17 June 2009

17 June 2009 - Obama Is Missing a Historic Opportunity

The outcome of the democratic uprising in Iran is not yet certain--though without at least rhetorical support from the west, it is likely to be crushed.

This far, President Obama has failed to stand up for democracy. His first response indicated that he would continue his policy of "engagement" with a regime that had been wholly exposed as illegtimate. He also upheld the pretense that this election, absent vote-rigging; would have been valid. He this indcated that his administration understands neither the root of terror in the Middle East, nor the opportunity to defeat it that has arisen (and which may soon be lost). Even his revised response yesterday, which at least acknowledged that Mousavi was not the reformer that the U.S. administration has hitherto portrayed him to be, did not stand up for the people or principles at stake.

Iran is not only a nuclear threat--as belatedly admitted by Mohammed ElBaradei--but also a major sponsor of terror and tyranny through it's proxies, Hamas and Hizbollah. If the regime could be toppled, not only could nuclear war be averted, but terror against Israel couod effectively be stopped. It was never possible or desirable to pursue regime change through an external, aggressive military strategy. But it was possible to use pressure from without to encourage change from within. That moment of change has now arrived, earlier than many expected--perhaps driven by economic conditions, perhaps driven by social frustration, perhaps encouraged by the knowledge that Israel was preparing to strike or that the U.S. would remain in Iraq and Afghanistan after all or even by Obama's own inspiring election and rhetoric.

The point is that the U.S. has the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, through strong words that suggest the potential for strong action. (If ever there was a time for "tough diplomacy," it is now.) The revelation in today's Jerusalem Post that Iran is using Hamas thugs to attack pro-democracy demonstrators is proof not only of the weakness of the regime (since Iranian soldiers are becoming reluctant to repress their fellow citizens) but also the depravity of the would-be Palestinian rulers. We could defeat both threats, and protect our allies and interests for generations, without firing a shot, if we simply stood up for our values.

But Obama--like Thabo Mbeki on Zimbabwe, whose "Zimbabwe must solve its own problems" approach doomed that country's future--refuses to stand up for human rights and democracy, preferring the false comforts of stability and "talks." He has made engagement an end in itself, proving John McCain's charge that Obama did not know the difference between tactics and strategy. We may yet see freedom winin Iran. If not, we will long regret Obama's failure.

Note: I apologize for any typos or rushed language; I had to compose this entry by iPhone.

19 April 2009

19 April 2009 - Once again, credit where it is due

I don't approve of President Obama glad-handing Hugo Chavez. But at least he decided to pull out of the Durban 2 conference. He never should have considered going in the first place, but the decision is welcome nonetheless.

06 April 2009

06 April 2009 - An Obama statement to agree with

I still disagree with many aspects of his foreign policy, including his obsequious approach to the Arab and Muslim world, but at least President Obama has come out against the canard that Israel is the reason Al-Qaeda hates America:

Al Qaeda is still bent on carrying out terrorist activity. It is-- al Qaeda is still bent on carrying out terrorist activity. It is, you know, don't fool yourselves because some people say, well, you know, if we changed our policies with respect to Israeli/Palestinian conflict or if we were more respectful towards the Muslim world, suddenly, these organizations would stop threatening us.

That's just not the case. It is true that we have to change our behavior in showing the Muslim world greater respect and changing our language and changing our tone. It is true that we have to work very hard for Israeli/Palestinian peace.

But what is also true is that these organizations are willing to kill innocent people because of a twisted distorted ideology and we, as democracies and as people who value human life, can't allow those organizations to operate.

06 April 2009 - Goldstone's twisted idea of justice

Richard Goldston, newly-appointed head of the inquiry into "war crimes" in Operation Cast Lead, reveals why neither he nor his tribunal can be trusted. Fast-forward to 8:12:

Q: What is this sense of justice that moves you?

A: What moves me is the effect that justice has on victims. It's really the victims that are the customers, or should be the customers. They are often forgotten. But justice is for victims, whether it's in domestic ocurts, or whether it's in international courts, it's the victims who need the acknowledgment. And that's what justice gives them. Whether it's prosecutions or truth and reconciliation commissions, it doesn't matter. Victims are craving for the public acknowledgment of their victimhood, what happened to them. And I've seen this time and again in South Africa, and Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Kosovo--it's a very important aspect of justice.

There are two fundamental problems here. One is that if justice is for victims, then the outcome of court decisions must depend on who is defined as the victim. This turns justice into a perverse political contest. In the Gaza case, it's clear that Goldstone and his UN colleagues believe that Palestinians are the principal victims and Israelis the main perpetrators. Hence justice is for Palestinians, and punishment for Israelis. The outcome is determined in advance by institutional prejudice.

The second problem is that justice is not only for victims, alleged or otherwise. Justice is for both sides--for the plaintiff and the defendant, for the victim and the accused. In law-abiding countries, criminal courts are particularly concerned with protecting the rights of the defendant. If judicial proceedings were all about victims, we would see many more wrongful convictions, many serious cases turned into show trials. There is a reason that justice is often depicted as blind: courts are meant to be concerned with truth, not with sentiment.

