31 October 2007

31 October 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 7

Harvard Law School’s class on legal issues in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict re-convened this week, after the fall break. This time, there was only one reading assigned for discussion: a 2005 article in a Berkeley law journal by Orna Ben-Naftali, Aeyal M. Gross, and Keren Michaeli entitled “Illegal Occupation: Framing the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (23 BERKJIL 551 if you have a WestLaw subsription).

The authors start with a question which they believe has been ignored: whether Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is legal. The answer, which you can find throughout the literature on the subject, is yes. But the authors strive to prove otherwise, indulging in a babble of legal jargon that ends by describing law as “an apology for power,” thus dismissing the legal question regardless of the answer.

They attempt to suggest a new legal perspective on the occupation, one that “locates the occupation within a normative framework that differentiates between legality and illegality and may both resolve the specific question of the legality of the Israeli occupation and redefine the contours of the legal discourse on occupation.” In fact this argument is simply re-heated radicalism of the “critical legal” variety.

To be legal, the authors suggest, an occupation must not grant sovereignty or title to the occupying power; must be managed as if the population were beneficiaries of a trust; and must be temporary and not indefinite. The third condition, they argue, is fundamental to the first two; if the occupation is not temporary, then both of the first two principles are also violated and the occupation is illegal per se.

This is a test designed to ensure that Israel fails. It also ignores the legal consequences of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Jordan and Egypt, respectively. The authors’ very definition of occupation is derived from another scholarly article, not from any legal authority. They acknowledge their definition of legality is expansive—a key step in the obfuscation we have seen elsewhere.

The authors do construct a history of the law of occupation, one that turns the law of occupation into one dealing with human rights rather than conflict between states. However, their analysis is highly selective. For example, they cite approvingly the ICJ ruling on the security barrier, and use it to justify both their definition of occupation and their accusation that Israel’s occupation is illegal.

Where the actual historical record is concerned, they again seem to resort to obfuscation, implying Israel may not have occupied the territories in self-defense: “the most convincing basis for the rejection of the argument that legitimizes the acquisition of territory through use of force in self-defense is the frequent inability to distinguish between the aggressor and the victim in a particular conflict.”

The authors go even further, insisting not that the means through which occupation came about are irrelevant, but that self-defense cannot be a justification for occupation. They go on to argue—without examining any evidence to the contrary—that Israel has not been good trustee of the interests of Palestinian residents of the territories. They also totally ignore the Palestinian and Arab role.

This latter point is where their argument really falls apart, because the Israeli occupation was initially designed to be temporary, except in parts of East Jerusalem. The rejectionism of Arab states and the violence of Palestinian terror groups, then and now, has supported the Israeli refusal to withdraw without an enforceable agreement. (There are other reasons to withdraw anyway.)

Instead of honestly weighing a defense of Israel against the charges they lay against it, the authors compare the occupation to the most extreme examples of injustice, such as apartheid. They largely ignore any evidence to the contrary—such as, for example, the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, which was already established Israeli government policy at the time that this article was written.

The authors recommend the territories be transferred to international control, failing which Israel should be subject to a new “framework for an entire body of international crimes.” The injustice of this conclusion is staggering. The “permanence” of the occupation is more of a political problem than a legal one. It makes negotiations harder, but it is not the fundamental obstacle to peace.

Our discussion in class actually focused on the weaknesses of the article, partly because two of us were quite aggressive in pointing out its flaws, and partly because the professor was trying to urge some of the pro-Palestinian students to come up with good legal responses to our arguments. But legality is a red herring. The fate of the occupation will be decided in Annapolis next month, not at The Hague.

(red herring picture from http://www.barryfalls.com)

30 October 2007

30 October 2007 - A Mearsheimer & Walt Halloween

You know it’s Halloween when John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt show up in Harvard Square to tell ghost stories about the evil Israel lobby. Last night the pair of jack o’ lanterns appeared at the First Parish in Cambridge. I couldn’t make it to the whole talk—I was speaking at another event—but my girlfriend braved the crowd of Cambridge crazies and went to hear them speak.

The drum M & W are beating now, she said, is that the Israel lobby was responsible for the Iraq war. And the crowd loved it. They loved it so much that when the question-and-answer began the moderator had to discipline the zealous fans at the microphone. Not a single pro-Israel voice, my girlfriend noted. But she also noticed that W & M seemed a disappointed. No one serious comes to their lectures anymore.

You know you’re on your way out when no one cares enough even to attack your view. On my way back home, I stopped at the church to peek in. The church was half-empty and it had apparently been that way the whole evening. I thought of asking them one of several damning questions, but my girlfriend said: why bother? They shift their ideas to duck challenges. It’s propaganda, not intellectual debate.

Outside, in the Square, a group of fire-and-brimstone missionaries had gathered, preaching against homosexuality. One man stood holding a huge sign: “HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN. CHRIST SAVES YOU FROM HELL.” No one paid them any attention until a pair of gay activists came along with signs of their own: “HEY LESBIAN LADIES: FREE KISSES IN THE SQUARE TONIGHT,” etc.

