31 March 2008

31 March 2008 - Richard Falk, anti-Israel UN investigator, 9/11 TROOFER

I can't believe I overlooked this--and that everyone else has, as well: Princeton prof Richard Falk, newly-appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as its "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967," is also a devoted supporter of the crackpot "9/11 Truth" movement, which denies that Al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001.

Check out this radio interview, as well as the foreword Falk wrote to David Ray Griffin's 9/11 conspiracy theory book, The New Pearl Harbor. According to this Troofer website, Falk even worked to find a publisher for Griffin's book.

This is the man who will be reporting on Israel's human rights violations for the next several years. The U.S. should immediately demand the removal of this man from his post. Or, better yet--keep him there, the better to discredit every one of his bogus reports.

31 March 2008 - Richard Falk's history of radicalism

Be careful what you wish for. John Dugard’s term as UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian rights may have come to an end last week, but his replacement, Princeton professor Richard Falk, is even worse. Whereas Dugard compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, Falk recently compared the Jewish state to Nazi Germany. Falk himself claims to be an American Jew, which is of course partly why he was chosen.

There have been several posts around the blogosphere documenting Falk’s offensive views. (for example, here at It’s Almost Supernatural). It is also worth noting that Falk backed the failed anti-Israel divestment campaign on American campuses in 2002. We were assigned one of his articles in Duncan Kennedy’s class last semester, in which Falk tried (but failed) to argue for a Palestinian “right of resistance.”

Falk is, in short, a flag-waver for the hard left and for anti-Israel radicalism. A person who backs Ayatollah Khomeini (and the Khmer Rouge, according to a 2002 article by Martin Peretz) and who breezily compares the Nazi Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and the atrocities in Bosnia to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be disqualified from holding any human rights job, UN or otherwise.

Below I have provided a few Falk quotes (there are plenty more out there) that indicate precisely why he is the worst (or, from an anti-Israel point of view, the best) candidate for the job:

“The PLO issue has got mixed up with the terrorist issue and a lot of other things that a large segment of American public opinion appears to be concerned about.” – Interview, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1. (Autumn, 1978), p. 90

“[The Iranian Revolution] is amazingly non-violent in its tactics and orientation, despite extraordinary levels of provocation and incitement designed to induce violence. . . . One of the stereotypes that has been definitely fostered by the US government to create confusion and resistance to the movement is that anything Islamic is necessarily reactionary. It is very important to clarify its real identity, which I think is progressive.” – One of the Great Watersheds of Modern History, MERIP Reports, No. 75/76, Iran in Revolution. (Mar. - Apr., 1979), pp. 9, 12.

“The entourage around Khomeini, in fact, has had considerable involvement in human rights activities and is committed to a struggle against all forms of oppression. The constitution he proposes has been drafted by political moderates with a strong belief in minority rights. Contrary to the superficial reports in the American press about his attitude toward Jews, women, and others, Khomeini's Islamic republic can be expected to have a doctrine of social justice at its core; from all indications, it will be flexible in interpreting the Koran, keeping the 'book of research' open to amendment and adaptation based on contemporary needs and aspirations.” – Khomeini’s Promise, Foreign Policy, No. 34. (Spring, 1979), p. 32

“[T]he Soviet role in the Third World has, up to this point, been less widely detrimental to the pursuit of human rights than has the American role.” - Comparative Protection of Human Rights in Capitalist and Socialist Third World Countries, Universal Human Rights, Vol. 1, No. 2. (Apr. - Jun., 1979), p. 15

“Let us not sit too quickly in judgment of Ayatollah Khomeini for his evident refusal to shape Iranian policy by reference to the law on the books.” – The Iran Hostage Crisis: Easy Answers and Hard Questions, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Apr. 1980), p. 413

“Palestinian resistance to the occupation is a legally protected right.” – International Law and the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Middle East Report 217, Winter 2000, p. 16

“Collective punishment of a people subject to the exigencies of a military occupation with territorial ambitions is clearly as much a form of terrorism as reliance on suicide bombers to explode deadly ordinance in places where innocent civilians abound.” - Azmi Bishara, the Right of Resistance, and the Palestinian Ordeal, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2. (Winter, 2002), p. 21.

“The failure of the United Nations in 1994 to protect the threatened population of Rwanda against genocide is illustrative of the refusal of the organized world community to lift a finger under conditions of humanitarian emergency. This same refusal to act locally was dramatically evident in relation to the struggle over Israel-Palestine, where the illusion of a ‘peace process’ was coupled with the concrete realities of settlement expansion and a humiliating Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in defiance of international law. There were many other expressions of this pattern, including a willed indifference to poverty and disease in the South, as well as the minimal engagement with ‘ethnic cleansing’ in former Yugoslavia, culminating in the horrendous massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, while UN peacekeepers looked on as virtual bystanders.” – Reviving Global Justice, Addressing Legitimate Grievances, Middle East Report 229, 2003, p. 16

“Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.” – Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust, Zaman (July 2007)

31 March 2008 - Israel's rights groups going global?

The New York Times reported last week that “[f]or the first time, the Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.” The organization that brought the case to court was the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which has lately been drawn towards using the Israel-apartheid analogy as a rhetorical and political weapon.

The road in question is Route 443, which many Israelis use as a shortcut through the western bit of the West Bank. In 1982, a challenge to the legality of the road led the Supreme Court to decide that it could only be built if its primary purpose was to serve Palestinians. That ruling conformed to the international law of occupation.

