29 January 2009

29 January 2009 - South African minister's antisemitic rant exposed on TV

Per the suggestion of the bloggers at IAS:

Kudos to e-TV for airing the story--though they can't resist establishing a "context" of Israeli violence and Arab rage. (And what is up with the anchor's silly question: "In what way was she being antisemitic?" Huh?)

The segment features Aids activist Zackie Achmat, who along with Nathan Geffen and others spoke out against the minister several days ago. Commendable, yes--but again, IAS points out, they began their protest by attacking Israel.

What will it take for South Africa's leaders--and the human rights activists among them, who ought to know better--to simply condemn antisemitism, plain and simple?

22 January 2009

22 January 2009 - Fake Palestinian casualty figures

The truth is beginning to emerge about all those "war crimes." From the Jerusalem Post:

The number of Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead did not exceed five or six hundred, Lorenzo Cremonesi, a correspondent for Italy's Corriere della sera reported on Thursday.

Cremonesi based his report on tours of hospitals in the Gaza Strip and on interviews with families of casualties. He also assessed the number of wounded to be far lower than 5,000, the number quoted by Hamas and repeated by the UN and the Red Cross in Gaza.

"It is sufficient to visit several hospitals [in the Gaza Strip] to understand that the numbers don't add up," he wrote.

In the European hospital in Rafah, one of the facilities which would presumably be filled with wounded from the "war of the tunnels," many beds were empty, according to Cremonesi. A similar situation was noted in the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, and in the privately-run Amal Hospital Cremonesi reported that only five out 150 beds were occupied.

Cremonesi interviewed Gazans who echoed Israel's insistence of how Hamas gunmen used civilians as human shields. One Gazan recalled civilians in Gaza shouting at Hamas and Islamic Jihad men, "Go away, go away from here! Do you want the Israelis to kill us all? Do you want our children to die under their bombs? Take your guns and missiles with you."

"Traitors, collaborators with Israel, spies of Fatah, cowards! The soldiers of the holy war will punish you. And in any case you will all die, like us. Fighting the Zionist Jews we are all destined for paradise. Do you not wish to die with us?" the religious fanatics of Hamas reportedly responded.

Other Palestinians told Cremonesi of Hamas operatives donning paramedic uniforms and commandeering ambulances. A woman identified as Um Abdullah, 48, spoke of Hamas using UN buildings as launch pads for rockets.

Cremonesi reported that he had difficultly gathering evidence as the local population was terrified of Hamas.

22 January 2009 - Obama's first call: Mahmoud Abbas

It should go without saying that support for the Palestinians and support for Israel are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Indeed, if you really believe in the two-state solution, you have to believe that the right thing to do is support both as they move towards peace.

At the same time, it's clear that the Obama administration wants to send a signal--not just about its commitment to the peace process and the two-state solution, but to a shift in U.S. policy away from firm support for Israel and towards closer ties with the Palestinian Authority:

President Obama placed the Middle East at the forefront of his first hours in office yesterday as he sought to make good on his promise of “ushering in a new era of peace”.

In a flurry of telephone calls from the Oval Office, he reached out to leaders in the region and vowed to engage immediately in pursuit of a permanent Arab-Israeli settlement.

The spokesman for President Abbas revealed that Mr Obama had told the Palestinian leader that their conversation was his first with a foreign statesman since taking office. Mr Obama also spoke to President Mubarak of Egypt, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, and King Abdullah of Jordan.

22 January 2009 - Geffen accusing everyone now

Nathan Geffen, in the comments section at It's Almost Supernatural:

...it is precisely this allegation that Pollak absurdly makes against me, even suggesting I might be responsible for some unspecified dreadful action in the future:

“For the past several months, Nathan, it is you–yes, you!–who have engaged in a campaign of lies, falsely alleging conspiracies among Jews and Jewish organizations in South Africa and around the world to support “crimes” in the Middle East and beyond. It is not a far leap to conclude that your acts and speech have encouraged South African Muslims to see Jewish organizations and businesses as fair targets for boycott, protest, and–who knows?–even worse. You have never been satisfied merely to criticise Israeli policy. You have set the demonisation of Jews, Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders at the very top of your agenda.”

I really do encourage people to read Pollak's latest blog. I can't follow its logic. Perhaps someone can explain it to me.

Finally, I notice the incredibly distasteful use of the movie title "Don't mess with the Zohan" at the top of Pollak's blog in support of Operation Cast Lead. This was a military operation in which massacres and war crimes took place. Pollak's attempt at comical celebration of it renders rather vacuous the claim frequently made by some of the people who comment on this site that Jews never celebrate the deaths of Palestinians, in contrast to Palestinians celebrating the deaths of Jews.