It was sort of funny, but no one really noticed them, either. There’s a lesson in that, I thought. You can stand up to these completely marginal figures with their nutty ideas, but then again, why bother? There’s an old saying in politics: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.” It’s gratifying to realize that when it comes to M & W, most sensible people have already come to that conclusion.

29 October 2007

29 October 2007 - What Darfur genocide?

The above photograph, at Daniel’s public gallery, was taken on Saturday near the Old South Church where Archbishop Desmond Tutu was addressing the Sabeel conference about Israel and apartheid. The demonstrators are not behaving inappropriately. In fact, their feelings exactly match those of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who recently accompanied Tutu on a visit to the Darfur region of Sudan.

Carter, who has defended his use of the word “apartheid” in his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, said of the term “genocide” in Darfur: “There is a legal definition of genocide and Darfur does not meet that legal standard. The atrocities were horrible but I do not think it qualifies to be called genocide.” Tutu, who was with Carter, apparently failed to correct him (though he would surely disagree with him).

The mainstream media—including the Jewish Telegraphic Agency—have described Tutu’s speech on Saturday as “an impassioned plea to the Jewish people to end Israel’s oppression.” The JTA report omits any mention of the fact that Tutu made his speech inside the Old South Church. All of the reports imply Tutu was speaking to Jews, when in fact he was speaking about Jews to an anti-Israel audience.

What the headlines should have said was: “Tutu accuses Jews of ‘fighting against God.’” Because that is exactly what he did, and that was the only newsworthy part of his entire wretched oration. The fact that the media has bent over backwards to spin Tutu’s words is something of a shock to me, though perhaps not to the readers of this blog. And certainly not to the people of Darfur, who are used to such deceit.

28 October 2007

28 October 2007 - Tutu: Blame the Jews. Only the Jews.

Archibishop Desmond Tutu’s speech on Saturday afternoon at the Israel=Apartheid conference at Boston’s Old South Church has been posted on the web. (Note that the pages are a bit out of order.) One of the 200 protesters outside the church on Friday afternoon carried a poster with a photoshopped image of the church sign saying: “Today’s Sermon: Blame the Jews.” That turns out to have been pretty accurate.

Tutu’s entire sermon is addressed to Jews. Not Israelis, but Jews. The Jews who would not, could not have come to the church to attend a meeting on the Jewish Sabbath. The Jews who had been vilified from the pulpit throughout the conference. It is “the Jews” who must change their ways. Not once—not once!—during his speech does Tutu call on Palestinians or “the Muslims” or “the Arabs” or whatever.

The speech is deceitful throughout. Tutu claims that he could have gone the route of comparing Israel to every horrible feature apartheid South Africa, but didn’t—and then proceeds to do exactly that: “I could have bemoaned the illegal wall . . . I could have said things that even apartheid South Africa had not done, for example collective punishment. I have not gone that route.” Does he remember apartheid?

Again and again, he exhorts Jews to remember the lessons of the Hebrew Bible. He uses the second person plural—“you” and “your”—despite the fact that his audience is almost entirely Christian and Muslims and the few Jews in the church would not have counted themselves among those he blames for Israel’s sins. And he accuses Jews of fighting against God—“your God, our God.” He concludes:

“The world needs the Jews, Jews who are faithful to their vocation that has meant so much for the world’s morality, of its sense of what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, what is just and unjust, what is oppressive and what sets people free. Jews are indispensable for a good compassionate, just and caring world.

“And so are Palestinians.”

That’s it—nothing exhorting Palestinians or Arabs in particular to change their ways, aside from the catch-all “We condemn acts of terrorism by whoever they are committed.” Jews—not Israelis—are blamed for the conflict. And only the Jews, who are described as fighting against God and humanity. There can be no question of “anti-Zionism, not anti-Semitism.” Tutu’s words and intent are unmistakable.

26 October 2007

26 October 2007 - The cult of Israel-hatred

Tonight I decided to skip my usual Friday night services and head on down to the Old South Church to attend the opening of the Sabeel conference on “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel.” The church is a beautiful building; what a shame it was to see it defiled by such hatred. The pews were packed with people who dislike Israel in one way or another; one guy wore a t-shirt depicting a burning Israeli flag.

I walked around the room to see where the microphones for question-and-answer would be. There weren’t any, and at the start of the evening we were told that if we wanted to ask a question we’d have to fill out an index card and hand it to one of the ushers. Screened in advance! I should have known. I complained to Phyllis Bennis, one of the moderators, who told me: “This is not an open discussion.” Indeed!

I sat down in a pew near the front and opened the folder of conference materials. The back page of the official program was entitled “Apartheid?” and was filled with quotes and maps aimed at proving the Israel-apartheid analogy. They had a line from Jimmy Carter, a line from Archbishop Desmond Tutu (the conference’s keynote speaker), and a line from—no, wait, really?—Nelson Mandela:

“Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.”

Sounds rather damning, doesn’t it? And who could disagree with Nelson Mandela? There’s only one problem: Nelson Mandela never said, wrote or endorsed those words. They are the creation of an Arab journalist named Arjan El Fassed. When I exposed El Fassed's fraud earlier this year, he claimed: “There is no possible basis for Pollak to say I intended people to believe the memo was written by anyone other than myself.”