The fact that Goldstone could claim otherwise is reason to question his fitness to serve not only on this tribunal but on any other.

03 April 2009

03 April 2009 - Richard Goldstone must recuse himself

South African judge Richard Goldstone, prosecutor in the Yugoslavia and Rwanda war crimes tribunals, has been appointed to investigate claims of war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

The investigation is a farce, drummed up by anti-Israel activists and their willing dupes, including Goldstone himself. A few weeks ago, he signed a petition calling for just such an investigation. His co-signatories included people of noted anti-Israel views, such as Desmond Tutu, as well as the likes of Dumisa Ntsebeza, noted for whipping up racial hatred in the South African legal profession and defending AIDS denialist Matthias Rath.

When the petition was first reported, I contacted Judge Goldstone, amazed that he could lend his name and reputation to so spurious an endeavor. The following is our complete correspondence, which I publish here because I believe it in the public interest. E-mail addresses have been redacted.

From: Joel Pollak
Sent: Mon 3/16/2009 6:11 PM
To: Richard Goldstone
Subject: Questions about Gaza commission

Dear Hon. Goldstone:

I would be interested in speaking to you about your recent signature on a
petition calling for an international commission to investigate the recent war
in Gaza. I would like to know more about why you signed it.

Kind regards

Joel Pollak


On Mar 17, 2009, at 3:02 AM, "Richard Goldstone" wrote:

Dear Mr. Pollak,

I am not teaching in the US tis semester and I regret that we therefore cannot meet. I signed the letter because an independent and even-handed inquiry into the Gaza events is necessary and in the interests of peace in the Middle East.

Best wishes,

Richard Goldstone


From: Joel Pollak
Sent: Tue 3/17/2009 7:14 AM
To: Richard Goldstone
Subject: Re: Questions about Gaza commission

Dear Hon. Goldstone:

Thank you for your reply. I had hoped you might respond in greater detail.

To me, such a commission seems an empty gesture at best, an anti-Israel show trial at worst. Israel acted in conformity with international law against a terrorist force that continues to target Israeli civilians while using Palestinian civilians as human shields in violation of the Rome Statute. Its response was proportional to the military objective of reducing rocket fire and it daily shipped in humanitarian aid to assist the innocent residents of the Gaza Strip. What more is there to discover? What purpose would a commission serve except to allow people with avowed anti-Israel views, like Tutu and Ntsebeza, to vent their spleen?

I do hope you reply in greater detail to the above. I am interested in your own
reasons and motivations, because I cannot understand how so esteemed a judge
would lend his reputation to such an enterprise.

Kind regards

Joel Pollak


From: Richard Goldstone
Sent: 3/17/2009 12:16:04 PM
To: jpollak@law.harvard.edu
Subject: RE: Questions about Gaza commission

Dear Mr. Pollak,

I would respond to your e-mail only by suggesting that you are assuming the truth of facts that are very much in issue. I do not wish to debate this matter further by way of e-mail correspondence.

Kind regards,

Richard Goldstone

Whether Goldstone knew he would be appointed to lead the investigation he was calling for (and it seems clear to me now that he did), his appointment is completely unjust and inappropriate. It is like allowing plaintiff in a lawsuit also to serve as the judge and jury.

Goldstone's appointment makes the inquiry even more of a farce than it already is. He has irreparably damaged his credibility by agitating for, and serving, a show trial whose sole purpose is to demonize Israel and gratify its rights-delinquent enemies. He ought to come to his senses and recuse himself immediately.

17 March 2009

17 March 2009 - The worst outcome?

I have to agree with Jeffrey Goldberg here. The appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel's foreign affairs minister is both wrongheaded and just plain wrong.

It's wrong because of Lieberman's bigoted stance towards Israeli Arabs, whom he says ought to be required to take an oath of loyalty to the state. He also has views on democracy that are strongly objectionable, including his desire to increase the power of the executive relative to the judiciary.

It's wrongheaded because Israel is facing an unfavorable international climate, including an American administration whose commitment to Israeli security is uncertain and global public opinion that has already been inflamed against the Jewish state. Lieberman's views make him a poor choice as Israel's chief emissary.

Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu is gambling that Lieberman will soon be removed from his post anyway, due to criminal investigations against him. He may hope to hold Lieberman's party in the Likud's governing coalition even if its leader is gone (as happened with Aryeh Deri's Shas party).

Even so, it is a huge risk to take, and not worth the price of Israel's moral integrity. Some of Lieberman's ideas, such as territorial swaps with the Palestinians have some merit--provided that the resident populations agree. Israel Arab leaders also bear some of the blame for the mistrust that made Lieberman's success possible. Still, this appointment is a mistake.

Those are my initial thoughts. I look forward to comments on the above.

13 March 2009

13 March 2009 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Isfahan

Proof that the Iranian regime is dangerously, desperately mad.