The Court’s recent ruling now allows the government to keep Palestinians off the road because of the danger to Israeli drivers—a real danger, as evidenced by fatal shootings and stonings of Israelis. ACRI is reacting by claiming that if this policy is repeated elsewhere, then Israel will be guilty of “apartheid.” A source at ACRI tells me the organization is about to abandon the Israeli courts altogether and turn to international forums to try to pressure the Israeli government to change course.

Aside from the short-sightedness of such a move—which would hurt Israel internationally and undermine ACRI’s already narrow ledge of public support in Israel—it is also quite inappropriate. There are two issues here. One is the building of the road itself, which may be objectionable in its own right, given evidence that the government’s real purpose in building it was expansionist.

The other issue is the real danger of attacks against Israelis on the road. These two issues are not linked and cannot be linked, for to do so would be to justify terror against Israeli civilians. In the context of an ongoing peace process, there are other ways for Palestinians to pursue territorial grievances. And in the context of deadly violence, the Court’s decision is not about “apartheid,” but protecting the innocent.

I worked as an intern for ACRI last summer, and I really liked the people there. Many of them, both Jews and Arabs are patriotic Israelis who only want the best for their country. Unfortunately ACRI may now be pursuing a political strategy that will hurt the cause of human rights in Israel in the long run. If they pursue the “apartheid” path then protest against ACRI and its sponsors may be in order.

26 March 2008

26 March 2008 - Tell the NIF not to attend Durban II

The New Israel Fund (NIF) has hatched a plan to cooperate with other organizations in attending the 2009 World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa. Durban II looks like it will be every bit as bad as Durban I in 2001, and sensible governments are already boycotting or considering a boycott. Now comes the NIF with a set of "core principles" prepared by a Dutch group and signed by several other NGOs, which it hopes will magically rescue the WCAR from falling into an anti-Israel, anti-Jewish frenzy.

That plan, however well-intentioned, will not work, and will only serve to legitimate Durban II. Granted, boycotting might not be the best option, either; rather, the best approach would probably be to follow the example of the brave volunteers of the World Union of Jewish Students--who put up a great fight in Durban--and protest vigorously in Durban and elsewhere. But to actually participate in another hatefest in Durban would be like attending Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial conference.

Nothing good can come of this. Tell Larry Garber, CEO of the NIF, not to legitimize Durban II: info@nif.org

23 March 2008

23 March 2008 - Keep this guy off the UN

Switzerland has nominated extremist Jean Ziegler to be a member of the UN Human Rights Council advisory board. Watch the video, then go to UN Watch to find out how you can help.

21 March 2008

21 March 2008 - Thank you, Electronic Intifada

It's not a site I visit often--especially since co-founder Arjan El-Fassed wrote the fake Nelson Mandela letter that still circulates as "proof" that Madiba thinks Israel is an apartheid state. But earlier this month, Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah spilled the beans on Barack Obama:

"Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. [Bill Ayers, perhaps? John Mearsheimer? - ed.] On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

"The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

"As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, 'Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.' He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, 'Keep up the good work!'"

Abunimah concludes: "Only if enough people know what Obama and his competitors stand for, and organize to compel them to pay attention to their concerns can there be any hope of altering the disastrous course of US policy in the Middle East."

Here's to that. Here's to finally resolving the question of Obama's position on Israel. The funny thing is that Abunimah actually believes this is a way to help his cause. Well, there's no helping that. But thanks for the quote.

20 March 2008

20 March 2008 - John McCain's trip to Israel

John McCain hit all the right notes on his trip to Israel, as part of his “fact-finding” tour of the Middle East. He got a rock-star welcome in Jerusalem, said the right things about Hamas and Iran, and even gave Mahmoud Abbas the benefit of the doubt. What I like most, however, is that he told Arab leaders about his solid support for Israel in a way few American—much less Israeli—politicians would dare to do:

Ha’aretz reports:

Before his arrival in Israel on Tuesday, McCain said he supports Israel's claim to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. He told reporters in Jordan: "I support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

In terms of winning friends and respect for America abroad, I think McCain’s forthrightness achieves much more than the contrition of Pelosi and the Democrats.

19 March 2008

19 March 2008 - What Obama should have said

I am in no way comparing Barack Obama to P.W. Botha, the prime minister of South Africa in the 1980s who came to symbolize the stubbornness of the evil that was apartheid. But on August 15, 1985, Botha was expected to “cross the Rubicon” and deliver a groundbreaking speech in which he would commit to sweeping democratic reforms, the release of Nelson Mandela, and the beginning of a new era of freedom.

Instead, the “Rubicon” speech was a disaster. Botha was petulant when he should have been compromising, arrogant where he should have been humble. He resorted to old, tired ideas when the occasion demanded new imagination and courage. The result of Botha’s speech was to galvanize international opposition to apartheid. It would fall to his successor, F. W. de Klerk, to launch the new era, five years later.

Obama’s speech yesterday in Philadelphia had a similar effect. He had been expected to dispel, once and for all, any question that he sympathized with the hateful, racist anti-Americanism of his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright. Instead, he failed to break with Wright, and used the occasion to attack his political enemies and to revisit a frayed list of racial grievances. For Obama, this is the beginning of the end.

His supporters are crowing about what a triumph the speech was, how historic and how groundbreaking. The hype and hyperbole are a sign of the deep insecurity they rightly feel about what was revealed today. Senator Obama 1) did not apologize; 2) did not break with Wright; 3) did not provide a way forward. He did not quote the Bible even once—quite astonishing, given that religion is at the heart of this affair.

