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.

July 24, 2011

Whether as cause or effect, Islamophobia kills.

A few years ago, a prominent philanthropist and right-wing Republican objected to my work reaching out to Muslim leaders at home and abroad: "The Muslims are our enemy," he stated with complete certitude. Within a few months, after witnessing some of our actual results, he became an avid supporter.

Various observers and experts -- and even some of my favorite bloggers -- were quick to accept the notion that Muslim extremists were behind the shocking, well-coordinated attacks on downtown Oslo and the Utoya youth camp. In fact, as we now know, the carnage was conducted as a protest AGAINST Muslims and Marxists (though no word if any victims were of either persuasion). 

Islamophobia is proving to be a fatal disease, not only to innocent Muslims but to anyone and everyone. That the killer masqueraded as a police officer in order to lure more victims out of hiding is all the more compelling, since such vigilantes often see themselves as the true enforcers and protectors. As long as the real police are allowed to do their jobs without prejudice, the rest of us should be able to move along without prejudice, too.

Of course, like any form of racism, Islamophobia is not by itself the same as murder. But in too many of its forms, it frames a rationale for pre-emptive violence. It can be a gateway drug, or perhaps in this case it simply provided a catalyst for a demented right-wing agenda.

Either way, it is past time for the reckless vilification of Muslims to cease, but sadly that is unlikely. The rush to judgment reflects the sheer convenience of it. 

July 18, 2011

Is being Jewish a reason not to make peace?

A new blog post by Elliott Abrams purports to take on the Palestinian reluctance/refusal to recognize Israel as a "Jewish state". He makes an excellent case why there's nothing wrong with Israel being a Jewish state, but he offers no rationale for requiring others -- including Palestinians -- to affirm that.

Neither Egypt nor Jordan had to affirm Israel's unique Jewish essence as part of their peace treaties with the Jewish State. Nor do I know of any country -- even Germany -- that has had to do so in order to establish bilateral relations with Israel. What's more, never before has this been a factor in framing final status talks, and it's been some time since negotiations have seemed so out of reach. So what better time for introducing new conditions!
I doubt that anyone in the Israeli government wants Palestinian statehood to be recognized in advance of a negotiated settlement between the parties. However, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu can weather a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians, secure in the knowledge that Israel's key ally will increase its solidarity and support the more Israel becomes isolated among the other nations. As long as enabling a sustainable peace process is not one of Netanyahu's urgent needs or priorities, he might be better off with Fortress Israel, which will compel the Israeli public to support him -- and reject negotiations -- even more than today.

At least one good thing has come out of this: In citing the UN's 1947 Partition resolution, Israeli and American hawks are implicitly and explicitly reaffirming the right of Palestinians to a state of their own, alongside the Jewish state.

July 14, 2011

Was Huck Finn a self-hating Jew, or what?

Conscience says to me, "What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean?...
I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead.

-- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter XVI

Poor Huck can't stop himself from helping Jim run away from slavery, even though he's been taught that it's wrong. So, naturally (or unnaturally) he hates himself for it. 

Are the majority of American Jews who still support Barack Obama -- and who still support the cause of pragmatic compromise for Israeli-Palestinian peace -- supposed to hate themselves for that? Possibly not. But the effort to convince them they're not good Jews continues. (And I'm not for a minute equating ANYTHING or ANYONE here with slavery, I've just always found Huck's cognitive dissonance to have universal application.)

Some of my conservative friends (genuine on both accounts) have been touting a new "push poll" that sets up questions in such a way that respondents are induced to answer negatively about President Obama's policies regarding Israel. Not surprisingly, their results portray a marked drop in American Jewish support for the President. Aside from the fact that these conclusions are not corroborated by any reliable, independent data, I still have to wonder: What is the purpose of such a poll, which has been designed and weighted specifically to elicit a  preferred response (e.g., "I disapprove of President Obama because he wants to force Israel back to the 1967 borders and to allow all the Palestinians to return...")?

One obvious purpose for such push polls is to boost the political capital of Jewish Republicans and to give them hope that if they just donate a little more, they can help deliver "the Jewish vote" to the GOP.