My response:

Get real.

The post of the movie title is intended to mock the empty claims of the Israeli government that it achieved "deterrence" in the Gaza War.

If you had bothered to read my other blog posts about the war, you would know that I have been highly skeptical of "deterrence" as a war aim in and of itself.

While I supported the war I did so hoping that the outcome would be one in which Israel stopped rocket attacks against its civilians, either by achieving a cease-fire agreement germane to that outcome, or by military means if no such cease-fire was possible.

I specifically mourned the loss of civilian life on both sides. I have never celebrated the loss of civilian life--not ever, in any conflict, and I have specifically and publicly protested past Israeli actions, such as the use of cluster bombs in Lebanon, that led to civilian casualties that were entirely avoidable and disproportionate to any legitimate military objective.

I can only regard Geffen's complaint as yet another attempt to avoid engaging the substance of my criticism.

I'm not sure if Geffen has even seen the movie, but it's about an Israeli who tries to avoid fighting and is nevertheless pursued by terrorists everywhere he goes. Jokes and satirized Israeli machismo aside, there's a truth to it.

Geffen has now attacked me twice on two blogs other than this one. Maybe he's afraid of driving up my traffic.

In any case, the "logic" is simple.

Geffen has not simply criticized Israel. He has specifically singled out the organized Jewish community and accused it of being part of a "system" that facilitates Israel's "crimes."

I find that unacceptable and I will continue to object to it.

20 January 2009

20 January 2009 - Official Motto of Operation Cast Lead

19 January 2009

19 January 2009 - The hypocrisy of the anti-Israel Jewish left

In response to a post at It's Almost Supernatural (referred to earlier) in which blogger Steve Magid criticized the alliance between Muslim antisemites and left-wing anti-Israel Jews, Nathan Geffen of the South African Human Rights Delegation (SAHRD) accused Magid and IAS of "anti-semitism" [sic] and "defamation."

Geffen went further, circulating a letter in which he accused Magid of "us[ing] lies to discredit members of the community."

Here is my response (to which Geffen has not replied), followed by a few additional comments.

Dear Nathan

Your attempt to accuse Steve Magid of "us[ing] lies to discredit members of the community" is disgusting.

On his blog, "It's Almost Supernatural," Steve has provided a forum for open debate in the South African Jewish community and beyond for the past several years.

Yesterday he commented on an attempt by the Muslim community to organize a boycott of Jewish businesses. Because members of your group were explicitly exempted from the boycott, he commented that persons wishing to get themselves off the boycott list should contact you.

In return, you accused him of "a much more dangerous and insidious form of anti-semitism [sic] than most other kinds in existence today"--a ridiculous charge on its face, and an especially ironic one, since you and your group have constantly excoriated the Jewish community for allegedly using accusations of antisemitism to defend Israel. (Source) You and Doron Isaacs are now attempting to intimidate Steve into taking down his post, using veiled but empty threats of legal action for defamation.

In my view, Steve's accusation was fair comment--especially given your relentless campaign against the leadership of the South African Jewish community and against Jews in general, which has gone far beyond legitimate criticism and has certainly contributed to anti-Jewish hostility.

Last year, for example, after returning from your trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, you acknowledged antisemitism and Holocaust denial within the Muslim community, but declared: "the failure from within my own community is far more severe." (Source) It is an absurd claim, since South African Jews have never attempted to march on Muslim Judicial Council headquarters, attack the Islamic faith or praise the murder of civilians, while leaders of the Muslim community have endorsed terror groups and engaged in vicious anti-Jewish rhetoric. In retrospect, your unsubstantiated contention that Jewish behavior has somehow been worse certainly opened the door to the open condemnation of Jews, as Jews.

Furthermore, in an open letter published in December 2008, you accused the worldwide Jewish community as a whole of supporting "the crimes committed or sanctioned by the state [of Israel]" and "the dehumanisation of Muslims and Arabs." (Source) In language reminiscent of the worst antisemitic conspiracy theories, you accused the organized Jewish community of forming a "particular system that has created the conditions that have led to this pogrom [in Hebron] and the many other less newsworthy atrocities that take place daily in the occupied territories." You specifically invited the public to consider "the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation," as well as independent supporters of Israel such as Mike Berger, part of this "system" and hence guilty of atrocities against not just Palestinians but Arabs and Muslims in general.

Even in distancing yourself from the latest boycott, you refer to the chief rabbi as a "fundamentalist." That is a matter of opinion, I suppose, but in communication with a member of the Muslim community who is clearly given to antisemitism it amounts to incitement.

