30 November 2007

29 November 2007 - 60 years of self-destruction

Today I attended a talk at Harvard Law School featuring Noam Chomsky (MIT), Beshara Doumani (UC-Berkeley), and Nadim Rouhana (George Mason) on “40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA.” They could also have added “20 Years Since 1987,” to mark the anniversary of the first intifada, but evidently all that matters in Palestinian history is defeat.

The message of all three panelists was the same: the Palestinians should reject Annapolis, which only serves American and Israeli interests. There were no opposing voices, though plenty of real gems emerged from the panel. At one point Chomsky said: “If a constellation of forces arose that forced the Israelis to accept the right of return, they would use their nuclear deterrent to destroy the world.”

I had never seen Chomsky speak in person before, and I came to the conclusion that he is little more than a crude propagandist. At one point he read an opinion of the “World Court” (i.e. the International Court of Justice), telling us it was unanimous. In fact what he was reading was the dissenting opinion of the American judge in the 2003 case about Israel’s security barrier. Later, he refused to acknowledge his error.

Chomsky also claimed that international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, was clear as to the illegality of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, when in fact its application to the territories is contested. He also spoke about “Israel’s murderous invasion of Lebanon”—never mind the Hizbullah attack that started it all, or the thousands of Katyusha rockets that rained down on Israel.

In quoting from Ha’aretz, Chomsky claimed it is “Israel’s leading daily,” when in fact it has roughly one-tenth the circulation of Yediot Aharonot. He cited a U.N. resolution from 1976—I am assuming it was 31/20, since he gave no citation—and claimed that it was an Arab offer of a two-state solution. In fact the resolution demands the right of return for Palestinians and fails to mention the word “Israel.”

Not content with describing Arab recognition of Israel as “unilateral,” Chomsky deliberately avoided any acknowledgment of Palestinian terrorism, and even claimed that Iran and Hamas recognize Israel and support full normalization with it. The large audience sat there in rapt attention as he wove his ghoulish fiction about how Israel and the U.S. enforce an intolerant regime of control in the region.

Next up was Beshara Doumani, who claimed recently that “the formation of a Palestinian state . . . has become the vehicle for preempting, rather than delivering, self-determination for the Palestinian people.” (Journal of Palestinian Studies, Summer 2007). Such thinking is a gift to the Israeli far-right, and a good illustration of the self-destructive role played by some Palestinian intellectuals.

Doumani claims to speak on behalf of Palestinian refugees, often representing his views as their views, and their views as the views of Palestinians as a whole. Tonight he said that “Palestinians in the occupied territories are being force-fed a state,” and that the “needs, desires, and rights of Palestinians are being excluded from the conversation” about Palestinian statehood at Annapolis.

Not that he’s against the two-state solution, mind you: “Partition and ethnic cleansing have shaped the political map of the modern world,” after all, he claimed. No, he said—he’s indifferent to the precise form of the solution; he just cares about the “concept of the Palestinian political community,” which he says has been steadfastly rejected by “the Zionist movement,” the UK and the US.

He acknowledged that “[t]he Palestinians have tolerated successive leaderships that have made strategic blunders” – but by this he meant “acquiescence” in the various peace processes with Israel. He ranted on about the Balfour declaration and such, and added that “Palestinians have the right to use any means necessary including force” to resist Israel, though he claimed—of course—to support non-violence.

Last up was Rouhana, who claimed: “Israel as society and state is becoming ready to commit crimes against humanity on a scale that exceeds what is happening now. They are ready, prepared, and willing to do that.” He claimed that Israel has always sought an “exclusive” Jewish state, that it is perpetrating “ethnic cleansing” by subsidizing Jewish settlement in the Galilee, and planning more nefarious acts.

He acknowledged Israel’s achievements, but claimed they “could not have been done without force and violence.” Whether Zionism itself was racist was immaterial, he said: in practical terms it consisted of “fear and threat, an ideology of exclusive ethnic privilege, expressed in a racist form on the ground.” The solution? “We have to de-colonize Israel within the pre-1967 borders, and after the 1967 borders.”

The occupation would not end, he claimed, because Israel’s interpretation of the Holocaust was such that Jews either needed Palestinian recognition, or else to control all Palestinians. The upshot: “There is simply no way that Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Maybe Palestinians could recognize the right of Israeli Jews to a state, but not Jews as such. So occupation and violence it is.