Many others have already dissected the speech and attacked its flaws: the false moral equivalence between Wright’s public hate speech and the private racism of Obama’s grandmother; the attempt to duck responsibility for twenty years of silence in the pews; the implication that all black churches preach the same gospel of resentment; above all, the lack of genuine humility, honesty and vision.

Here’s what I think Obama should have said—in a short, unpretentious statement:

“The Bible teaches us, in Ephesians 4:31: ‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ My faith is one that teaches forgiveness. Not just for individuals, but for nations. Not just for the righteous, but for those who have not yet found the way to the truth and the light.

“The Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright played an important role in my life. He led me to a deeper connection with my Christian faith. For that, I will be eternally grateful. I reached out to him not just to discover what I believed, but who I am. But when he condemned white Americans, when he blamed America for the terrible events of 9/11, when he damned America itself, I should have spoken up, or walked away.

“I did not. And for that, I apologize and ask the forgiveness of my family, my fellow congregants, and the American people. The truth is that I did not raise my voice because I was afraid. I was afraid that my friends and neighbors would turn away from me—not only because of what I believe but because of who I am, a man of mixed parentage in a country still struggling to come to terms with its past.

“My mistake was to underestimate the people around me. For in silencing myself I failed to trust them. I failed to trust the decency of the people who prayed with me. I failed to appeal to their sense of right and wrong. I also failed to give Reverend Wright the chance to change his ways. I failed to challenge him to refine his faith, the way he once challenged me to search for mine. For that, I am truly sorry.

“I will now be leaving the Trinity United Church of Christ. Some may see this as political expediency. I leave them to judge as they will. For my own part, I can only say that I am still finding my way to God. I have the privilege of serving in the U.S. Senate. I have been a successful lawyer. I have been blessed. But in religion I am still a beginner. And so I must continue searching, continue reaching for answers.

“One thing that I have learned is to love another human being in spite of his or her mistakes. And so in leaving Reverend Wright’s church I wish him no ill will. But I have realized—as I have met so many Americans, from so many walks of life, in the course of this campaign—that our country is far bigger than the one he has portrayed. Ours is a land of hope, a land of true freedom and opportunity.

“I would like to thank my opponents in this election for the grace they have shown me by not exploiting this issue to political advantage. I am sorry for the hurt this has caused my supporters and all Americans, of all faiths. I hope that this episode will herald a new start for this campaign: a movement towards a better kind of politics, the kind of politics in which leaders can learn from their mistakes.

“Let us now go forth and continue the work of this great democracy, this land that God has blessed.”

That, at least, is what I would have said. But it’s too late, and even though I’m a solid McCain supporter I am sorry to see Obama self-destruct like this.

UPDATE: Also, Obama seems to have caught himself in a lie, or at least a hedge.

Last week he said:

"The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments."

Yesterday he said:

"Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."

So... which is it?

And also, why bring everyone else's pastor, rabbi, etc. into it?

This is really rather sad.

17 March 2008

17 March 2008 - Bring it: let the McCain-bashing commence (or continue)

As of today, John McCain is beating both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in national polls. This is something that many people refused to believe was possible only a few weeks ago. Both Hillary and Obama have been in the frontronner’s seat, and both have been hammered by the media hurricane. Now it will be McCain’s turn. And my prediction is that he’ll hold up better than his putative opponents.

One of the reasons, of course, is that his rivals are still hell-bent on attacking each other. Hillary Clinton, for example, recently attacked both McCain and Obama over Iraq, saying Obama only discovered his anti-war backbone when he began to run for President. Honestly, I never expected the Democrats to let this feud become as long-running and internally damaging as it has become. This blunts the blow to McCain.

Another reason McCain will endure is that his rivals are simply so bad at criticizing him. Hillary launched her attack from the U.S. while McCain is actually visiting Iraq. He has done so eight times. Hillary’s only been there twice, and Obama once. Hillary repeats the attack line about “100 years,” which McCain is parrying well by turning it over, jujitsu-style, and using it highlight his rivals’ lack of experience.

Similarly with the unions’ attack on McCain. Perhaps there’s something in some of the AFL-CIO’s complaints in their new anti-McCain primer. But when they get to the page on trade, where they assume that NAFTA and CAFTA are oh-so-terrible, the attack is revealed for the empty shell it is. On no other issue are the preferences of the unions in such stark contrast to the interests of American workers.

But the ultimate reason McCain will come out on top is he’s simply the better candidate. Years from now we will look back at this election, compare the two junior Senators with their knee-jerk positions and their identity politics to the statesman who was virtually the only man in America who had the courage to do what was right in Iraq and for the U.S. economy, and wonder how this was ever that close.

16 March 2008

16 March 2007 - Fire John Dugard, disband the HRC

Here's what John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian [and only Palestinian] human rights, had to say about terrorism in his latest report--responding to complaints about his lack of attention to the subject in the past:

4. Terrorism is a scourge, a serious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. No attempt is made in the reports to minimize the pain and suffering it causes to victims, their families and the broader community. [A lie. - ed.]Palestinians are guilty of terrorizing innocent Israeli civilians by means of suicide bombs and Qassam rockets. Likewise the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are guilty of terrorizing innocent Palestinian civilians by military incursions, targeted killings and sonic booms that fail to distinguish between military targets and civilians.[Note the "immoral" equivalence between suicide bombs and the sound of an airplane. Outrageous. - ed.] All these acts must be condemned and have been condemned.3 Common sense, however, dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by Al Qaeda, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation. While such acts cannot be justified, they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation. History is replete with examples of military occupation that have been resisted by violence - acts of terror. The German occupation was resisted by many European countries in the Second World War; the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) resisted South Africa's occupation of Namibia; and Jewish groups resisted British occupation of Palestine - inter alia, by the blowing up of the King David Hotel in 1946 with heavy loss of life, by a group masterminded by Menachem Begin, who later became Prime Minister of Israel.[So Al-Qaeda doesn't want to "liberate" Iraq, Israel is to blame for Palestinian terror, Jews are like Nazis, and Israel can't complain because of the past actions (condemned by mainstream Zionists) by the Irgun. - ed.] Acts of terror against military occupation must be seen in historical context. This is why every effort should be made to bring the occupation to a speedy end. Until this is done peace cannot be expected, and violence will continue. In other situations, for example Namibia, peace has been achieved by the ending of occupation, without setting the end of resistance as a precondition. Israel cannot expect perfect peace and the end of violence as a precondition for the ending of the occupation.[Or even after the occupation ends, as the case of Gaza shows. - ed.]

5. A further comment on terrorism is called for. In the present international climate it is easy for a State to justify its repressive measures as a response to terrorism - and to expect a sympathetic hearing. Israel exploits the present international fear of terrorism to the full.[Another lie. You want to see exploitation of terror fears? See China, Saudi Arabia, and other member states of the Human Rights Council. - ed.] But this will not solve the Palestinian problem. Israel must address the occupation and the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law it engenders, and not invoke the justification of terrorism as a distraction, as a pretext for failure to confront the root cause of Palestinian violence - the occupation.

Also note the disclaimer Dugard adds to explain his failure to report on Palestinian abuses--slightly expanded from previous editions:

For this reason this report, like previous reports, will not address the violation of the human rights of Israelis by Palestinians. Nor will it address the conflict between Fatah and Hamas, and the human rights violations that this conflict has engendered. Similarly it will not consider the human rights record of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or of Hamas in Gaza. The Special Rapporteur is aware of the ongoing violations of human rights committed by Palestinians upon Palestinians and by Palestinians upon Israelis. He is deeply concerned and condemns such violations. However, they find no place in this report because the mandate requires that the report be limited to the consequences of the military occupation of the OPT by Israel.

It's time to fire this guy, and get rid of the Human Rights Council, which has failed utterly in its mission, and cannot possibly succeed, given its structure and leadership.

16 March 2008 - Obama's denunciation doesn't cut it

On Friday, Senator Barack Obama denounced his minister’s offensive, anti-American statements. Obama claimed that the things Jeremiah Wright said “were not statements [he] personally heard him preach,” but that he knew about some of them when his campaign started. Obama nevertheless decided not to leave Trinity United Church of Christ because Wright was on the verge of retirement anyway.

This doesn’t fly with me, because I have personally left synagogues when I have found sermons to be unpalatable. For example, I once attended a synagogue where the rabbi was pro-peace until Ariel Sharon was elected in 2001. Then the rabbi started attacking Arabs, Muslims, Christians, you name it. He even used his pulpit to denounce another rabbi who had met with critics of Israel—to debate them!

When I confronted my rabbi about his statements, I told him that I no longer felt comfortable bringing my curious Muslim and Christian friends to the service. He said something like: “I wouldn’t bring those people here. The fate of the Jewish people is at stake.” When I asked him whether his statements about the other rabbi were not lashon hara (the evil tongue), a grave sin, he told me he didn’t care.

So I left. It wasn’t hard to do. There were lots of synagogues in town, just like there are lots of great churches in Chicago. If Obama wanted a “progressive” African-American congregation with a commitment to family values and social causes on the South Side, he needn’t have gone far. There were many other choices. And people of conscience make those choices all the time (as this pastor points out).

I agree that Obama could not dump Wright during, or on the eve of, his campaign. It would look purely expedient, and would open him to charges of “selling out” from the sizeable number of voters who expect their candidate to embody some kind of authenticity. The problem is that Obama did not leave Trinity years ago. That says something about his values—something voters will surely take into account.

14 March 2008

14 March 2008 - Bernie Steinberg's Open Letter on "Breaking the Silence"

In response to the "Breaking the Silence" exhibition by dissident IDF soldiers at Harvard Hillel, Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein criticized the the Harvard Hillel and urged other Hillel chapters not to host the exhibition. Here is an open letter by Harvard Hillel director Dr. Bernie Steinberg in response.

An Open Letter to Mr. Morton Klein, National President, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)

From: Dr. Bernie Steinberg, President and Director, Harvard Hillel

Dear Mr. Klein:

We have never met, yet I can infer from your public statements that we share much in common. Like you, we – Harvard Hillel and I, personally - are passionately committed to the security, well-being, and flourishing of Israel as a Jewish state. Indeed, the centrality of Israel is a pillar of our mission statement. And Harvard Hillel acts on that ideal consistently and with energy: In the past year alone, we have conducted more than 60 programs on Israel; this winter break, we sent 40 students to Israel, including our specially-designed Netivot Fellowship—known as a premier Israel program for its intellectual depth and breadth, and for its power to transform lives. Your own campus intern discovered his love for, and commitment to, Israel as a Netivot Fellow. Ask him. Personally, my wife and I lived in Israel for over thirteen years. Our children were born there. I served in the IDF. Family and close friends live there still. Like you, I have devoted my personal and professional life to building bridges between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora.