In spite of El Fassed’s admission, the Israel-haters continue to use his Mandela quote to promote their views. But El Fassed’s “Mandela Memo” is a fraud—just as much a lie as the Israel-apartheid equation itself. The entire evening was built on such lies. Keynote speaker Naim Ateek, for example, claimed that the Israeli government has an “intense desire to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.”

But I’m jumping ahead. The evening began with an address by the Right Reverend M. Thomas Shaw, the local Episcopalian bishop, who equated the anti-Israel movement with the anti-apartheid movement: it is “like any movement we’ve had for justice in human history,” he said. “God smiles on this assembly,” he added. This was a feature throughout the evening: religious blessing of hatred against Israel.

After a hymn—“Guide my feet, Lord” (out the door, I wanted to add)—Archbishop Tutu stood up and recited an invocation. “Lead us from prejudice to truth,” he prayed. Amen, I muttered. I flipped through the Bible in front of me and landed on an appropriate verse, Psalm 36:3: “The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit; they have ceased to act wisely and do good.”

A Muslim cleric, Imam Mahdi Bray, then stood up and gave a silly speech about how he had personally experienced apartheid because he had grown up as a black American in the South and his house had been firebombed et cetera. He did not explain how that qualified him to speak about Israel, but nevertheless went on and on in fiery style about the rights of the dispersed Palestinian people.

Next up was Sara Roy. She devoted most of her speech to attacking Jews, telling the audience that Jewish leaders exploit the Holocaust and other examples of Jewish suffering like the Inquisition. (?!?) She then went on at length about “my Holocaust background,” how her parents were survivors and lived through “loneliness and longing,” and how that formed her opinions of Israel. (Hello, exploitation?)

Israelis and Jews, she said, are “racist,” aside from a few exceptions. Though Jews have a strong tradition of dissent, it is unacceptable among Jews to admit “that Palestinians share our humanity,” she said. Spoon-fed this slander from a person with an unimpeachable “Holocaust background,” the audience swallowed every word and rewarded her with a spirited burst of applause.

Ateek was the last to speek, and was introduced by Hilary Rantisi, who claimed that the event organizers had come under pressure to “disinvite” him. She attacked his critics but did not attempt to explain his religious bigotry, reported recently by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe (whose article was distributed with the conference materials, along with a defense of the event by a local reform Rabbi).

Ateek said that he opposed violence on both sides, and supported a two-state solution and Israel’s right to live within the 1967 borders (which only a handful of people in the room applauded). However, he said that the government of Israel doesn’t listen and refuses to end the “evil” occupation. He then quoted a Ha’aretz article in which Israeli Jews themselves had used the word “apartheid.”

He equated the Hebrew word hafradah (“separation”), used by some Israelis to describe the security barrier, with the Afrikaans apartheid. He claimed this was a sign that Israelis now support an apartheid policy. (What hafradah actually refers to is separation from land, not people—from the occupied territories, not from Arabs, who are more integrated into Israel now than ever before. Sigh.)

There was a break, and after confirming that there were to be no questions from the floor, I decided to leave. Karl Popper once said that a theory is only scientific if it is falsifiable, i.e. if it is open to being disproved. In the same way, any political idea which is not open to challenge and debate cannot possibly be true. However, if you repeat it often enough, as the saying goes, people start to believe it.

Fraudulent accusations against the Jewish state, based on fabricated evidence. Religious endorsement of hatred, couched in the rhetoric of social justice. False caricatures and stereotypes of an entire people. The parading of token Jews to verify everything said from the stage. Sound familiar? They used to have a word for that. But you can’t use “antisemitism” anymore. So I’ll just call it a disgrace.

25 October 2007 - John Dugard is really boring

The President of the Society of Arab Students (SAS) at Harvard published an op-ed in the Crimson today in which she complained about “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” claiming that “nothing constructive” could come out of it. No one at Harvard is actually participating in the nationwide teach-in about radical Islam, but SAS felt it had to state its opinion on the campaign regardless.

I agree that the title and focus of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” could lend themselves to bigotry, which is why I never considered sponsoring or supporting it. But SAS’s complaints are complete hypocrisy, considering that it regularly invites radical Israel-haters to speak on campus. Tonight SAS members were out in force to hear John Dugard speak at the Kennedy School (moderated by Duncan Kennedy).

Dugard is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories. His mandate, granted by the now-defunct UN Commission on Human Rights, only allows him to investigate Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, not Palestinian abuses of Israeli rights or the rights of their own people. He is no impartial observer, but an activist whose hostility to Israel is evident in his work.

Tonight’s event was part of the final lead-up to the “Israel=apartheid” conference in Boston, which begins tomorrow. Dugard is very important to those who would equate Israel with apartheid South Africa, because he earned his reputation as a human rights lawyer in South Africa and supports the Israel-apartheid analogy in some respects. He is also, I learned tonight, a complete charlatan.

Dugard’s rhetorical strategy is to make false and facile equations between Israel and apartheid South Africa. When challenged, he backs down, but not before placing another false analogy on the table, or simply making up facts. His big lie tonight was to claim that the Jewish Agency pioneered the use of suicide bombings. He cited Walt and Mearsheimer as his source; even they make no such claim.

