -- J Street has more grassroots representation than the Emergency Committee. It's ironic because many right-wing advocates complain that the peace advocates are out of touch with the vast majority of Israelis. That may be true, but at least the peace advocates at this end are in touch with a couple million American Jews who have their own expectations for Israelis. And let's be honest, most American Jews have expectations of Israelis, whether from the left or the right.

Not content with bashing the peaceniks on the left, now the Emergency Committee team has attacked the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. What was the crime of these bastions of mainstream American Jewish establishment? They called on all American Jewish groups to join a "National Pledge for Unity on Israel," including the offensive suggestion that "U.S.-Israel friendship should never be used as a political wedge issue." How dare they...

So now, it's the Emergency Committee for Israel that is bucking the American Jewish consensus, and it's the Emergency Committee that has no grassroots. There may be good reasons for that, but it's worth noting, all the same.

November 9, 2011

Which grad school for a Jewish community career?

What if the U.S. military, despite supporting West Point, Annapolis and the other premier service academies, awarded most of the fast-track posts to outsiders with little combat experience or military background?

Such a situation could represent the American Jewish community. The annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations, which just concluded in Denver, traditionally doubles as a platform for recruiting students to graduate programs and for hiring new graduates. For any young, idealistic Jews about to make their final decisions about professional training to serve the Jewish people, here are a few thoughts based upon my own experience, close observation, and discussions with colleagues over two decades.

Since the 1970s, the American Jewish community has trumpeted one new communal service or studies program after another, including the ever popular "joint degree" that integrates a scholarly program with more practical training. Of the hundreds of students to graduate from such programs, many have been disappointed to learn -- too late -- that the same community leaders who had encouraged them to prepare narrowly for a career in Jewish communal service prefer to hire hotshot MBAs and frustrated corporate attorneys to run their institutions and try out the Next Big Idea. The newly minted communal service M.A. or non-profit MBA may be lucky to start as a "campaign associate" somewhere far away from any head office. Ouch. 

November 4, 2011

Israel's self-defeating diplomacy

Israel is falling deeper into an international mess that -- while not of its own making -- could have been of its own fixing. And Israel is the biggest loser, immediately and over the long run.

It's hard to believe I've invested three decades of my studies and career to helping shore up Israel's diplomatic capital, which should be reason for me to be angry with Prime Minister Netanyahu for letting the United Nations and world opinion -- and the separation from the Palestinians -- slip through his fingers. But it's not for me to be angry, since I won't have to live with the consequences as Israelis do. So, lets just say, I am sad for Israel, the Middle East, and Jews around the world.


Technically, it appears Israel isn't directly "canceling" its membership in UNESCO following the vote to admit Palestine. But with the United States cutting off its funding to UNESCO, as it had threatened to do, Israel understandably has little choice but to follow suit. The difference is that the United States just got re-elected to a full four-year term on the UNESCO Executive Board, during which time it can't be suspended, while Israel enjoys no such protection once it is declared in arrears -- which probably won't be immediate. Since the United States returned to UNESCO membership a few years ago, it has been able to win many battles on Israel's behalf.

October 28, 2011

Koch plays Israel bluff, but too late

After first scaring the kishkes out of Jewish voters, Ed Koch now says we can relax: Instead of being a threat to Israel, President Obama is now a friend, and worthy of re-election. Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but you're too late.

Plenty of American Jews were already apprehensive about Barack Obama, even some who voted for him in 2008. I have blogged previously about why the President's critics are wrong about his alleged antipathy to Israel, but this post is specifically about Koch's strategy.

Using his own New York and Israel clout, Koch called on Jews to vote against the Jewish, pro-Israel Democrat in a House race as a message to President Obama that his administration's approach to Israel was going to cost him at the polls, this year and next. Koch endorsed the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, and campaigned vigorously for him.

Whatever impact Ed Koch's endorsement -- and whatever impact of Jewish voters who cared -- Bob Turner won by an impressive margin. Koch was happy to take credit. Within days, President Obama was at the United Nations, warning against premature recognition of a Palestinian state, and Koch took credit for that, too. In response to that one speech, which actually fits the pattern of the President's prior support for Israel at the UN, Koch has announced his endorsement of President Obama -- and he'll even campaign on his behalf.

Having confirmed the suspicions of so many Jews, including many who are suspicious of any African American (or so they tell me), there is nothing Koch can do that will win back votes. His shot across the President's bow was so convincing to those ready to be convinced, that all Koch can do now is erode his own credibility by declaring the President suddenly "kosher".

For his part, Obama will play along. He can't afford to be seen rebuffing Koch's support, lest he provide fodder to his more unwavering opponents. When Obama wins re-election, with a convincing majority of the Jewish vote, Koch can take credit for that, too.

October 27, 2011

The Arab counter-revolution... finally

For better or worse, the other shoe has finally dropped in the Arab world. It only took a half-century.