At the end of this appalling hate-fest, which packed the largest lecture hall at the Law School, the floor was opened for a few questions. One timid fellow asked about the potential of joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts such as OneVoice. Chomsky replied that the work of Machsom Watch and Anarchists Against the Wall—two tiny, marginal groups focused entirely on opposing Israeli policies—was more important.

I raised my point about the neglect of the intifada. “You failed to mention the anniversary of one of the formative moments in the history of Palestinian nationalism. Israel didn’t erase it from memory; you did, here tonight.” I added that their version of the Palestinian cause matched what George Orwell called a “negative nationalism”—one defined entirely in opposition to another nation.

“Is there any event in the past sixty years that you would identify as something the Palestinians did themselves, a moment when the Palestinians were the agents of history instead of its passive victims?” The answers I got were really poor. Chomsky just rattled on about the first intifada; Rouhana claimed the Palestinian calendar celebrated “resistance”; Doumani said my question was “disingenuous.”

The group that organized this Two Hours’ Hate is HLS Justice for Palestine, also known as the JFP (or is it the PFJ? Or the JPF?) Tomorrow, ironically, JFP was to have hosted a lecture by Professor J. Lorand Matory, where he was to have explained how criticism of Israel is stifled on campus. The lecture was postponed, however. Perhaps Matory is hiding somewhere, “trembling in fear.”

28 November 2007

28 November 2007 - Who's Really Trembling?

From today's Harvard Crimson:

Who’s Really Trembling?

Published On Wednesday, November 28, 2007 12:22 AM

Anthropology and African-American studies professor J. Lorand Matory ’82 thinks so. At a recent Faculty meeting, he proposed that Harvard reaffirm “civil dialogue,” arguing that critics of Israel “tremble in fear” on campus.

In fear of what, one wonders—becoming a bestselling author at the Harvard Coop?

Nine months ago, I started a student journal entitled “New Society: Harvard College Student Middle East Journal,” with the aim of creating a more constructive dialogue on campus about the future of the region. The journal was inspired by a Harvard Hillel trip to Israel last winter. I was determined to include a variety of perspectives, so before I approached Harvard Students for Israel or any other Jewish groups on campus, I asked several Muslim and Arab students to contribute articles to the journal.

But I was met with little success: Many Muslim and Arab students preferred not to publish their views, fearing the threat of reprisal.

An Iranian student who had privately expressed opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declined to write, saying he preferred to “lay low” for fear of political consequences back home.

Another Iranian-American student backed out after sending me several articles about Iranian academics based in the U.S. who had been arrested on visits to Tehran. One such academic, Haleh Esfandiari, on a visit to her elderly mother, was detained for eight months and charged with crimes against “national security.” The student told me he feared the same fate and worried about what would become of his family if he ever expressed his views about Iran’s theocratic regime.

Similarly, an Arab student who was approached to speak about the situation in Darfur refused, saying that he was certain some of his compatriots at Harvard would report back home about his activities abroad and that he feared being arrested or harassed by his country’s security services.

And one of our writers, Chia N. Mustafa ’09, was told by a poster on the journal’s website that he belonged to “the rank of traitors” and for writing an article advocating independence for Kurdistan.

So when Matory claims that people at Harvard “tremble in fear” because of their views on the Middle East, he is half-right.

But it is not critics of Israel who live in fear at Harvard. Rather, it is students and faculty from the Arab and Muslim world who feel they must censor their criticisms of autocracy and human rights abuses in their home countries.

As an editor, I have yet to encounter a student—Jewish, Muslim, Christian or otherwise—who is the least bit afraid of criticizing Israel in public or in print.

Criticism of Israel is, in fact, ubiquitous at Harvard.

At Harvard Law School, Professor Duncan Kennedy—who has no expertise in international law or Middle East studies—is teaching a seminar on legal issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The course focuses almost exclusively on Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights. Kennedy is the faculty advisor for the “Justice For Palestine” group at HLS, and has flown in radical critics of Israel, at Harvard’s expense, for guest lectures. Nobody has contested his right to criticize Israel in the classroom.

Harvard also hosts programs on the Middle East in which Israeli input is minimized or excluded at the behest of Arab sponsors: yesterday’s Harvard Middle East North Africa Conference, for example, invited various Arab student groups to participate but has failed to include any of the Israel groups on campus. The Kennedy School of Government hosts the Dubai Initiative, which is sponsored by a government that denies Israelis—and only Israelis—the right to enter its borders, even as tourists.