For the past several months, Nathan, it is you--yes, you!--who have engaged in a campaign of lies, falsely alleging conspiracies among Jews and Jewish organizations in South Africa and around the world to support "crimes" in the Middle East and beyond. It is not a far leap to conclude that your acts and speech have encouraged South African Muslims to see Jewish organizations and businesses as fair targets for boycott, protest, and--who knows?--even worse. You have never been satisfied merely to criticise Israeli policy. You have set the demonisation of Jews, Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders at the very top of your agenda.

Your response to the boycott campaign appropriately flags it as antisemitic and destructive. It is well past time, however, that you examined your own rhetoric and behavior rather than accusing your critics of being liars and antisemites.

Steve Magid is to be commended for drawing you into a debate in which your intolerance of criticism has been revealed and you will finally have to defend your own views rather than simply accusing others of aiding and abetting "crimes."

Essentially, what Geffen and his comrades believe is that Jewish leaders and organizations--and even individuals like myself--facilitate antisemitism by supporting Israel.

In crude terms, that amounts to blaming the victim. Viewed more charitably--in light of a history that I'm not even sure they are fully aware of--their view is a distant echo of the opinion of those Zionists, like Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, who supported a Jewish cultural revival in Palestine but opposed Jewish statehood. They took that position not merely for practical reasons but for ideological ones: they believed that political sovereignty was anathema to the "true" essence of spiritual Judaism, which was to connect human beings to the universal and not to stand for yet one more version of religious particularism. To them, political Zionism was a form of antisemitism.

That view led them to further absurd conclusions and positions. Buber and Magnes blamed Jewish immigration into Palestine for the conflict between Jews and Arabs there, minimizing the role played by Arab leaders in inciting violence and religious hatred. So fervent was their belief in this one-sided fallacy that as Nazis were persecuting Jews in Europe, Buber and Magnes rejected a proposal by the socialist Jewish organization HaShomer HaTzair for a binational state that would allow for unrestricted Jewish refugee immigration into Palestine while facilitating a joint political arrangement between the Jewish and Arab communities there. They refused to see the practical consequences of such restrictions, as well as the hypocrisy of demanding that the door be shut after they themselves (Buber in particular) had found refuge.

Today, Israel not only provides Jews with a safe haven from persecution; it has also bolstered the institutional strength and self-confidence of Jewish communities in the Diaspora. It is partly for that reason that Jewish organizations and Jews support Israel in its various conflicts. Other principles also sustain that support, including not only close religious connections but also shared values of democracy and human rights--as against the anti-humanistic ethos of Israel's autocratic neighbors and the fanatical terror groups that threaten Israel and the west alike.

It is, theoretically, possible to oppose the existence of Israel without opposing Judaism as such. That is the position taken by some groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews (including some living in Israel itself), as well as radical communists or anarchists who view all nationalism with equal suspicion. However, most forms of anti-Zionism today blend with explicit or implicit hostility towards Jews. Even left-wing "post-modern" opposition to Israel is at a loss to explain why the Jewish state should be the first to give up its identity. Such antisemitism is rife in some of the groups that Geffen, Isaacs and the SAHRD have chosen to align with. That is not to say they are necessarily complicit in Muslim antisemitism, but Geffen's particular history of accusations aimed at the organized Jewish community shows, at the very least, a casual disregard for the possible consequences of his inflammatory and unjustified claims.

What Geffen, Isaacs and the SAHRD are entitled to demand is an open discourse within the Jewish community in which they can air their views and challenge those of the Jewish mainstream. What they are not entitled to demand is that their views be given unique protection, right or wrong and regardless of facts. And for all the attention they demand from the community, they are rarely willing to debate their views or learn from past exchanges. (Note that the SAHRD website limits comments to delegation members only.)

Instead, they have resorted to attacks on the community, its leaders and institutions. That is not the way to build bridges, either within communities or between them.

19 January 2009 - South Africa's deputy foreign minister attacks Jews

South Africa's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fatima Hajaig, launched into an anti-Jewish tirade at a recent political rally organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions. As David Saks reports:

Deputy Foreign Minister Fatima Hajaig informed a deliriously cheering crowd that America, as well as other Western countries, was in the grip of Jewish money power.

What the honorable FJ actually said was: “They in fact control [America]. No matter which government comes in to power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush. The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else”.

Comrade Fatima’s brazen invocation of the spectre of Jewish money exercising its malign behind-the-scenes influence in shaping world events was greeted with a particularly enthusiastic roar of appreciation by the audience. She even used the words “Jew” and “Jewish” rather than the code-word “Zionist”.