So far, the regimes that have fallen at the hands of the new Mideast phenomenon known as "Arab Spring" all originated as part of decolonization that began in the late-1940s and continued through the 1960s. The despots being overthrown this season have largely profited from a legacy of defiance against the West, and new claimants to that title have challenged their rule. So far, no Arab monarchy has fallen or faced a serious existential challenge from the current movement for change.

October 24, 2011

From Joseph, to Jonathan, to Gilad

It's been pointed out that the patriarchal Joseph was released from captivity in Egypt, and that the Hebrew Bible (Torah) refers to him as ruler ("shalit") over that land, and that Gilad Shalit was released on the very day that Jews traditionally welcome the spirit of Joseph into our succahs around the world.

There are other, more immediate historical tie-ins. Watching Prime Minister Netanyahu greet Gilad Shalit as he stepped off the rear ramp of a military helicopter was a striking throwback to the July 4, 1976, Israeli raid on Entebbe, Uganda, after which the rescued Air France hostages stepped off the rear ramp of their Hercules C-130 aircraft, greeted by then-Prime Minister Rabin and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, among others. Netanyahu's legendary brother Yoni (Jonathan), who had commanded that operation, was the only Israeli soldier to not make it back alive.

Thirty-five years later, Benjamin Netanyahu repeated the gesture of an Israeli leader welcoming the freed hostage. Had his older brother made it off that first ramp in 1976, he might well have been the one standing as Prime Minister to receive Gilad Shalit.

For all the ins and outs, ups and downs, tough calls and political calculations, that moment last week was the most evocative for me.

October 23, 2011

Qaddafi was right about Jews

The stark images of Muammar Qaddafi being dragged through the streets of Sirte this past week reminded me of the hour I spent with him during his last visit to New York City a couple of years ago.

As a bonafide "Cold War Brat", this past week was not the first time I saw graphic images of a brutal, delusional dictator meeting the summary justice of his former subjects. Watching Nicolae Ceaucescu's execution 20 years ago on TV brought back memories of my childhood stay in Bucharest, surrounded by banners with his face, on every major street.

When our small delegation visited Qaddafi in his country's UN mission in Manhattan, we were continuing a dialogue on matters Israel and Jewish, which had even included visits to Libya -- though this was my first (and now, last) foray.

The scene was ad hoc and even surreal. The street outside was sealed off, and the entrance to the building was shrouded by scaffolding. In the lobby, behind a makeshift partition, we sat on cheap-looking, oversized sofas, while senior Libyan diplomats were perched on the arms. Halfway through our audience, the President of a major African nation arrived for his own meeting with Qaddafi, and rather than dismissing us, Qaddafi convinced his counterpart to join us, sandwiched meekly for another 25 minutes among a few American Jews.

October 17, 2011

Good for Gilad and Israel, perfect for Netanyahu

Personally, I am very moved by the tribulations of Gilad Shalit, and I was moved to tears when I learned of the deal for his release. If he actually walks free after five years in a Hamas dungeon in Gaza, I shall genuinely rejoice. But the backstory to this is both obvious and complex. Here's a slice:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs the Shalit deal both as a duty to the family of every Israeli soldier (true at any time), and for his own political goals. But it comes at a cost, and not only in releasing Palestinian terrorists and other prisoners -- Netanyahu's political ATM is settlement construction, and the value has increased as President Obama has made it more of a sticking point.

Immediately following last spring's Itamar massacre came the announcement of new housing for Israelis over the Green Line. Now, as Israel prepares to release 1,000-plus prisoners in exchange for five-year hostage Gilad Shalit, Netanyahu's government just happens to announce plans for yet another entirely new "Jerusalem" (West Bank) neighborhood overshadowing Bethlehem. I've blogged previously about the magical expansion of Jerusalem's borders.

October 16, 2011

Occupy Wall Street -- You want fries with that?

The mass delivery of pizzas and restaurant fare to express support for Occupy Wall Street is especially ironic, if not perverse. Would animal-rights activists ever use a barbecue to raise money? But has anyone stopped to consider who delivers the food in Manhattan: hourly workers on rickety bikes with no benefits, often no bike helmets, no job security, and obviously no unions.

I am sympathetic to many of the stated goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity or that of the many students and union members who have joined them. However, if they truly want to liberate our society, they cannot do so on the backs of others who are being exploited right before their eyes. Real change must come to Wall Street, but it has to start with those willing to change themselves first. Otherwise, "OWS" is no more than "the feel-good hit of the season." #goodluckwiththat

October 12, 2011

If Tea Party, then Occupy Wall Street

How is Occupy Wall Street analogous to the Tea Party? 

1. It is rebelling against the Democratic establishment at least as much as it opposes the Republicans.

2. The Democratic elite (including the unions) has embraced and pandered to the nascent movement as a grassroots expression of the Democratic Party's aspirations.

3. The Democratic establishment will never succeed in taming or deflecting this populist undercurrent.

4. The zealotry of the movement could end up costing some Democratic incumbents their seats, by defeating them in the primaries or by exaggerating the liberal agenda of nominees.

One difference: I can see OWS from my window.