Last May, Armenian studies professor James R. Russell was disinvited from a Harvard-sponsored exhibition of Iranian propaganda posters because he had compared them to those of the Soviet Union. Some of the Iranians involved in the conference were apparently worried that comparing their country to an atheist state might provoke Ahmadinejad’s thought police.

Even at Harvard, critics of Iran and other undemocratic regimes in the Muslim and Arab world fear for their lives and liberty. In contrast, the worst that an anti-Israel activist like Matory has to worry about is a letter to the editor in The Harvard Crimson expressing an opposing view.

Is that enough to make a critic of Israel “tremble in fear”? Fear of embarrassment, perhaps, if that criticism is ill-informed and demonstrably inaccurate.

The faculty must reject Matory’s motion when it comes to a vote next month. The motion is not about protecting free speech, but privileging anti-Israel criticism, justified or not. In most Middle Eastern countries, the only permitted form of protest is criticism of Israel. Harvard must not allow itself to become the Western outpost of this false freedom.

Julia I. Bertelsmann ’09 is an economics concentrator in Eliot House. She is editor-in-chief of “New Society: Harvard College Student Middle East Journal.”

27 November 2007

27 November 2007 - An agreement to agree

The Annapolis peace process has begun. With a joint document agreed to by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and read by President George W. Bush, the two sides did not make history, but perhaps made history possible. Annapolis itself was symbolic; the real drama lay behind the scenes. A more intense drama now lies ahead, as negotiators race to meet their self-imposed deadline of “the end of 2008.”

Nothing of substance has changed, but there are key procedural changes that could have a profound impact on the eventual outcome. One is the deadline, which coincides with Bush’s lame-duck days. Another is that the United States is to be the sole judge of progress on the Middle East road map—which, let us recall, was proposed by the U.S. in the first place. Peace is now America’s responsibility.

It is a heavy burden—and one that the Bush Administration may not be ready for. When W came into office, the core of his foreign policy was in essence to do the opposite of what Clinton had done. Bush’s advisers viewed Clinton’s active involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with particular disdain. Now they’re hanging his legacy on the same fragile hope. It’s quite a striking irony.

This time, it might actually work—and the reason is simple: Israel can now impose a unilateral settlement anyway. Not a solution entirely to its liking, and certainly not great from a Palestinian point of view, but a solution nonetheless, at least in the near term. This is an alternative to negotiation Israel didn’t have before, and it takes away the Palestinian option of violence as a means of wresting concessions.

Beyond the real challenges of compromises on Jerusalem and refugees—more a challenge in terms of the internal politics on both sides than in terms of the relations between the two—there is the fundamental problem of the Palestinian failure to build the institutions of a self-governing and successful society. That’s where new Palestinian leaders have to step in. If they don’t, unilateralism is it.

26 November 2007 - Raise the flag of hope

OK guys, let’s really get it done tomorrow. As skeptical as I am about Annapolis, I have to hope that this will be the meeting that finally does it. Bradley Burston makes the point in Ha’aretz: if the experts are always wrong, and they’re all predicting a terrible failure in Annapolis, then things are looking good. I don’t think things are quite so easy (and, I suspect, neither does he). But why not?

The best sign of hope is the fact that the Iranians are suddenly waking up and doing their damndest to stop anything from succeeding in Annapolis. Good! Long may the Iranian sirens wail. Some Arab states are still desperate to avoid any semblance of normal contact with Israel—e.g. handshakes—but interest may eventually prevail over decades of self-defeating violence and delusion. Let’s hope!

25 November 2007

25 November 2007 - South Africa gets the call, but not the point

A controversy has erupted in South Africa over a cartoon drawn by Zapiro, one of the nation’s most talented editorial cartoonists. The cartoon (below) mocks organized religion, setting belief in God equal to belief in Satan. It is a response to a controversy over the sacking of a columnist at an Afrikaans newspaper after he wrote an article arguing that Satanists were entitled to religious freedom.