We also share the view that Israel faces implacable enemies, and that it is the responsibility of the Jewish community to educate those who are not aware of the depth and pervasiveness of the danger. Over many years we have been unswerving and visible in expressing our support and love for the Jewish State. The most recent, sad example is a vigil on the steps of Memorial Church last Friday memorializing the Israeli teenagers murdered in the beit midrash of the Mercaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

I write the above details to provide a human and cultural context for our disagreement. Without careful description of the human, cultural, and political context of a complex situation, the bald presentation of facts is incoherent, misleading, and can be simply false.

You had made no attempt to have a conversation with me or any representative of Harvard Hillel to understand our reality, to ask the simple question: “What’s going on? I understand that you are planning to host “Breaking the Silence”? I think we should discuss this. I have strong negative views about this exhibit that I want you to understand.” I certainly would have had the benefit of learning from you, and you certainly would have had an opportunity to learn something about who we are, our reality, and our thinking. Our discussion may or may not have changed your opinion, but it might have informed and guided you to communicate responsibly and truthfully.

I do not intend to engage in public debate. Enough damage has been done by public statements. Nor do I write to convince you that we are right and you are wrong. You are entitled to your opinion of whether or not “Breaking the Silence” should have been housed at Harvard Hillel. The question is: When one disagrees, how does one communicate? How does one act? Like Hillel the Elder, or like Korach?

I write to clarify our situation because your press release and letters of condemnation do not in any way reflect the reality of Harvard Hillel or the Harvard campus. In fact, what you have said and not said is confusing and damaging. For instance, much of your condemnation confuses International Hillel and Harvard Hillel. International Hillel is not responsible for programming at Harvard Hillel. Why do you attack them page after page? And why do your attributions of blame to them apply to us in this situation?

Truth from a skyscraper in New York City looks different than on the ground of a campus in Cambridge. Every campus and every Hillel has its own unique culture.

Here is our situation in cultural context:

Support for Israel is visible and credible on the Harvard campus-at-large for several reasons: because of the reputation of our students who both think strategically and work with others to get results; because those students have developed networks with the press, with other student groups (including Muslims), with prominent professors, with the deans, with the President; with the Harvard Chaplains; and with Chabad at Harvard. For this reason, when flash points occur, as they have in recent years, we deal with them thoughtfully on a case-by-case basis. We have been remarkably effective. What is striking is the absence of deep-seated animus over Israel at Harvard. Our way is not to “schrei gevalt” – flailing our arms; wagging our fingers, and certainly not pointing at each other in blame. Rather, we think strategically and collaborate with each other because we are one family, working with others for the greater good of the Harvard Jewish community and the Harvard community as a whole. Our students have tremendous credibility on this campus.

With this context in mind, here is our thinking on “Breaking the Silence”:

Harvard Hillel neither sponsors nor supports “Breaking the Silence”. We have indeed provided a venue for the exhibit. We have provided space in response to the request of two important student groups. Both groups are explicitly Zionist, although each group has a different function and self-understanding. The Harvard Students for Israel, our Israel advocacy group, one of the largest in the country, requested after consulting with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a sponsor of the exhibit, to move “Breaking the Silence” from a prominent location on campus into the Hillel building. Their concerns were serious. First, they felt that the exhibit needed to be housed where it could be thoroughly and responsibly contextualized – not open to an ongoing heavy flow of traffic with little written or oral explanation. Second, they wanted to ensure that the exhibit not function as a discrete free-standing program but be a component of a larger educational program that could provide alternative perspectives, including a critique of the exhibit. Third, they wanted to avoid ugly, divisive, public displays that, while a delight to the media and outsiders, would be destructive to the Harvard Jewish community and to the reputation of Israel.

At a private reception this week for Israel’s Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, I took the opportunity to confer with a senior Israeli diplomat about the exhibit. His response: “Public bickering between Jews in America, especially when it involves Israeli combat soldiers, does nothing to help Israel. We like the way you guys (Harvard Hillel) work.”

The proposal initiated by Harvard Students for Israel to move the exhibit was presented to Harvard Hillel’s Steering Committee, the undergraduate officers. After serious, even painful discussion, they decided, in spite of inconvenience and controversy, for the overarching good of the community to house the exhibit at Hillel.

Under complex circumstances, our students have achieved their goals. They have prevented a circus on campus. People have come to the exhibit only at fixed times. And when they come, they are accompanied by an IDF soldier who provides an explanation, including explicit statements about the need for Israel to defend itself against terrorists; including the fact that the IDF has an exemplary code of ethics; including the view that service in the IDF is a matter of pride; and including the intention of the exhibit not to present any particular policy for the State of Israel. The reason given by the soldiers is quite simple: “the situation is far too complex for us or our personal experience to present a solution.”

Other Harvard students, several of whom are IDF veterans, have written substantive critiques of the exhibit and posted them prominently at the entrance of the exhibit. Other students have conducted a series of discussions about the exhibit, and will conduct a panel debate with Harvard students who are IDF veterans and soldiers representing the exhibit. Judging from the passionate and civil discussions so far, I anticipate that this debate will also be educational and fruitful.

In short, our student leaders have struggled hard and responsibly to make a difficult decision. They have weighed alternatives. They have considered consequences. The situation is not black and white. Many students feel inconvenienced by the presence of the exhibit in the building. Many more criticize the presentation of the exhibit itself. Some feel that it humanizes the soldiers and they come away with a more positive feeling about Israel. I myself did not anticipate this response. It is more widespread than I would have thought. Most agree that the decision of the Steering Committee was prudent and wise.