According to FoxNews, OWS represents anarchism and a threat to democracy, or something. But the Tea Party, with all its gun-toting and intimidationist tactics, is supposed to restore our faith... or something. In reality, there is no evidence that OWS is being bankrolled by any secret sugar daddy, unlike the Tea Party, which for all its populism is subsidized by the Koch brothers and other arch-conservative, monied interests. Regardless, both movements are out there, and we already have a democracy, so this should be an interesting campaign season.

October 10, 2011

South Africa chooses interests over principles - again

I do not hold South Africa in lower regard than most other countries, but it bothers me to see such a supposedly righteous country treat a global icon -- and his oppressed people -- with such disdain and hypocrisy.

Post-Apartheid South Africa has consistently staked a claim as (1) the leading edge of Africa's future, and (2) the global champion of human rights. Once again, that perfect image has come up lacking, as the Dalai Lama failed to get a visa to attend the birthday celebration of his fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- and the same week that China (with Russia) vetoed sanctions against Syria in the UN Security Council. 

South Africa's military and economic relations with China trump human rights, even those of a persecuted indigenous people like the Tibetans. Ironically, South Africa and the leading African National Congress have been staunch supporters of Palestinian rights for decades -- I know they share Marxist roots, but isn't it convenient that the Palestinian cause is bankrolled by oil money?

Speaking of money, China has been saturating the entire African continent for several years now, so barring the Dalai Lama should come as little surprise. South Africa continues to act like Nelson Mandela was just released from Robben Island, though it is now prone to the same flaws and fallacies plaguing other great and minor powers around the world.

South Africa has made great strides in many fields, despite a legacy of hardship, but there's more: Last month, the United Nations marked the tenth anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, in the absence of many Western delegations, a nagging reminder that the "Durban" conference brought disgrace to South Africa right before 9/11 eclipsed all else. 

South African President Jacob Zuma has been relatively constructive in his mediation effort in neighboring Zimbabwe, but the pathetic favoritism of his predecessor -- Thabo Mbeki -- toward Zimbabwe's savage dictator Robert Mugabe leaves a permanent stain on South Africa's credibility as a symbol for democracy and human dignity. Mbeki's refusal, as President, to allow accurate information or proven medication to combat HIV/AIDS was a death warrant for hundreds of thousands of his own people.

Who is responsible for romanticizing the post-Apartheid state? Friends in Africa tell me it's the Western media, egged on by the impassioned political drive 25 years ago to free Black South Africans. Either way, it's not helping anyone, including a South African elite that has yet to face reality (as reflected in Mbeki, their compromised standard-bearer). South Africa has a bottom line, and it's not about human rights. It's about what every other country (except Canada, mostly) seeks -- power and prosperity. That's fine. But let's stop pretending otherwise.

October 3, 2011

Turkey, the crazy old man of Europe

Not so long ago, at Davos, seated beside United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan picked a very personal and undiplomatic argument with Israeli President Shimon Peres before storming off the stage (The video is astounding). Shortly after that, he headlined a hate-filled anti-Israel rally back at home. He also appeared at a rally in Ankara where at some point a giant banner was unfurled depicting Peres bowing before Erdogan.

It didn't help matters that some senior Israeli diplomats who definitely knew better set up Turkey's ambassador for a calculated, unprofessional, televised hazing over some minor pretext for what was still a very valuable account.

In March 2010, Turkey's new Ambassador to the United States was temporarily recalled following a non-binding (but taboo) "Armenian Genocide" resolution that was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but never even made it to the full House of Representatives, let alone inform U.S. policy.

The May 2010 Gaza Flotilla incident is well known, if disputed. Despite a United Nations finding that Israel deserves only partial blame for the deaths of nine violent, mostly Turkish blockade runners, Erdogan continues to demand a formal and unambiguous apology from the Israeli government.

Curiously, Erdogan expelled Israel's ambassador only AFTER the UN inquiry issued its report. Now he demands Israel end its embargo of Gaza, even though the UN findings supported Israel's right to enforce the weapons blockade.

September 23, 2011

Bahrain gets blasted for the wrong offense

I have previously expressed my concerns, admittedly more privately than publicly, about Bahrain's crackdown on anti-government protesters. I think it's a bad way to promote democracy, even in a region with no functioning democracies (Iraq is notable, but hardly functioning). While many of the protesters may be motivated by legitimate grievances, Iran definitely has an interest (and at least some influence) in having these protests get out of control and destabilizing Bahrain, just a narrow Gulf away from its shores.

The latest complaint, from a prominent Shiite cleric in the Sunni-dominated Kingdom, is that Bahrain is a "fake democracy". As far as I know, Bahrain is a monarchy and does not claim to be a democracy per se, so it is neither fake nor a democracy. More than that, its track record on freedom of religion and freedom of expression has been better than most Gulf nations, though there remains much to be done.

There is currently no Shiite example of democracy of any kind, anywhere in the world. Being a Shiite should not be a crime, and I hope my more moderate friends (including my gracious hosts) among Bahrain's ruling class will yet find a way to properly balance the complicated mix of security, political and social forces at play in and around the Kingdom.  I do not mean this as a critique of Shiite political philosophy, but the non sequitur of a Shiite religious leader accusing any Gulf state of being a "fake democracy" seemed too appealing to leave alone.