The cartoon is pretty offensive, and is drawing the ire of the Muslim community because it depicts Allah. Zapiro probably did this on purpose, having taken a stand against the protestors in the Danish cartoon affair several months ago. Ironically, Muslim anti-Israel propagandists in South Africa have long made use of Zapiro’s largely ill-informed cartoons attacking the State of Israel, such as the one below:

What is most offensive to me about the anti-religious cartoon above is not that Zapiro depicts various deities, but that he tries to evade responsibility with his comment at the end: “P.S. SEND ANSWERS TO RAPPORT EDITOR TIM DU PLESSIS – NOT TO THIS CARTOONIST!” It may be tongue-in-cheek, but cartoonists (or bloggers, for that matter) are not above public criticism.

When it comes to the Middle East, the South African government shows a similar tendency to evade responsibility. It was the only democratically-elected government to argue against Israel at the International Court of Justice in 2003, yet it pleaded that this should not harm South Africa-Israel relations. Similarly, it has extended a hand of friendship to Hamas, and yet wonders why it is regarded as “unhelpful.”

Now the United States has grudgingly—at the behest of the Arab bloc, perhaps—sent a late invitation to South Africa to join the Annapolis peace talks. No doubt President Thabo Mbeki will wish to attend himself. Like Bush, he’s a lame duck looking for a legacy. (Which reminds me—Bush is now doing exactly what Clinton sought to do: achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace before leaving office. How ironic.)

The message that South Africa needs to get from reports such as UN Watch’s Dawn of a New Era? is that there are diplomatic consequences for coddling terrorists, and that doing so also has negative consequences for the peace process. Noah Pollak (no relation) has written a good blog entry about this. I’m not sure South Africa gets the message. I’m sorry to say that its participation may be a bad omen for Annapolis.

24 November 2007 - Human rights activist arrested in terrible mistake

Hillel Neuer, of UN Watch, was arrested earlier this month in Needham, MA by police who responded to hysterical calls from restaurant patrons who mistook him for a wanted man (who was, at the same time, being arrested somewhere else). The Boston Globe account makes it clear Neuer was lucky to escape alive. The picture below is from the Boston Herald. (Neuer was later released and the charges were dropped.)

You might recall that Neuer is the man who gave that stirring speech condemning the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year:

The next time anyone tells you that American police are part of some conspiracy to get Muslims or whatever, remember this: they arrested an Orthodox Jew--a Zionist, no less, in broad daylight, in middle America.

UPDATE: The post originally referred to Hillel Neuer as a representative of Human Rights Watch. This was a slip-up on my part; he is, of course, the Executive Director of UN Watch.

23 November 2007

23 November 2007 - Are the Palestinians bidding low?

An interesting article by Amira Hass in today's Ha'aretz suggests that the Palestinians are bidding too low by not insisting on a freeze on settlement activity in their draft of the document/statement that is to come out of the Annapolis talks next week.

Funny, but Israelis seem to think their government is also aiming low. Are these analyses on target? Do they reflect pessimism nurtured by years of disappointment and failure? Or do they, just maybe, suggest the possibility that both sides may actually be close to reaching a real agreement? We'll know soon enough, I suppose.

The Hass article is useful, even if you disagree with her, because it has good links to a number of pre-Annapolis conference documents.

22 November 2007

22 November 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 10

This week was basically a continuation of the last. We had intended to focus on the legality of Israeli responses to Palestinian terror. The professor had even tried to invite a couple of Israeli experts to speak about the issue, but none could make it. So discussion revolved, once again, around a series of hypothetical questions:

The first was: would it be justified for Palestinians to kill Israeli civilians in order to lure an Israeli military patrol to an area, where the soldiers could then be killed? I briefly considered refusing to answer the question. It seems we're on a desperate search to find a way to justify Palestinian terror against Israelis.

This hypothetical was joined to another: Would it be justified for Israel to attack a building in which there were known to be twenty Palestinian guerilla fighters, if there were also twenty civilians inside the building? In other words, was anyone willing to justify the killing of civilians in one circumstance and not the other?

This was clearly a trap, but a rather clumsy one, and I wasn't taking the bait. When the professor was asked to elaborate on his first hypothetical, he added the assumption that the Israeli patrol would kill 100 civilians in retaliation if they were not stopped. I interjected and asked the professor whether he could think of a single case in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where this had actually happened. He could not, and said he had been thinking of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, or Iraq.

I didn't bother to ask about the second situation, where the setup is realistic but the choice is not. Faced with the question of whether to kill large numbers of civilians in order to hit a terrorist target, Israel usually decides not to fire. I can think of a few exceptions, especially in the Second Lebanon War, but there are many known cases (and doubtless many unknown ones) where Israel has held back.