When I challenged him, Dugard backtracked, but added that the Irgun had used terrorism in the 1940s (not mentioning that the Jewish Agency had condemned it). Dugard also said the following about Palestinian suicide bombings: “Without justifying it, I think one can understand it.” He also dismissed Palestinian terror, saying the South African government also once labeled its opponents “terrorists."

According to Dugard, Israel is still occupying Gaza; it violates Palestinian human rights and international humanitarian law; and it gets away with all of the above because of “the Israeli lobby” in America and “Holocaust guilt” in Europe. He also argued that the double-standard of the West towards Israeli human rights abuses was undermining the whole edifice of international human rights law.

I asked him how he could make such a ridiculous claim when both the current and former UN secretaries-general have criticized the UN Human Rights Council and its predecessor for focusing obsessively on Israel to the exclusion of other issues. His own mandates, I pointed out, were biased against Israel. I agreed that there was a double-standard, I said, but it was aimed in exactly the opposite direction.

Dugard responded by admitting that there was a disproportionate focus on Israel, and claimed he was critical of that. However, he blamed the West, saying that developing countries were not willing to discuss human rights issues in their part of the world because the West ignored Israel’s human rights abuses. That claim is not only false, but it implicitly condones genocide in the third world. What a guy.

The audience’s questions were sympathetic to Dugard, as expected. One graduate student asked him to share the lessons of the academic boycott against South Africa, and how they could be applied to Israel. Dugard then had to admit that he had actually opposed the academic boycott of South Africa because he felt that he himself worked for a university (Wits) that openly defied apartheid.

He would feel more sympathy for the anti-boycott movement, he said, if Israeli universities held official assemblies condemning the occupation (never mind political independence and academic freedom). I pointed out that Israeli universities had been hit by suicide attacks, unlike South African universities, which debunked his false equation of Palestinian terror with the anti-apartheid movement.

Dugard had to admit that South African universities were never directly threatened, but pointed to examples of terror against civilians in South Africa—another false analogy eagerly swallowed by the audience. The radicals lionize him. But Dugard is a poor, sclerotic speaker, mediocre and boring to the nth degree, as unimpressive as any of the champions of Israel-hatred I’ve encountered thus far.

24 October 2007

24 October 2004 - ICAHD: Irreverent Criticism Against Halper's Distortions

Tonight I attended a presentation by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) at the Kennedy School of Government, hosted by the KSG’s Palestine Awareness Committee. The audience was a mix of Cambridge crazies and pro-Palesitnian activists, so of course I felt right at home. The topic was “Countdown to Apartheid,” and the event was as a lead-in to this week’s Tutu event.

Halper began with this brilliant statement: “We’re going to formally enter an apartheid situation next month, in Annapolis. That’s what I’m expecting.” He later explained that this “apartheid” would be achieved through an elaborate conspiracy in which—gasp!—the U.S. would try to move Israelis and Palestinians to the second stage of the Middle East Road Map towards a two-state solution to the conflict.

Next, he described what he saw as the Israeli mindset. Arabs are “just terrorists” for most Israelis, he claimed. They are people to whom a viable state cannot be granted. Israelis, he added, deny that Palestinians exist as a people; they deny there is an occupation of Palestinian territory; and they deny Palestinian statehood. He claimed this was the view of Ehud Barak, among others, even to the present day.

Halper claimed that the provisional Palestinian state proposed by the Road Map was the “Palestinian nightmare” (neglecting to mention that the Palestinians accepted the Road Map without reservation). This was to be Sharon’s program of “cantonization,” a “Palestine Bantustan,” and “occupation by consent,” which the Palestinians would have to accept or else face being labeled the enemies of peace.

“Israel formally denies it has an occupation,” he continued. “No element of the occupation is explained by security,” he added. The lies kept on coming. He presented a 2003 map of the West Bank: “I didn’t make this map. This is the map.” The map happened to include information about its creator: a Palestinian firm based in Bethlehem whose logo is a red map of Palestine from the Jordan to the sea.

“There isn’t both sides here,” he asserted. “There’s only one occupying power.” He noted helpfully that we had to take “the power differential” into account—which would break the idea that “the Jews are the ultimate victims.” And “how does Israel get away with this?” he asked. Well, it’s not AIPAC, “the Jewish lobby,” “the Israeli lobby,” or even “Christian evangelicals.” No—it’s “the military-industrial complex.”

The “military-industrial complex” is formed by the American and Israeli defense industries, he said, which plan to use the West Bank as an experimental laboratory for counter-insurgency warfare—because, of course: “Nobody’s looking. Nobody cares.” The next stage is the development of nanotechnology—“microscopic military weapons…[that] can be sent into your bedroom.”

From there, Halper said, it was a “slippery slope”—soon American police would be using Israeli gadgets to spy on, and kill, Americans—“without anyone noticing.” He threw in some selective quotes from the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defence Review—which translated, he said, into “We’re gonna beat the fuckers.” This is the third straight time I’ve heard anti-Israel Israelis use gutter language at public lectures.