I share that view. I am proud of the example our students have shown in the way they have communicated differences—very passionate, sharp, biting differences—to each other and within the community. I am impressed by the image they present to the Harvard campus, through the Harvard Crimson and through their wide network of relationships with other student groups: it is an image of Jewish students who have the confidence to support Israel both unapologetically and effectively. They are effective because they have credibility. They have credibility because they are intellectually honest, courageous enough to discuss deep differences with civility, confident enough not to be defensive, and because of their sophisticated capacity to work with others.

Mr. Klein, I would like to think that, in addition to our mutual commitment to Israel, we could share responsibility to inspire the next generation to identify with Israel. Judging from your actions and words, I have serious doubts. This is not necessarily a problem. No single Jewish organization can do the entire work of the community. I do not know the mission of the ZOA. If, however, your mission does include working with young Jews, you have done a grievous disservice to the ZOA. If it is not part of your mission, you should not intrude clumsily and aggressively into the Harvard campus, and undermine the good work of young Jews who labor arduously and skillfully on this campus out of passionate love for, and on behalf of, Israel and Judaism.

What have you accomplished by your intervention? Have you changed a single mind or heart on this campus to respect Israel? Have you shed light on the exhibit itself for our students? On the contrary, even those who do not support the goals or methods of “Breaking the Silence” have been alienated by your caricature of the exhibit and demonization of the young soldiers who present the exhibit. The reason is obvious: our students have met the soldiers. They disagree with them. They find them naïve. The exhibit, however, problematic to many, simply has not had negative traction on this campus. Our students do not understand why the leader of a major Zionist organization would abuse language and influence to make a point. From those students’ perspectives, you have greatly exaggerated the importance of the exhibit.

The results of your actions are, however, palpable in other ways: As a result of your actions, our students are receiving hate emails. In light of what you have said and have not said, this is a totally predictable response. If you intended to injure and hurt young Jews, your recent actions and words are a success. If your goal is to inflame and to defame Harvard Hillel, you should justly feel a sense of pride – mission accomplished.

Mr. Klein, don’t we Jews have enough enemies? Don’t you think it’s time that we stopped making enemies of each other?


Dr. Bernie Steinberg

President and Director, Harvard Hillel

14 March 2008 - Obama needs to dump Wright. But can he?

In Barack Obama's clumsy attempts to convince Jewish voters that he does not share the anti-Israel (and anti-American) views of his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, Obama has explained that he does not share all of Wright's views--that he is "like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with." He told a Jewish gathering in Cleveland that Wright's animosity should be understood in context:

"[Wright] was very active in the South Africa divestment movement and you will recall that there was a tension that arose between the African American and the Jewish communities During that period when we were dealing with apartheid in South Africa, because Israel and South Africa had a relationship at that time. And that cause - that was a source of tension. So there have been a couple of occasions where he made comments with relation, rooted in that. Not necessarily ones that I share. But that is the context within which he has made those comments."

This does not, cannot, suffice. First of all, that was more than twenty years ago. What explains Wright's animosity towards Israel today? Second, the tension between blacks and Jews in urban America goes back further than that, and it is not because of Jewish support for Israel. Obama's attempt to shift the blame onto Israel is troubling. Third--and Obama should know this--Israel never supported the policy of apartheid, nor did it always have good relations with South Africa during the apartheid era.

Wright's hatred for Israel is of a piece with his other hateful views. It is tainted by bigotry that cannot be washed away with "context." The fact that Obama doesn't see what's fundamentally wrong with Wright's approach is deeply concerning. He needs to cut ties with Wright--both for strategic and principled reasons. But can he? Wright has been involved with Obama's campaign, his book, and his personal life. Dumping him now would be seen as inauthentic, and some Obama supporters would accuse him of "selling out."

Some of my pro-Israel friends, particularly those who believe Israel needs to make concessions to get the peace process moving, respond to all of the above with a shrug. (One even sent me the text of Obama's Cleveland remarks in the hope that it would convince me that Obama is good for Israel.) I take a different view. I think that both Israel and the Palestinians are more likely to make the necessary compromises for peace if the U.S. places Israel's security needs first. Obama says he will do that, too, but the systematic demonization of Israel is a big part of why Israel is still unsafe.

Obama has not reacted strongly enough to that yet. In his words, you can see the fragile, precarious attempt to distinguish between antisemitism and hatred of Israel: "I have never heard anything that would suggest anti-Semitism on part of the Pastor," he said. Obama ought to recognize the connection between the two--and that Wright's attacks on Israel, which include the accusation that Zionism contains "white racism," cross the line. A good policy on Israel does not begin with such exquisite hair-splitting. Time to stop making excuses, and start making choices.

11 March 2008

11 March 2008 - Israeli Arabs need new leaders, smarter support

Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post has written a brilliant article that contrasts the way a loyal Israeli Arab—a Bedouin IDF soldier killed last week by a bomb near Gaza—has been ignored, while a villainous traitor—the terrorist who killed eight yeshiva students in Jerusalem on the same day—has been celebrated. She blames intimidation by radical Islamic groups and argues that most Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens.

I’m inclined to agree. There are also growing signs of increased willingness by Arabs in other countries to criticize terrorism against Israel. A Kuwaiti newspaper recently criticized the yeshiva attacks (“a barbaric murder of eight children who were engaged in religious study”), saying they had nothing whatsoever to do with the violence in Gaza, and slamming the methods of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Glick suggests that Israel “must launch a serious, directed hearts and minds campaign among Israeli Arabs.” That won’t be enough. Israel has to come to terms with the needs and aspirations of a 20-percent-strong national minority that, like similar national minorities in other democracies, is demanding greater political guarantees, economic assistance, cultural autonomy and symbolic recognition.