I took the view that in neither case is killing civilians justified. In the second situation, one might allow for the killing of civilians in the midst of a desperate war, but under most circumstances one would first need to know whether it would be possible to arrest the guerilla fighters, to surround the house, et cetera. The terrorists want Israel to kill Palestinian civilians almost as much as they themselves wish to kill Israelis, and Israel shouldn't oblige.

There are actually some interesting and nuanced attempts to deal with these issues in the case history of the High Court of Israel (subject of an interesting article by Isabel Kershner in today's New York Times), but we didn't bother with any of that. Nor did we address the High Court's decisions on the route of the security barrier, subject of another hypo.

Here, we were asked: is the "wall" permissible in order to protect the lives of Israeli settlers--never mind Israelis in pre-1967 Israel? The corect reponse is that it is, but the extent to which it is may depend on a proportionality test that weighs the lives saved against the cost to the Palestinians. That's partly why the barrier doesn't encircle every remote settlement.

This response, given by one of my fellow students, was mocked as an acceptance of the proportionality test that the same student had allegedly rejected when denying that Palestinians had the right to kill Israeli civilians. She started to defend herself but in the end seemed to decide it wasn't worth the trouble.

Later, a self-proclaimed pacifist who nevertheless was the only person in the entire class to justify outright the killing of Israeli civilians went on a tirade against the security barrier, claiming that international law recognized the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem. By then I'd had enough and interjected that he was wrong. The professor gave me the last word in the discussion but at this point it had just become silly.

If I've let on a bit more than usual about the substance of our classroom discussions, that's because I think they've crossed the line. We're no longer discussing legal issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--indeed, people who bring the law into the discussion are immediately put on the defensive.

Instead, we're asking, in effect: "Under what circumstances would it be OK for Palestinians to kill Israelis, and under what circumstances would it NOT be OK for Israelis to kill Palestinians?" Not only is this completely unproductive as far as the search for peace goes, but the morbid bias against Israel makes my stomach turn.

20 November 2007

20 November 2007 - The buildup to Annapolis

I have written embarrassingly little—given the focus of this blog—about the upcoming Annapolis peace conference, which is shaping up to be the most significant attempt at Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy since the Camp David conference in 2000. Though much is still murky about the conference and its agenda, the preparations look much more thorough and careful this time around.

However, the Israelis seem unclear as to what they actually want to achieve at Annapolis. One moment, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trumpeting the conference as a chance to grasp the reins of history; the next, he is trying to downplay expectations that anything will be achieved beyond an agreement on the basic framework of future negotiations towards a final settlement of the conflict.

The Palestinians are also playing cat-and-mouse, refusing to accept the principle of Israel’s right to exist as a specifically Jewish state. Perhaps they’re just posturing, but if they are serious then the conflict really is back to square one. They’re also insisting on the 1967 borders, which means going back on much of what’s been agreed over the past several attempts at peacemaking between the two sides.

I spoke recently to an Israeli policy analyst who pointed out that the Palestinians have an incentive to set Annapolis up as an “all-or-nothing” conference, where the final package of agreements has to be accepted or rejected in its entirety. This, he said, is a reversion to old Palestinian strategy—the same method that brought on the second intifada—except this time the blame might fall heaviest on the Israelis.

If it does, he suggested, then the Palestinians will push forward with their plan B: declaring Israel to be an apartheid state, and insisting on the one-state solution as the only feasible option for the future of the region. I’m not entirely convinced that would happen, or that it would be devastating to Israel if it did, because the Israeli plan B in the form of the security barrier is a more mutually beneficial last resort.

Still, failure at Annapolis might be more costly than the Israelis anticipated, and it doesn’t help that there are a whole bunch of paleocons running around telling everyone how important it is that Israel offer major concessions. Also, while the invitations offered to other Arab states are being hailed, past experience suggests they may goad each other into hard-line positions rather than pushing for peace.

It will be interesting to see what develops over the next week or so, and at the conference itself, which is due to start on the 27th. Natan Sharansky is coming to Harvard the day before the conference, and I’m sure he’ll have interesting insights, as usual. This could be a great historical moment, or a total disaster, or a damp squib, as previous conferences have been. I'll keep posting on it in the days to come.