Also implicit is the warning to the rest of us that we're bad Jews, self-hating Jews or just plain anti-Israel if we support Obama or side with the plurality of Israelis who prefer their government do more to engage the Palestinian leadership. As if to say, "See? All the good Jews are abandoning the Jew-hating Obama and backing Netanyahu's proud fight for Israel's survival -- so what's wrong with YOU!?" Sorry, there's nothing wrong with me, I was just thinking for myself.

July 11, 2011

What's a Great Power to do?? (see under: Syria)

What's a Great Power to do?

Syrian mobs loyal to President Bashar Assad attacked the U.S. and French embassies earlier today in Damascus, at the urging of pro-regime radio, with the evident collusion of Syrian police, and by the calculated strategy of Assad himself. This same tool was used by his father, the late President Hafez Assad.

The casus belli was the recent, principled visit by both ambassadors to Hama, amid a brutal crackdown against brave democracy demonstrators, nearly 30 years after Assad Senior slaughtered upwards of 10,000 civilians in the same city.

Assad takes advantage of the fact that the West has few remaining sticks left against him, short of a costly and complicated invasion scenario. We also have an abiding self-interest in the continuation of his late father's despotic dynasty or at least in an orderly and legitimate transition toward democracy - as do the Israelis. To some extent, Assad has called the West's bluff. With all the emphasis on democratic change around the Middle East and Africa these days, the United States has no option but to at least talk the talk. But when it comes to Syria, U.S. policymakers are loath to do much more than protest and punish -- regime change, especially with Iran covering the exits on both sides, is not something we're willing to contemplate.

The strike on the French Embassy also serves as a reminder to all, within Syria and across Europe and the Atlantic, that Syrian grievances extend beyond the perceived sins of America, and that Assad's best claim to power is the self-fulfilling and contradictory ethos of Syrian exceptionalism, regional domination, and international isolation. But, as they like to say in Washington, "make no mistake"-- the Assads have always been ruthless, and the West has always tried to look the other way. The non-lethal attacks on embassies are neither the first nor the last straw. But a fellow can still wish, can't he?

July 7, 2011

"News" media convicts, celebrates, repeat.

I'm baack.. and apparently I've missed little.

I watch The Daily Show and follow the news online and in print, but until this week I knew nothing about Casey Anthony or Kim Kardashian (except for the Saturday Night Live "Kardashian" skits). I also don't think my cell phone was ever hacked by News of the World. Fresh back from my vacation, I finally Google-d both ladies and found out the gory details of Casey's notoriety and Kim's celebrity.

I felt the urge to check out the alleged killer Mom because the jury had just acquitted her, and I felt almost guilty (almost) that the story had been dragging on for three years while I skated past it all in blissful ignorance. It is definitely a horrible tale for anyone to absorb, let alone a parent of young children. However, while I do not resent the accused having competent counsel, it is unpleasant to see photos of otherwise ordinary people arriving in court with a retinue of lawyers, advisors and consultants to rival a G-20 leader, and subject to dozens of TV cameras and round-the-clock coverage on cable "news" shows -- only because such people are on trial for heinous crimes. And then a jury has the hutzpah not to convict, which gives license to someone ironically named Nancy Grace...

Kim Kardashian seems like a nice enough person, and her fame and fortune make a cute caricature of our media "culture". The fact that both Casey and Kim seem to be so much in the "news" is a neat reflection of the sick joke that it's all about the hype and melodrama, with very little redeeming information we really need to know. And "News of the World" is a poster child for this sick and sickening industry that used to parallel and now overwhelms serious journalism. Suffice it to say, the British Empire is about to lose one good-for-nothing gossip rag (or Google it).

A criminal case such as the one involving former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is significant because of the prior status of the suspect, and specifically his potential to be the next President of France. Some cases involve police officers abusing their responsibilities, or others breaking the public trust. Don't get me wrong, the Casey Anthony trial should have been a news story, but it should never have been a regular prime-time show. Thank goodness for DVR!