Claiming credit for Obama's Israel "turnaround"

One of the more ridiculous assertions to come out of the impressive win by newly elected Republican Congressman Bob Turner is that Turner's victory influenced the pro-Israel speech President Obama delivered this week at the United Nations.

As I've blogged before, and should be widely known, President Obama has consistently been very pro-Israel in his actual policies and in every speech he's delivered before the United Nations and the U.S. Congress. The fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has felt the need to complain about President Obama -- both publicly and indirectly, whether with or without justification -- does not mean Obama hasn't been following the pro-Israel checklist. And even his pro-Likud checklist is more than half-filled, though that has not stopped U.S. Republicans from accusing the Democratic President of "throwing Israel under the bus."

It is true, Democrat and former New York Mayor Ed Koch threw down the gauntlet, declaring the Ninth District Congressional race to be a referendum on the President's Israel policies. It's also true that some percentage of Orthodox Jewish voters turned out for Turner on that specific issue. But the margin of victory was wide enough that Israel was not the single decisive factor, and there is ZERO evidence that President Obama changed his UN message in any way -- Turner victory or no Turner victory.

And besides, the Democrats have never been shown to be that strategic.

September 21, 2011

Thank you, President Obama...?

If Jewish Democrats were smart, they would circulate a petition across cyber-space, gathering signatures to thank President Obama -- loud and clear -- for his forceful pro-Israel advocacy this week at the United Nations. They might also take out "Thank you, President Obama" ads in Jewish community papers -- at least in time for next week's big New Year's editions. And they would include positive quotes from Prime Minister Netanyahu about Obama's promise to veto membership for a new Palestinian state, as well as Netanyahu's latest statement that Obama deserves a "badge of honor". But only if.

Meanwhile, Jewish organizations are busy collecting signatures addressed to the United Nations itself, which is good for raising awareness in the community even though it's unlikely to have any impact on the eventual votes in the UN Security Council and General Assembly. The Republican-oriented Emergency Committee for Israel took out ads this week condemning the Palestinians and the President in the same breath.

The Jewish Democrats could try to regain (or better, gain) the initiative on Obama and Israel by calling on their Republican counterparts to stand with President Obama at this watershed moment for the Jewish state, etc. But instead, despite apparently vigorous conversations on how to improve their messaging to American Jewish voters, they seem to be reacting to the Republican broadsides and highlighting exemplary but very discrete actions, such as the President's recent efforts on behalf of Israeli personnel trapped inside the Cairo embassy.

I look forward.

Look who's keeping Obama from helping Israel

If a tree falls in a forest and the Prime Minister of Israel doesn't complain, is it still anti-Israel?

It's hard not to be struck by the spectacle of American and Israeli politicians undermining Obama -- even as he's trying to avert UN recognition of the Palestinian state -- on the grounds that he's undermining Israel. The main evidence of the President's animus towards Israel seems to be statements from the Prime Minister and his circle, and from mostly partisan Republicans seeking electoral advantage. On substance, the President has mostly been doing Israel's bidding (I blogged some examples last year).

Even as President Obama is lobbying European governments and the Palestinian leadership against a unilateral declaration of an independent state, there are Republicans -- Jews and gentiles -- amplifying their critique of the President's Middle East policies, especially with respect to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

To my knowledge, neither President Obama nor his associates have ever publicly complained about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's commitment to the peace process, though he has called on him to take steps that would help resume direct talks enhance Israel's credibility among the same European governments Obama is now lobbying on Israel's behalf.

Those from either country who repeatedly decry Obama's "hostility" toward Netanyahu are the most to blame for any international perception that America does not stand squarely behind Israel. For example, what if Netanyahu had swallowed his ego last spring and welcomed Obama's strong call for direct negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines, with agreed land swaps, instead of blasting the President's speech?

Love him or hate him, the President of the United States is... the President of the United States. Can one ask for a better lobbyist before the nations of the world, under any circumstances? Does it help to have hardliners calling on him to do what he's already doing, and distracting the media?

If Netanyahu ever gets his "wish" in a substantive way, he may regret having pushed those buttons so often. But at least, he'll probably still be Prime Minister.

September 19, 2011

The Israeli UN speech that can't

At the United Nations, Israel seems destined to continue squandering its starring role on the global stage, only to play to the hometown audience. Last time around, it was Holocaust heartstrings, and this week it will be Palestinian politics. And beyond squandering, it's actually undermining Israel's diplomatic and political interests. 


Two years ago, when Prime Minister Netanyahu last represented Israel at the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, he used his speech to defend the historical record of the Holocaust in the face of denials by the Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Ironically, Ahmadinejad omitted that very libel from his own UNGA remarks, so the only one that week to highlight doubts about the Holocaust was the Prime Minister of Israel. 