I thought of pointing out that the Palestinians have built a nanotechnology lab at Al-Quds University, to which I was alerted last month by a young pro-Palestinian researcher. Instead, I asked Halper whether he had ever been arrested. Oh, yes! He replied proudly. He showed us photos of police dragging him away from protests. “But they don’t beat us or shoot us because we’re Jews,” he said smugly.

“But have you ever been arrested for your beliefs?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “Well, I am from South Africa, and I have family and friends who joined the anti-apartheid struggle despite being white, and they were arrested for their beliefs, and they were beaten. That’s apartheid.” It was clear Halper didn’t know or care what apartheid really was. Here’s how he actually defined it—I am quoting his exact words:

“Apartheid is a system. It is not a policy. It’s a system with two parts. One is separation of populations. And that’s exactly what Israel calls its policy. Its policy is a policy of separation. This is a separation barrier. This is a demographic border. Israel calls it a separation barrier. The second element is domination. Where one group separates itself from another and takes power over it.”

Oh, I see. “A relatively powerful country establishes a border = apartheid.” A graduate student—the same one who challenged Sari Nusseibeh over non-violence last semester—then asked how to organize against Israel “in a way that doesn’t seem extremist.” She claimed pro-Palestinian activists were censored at Harvard: “We don’t want to get thrown out of school.” (Should she ever have been admitted?)

Halper went on to declare that “human rights are universal.” But ICAHD never protests the demolition of Jewish homes in Gaza or the West Bank. Halper’s a big shot on the anti-Israel circuit, acting out his crusty Vietnam-era radicalism before willing dupes. He’s also a buffoon and a conspiracy theorist, who regrettably has a large audience of the uninformed and the uninformable that takes him at his word.

23 October 2007 - A fragment of truth

Why Israel is not an apartheid state, and Hamas is not a liberation movement.

Above: fragment of Qassam rocket, retrieved from farm near Sderot, August 2007

21 October 2007

22 October 2007 - Who's Tutu hanging out with?

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes about Naim Ateek, one of the clerics in charge of next weekend’s anti-Israel hatefest at the Old South Church in Boston. Ateek’s name is featured right under Tutu’s on the official conference program. Does Tutu know what this man believes? Jacoby makes it fairly clear:

“Just as critics of the United States are not necessarily anti-American bigots, critics of Israel are not necessarily biased against Jews. But Sabeel and Ateek's denunciations of Israel have included imagery explicitly linking the modern Jewish state to the terrible charge of deicide that for centuries fueled so much anti-Jewish hatred and bloodshed.

“‘It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him,’ Ateek has written, envisioning ‘hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.’

“In a sermon titled ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’ Ateek similarly condemned the ‘modern-day Herods’ in Israel - a reference to the evil king who the New Testament says slaughtered the babies of Bethlehem in an attempt to murder the newborn Jesus. In another sermon, Ateek portrays Israelis as having ‘shut off the Palestinians in a tomb . . . similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus' tomb.’

“In Ateek's metaphorical telling, in other words, Israel is guilty of trying to murder Jesus as an infant, of killing Jesus on the cross, and of seeking to prevent his resurrection.”

Ateek’s chairing a panel discussion—right after the interfaith service—entitled “The Apartheid Paradigm: A Challenge to Promoting Justice.” It “examines the moral issues of confronting and dismantling apartheid-like policies in Israel-Palestine.” Evidently old-style antisemitism is “moral.”

21 October 2007 - ISM vs. the two-state solution

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has issued a lengthy press release denouncing the OneVoice movement, which aims to unite people all over the world in support of the two-state solution. According to the ISM, OneVoice “equate[s] the occupier with the occupied” and that it “do[es] not recognize Israel’s ongoing violations of international law”—i.e. it does not privilege Palestinian violations.

The ISM, while supposedly embracing non-violence, has defended Palestinian violence on a number of occasions. It has also been accused of actual involvement with terror (which it denies). A few of its activists have lost their lives—most famously, Rachel Corrie, who was accidentally killed by an IDF bulldozer in 2003 and whose death continues to be used for anti-Israel propaganda purposes.

Without delving into these controversies, the press release speaks for itself. The ISM is clearly hostile to any approach to the conflict that does not seek to blame and target Israel. Its fulminations about human rights and international law are entirely one-sided. Its call for a boycott of OneVoice smacks of jealousy and would seem to confirm it as a radical fringe group that is opposed to the two-state solution.

20 October 2007

20 October 2007 - BOKKE!

An amazing victory for South Africa.

From the very worst news to the very best.

What a country.

19 October 2007

18 October 2007 - LUCKY DUBE: IN MEMORIAM

I can’t say “Rest In Peace.” I’m ANGRY. What kind of sick society lets this happen?