So there will need to be some political compromises as well as rhetorical overtures. One of the forces that holds back this necessary process of reconciliation is a small group of “enlightened” Jews and Arabs who share an antipathy to the state of Israel itself, even towards the very existence of the Jewish state. Take my Harvard Law School classmate Nimer Sultany, an Arab citizen of Israel, who wrote last week:

“Israeli propagandists go out of their way to repeat the soundbite: we withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and since then the Palestinians have been firing rockets on our southern towns. This soundbite might fly in the western media; after all it resonates with a simplistic world view that ignites stereotypes which have been in the making for centuries, producing demonic and degrading representations of Muslims and Arabs. It becomes easy to describe the Palestinians in this context as the carriers of incomprehensible and irrational rage.”

So Israeli complaints about rocket attacks have been nothing more than anti-Arab propaganda? Note that Sultany expresses no concern in the article for the welfare of his fellow Israeli citizens under attack, whether Jew or Arab.

I have learned over the past several months that although anti-Israel critics try to present the Palestinian case in terms of universal human rights and values, they are often the first to trash them.

Sultany again:

“Palestinians bear not only the burden of liberating themselves but also of unmasking humanity's false pretensions; ie exposing the realities of power that always trump universalist and humanist postures. In this sense, Palestinians are the voice of the wretched of the earth.” (my emphasis)

The only answer to such malevolent misanthropy is for Israel to affirm those universal, humanist values within a Jewish political framework.

Israel’s Arabs need better, bolder leaders. They also need support from friends of Israel abroad. Right now the only major Diaspora donor to Israeli Arab NGOs is the New Israel Fund, which backs groups like Adalah, which opposes the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.

It’s time for those of us in the Diaspora who believe in liberal, humanist values to back an alternative vision, and alternative Arab leadership in Israel.

07 March 2008

07 March 2007 - Israel in mourning

Thursday's terror attack may mark the beginning of a "third intifada." I will write more on this soon. For now, there is only the pain of loss.

07 March 2005 - Breaking the Silence?

One of the classic propaganda techniques is to show an image with an unrelated or distorting caption. (It’s an image like that in the New York Times that provoked HonestReporting.com to get started.) A traveling exhibition by the dissident soldiers of Breaking the Silence, which is at Harvard this week, relies on that propaganda technique to demonize the Israel Defense Force and the State of Israel as a whole.

The images themselves are really rather lame. You don’t see soldiers performing acts of brutality. Most of the snapshots are of racist graffiti. The most graphic images are of soldiers posing by the corpse of a dead Palestinian guerilla fighter in a Gaza hothouse. The captions identify the dead Palestinian as a “militant”—that familiar euphemism from the media dictionary of moral (or immoral) equivalence.

You see a few petty crimes—soldiers watching a football match inside a Palestinian living room they have commandeered, sending the family outside. But that’s as bad as it gets. The captions, filled with profanity, are used to make the images seem worse than they actually are. One image shows pedestrians walking along a street peacefully; the caption tells of a group of soldiers breaking up a funeral procession.

There is almost no mention in the entire exhibition of suicide bombing. There is a poster on the “historical background” which parrots the Palestinian narrative of the intifada—that it was Sharon’s fault. The organizers don’t want you to walk through on your own, lest you draw your own conclusions. So they supply a “tour guide,” a former IDF soldier who make sure you understand how awful the occupation is.

I asked our “tour guide” why the exhibition felt it necessary to supply captions that didn’t actually explain the images. He said it was necessary to provide “context.” OK, I said—then where is the context? Where’s an accurate timeline of historical events? Many of the images are from Hebron—where’s the information about the suicide bombing in the Hebron market? Well, you can’t include everything, he said.

An interesting exchange took place when our guide insisted that the occupation turned every soldier into a war criminal. OK, we responded, maybe you did some terrible things, but not every soldier did. He immediately became defensive. It wasn’t his fault he had mistreated Palestinians, he said. It was the occupation. The army turns you into a monster. You would have done the same, he said.

So this fellow believes in his country’s collective guilt, but not his own individual culpability. It’s a form of selling out, really, a sort of inverted show trial where these guys “confess” to everyone else’s sins. I found the whole thing ridiculous—most of all the fact that they felt it necessary to accompany visitors to the exhibition with a minder who made sure they didn’t have any undesirable thoughts.

If there is anything to praise about the whole affair, it is not the open-mindedness of the Harvard Hillel, which hosted the exhibit. (They had to, you see, otherwise they would have been part of “the Silence.”) No—it is the self-sacrifice of Hillel’s Orthodox congregation, which sacrificed its own prayer space so that the exhibition could be held in the Jewish community and not in one of the government buildings.

05 March 2008

05 March 2008 - Iranian totalitarian nightmare conjures McCain-Soros conspiracy

If you've ever been nostalgic for Stalinist propaganda, you'll enjoy this Iranian state production.

I guess they're really afraid of a McCain presidency. Another reason to Back the Mac.

05 March 2008 - No, Israel is not an apartheid state

Z Word has an article by Rhoda Kadalie and Julia Bertelsmann attacking the Israel-apartheid analogy and explaining why a small group of South Africans has been pushing it.