This whole exercise came four years AFTER the UN had finally begun recognizing and institutionalizing the scale, lessons and implications of the Holocaust, and the UNGA had already adopted a resolution condemning denial of the Holocaust -- with Iran implicitly the target. And in a perverse twist, just weeks earlier, Netanyahu's political allies in Israel and the United States had blasted President Obama for lecturing the Muslim world about the intimate connection between the Holocaust and the founding of the Jewish State, as though Obama were reducing Israel to just a Holocaust metaphor. Then the same critics turned around and praised Netanyahu for essentially doing the same thing.

To a world that had recently committed itself to the inadmissibility of Holocaust denial, Netanyahu validated the naysayers by literally waving documentary evidence in their faces. Israelis loved it, but it was neither relevant nor timely. 


This week, Netanyahu returns in person, after letting his Foreign Minister address the UNGA last year on the merits of population transfer. What will the Prime Minister stress? The injustice of recognizing a new Palestinian state at this time.

Leaving aside whether it is unjust and/or unwise for the Palestinians, Israel is itself a sovereign country, with much more to offer the world than a stand against Palestinian self-determination. So is this really what the Prime Minister wants to put front and center as Israel's annual message to the assembled world leaders? Apparently so.

September 16, 2011

GOP gains Jewish votes, at whose cost?

Since before Barack Obama was elected, individual Jewish community leaders and organizations have warned Jewish voters that the President wanted to "throw Israel under the bus." To some extent, this strategy has worked. The number of Jews who think their fellow Jews are somehow bad Jews if they support Obama's re-election has probably increased, and perhaps some of those Jewish Democrats even believe they themselves are bad Jews for it.

In the end, the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters will continue thinking for themselves, which happens to be the worst possible indictment of the organized Jewish community -- i.e., irrelevance. For the average Jewish voter, such slogans have no meaning or impact whatsoever. More than hurting Obama or helping Israel, this GOP strategy is also helping to alienate more Jews from their community and from the State of Israel.

September 12, 2011

Israel faces bigger threats than "Palestine"

I often hear observers lament that one party or other in a dispute is getting all worked up over a "symbol". The sad fact is, many wars have been fought over symbols, because symbols are usually important on both sides of a conflict.

Losing the United Nations vote on recognizing a Palestinian "UDI" (unilateral declaration of independence) is not Israel's biggest challenge right now.

Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iran...

Israel seems to have fewer friends and fewer stable neighbors -- and more dangerous neighbors -- than it did a year ago.

September 11, 2011

My 9/11

A beautiful Tuesday morning, so I took my time walking to the office, in the old B'nai B'rith Building on Rhode Island Avenue, barely a ten-minute walk from the White House. As I approached the entrance, a mid-level colleague was rushing out of the building, talking like the world was ending. Planes had hit the World Trade Center, and other wild tales, and she was fleeing back to the Maryland suburbs.

I went upstairs to my office, got online and turned on the TV. Wow. When I saw that TWO planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, I instinctively listened for the sound of fighter jets over Washington, DC, since clearly the nation's capital would be a target. But nothing outside.

I called a few of our partners in Russia and Ukraine, to make sure those Jewish communities were not affected, and to let them know we were still available to them.

After some minutes, the wife of another colleague called looking for him, and she wanted to know why I was still even in the building. She said Jewish buildings were obvious targets. I replied, "I wouldn't worry. The Jewish buildings are the soft targets. They got the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, they may be after the Capitol and the State Department for all I know. And NOW you think they're going to hit the B'nai B'rith Building..?"

September 10, 2011

Egypt takes a break

Though not entirely surprising, accounts of the operation to rescue Israeli personnel from Israel's Embassy in Cairo are both gripping and sobering. Even if Egypt-Israel relations survive the transition from Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship, it will be a rough road.

Where does this hatred of Israel and Jews originate? Certainly, many Arabs and Muslims have a visceralresentment of the Jewish State along with garden-variety anti-Semitism. But let's not forget that it was Hosni Mubarak's propaganda machine that tolerated or forced the newspapers and TV channels to propagate the most vicious anti-Semitic images and distortions.

While he was promoting Egypt's role as the Arab gateway to Washington and peace with Israel, Mubarak was staving off domestic resistance to his military dictatorship by feeding red meat to his dear subjects. This included repressing all opposition parties except the Muslim Brotherhood, lest Egyptians ever think there was an acceptable alternative to Hosni Mubarak and his cohorts. And it included fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.

Mubarak was one of the military leaders under Anwar Sadat, and not personally implicated in the audacious peace initiative that restored Sinai to Egyptian control. Whoever ends up running Egypt will be in a similar position -- legally and economically bound to honor the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty -- and with much less connection to the assassinated Sadat and his perceived perfidy.

Since Mubarak was both an ally of Washington and a grudging collaborator with Jerusalem, attacking the Israeli Embassy is a perfect way to exact symbolic retribution. Whoever gets elected President of Egypt will be held in check by the same corporate military staff that backed Mubarak all those years, but will find it easier to maintain popular support by appealing to anti-Semitism and finding ways to show defiance to Israel. On the hopeful side, Egypt-Israel relations have survived that precarious balance before. But this time, it may take more than hope.