“Taxman” by Lucky Dube

I pay my gardener
To clean up my garden
I pay my doctor
To check out da other ting
I pay my lawyer
To fight for my rights
And I pay my bodyguard
To guard my body
There' s only one man I pay
But I don' t know what I' m paying for
I' m talking about the taxman x3

Chorus: (x4)
What have you done for me lately
Mr taxman

You take from the rich
Take from the poor
You even take from me
Can' t understand it now
I pay for the police
To er...I don' t know why
'Cause if my dollar was good enough
There wouldn' t be so much crime
In the streets

They tell me you' re a fat man
And you always take and
Never give

18 October 2007

18 October 2007 - The show must go on

Today was an international day of demonstrations of support for the two-state solution, organized in part by , a global network of activists that is trying to unite moderates against Israeli and Palestinian extremists. One of the featured events was to have been a pair of concerts tonight by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams in the Palestinian city of Jericho and the Israeli metropolis of Tel Aviv.

Violent extremists being what they are, the Jericho concert soon received serious threats and was canceled. The organizers then decided to cancel the Tel Aviv concert, too, in “solidarity.” I have to ask: “solidarity” with what? I understand that it might seem unfair play a peace concert in Israel and not in the Palestinian territories, but the extremists have been double the victory they hoped for.

Terrorism and the radical ideologies that accompany it can only be overcome when moderates are brave enough to stand up to it. Going through with the Tel Aviv concert would have sent a message to Palestinians that it is ultimately up to them to get rid of the violent extremism in their midst. “The show must go on” is the cardinal

17 October 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Weeks 5 & 6

There has been a bit of progress, perhaps, in our class discussions over the past two weeks. Last week (week 5) we began our discussion of international law and Israel’s post-1967 occupation. We considered the relevant provisions of the Hague Convention of 1907 (§ 43 – on the occupier’s duty to respect pre-existing laws unless “absolutely prevented”) as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 (§ 49(6) – on the deportation and transfer of persons into occupied territory).

Israel’s interpretations of these conventions and their applicability (or not) to the territories have been controversial. Our readings included material by Eyal Benvenisti and David Kretzmer, who explored Israel’s arguments and the critical responses to them. We did not, however, read any official Israeli sources.

The Israeli argument did get a fair hearing in class. I challenged the focus on the issue, however, saying that this was one area where I felt the political questions were more important than the legal questions. The shape of a final peace settlement, the geopolitics of the region, the failures of Palestinian institution-building—all these were more important for the future on both sides.

The discussion in the seminar eventually broke down into an argument over whether Israeli settlements had made the two-state solution unviable. I disagreed with many of the comments, and simply asked why a Palestinian state would have to be Judenrein, pointing out that respect for minority rights would help Palestinian nation-building. One of the pro-Palestinian students actually agreed.

This week (week 6), we began with a lecture by a visiting Israeli academic who used Edward Said’s “Orientalism” to argue that discrimination against Mizrachi Jews was integral to Zionism and even caused much of the Arab-Israeli conflict. People were seemingly seduced by this re-telling of Israel’s history as a quotation-mark-riddled, ironical farce, another version of white-versus black, settler-versus native.

Few Mizrachi Jews, however, would agree with anything this person said. (There was an Israeli fellow among the auditors who wished to say something, but was not allowed to, though auditors certainly have been allowed to speak before.)

I happened upon an article by Meyrav Wurmser, who wrote the following response to the phenomenon of radical Mizrachi post-Zionism in the Middle East Quarterly:

“The Mizrahi post-Zionist allegations about the systemic ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic discrimination that marked much of Israeli society in its early years are truthful. The claim that Mizrahim continue to live the consequences of this type of discrimination is not a distortion. The examples they point to are neither fabricated nor taken out of context . . .

“With this in mind, the post-Zionist Mizrahi radical rejection of Zionism and the Israeli state is the wrong medicine for the disease. Rejecting Zionism is opting for a solution that is outside the Israeli political system. Such a solution will contribute little to solving the existing problems of Israeli society and its Mizrahi population. Destroying the state of Israel will not make the Mizrahim more equal or accepted by either Jewish or Arab societies.

“Taking a radical stand against the state of Israel means that the post-Zionists undermine the achievements and accomplishments of Mizrahim in Israel. Years of Mizrahi history in the Jewish state are dismissed by the post-Zionists as atypical or unimportant. Their many successes are ignored and belittled. In so doing, the post-Zionist Mizrahi writers portray the members of their community as the passive object of history. They are forever the victims, too weak to rebel and too naive to fight the system.

“Moreover, much of the post-Zionist Mizrahi outlook is based on nostalgic reminiscences of the Arab world rather than an unsentimental view of what it was then and now . . . . This exposes yet another weakness in the post-Zionist argument: the assumption that the Arab-Israeli conflict is one-sided and is only the result of the manipulations of Zionism. The post-Zionists Mizrahi writers forget that the Arab world continues to play a role in the conflict. The Arab world's version of Arab nationalism was inspired since its creation by both fascism and Islamic fundamentalism—two movements which have by no means been kind to Jews. Modern Arab nationalism—and not "Ashkenazi" Zionism—is no less responsible for the conflict between Arabs and Israelis. . . . The so-called liberation of the Mizrahi Jews will only expose them to new forms of oppression.”

I mentioned in the class that several of my relatives have married Mizrachis, many of my best Israeli friends are Mizrachis, and the issue of discrimination has never surfaced at all. I take that not as evidence of some kind of denial but simply of the fact that Jewish identity in both Israel and the Diaspora has become more open and dynamic over the years, despite some lingering internal tensions and resentments.