Here's the "take-home message":

"What the white nationalist right and the black post-colonial left share is distaste for opposition and difference combined with envy of Israel's success. Afrikaners viewed Israel, falsely, as a state of "whites" that had thrived in a sea of "non-white" nations, but which unlike South Africa had largely escaped global condemnation. Today's far-right remnant envies Israel's persistence when Afrikaners have had to give up their own national aspirations.

"The ANC looked to Israel as an example of an oppressed people that had overcome racial persecution, enormous political obstacles and military weakness to build a successful, thriving nation. Israel's continued economic achievements, scientific innovation and vibrant culture in the face of terror stand in stark contrast to the ANC's mismanagement of the state and economy, which it still blames on the past.

"Neither the far right nor the ANC's left can tolerate or even comprehend the economic success of South African Jews, which was largely achieved in spite of - not because of - both governments. Nor can they come to terms with a strong, successful, and democratic Israel. It goes against the dualism between strong oppressors and the weak oppressed according to which every political issue is framed in South Africa and every government failure is justified.

"South Africa tells Israel that it only has a right to exist--if at all--as a victim of Nazi oppression, just as the ANC bases its claim to legitimacy, power and privilege on apartheid. But Israel has moved beyond its past, while South Africa has failed to use the memory of apartheid to motivate positive national unity and achievement. No false analogies and no re-writing of history can mask that."

04 March 2008

04 March 2008 - Super Tuesday, Part II

A couple of days ago, Intrade, the online prediction market, put Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the Democratic Party's nomination at about 10 percent. In the past 24 hours, in the wake of poll data suggesting she may have re-taken the lead in Texas, she has risen above 20 percent. Since Intrade trades futures contracts, these percentages are expressed in prices: a contract of 10 units costs $1 (1 unit = $0.10) and that contract will pay 100 units if the outcome it predicts comes to pass.

I've believed for the past few weeks that any Clinton contract falling below 40 is a bargain at the price. She's lost many contests in a row to Obama, but these were elections she never expected to win, while the big states of Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania still loomed and all favored her. Plus, win or lose tonight, she's got nearly as many delegates as Obama. Momentum or no momentum, either one of them can make the case for their party's nomination.

One of the reasons Clinton's done so poorly is that Americans are barred by law from using their U.S. credit accounts to buy Intrade's contracts. It's a form of online gambling, you see, so in order to play you either have to send a check to the company or use an overseas account. The result is that much of the trading, I reckon, is done by foreigners, who have to rely on the U.S. media for information. The Intrade prices are therefore more a reflection of media attitudes than political reality.

Intrade offers contracts on other events, such as the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. You can decide to buy contracts that will mature if Hamas recognizes Israel by the end of March (1.5), the end of June (1.0), or the end of September (3.5). Prices for Olmert's resignation are a bit higher, with the September contract fetching 10 units. A contract on an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty by the end of George W. Bush's term in office is going for 18 units as of today.

18 is a lucky number to many Jews--it's the numerological equivalent of חי, the word for life. But it's a pretty poor price. In fact, the one thing that all of Intrade's Middle East markets agree on is that the prospects of peace are pretty dim. The peace treaty contract has never traded above, or even near, 40. And keep in mind that these prices are probably more powerful predictors than the American election prices, assuming that people in the Middle East aren't barred from Intrade.

Here's one way to encourage the peace process: if we're going to force Israelis and Palestinians to do anything, let's not force them to accept U.S. troops, as Barack Obama's adviser Samantha Power seems to have wanted to do. Rather, let's make both sides spend large percentages of their government budgets on Intrade peace treaty contracts. To reap the profits--and avoid total, catastrophic losses--both sides will have to make the treaty happen.

I'm joking, of course. This sort of carrot-and-stick thing has been tried before--not on the prediction markets, but through diplomatic intervention that promised U.S. aid as a reward for peace. There have been two problems. One is that the U.S. has paid off these contracts before they have matured, giving the Palestinians massive amounts of economic and military aid before they have stopped terror. The other problem is that there are people in the region buying contracts for the total annihilation of Israel, and expecting them to mature in the afterlife, or in the lifetime of some distant generation.

03 March 2008

03 March 2008 - Dershowitz to UN: OK, what should Israel do?

Alan Dershowitz, for whom I am working as a research assistant, recently made an interesting suggestion. Israel, he said should approach the United Nations Security Council and say something like the following (I am paraphrasing liberally):

"OK. So we're getting bombarded by rockets aimed at civilian centers with the goal of killing as many people as possible. We pulled settlers and soldiers out of Gaza, and that only made things worse. We killed their leaders, which seemed to work, but you told us to stop. We blockaded them, but you cried about a humanitarian disaster. Now we've invaded to root out the terrorists, and you claim we're being 'disproportionate' in our response. What, in God's name, do you suggest that we do?"

The answer would likely be something incoherent--either that Israel has no right to defend itself, which would make a mockery of the UN Charter, or that Israel has to offer the Palestinians a binational state, which would reverse more than 60 years of UN resolutions on the two-state solution. In short, the UN would fail to respond, and Israel would have a freer hand in dealing with Hamas.

The UN has utterly discredited itself on the Gaza issue. Thankfully, Israel's Supreme Court has appropriately balanced concerns about international law and human rights with security concerns. It says a lot about the legitimacy of Israel's own legal system when the defense minister says he's going to call the justice minister to get a legal opinion before launching attacks in civilian areas.

And it also says a lot about the UN when, after years of silence on Palestinian rocket attacks, it suddenly springs into action to condemn Israel's response.