September 6, 2011

Mission Accomplished... does Libya count?

I wasn't planning to shout from the rooftops over the success of President Obama's smart-power strategy in Libya, though I had blogged early this year that Libya was an opportunity for him. Not a confounding challenge, like Iraq or Afghanistan, or Egypt or Syria, but nevertheless an opportunity to turn a fresh page, at least back to the limited-engagement days of Clinton and Bush (remember 41?). This may not have been a slam dunk, but let's at least give the President credit for a good rebound shot.

Six months ago, back when I first posted on this, lots of Republicans seemed to be goading the President into invading Libya. The disappointment was palpable when he threw in with our NATO allies and let them do most of the work -- with no ground invasion, and with limited firepower after the first days of giving the rebels a head start. And in the end, it's been estimated that the entire Libya engagement cost Washington less than $1 billion -- no casualties, no PTSD -- and far less than the cost of one day in Iraq after Bush's "Mission Accomplished" stunt.

Later, the Republicans' spent blood lust turned into anger that the imperial imperialist (Obama) needed to invoke the War Powers Act, even though President Bush (43) had invaded Iraq with only a vague contingency resolution from Congress, and in Libya no U.S. ground forces were committed. A few of my Republican friends have suddenly informed me they never even liked Bush's whole "democracy-building" agenda. Oh.

September 4, 2011

EU and Palestine? It's complicated.

Postscript to my previous post: The European Union nations are considering a compromise United Nations General Assembly resolution that will recognize Israel and Palestine alongside each other and also push for resumption of bilateral negotiations over borders and other remaining issues. [Thanks to Laura Rozen for breaking and analyzing the details of this late development.]

Such a compromise would certainly help restore European unity on this and other issues. Several EU member states have been planning to support or abstain on the maximalist version of a resolution, which will recognize Palestine as a full state without such substantive conditions as calling for further negotiations. It would be great for the EU to demonstrate consensus on a thorny international issue -- and at the UN, no less. All the better if they can simultaneously embrace Palestinian statehood and get credit for promoting Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The EU is also no stranger to compromises that help to avert a battle between competing principles in the UN. The Palestinians must know very well that Europe loves a compromise, and that the ever-elusive EU consensus is at a historic low right now. If the Palestinians reject the compromise and hold out for the straight-up UN resolution recognizing statehood -- the version that Israel and the United States and France and Germany and Italy are all set against -- won't the rest of the world happily pick it up again and leave the EU compromise in the dust? If so, the EU consensus will break down as well, as several EU states would probably jump aboard rather than be seen as opposing the vehicle for Palestinian self-determination.

September 2, 2011

Israel may finally lose the EU on Palestinian statehood

The Foreign Ministers of the European Union are meeting one more time to try and reach consensus on the Palestinian bid for United Nations recognition as an independent, sovereign state. This gives President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu one last chance to try working together before the United States is forced to cast its veto in the UN Security Council, probably in early October. 

If the UN General Assembly recognizes a sovereign state, that's at once a major breakthrough and headache for the Palestinians and certainly no picnic for the Israelis. It will effectively accord the Palestinians the same sovereign status as the State of Israel. Membership in the UN depends on a vote in the Security Council, however, where the United States is one of five permanent members (P-5) entitled to veto the whole exercise. But the GA resolution will carry massive moral power, open the floodgates for all sorts of substantive and symbolic advantages. The U.S. veto would withhold the ultimate prize, and for that Washington will be scorned. 

The biggest door the Palestinians hope to open with the "UDI" (unilateral declaration of independence) is Europe. Although sympathy for the Palestinians runs high in Europe, there are limitations: No formal Palestinian embassies, no major trade agreements, many of the business and development initiatives are subject to EU consensus and the Mideast Quartet comprised of the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia. If the Europeans register an exception by either not voting or voting against the anticipated UN resolution on Palestine, they won't be as free afterward to accept all the consequences of that statehood. 

August 30, 2011

Democracy by any other name

A senior colleague once visited a group of Soviet Jewish trans-migrants in Italy, in the final months of the Soviet Union. They had many complaints, but they all started shouting, "We want democracy!" So he asked them, what did they think democracy means? "It means we can do whatever we want!" was their response. It's all a matter of perspective...

As Central and Eastern European countries continue their post-Cold War democratic evolution, and African, Asian and Arab countries begin their own paths, it's worth noting that "democracy" and "representation" can mean very different things in different societies. This does not have to mean that certain countries are not ready for independence or popular rule. It should mean that different cultures may dictate different forms of government, and in ways that affect the discourse -- what people are thinking when they say and hear different terms.

August 28, 2011

Out of UNGA ideas? So protest!

Rallies and protests are an important vehicle for articulating communal solidarity, and sometimes -- as with the Soviet Jewry movement -- for effecting real change. I have been to many Jewish and pro-Israel rallies, even organized a few, and I expect to do many more. Given next month's line-up, however, I don't see myself grabbing the bull horn.

