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.