09 March 2009

09 March 2009 - Another reason to cheer the demise of the New York Times

New York Times
columnist Roger Cohen is cheered by the fact that western countries are beginning to see terror groups like Hamas and Hizbollah as legitimate parts of Middle Eastern political systems.

He writes:

Britain aligned itself with the U.S. position on Hezbollah, but has now seen its error. Bill Marston, a Foreign Office spokesman, told Al Jazeera: “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.”


Precisely the same thing could be said of Hamas in Gaza. It is a political phenomenon, part of the national fabric there.

The use of "Hallalujah" in praising Islamist terror groups is either an attempt to be cute or a betrayal of Cohen's total ignorance about radical Islam. And never mind the fact that both groups are armed and funded by an outside imperialist force--Iran--or that both hold hostage their respective populations (Lebanese and Palestinians, respectively). No--their use of force against civilians entitles them to recognition.

Israeli force, on the other hand... even in self-defense...

Speaking of violence, it’s worth recalling what Israel did in Gaza in response to sporadic Hamas rockets. It killed upward of 1,300 people, many of them women and children; caused damage estimated at $1.9 billion; and destroyed thousands of Gaza homes. It continues a radicalizing blockade on 1.5 million people squeezed into a narrow strip of land.

At this vast human, material and moral price, Israel achieved almost nothing beyond damage to its image throughout the world. Israel has the right to hit back when attacked, but any response should be proportional and governed by sober political calculation. The Gaza war was a travesty; I have never previously felt so shamed by Israel’s actions.

"Sporadic" rockets? Try thousands of rockets and mortars over a sustained 7-year period. 1,300 people? Women and children? Estimated by whom? Blockade? I have never previously felt so shamed by America's "newspaper of record," not since Bob Herbert's bogus claims of racism and phallic imagery in last year's American presidential campaign. Cohen's swallowed the propaganda and regurgitates it for all to see.

Newspapers of all political stripes are suffering, but the Times's indulgence of this sort of terrorist fantasy is the main reason many readers like myself have become former readers. When you hold yourself out as the most objective source of news in the country, and then deliver garbage no different from what is screamed by foaming-at-the-mouth protesters in Harvard Square, you deserve to fail.

05 March 2009

05 March 2009 - Obama administration undermines justice for Hariri

In its foolish attempt to appease the Syrian regime and thereby to "pressure" Iran, the Obama administration is apparently prepared to throw justice and international law under the bus.

As his emissaries head to Damascus, they come bearing an offer: in exchange for Syrian "cooperation," the U.S. will allow Syria to undermine the special tribunal established by the UN Security Council in The Hague to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Not only is this strategy going to fail (how weakness towards one autocracy is meant to show strength to another is a mystery), but it is also going to undermine international law and cooperation in the pursuit of justice across national boundaries.

This administration came to office promising to change America's relationship with the world--to honor international law and human rights, and to represent the ideals embraced by all humanity, in a way it claimed its predecessor did not.

But the new White House has already thrown aside human rights in China and Burma, and now it is apparently prepared to crush any attempt to hold Syria accountable for its actions and discourage future assassinations.

The Obama administration treats its relationship with enemy dictators like Assad with greater urgency than it does the relationship with steadfast democratic allies like the UK. That is its prerogative; that is what he promised during the election, after all--and he won.

What cannot be excused is the Obama administration's attempt to throw democracy, human rights and international law overboard in its return to "realist" paleoconservatism dressed in the rhetoric of touchy-feely humanitarian internationalism.

It is a farce and it will set our world back twenty years. Diplomacy is great, but dictators should be come crawling to democracies to beg for talks, not the other way around, and not on the basis of demands for injustice.

05 March 2009 - Ishmael Khaldi rebukes the "apartheid Israel" crowd

Check out this excellent post by Israel's consul general in the Pacific Northwest, Ishmael Khaldi--an Arab, Muslim representative of the State of Israel--on the outrage that is the Israel-apartheid analogy (H/T IAS):

You deny Israel the fundamental right of every society to defend itself: You condemn Israel for building a security barrier to protect its citizens from suicide bombers and for striking at buildings from which missiles are launched at its cities - but you never offer an alternative. Aren’t you practicing yourself a deep form of racism by denying an entire society the right to defend itself?

Your criticism is willfully hypocritical: Do Israel’s Arab citizens suffer from disadvantage? You better believe it. Do African Americans 10 minutes from the Berkeley campus suffer from disadvantage - you better believe it, too. So should we launch a Berkeley Apartheid Week, or should we seek real ways to better our societies and make opportunity more available.

You are betraying the moderate Muslims and Jews who are working to achieve peace:
Your radicalism is undermining the forces for peace in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. We are working hard to move toward a peace agreement that recognizes the legitimate rights of both Israel and the Palestinian people, and you are tearing down by falsely vilifying one side.

To the organizers of Israel Apartheid Week I would like to say:

If Israel were an apartheid state, I would not have been appointed here, nor would I have chosen to take upon myself this duty. There are many Arabs, both within Israel and in the Palestinian territories who have taken great courage to walk the path of peace. You should stand with us, rather than against us.