I believe the annual Jewish protests across from the UN, opposing Iran's nuclear program, probably impact no UN votes. But as a community member, I have no problem following the consensus of my colleagues and fellow Jews, participating as one voice in solidarity. We have a duty to speak out, and that goes for other causes like Gilad Shalit, too.

So where am I drawing the line this Jewish holiday protest season?

August 25, 2011

Qaddafi's fall helps Africans more than Arabs

It would be a mistake to think that the imminent fall of longtime Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi will directly impact developments across the Middle East. Within Africa, however the consequences may be far-reaching.

Qaddafi's departure will measurably ease the burden of the Arab League's deliberations, but could fundamentally alter Africa's power equation. Not so long ago, the Arab heads of state were holding one of their periodic, closed-door deliberations. Qaddafi suddenly proposed a joint invasion of Israel, to solve the Palestinian issue once and for all. Going around the table, the self-styled "king of kings" started assigning tanks and planes to each leader, based on the combined Arab numbers. When told how many hundreds of warplanes he should command, a dazed Bashar Assad -- Israel's most dangerous neighbor, no less -- asked what he was supposed to do with 100 or 200 fighter jets. Almost literally, for several years now, Qaddafi's voice has been the sound of one hand clapping inside the Arab tent.

August 17, 2011

Instead of UN showdown, try making peace

It still amazes me to read of the extensive diplomatic efforts to head off a global showdown over Palestinian statehood at next month's United Nations General Assembly opening in New York. Had the Israeli and U.S. governments put even half as much thought and coordination into restoring a climate of trust (rather than trading insults and blaming the Palestinians), there might be a prospect for actual peace in the Middle East, instead of the consolation prize of stopping a unilateral claim to statehood.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the student who -- rather than doing the hard studying to would keep him from failing a test -- spends his time getting his parents and the school principal to intervene with the teacher to change the grade. At the same time, he makes a big fuss about the Palestinian kid sitting next him who's also going to fail.

Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who now represents the Mideast Quartet, has been dispatched to avert the Palestinians' plan to request UN recognition. The Obama administration has made clear it will veto any Security Council resolution to admit Palestine, and the U.S. Congress has a sheaf of resolutions calling to cut off U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, all of which is appreciated. And some pro-Israel activists have recently captured the Jewish twitter-verse by protesting that the White House re-labeled the photo of Blair's March 2010 meeting with Vice President Biden as "Jerusalem" rather than "Jerusalem, Israel". Is this really the best we all can do?

August 15, 2011

Berlin might give Washington some hope

Fifty years ago, the Berlin Wall went up, blocking East and West Germans from crossing the dividing line left from the end of World War II (which Germany lost). By the time my parents drove us across Europe ten summers later, East German guards were sticking mirror-ended spars under our car to make sure we weren't smuggling anyone out to the West. (Of course, as I grew up, I would learn exhaustively about the Holocaust, but that's for a separate post.)

The next time I'd see anything like that was on Capitol Hill following 9/11, in Washington, DC, of all places (we had won WWII). The deserted expanse of public spaces, where cars once roamed freely, may be of necessity, but it's still jarring. Our architecture, after all, follows the dual American ethos of automobile access and public participation.

I used to aspire to work in government, because it seemed like a worthwhile experience (despite the constant complaints by federal workers who are free to join the private sector at any time). Since 9/11, the added incentive is just to be able to enter buildings without waiting for clearance and being escorted around like a tourist (even when I am a tourist).

August 10, 2011

Crown Heights - too early to celebrate

When I hear the word "pogrom", I think of a populist and systematic attack on Jews and their property, instigated by political interests and enabled by official negligence and neglect, appealing to the basest emotions of greed and anti-Semitism, with the stated goal of killing Jews. 

Twenty years ago this month, a mini-riot following a fatal car accident led to such a pogrom in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The simmering racial tensions were hardly one-sided, but it's the Jews who were systematically attacked, and it was a young Jewish scholar -- Yankel Rosenbaum -- who died after a brutal gang attack. It was the authorities who took their time and tried to understand the anger of the perpetrators rather than protect the innocent. It was mainstream Jewish organizations that did not do enough, quickly enough. 

August 7, 2011

I'm Jewish and I support Obama, but honestly...

Adam Kredo is among those who have observed that President Obama's defenders play up U.S.-Israel military cooperation as a proof that he's good for Israel and for the Jews. Apparently, they think this will answer the critics of his effort to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Hopefully, the Administration does not genuinely anticipate winning back any Jewish voters or donors who may have dropped out over his dysfunctional peace moves -- because it won't work.

First of all, it's not clear the President has lost that many votes, and he's still far ahead in the fundraising race. Second, many of those he's lost are not just scared that he's exerting too much pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu -- many are disappointed that the President hasn't pressured Netanyahu enough. They feel he has squandered a fleeting opportunity to salvage the peace process before the Israeli public loses faith. 

