13 February 2007 - News and Responses
I’d like to begin today’s entry by thanking those who have taken the time to read this blog and post their comments, especially those who have followed the link from It’s Almost Supernatural—a truly great blog. The more people who visit here, and the more debates we have, the more this discussion will grow. I’m going to try to respond to each comment in turn—but first, I wanted to share a bit of news.
I have been invited to participate in a debate in New York City on the topic, “Is Israel an Apartheid State?” The event will be held at Rocky Sullivan’s pub on Tuesday, February 27 at 8:30 p.m. and will be the second debate in the pub’s new monthly “Debate Night” series. Apparently the organizers were having trouble finding someone to take the “against” side of the argument—in New York!
My opponent will be Riham Barghouti, who as far as I can tell is a Palestinian woman who served as the External Relations Officer for Bir Zeit University in the West Bank and is now apparently living in New York. She has been one of the main organizers of this week’s ghastly anti-Israel hate-fest, Israel Apartheid Week, which has been held in New York and in several cities in Canada and the UK.
I think it’s funny that we’re going to be debating in an Irish pub. I will be sure to point out that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where a Jewish man and an Arab woman could have a free discussion over beer in a bar! So much for apartheid. I’m looking forward to making the unpopular arguments—and if you want to make them seem more popular, please come along and support the side.
Now, to the comments. Gill is first off the mark—and I’d be happy to send you a copy of my thesis, Gill, if you send me your email. It’s sitting with a publisher at the moment, though I’m not sure if it will ever be printed. There’s probably a market out there for a book called “The Kasrils Affair,” but there might not be publishers willing to back a first-time author and take on the Minister of Intelligence at once.
Next, “thermblog” suggests that Carter should be called a “Nazi,” and that doing so would be more effective than trying to tackle him on the facts. Carter is not a Nazi. I also think it’s pretty obvious that name-calling and hysterics are guaranteed ways to lose an argument. The best way to tackle Carter is on the facts. Also, I think he’s damaged his own credibility by refusing to face the real “debate” he says he wants.
An anonymous poster asks whether there are any Palestinian moderates for Israel to negotiate with, and implies that Hamas is the true representative of Palestinian public opinion. I do think that there are important moderates on the Palestinian side, such as Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Quds University. Also, apparently 161,000 Palestinians have signed on to the peace plan he proposed with Israel’s Ami Ayalon.
It is true that the majority of Palestinians support Hamas, and support terror attacks against Israelis. It is also true that the majority of Palestinians favor a two-state solution and want peace with Israel. People are capable of holding both views at once. Explaining why and how they do is a job for journalists and social scientists; guiding them towards one and not the other is the task of good leaders.
Finally, “hard rain” asks about the prevalence of Islam throughout the Middle East, and whether this is inimical to the flourishing of democracy and human rights. This is a very good question. We know that, theoretically, there need not be contradiction between Islam and liberal democracy. 150 million Muslims live in democratic India; Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, is also a democracy.
However, fundamentalist Islam, as both a religious and political movement, and both its Sunni and Shia varieties, is opposed to human rights and democracy. The Palestinian Authority is now governed by a violent fundamentalist party that does not care about human rights in the slightest—and the human rights record of the Palestinian Authority before Hamas came to power was already shocking.
In 2003, I spent a day with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which took me and a friend to see the fence near Bethlehem, as well as the wall in Abu Dis (when it was still just a few metres high). I learned a lot about Israeli human rights violations that day, but I also learned that Israel had established institutions and norms to uphold human rights, whereas the Palestinian Authority had not.
The fieldworker who accompanied us said that Palestinian human rights organizations had become largely inactive, and that fieldworkers on the Palestinian side had often been arrested by the Palestinian Authority and prevented from doing their research. In addition, she noted, there was no mechanism for human rights advocacy on the Palestinian side, nor were there avenues for protest or redress.
When human rights are taken seriously by one side and not the other, it would seem that there is little chance for human rights to serve as a common ground for conflict resolution. At the same time, however, the doctrine of human rights contains the idea that every individual has equal dignity and is equally entitled to live in peace and freedom. So there is potential, I believe, for rights to play a role.