19 November 2007

19 November 2007 - In memoriam: Abe Barron

My good friend Abe Barron succumbed to cancer yesterday in Cape Town after a long and brave fight. Abe was a prominent leader in the South African Jewish community as well as a successful businessman. He took an interest in my career when I was a freelance journalist and was a constant ally in political debates within the Jewish community and in the broad cut-and-thrust of South African politics.

When I began working for the opposition Democratic Alliance as a speechwriter, Abe was a constant source of advice and support. We often shared ideas and gossip about policies and personalities. When I ran for city council in 2006 as a “flag-waver” in an unwinnable seat, Abe was so committed to an opposition victory that he pledged to match whatever funds I raised for my campaign. And he did.

Abe was that rarity in Jewish communal politics: a man who believed that Jewish leaders should stand up for the community’s values and interests even (and especially) when doing so might be risky or unpopular. He challenged the lethargy and apathy of his colleagues, often earning their ire but always commanding their respect. He was a maverick who delivered, a dreamer who got things done.

When I think of Abe there is one phrase that always leaps to mind: “Maybe they could do something.” He was always interested in new voices and emerging leaders. He was a strong supporter of Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille long before she announced her candidacy. He was a DA man but non-partisan in his enthusiasm for skill, talent and commitment. South African politics needed more men like Abe.

I will miss him dearly. I will miss our coffees and lunches at Café Riteve. I will miss our long telephone conversations. I will miss our dinners together at the High Holidays. There are many, many more people who will miss him as well. I thought to use a Biblical phrase to mourn him: “How the mighty have fallen.” But Abe might have found that a bit too much. So let me just say he was a great Jewish citizen.

18 November 2007 - Say what?

Anthony Julius begins his review of Ruth Wisse’s Jews and Power in the New York Times with this awful paragraph:

Ruth Wisse has written a book on a topic that excites a great deal of attention now, but she has written it from an unusual perspective. Her book is not about the power that Israel exercises over the Palestinians, nor is it about the power that the “Israel lobby” is commonly thought to exercise over United States foreign policy. Israel and the “lobby” now tend to be regarded in Europe and perhaps also, but to a lesser extent, in the United States, as Jewish projects inimical to the causes of justice and international security. A new book on either of these topics would be but a minor addition to a substantial industry — that Israel oppresses Palestinians by denying them a state, and oppresses Americans by denying them control over their state, has become the received wisdom of the times.

Say what?

I am reminded that Mearsheimer and Walt claim that "the balance of opinion clearly favors Israel" in the Times and elsewhere.

UPDATE Nov. 19: The comments below have it exactly right--almost. I see now that I read far too much into the opening paragraph of Julius's review. Point taken, and duly noted. However, I think Julius concedes far too much to the views he criticizes. Among whom, for example, is Israeli oppression of America "the received wisdom of the times"? A marginal few, I would venture, even today.

Second update: Well, when you're wrong, you're wrong, and I guess I hit a foul ball here. I never meant to suggest that Julius himself held those views, only that his introduction was ill-conceived, and perhaps all too easily embraced by the editorial staff at the Times. Let me be more specific about my objection to the opening, however: it reads as if it could be a disclaimer to what follows. Wisse's views are often treated in this way--as if some prophylactic rhetoric is needed to protect the author from being associated with her forbidden ideological category. Taking the criticisms below into account, it may be unfair to imagine this is what Julius was doing. But that's how I read the review at first--albeit very early in the morning, which may account for my trigger-happiness.

14 November 2007

15 November 2007 - "The Al-Dura hoax is over"

There are lots of crazy conspiracy theories out there. What’s even crazier is that some of them are true. Take Philippe Karsenty, an independent media activist who claimed that the famous television footage of Israeli soldiers shooting a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammad Al-Dura, as he cowered behind his father was a fraud. He was successfully sued for libel by the French network France 2, which originally aired the footage.

Karsenty refused to give up. “The Al-Dura scene is very important, because it became an icon of hatred. It was the starting point of the delegitimization of Israel. We cannot give up on this issue, because this image became a postage stamp all over the Muslim world. It’s a square all of the world; it’s a street; it’s an image which created hatred against Israel, the Jews and the Western World.”

Hardly anyone, not even the Israeli government, bought his story at first, so shell-shocked they were by the sudden global hostility to the Jewish state. But secondary investigations cast doubt on the theory that Al-Dura was killed by Israeli soldiers. And today, after the raw footage was viewed in public for the first time in a French appeals court, there are doubts that Al-Dura was even killed at all.