Third, I can't think of a U.S. President whose Jewish bona fides have bounced back after being so roundly dismissed by Israelis themselves. Carter? Bush 41? And funny enough, they each accomplished great things for Israel objectively, but it barely registered absent that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Those American Jews who are backing (or even leading) Netanyahu's defiance of a U.S. role and his rejection of any genuine push for substantive negotiations have successfully planted the notion that Obama will "throw Israel under the bus" (yes, everyone loves to invoke that metaphor against this President). The best the President can hope for, having bet and lost on a settlement freeze twice already (TWICE), is that most American Jews will once again see that even a failing Obama is better than the Republican alternative on the full range of issues that American Jews care about.

July 31, 2011

Does mediocrity really suit American Jews?

It used to be that Jewish organizations took pride in creating new solutions and defending Israel's existence. We have reached a point where our community now gets fired up to keep peace pressure off the Netanyahu government and to oppose United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state.

The problem is, fewer Jews are getting fired up. The more uncompromising Israel becomes, the more alienated many young Jews are (if they're even connected enough to be alienated). We have a "hasbara" (pro-Israel spin) industry that has become an end in itself. Most of the effort and effect seems to be convincing Israelis and American Jews that Israel's image isn't as bad as the rest of the world thinks. How art the mighty fallen...

Regardless of who is to blame for the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (actually, the lack of any negotiations at all), there is a much lower level of diplomatic performance than at any time in decades. And the current Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are the most moderate since Palestinians became identified as a political group. It's astounding that so much progress was made -- on the ground and around the world -- while Yasser Arafat was still in charge, and today the Israeli Prime Minister can't even find a way to sit down with his Palestinian counterparts.

If Israel's government spent as much time really TRYING to get negotiations back on track as it has on undermining U.S. efforts and trying to convince the world it's not to blame... Well, what if?

July 28, 2011

If a tabloid falls in a (Norwegian) forest...

I'm not going to compare ANYONE to the Hitler Youth. But if anyone deserves what's coming to them, it isn't the Norwegians -- we should support them in their collective and personal grief. Whether they support Israel or not, whether they're too friendly with The Muslims or not... #gimmeabreak.

No, if anyone deserves what they're getting, it's Team Murdoch. The phone-hacking of murder victims and the families of fallen heroes was an outgrowth of the Murdoch empire's objectification of humanity, and the idea that salacious details are a public commodity to be traded for fun and profit. The tragi-comic collapse of Rupert Murdoch's media enterprise is what consoles me as I watch the pathetic clips of FoxNews (I can't stomach watching their shows in full) and its alumni trashing Norway and Europe and liberals and Muslims and so many other presumed threats to civilization.

It's nice that the Murdoch media outlets have stood up for Israel along the way, and it's disappointing that so many Norwegians have fallen short on Israel (but not to the point of full-blown anti-Semitism). Yet, all this seems irrelevant to either the predicament in which the Murdochs have landed themselves or the horrible tragedy visited upon the Norwegians, who at the end of the day are fundamentally decent people -- politics and Jewish grievances aside. Murdoch has taken great pride and power by diminishing the value and dignity of human life, and I bear him neither anger nor pity. Just desserts.

July 27, 2011

A U.S. veto Israel can't afford

Throughout 2011, I have blogged about fallacies regarding the Palestinian campaign to gain UN recognition as a state, in advance of a negotiated agreement with Israel. The latest "news", that the United States will vote against such UN recognition, should have come as absolutely no surprise, as I blogged many months ago just before the United States vetoed yet another resolution critical of Israel. 

The fact is, under President Obama, the United States has continued to stand by Israel. It has also done so more effectively than the Bush administration which preceded it, by not thumbing its nose at effective allies and potential partners (e.g., Iran sanctions). This U.S. credibility and prestige will prove critical in September when the Palestinian bid reaches the UN. It would be even more valuable to preserve such a resource after the vote, but a U.S. veto in the Security Council will make it more difficult for the United States to be seen as the indispensable power or "honest broker" in the Middle East -- whether defending Israel down the road or continuing the full-court press against Iran's defiant nuclear program. 

Don't get me wrong, the United States has no choice but to oppose unilateral Palestinian statehood, for reasons of interest and substance. But all this comes at a cost. Had the current Israeli government lifted half a finger to at least appear interested in resuming even rudimentary negotiations with the Palestinians, the Europeans might not now be split over statehood. The Obama administration might have been able to employ an Arab leader or two to neutralize the Arab League obsession with wrecking negotiations (especially with outgoing Secretary General Amr Moussa seeking to bolster his nationalist credentials as he pursues the presidency of Egypt). Obama himself could have leaned on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Aside from avoiding a costly vote at the UN, the peace process might actually have been advanced. 

As I have also blogged (last January), every time the United States has had to veto a Security Council resolution condemning Israel for actions Netanyahu could have avoided in the first place, the chances for a Palestinian diplomatic victory this autumn have increased. The Palestine vote in September will not be the ultimate diplomatic battle, especially if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps leveraging his own reticence to further shift Israeli opinion toward the political right. Polarization begets polarization, and soon Israel will be needing friends more than ever before. And even its one true friend -- and Netanyahu's current ally in the White House -- will not be sufficient to keep Israel out of trouble.