Also, Mizrachi Jews are generally intensely patriotic. Wurmser notes:

“Perhaps the greatest difficulty with the post-Zionist agenda stems from the fact that its proponents lack a substantial following among the Mizrahim in Israel. Mizrahim tend not only to view themselves as ardent Zionists, but they also tend to hold religious and nationalist views that lead them to support the Israeli Right in national elections. Perhaps rooted in their families' past experiences, most hold an antagonistic view of the Arab world and find the attempt to define them as Arab Jews rather than as Israelis insulting.”

Anyway, after that, we returned to the discussion of international law and talked about Israel’s regulatory changes in the West Bank, some of which allowed Israel to collect value-added taxes and customs duties on Palestinian exports. Israel’s critics argue that these duties were not spent on the direct needs of the Palestinian people, and that despite the improvement in standards of living from 1967-87 the Palestinians should have benefited from money collected ostensibly on their behalf.

It’s a strong and valid criticism, certainly on moral grounds. Let me be clear: I think the withholding of tax receipts from a terror-supporting government like Arafat’s Palestinian Authority or Hamas in Gaza is totally appropriate. There were also domestic and international political constraints on vast public spending by Israel in the territories. Even so, Israel’s fiscal policy there over the years is hard to defend.

Yet was it legally wrong? Or, more precisely, did Israel violate the Hague regulations by changing the pre-existing Jordanian regulatory system? One argument is that the Hague regulations were meant to be read narrowly. Israel’s courts had ruled that any changes had to be for the benefit of the occupied population, but even that went beyond the strict requirements of international law.

If the definition of a “benevolent” occupation would require the active creation of a thriving, semi-autonomous, economically independent Palestinian proto-state, then Israel would be found wanting. But if Israel’s only legal responsibility was to do no harm, then it had not violated international law in its economic policies in the territories, whatever their other flaws.

By now, I have run out of patience with the readings, many of which are just anti-Israel babble. And we have yet to devote significant attention—legal, political, moral or otherwise—to Palestinian behavior or the role of Arab states over the past sixty years. Aspects of this class continue to be intensely frustrating. However, I am encouraged by some of the opinions and responses of my classmates.

16 October 2007

16 October 2007 - Israel's constitutional moment

The Knesset is about to begin a series of weekly discussions on a new constitution, and Shahar Ilan at Ha’aretz provides a summary of what’s on the table. It appears that the discussions will focus on the religious-secular issues that have held up the constitutional process for decades. But there is not much discussion of Arab concerns, nor is there much being said about reining in Knesset supremacy.

It would be interesting to attend some of these sessions now that the discussions are being in earnest. However, I’m not sure the Knesset is the right forum for constitutional negotiations, especially since it is part of the problem. Also, the Arab parties are planning to boycott. Careful leadership will be needed to ensure that this will not be a missed chance to place Israeli democracy on firmer foundations.

15 October 2007

15 October 2007 - Et tu, Tutu? Tutu, too

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will be the keynote speaker at an upcoming conference in Boston entitled: “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Issues of Justice and Equality.” The conference, quite naturally, is being held on a Friday night and Saturday, thus minimizing the presence of observant Jews. (Despite this, the host institution, the Old South Church, claims that it “Engages Three Faiths.”)

Tutu will arrive in Boston having provoked yet another pseudo-free speech fight, this time at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, which “disinvited” Tutu after consulting with Jewish leaders who expressed concern about Tutu’s views. At the behest of the Anti-Defamation League—one of the villains of the so-called “Israel lobby”—the university renewed its invitation to Tutu to speak.

The involvement of the ADL in the Tutu affair has not stopped Israel-haters from rolling out the usual nonsense about censorship, which is one way to make bogus views seem worth defending. Yet for all the many good things that Tutu stands for, his views on Israel are condemnable. In a 2002 article, for example, Tutu compared “the Jewish lobby” to “Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin.”

Tutu will preside over the conference, which will kick off on Oct. 26 with anti-Israel propaganda films, a “teach-in” about the evils of Christian Zionism and a discussion featuring John Dugard et al. on “the apartheid paradigm.” The circus will continue on Oct. 27, featuring Noam Chomsky and friends, punctuated by interfaith services and culminating in an anti-Israel demonstration billed as a “peace rally.”

I am disappointed in Tutu. In the anti-apartheid struggle, and on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he stood for the idea that the weaker party in a conflict must obey the same moral principles as the stronger party, or else everything it is fighting for will unravel. It is a lesson the Palestinians have not yet learned, and the reason ugly measures like the security barrier have become necessary.

Tutu frequently compares Israel to apartheid South Africa—a stupid and malicious analogy, referred to by international law expert John Strawson as a “wholly inaccurate analogy . . . which was mobilized for Soviet Foreign policy interests and not in the interests of the Middle East.” Tutu’s participation in the conference will lend legitimacy to the analogy and promote conflict instead of peace. It’s a disgrace.

14 October 2007 - Nusseibeh and Pogrund visit Harvard

Last Wednesday night, Harvard’s New Society Journal hosted a discussion with Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh and INSPIRE (Tufts University) Global Fellow Benjamin Pogrund. The topic was “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Challenges of Moderation,” and a strong crowd of about ninety students, faculty and community members turned out to hear their views on the prospects of peace.