In a crowded courtroom, France 2 and journalist Charles Enderlin humiliated themselves and vindicated Karsenty’s claims. HonestReporting and the Spectator were there, as was Richard Landes; HR also conducted interviews after the event. Though some in the courtroom still believed the boy was killed, his death is never shown on film, nor are there any images of Israeli soldiers shooting in his direction.

On the contrary, there is ample footage showing other apparent “Pallywood” special effects, put on for the benefit of the cameraman looking for propaganda to feed to his eager editor. Interestingly, France 2 did not reveal the full extent of the raw footage, providing only 18 minutes of the expected 27. HR speculates that this might lead to legal action against the network. What a turn of events that would be.

What really happened to Al-Dura? We don't know. Until we do, Philippe Karsenty seems to have vindicated not only Israel’s cause but the cause of independent media activism. He has, at least, destroyed the “one-Jew” argument used to dismiss claims of media bias (i.e. if only one Jew complained it can’t be too bad).

The final judgment will be delivered on February 27. But the last word may yet belong to Karsenty, who claims: “The Al-Dura hoax is over.”

13 November 2007

14 November 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 8 & 9

For the past two weeks, Harvard Law School’s seminar on legal issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has considered the question of Palestinian terror. Is it OK to kill Israeli soldiers? How about Israeli civilians? What’s an Israeli civilian, anyway? (Very killable, these Israelis.) Surely all these elite Harvard lawyers-to-be would have the legal insight and moral judgment to weigh these questions carefully.

We went around the class, canvassing opinions. On the question of whether a Palestinian guerilla fighter not wearing a uniform has the right to kill an Israeli soldier in the West Bank, 11 said yes and 4 said no. On the question of whether Palestinians can kill Israeli civilians, or whether violence against civilians is ever justified, 1 said yes and 6 said no, with 8 abstensions or “it depends” answers.

So two-thirds of the class think it’s OK for a soldier to be killed for no apparent reason other than his presence in the occupied territories, and a majority refuses to condemn violence against civilians. A majority. I brought my Qassam fragment to class today to argue against any “right” to kill, and perhaps I swayed a few “yes” votes over to the “depends” column but I don’t think I really changed anyone’s mind.

You have to be mad to believe there is a “right” to kill. Rights exist to protect human life. The only world in which a person who looks like a civilian has the “right” to kill a soldier is one in which the soldier also has the “right” to kill guerillas who look like civilians—and perhaps civilians who might be guerillas. The irony of my classmates’ position is it justifies the worst features of the Israeli occupation.

It’s also crazy to think the solution to Palestinian problems starts with the dead body of an Israeli soldier, or ferreting out illusory contradictions in international humanitarian law. In class today some pro-Palestinian activists tried to argue that the law against killing civilians applied a double-standard against Palestinians, and said that international law should not be read so strictly. Are you kidding me?

One thing I have learned from this class is that the Israeli case in human rights and international law is far stronger than I ever imagined. You just have to hear the campus’s most passionate advocates of the Palestinian cause attacking international law to understand that Israel has right as well as might on her side. Despite Professor Kennedy’s best efforts, that is what has emerged from this class.

Elsewhere on campus, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences debated a motion supporting “free speech” on campus—free anti-Israel speech, that is—based on the ridiculous claim that critics of Israel “tremble in fear” at Harvard. It’s a load of garbage, peddled by a visiting professor who knows zero about the Middle East. I handed out leaflets outside the meeting for a while. I’m sure the motion failed, but who knows?

When you can’t get a majority of the world’s brightest law students to condemn killing Israeli civilians, it’s not Israel’s critics who should live in fear.

13 November 2007 - We apologize for the inconvenience

I haven't blogged in a while - I have been extremely busy and on the road for several days. I will return to blogging this week. There's much to write but I have just been taxed beyond the limits of my endurance.

I have, in the meantime, decided to start moderating comments for this blog as there is some nut out there who is jamming my comments section.

04 November 2007

04 November 2007 - Shalom, chaver

Rabin's final speech.

01 November 2007

01 November 2007 - Hillel Neuer, Human Rights and the UN

It’s Almost Supernatural has an excellent post today about a recent address by Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch in Geneva. Neuer argued that the UN remained an important source of illegitimacy—whoops!—legitimacy, but that its hysterical obsession with Israel to the exclusion of virtually all other issues had been a disaster for the millions of victims of human rights abuses worldwide.