Pogrund spoke about his experiences as a journalist in apartheid South Africa, where he was the deputy editor for the Rand Daily Mail, one of the most important anti-government newspapers of the time. He contrasted the Israeli-Palestinian situation with apartheid but concluding that if South Africa’s seemingly intractable problems could be solved, there was hope for Israel and Palestine as well.

Nusseibeh spoke about the ways in which both Israelis and Palestinians had historically shut down members of their community who wished to reach out to the other side. He said that what moderates could offer was a kind of intersubjectivity, inviting people to challenge their ideas of who they are and what they believe—not to change who they were, but to encourage them to open up to each other.

The questions that followed were very interesting. One member of the audience, an Orthodox Jew, asked Nusseibeh if Palestinians were willing to give up the right of return. He replied that Palestinians had a right of return, but that it had to be weighed against the right to freedom and independence. Morally as well as practically, he said, Palestinians had to choose the latter over the former.

Another Jewish student stood up and asked why the event had been co-sponsored by two pro-Israel groups on campus but no Arab or Palestinian groups. Before the panelists could answer, an Arab student jumped up and said that the campus Arab groups had been invited but had refused because Nusseibeh “is not a moderate.” He also complained, inter alia, that New Society is funded by an Israeli think tank.

His response, though intended to be disruptive, actually illustrated the challenges of moderation quite vividly. When one side is not prepared to entertain the possibility of dialogue, moderation is a high-risk strategy. Someone asked Nusseibeh and Pogrund how Jews and Arabs in the Diaspora could help, and they both said we should try to get along with each other. Well, we’ll keep on trying.

09 October 2007

09 October 2007 - Internal and external negotiations

Over the long weekend, I read a paper provided to me by Prof. Robert Mnookin, head of the Harvard Program on Negotiation. Written by Mnookin with Ehud Eiran and Sreemati Mitter, and published in the Winter 2005/2006 edition of the Nevada Law Journal, the paper, “Barriers to Progress at the Negotiation Table: Internal Conflicts Among Israelis and Palestinians,” makes some interesting points.

After reviewing the history of the conflict as understood by the two sides, the authors describe the internal conflicts that prevent each side from making a deal. They focus on the Palestinian debates over whether to give up the “right of return,” and the Israeli arguments over the fate of the settlements. The inability to reach accord within each society, they argue, prevents progress in the peace process.

This is true to some extent, although I think it needs a few caveats. The first is that internal conflict on one side is sufficient in itself to prevent the progress of negotiations. And given that the Israeli political system has been better—perhaps by a small margin at times—at resolving these conflicts, I think the Palestinian internal conflicts have played a far more important role in obstructing peace.

Another important caveat is that internal conflict can be useful in negotiations. In my internataional negotiations class, we have learned that the degree to which a negotiator’s hands are tied—the smallness of the “win-set” of possibilities that will satisfy her constituents—can actually help her wrest concessions at the bargaining table. Too small a win-set means no deal, but a small one can move things along.

A simple way to explain the failure of the peace process thus far is that the minimum the Palestinians are willing to accept exceeds the maximum that the Israelis are willing to offer. But some portion of the Palestinian leadership is, at least theoretically, willing to accept Israel’s current terms, and it is not clear how Israel could really offer or concede much more than it has in the past.

The challenge is twofold: first, to build Palestinian institutions that are capable of negotiating these internal conflicts, and capable of delivering on commitments made during negotiations; second, to create negotiating processes and encourage leaders that are capable of turning the zone of possible agreement (where the “win-sets” overlap) into a political reality, a magnet that pulls both sides towards a deal.

08 October 2007

08 October 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 4

I have to apologize to the regular readers of this blog—yes, both of you—for being rather delinquent in recent days. The Jewish holidays, fall travel, and a slew of work and extracurricular commitments kept me quite busy. Right now I’m even busier, but I’m hoping to keep updating the blog on a more or less regular basis, and daily if possible. There certainly is a lot going on in the Middle East at the moment.

For now, back to Harvard, where last week our seminar was treated to a guest appearance by Yishai Blank, author of “Brown in Jerusalem: A Comparative Look on Race and Ethnicity in Public Schools,” 38 Urb. Law. 367 (2006). The article comparing persistent racial segregation in American schools to so-called segregation between Jewish and Arab students, and how it is dealt with in Israeli courts.

Like many of the other authors we have considered, Blank does not show actual evidence of discriminatory rulings in Israeli courts but merely a critique of the courts’ liberal judicial philosophy, which in his view is not activist enough. This, in my view, is question-begging. Blank is also an avowed Marxist for whom the questions of quality and choice in education evidently do not figure too highly.

The tired tactic that Blank and others use is to abstract a term like “segregation” from its actual definition and apply it to a completely different situation, distorting or ignoring the facts in to make the analogy fit. It’s stupid and boring and it doesn’t have anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any case, except for those who will find any reason to attack Israel and encourage others to do the same.

I’m sick of it, and there’s not much more I wish to say about it at the moment.