Hajaig also verbally abused the Israeli ambassador to South African in December. The fact that she has not been rebuked for her behavior can be taken as a sign that her actions and views are tolerated--perhaps even encouraged--by the president and the ruling party.

19 January 2009 - How Hamas lost

Happy MLK, Jr. day, by the way.

Here's a good analysis from the Jerusalem Post of how the IDF routed Hamas--and how Hamas behaved under fire:

The simple fact is that Hamas was not fighting in the areas penetrated by the IDF, even though its defensive doctrine - drawn up under Iranian supervision with the assistance of Hizballah - is based on an attempt to stop the IDF's infantry brigades outside of Gaza City, or at least to detain them.

Hamas abandoned the heart of "Qassamland" - the areas surrounding Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Atatra - almost without resistance. The offensive array of bunkers and tunnels, booby-trapped buildings prepared for detonation from afar, and all the other tricks adopted by Hamas were captured intact. From the perspective of the people of Gaza, Hamas simply abandoned the arena and fled into the crowded neighborhoods.

Once there, since the second day of the campaign, Hamas fighters have hurriedly shed their uniforms. Many of them simply deserted and returned to their families, taking their guns with them. In some locations, Hamas prevented civilians from leaving neighborhoods that were in the line of fire; overall, it invested great effort in blocking civilians who wished to flee to the south of the Strip.

Hamas forcefully appropriated the few international aid deliveries, hijacked ambulances in order to move from one location to another, and carried out public executions of Fatah activists. In many cases, Hamas fighters showed "forgiveness" and made do with shooting the Fatah men in the legs.

All of this was going on while the entire political leadership of Hamas was hiding in the basements of hospitals such as Shifa in Gaza City or Kamal Adwan near Beit Lahiya.

Sporadically, they released videos from their places of hiding. The rather pathetic impression they created is that of a leadership that abandoned its population and was busy trying to save its own skin.

17 January 2009

17 January 2009 - The Jewish extreme left and Hamas denialism

Doron Isaacs, former Zionist youth leader and now radical critic of Israel, demonstrates the phenomenon of "Hamas denial" that is prevalent among members of the Jewish extreme left in a letter to the Sunday Times attacking South Africa's chief rabbi.

Before addressing the rabbi's arguments, Isaacs tries to cover himself by acknowledging some of Hamas's flaws--though he does his best to minimize them:

Hamas is an authoritarian organisation whose legitimate opposition to Israeli occupation and aggression too often blurs with vicious anti-Semitism...

To say that Hamas's antisemitism "blurs with" its "legitimate" objectives is to deny that antisemitism is in fact one of its core objectives. Isaacs has taken this line before, even denying the genocidal aims of the Hamas charter.

(Note that in the source referenced above, Isaacs also mistakenly cites the Qur'an as the source of the infamous "rocks and trees" quote, which actually comes from the Hadith. It's yet another example of a member of the Jewish far-left claiming to bring Jews and Muslims closer together yet actually misrepresenting Islam's core text.)

Isaacs's Hamas denialism is intellectually similar to former South African president Thabo Mbeki's Aids denialism. Mbeki acknowledged that the "syndrome" of immune deficiency existed, but denied that a virus was the cause. Instead, he pointed to poverty as the real cause.

Poverty certainly leads to conditions in which HIV is more likely to spread. But one does not need to be poor to contract HIV and develop Aids, a fact Mbeki apparently was unable to acknowledge even when the disease killed some of his close associates.

Similarly, there are legitimate Palestinian grievances, but in Gaza those grievances were removed and Hamas remained as committed to killing Jews as ever. And while antisemitism is not the sole factor in Palestinian hostility to Israel, it is essential in determining the fanatical and exclusively violent way in which Hamas pursues its objectives against Israel. As Hitler diverted essential supplies from the war effort to the killing of Jews, so too has Hamas prioritized killing Jews over reasonable steps to improve the welfare of Palestinians. The fact that the organization puts hatred of Jews in its founding charter is proof enough that antisemitism is at the core of its identity, its tactics and its goals.

Isaacs makes his own charges of denial, accusing the chief rabbi of denying the "fact"--an article of faith on the left--that the occupation of Gaza continued after the disengagement. That distorts the very meaning of the word "occupation," just as Mbeki distorted the term "syndrome" to suit his own purposes.

The Fourth Geneva Convention--the critical instrument of international law on occupation--applies "to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party."

Leaving aside the question of whether Hamas is a "High Contracting Party" (even the status of "Palestine" as a High Contracting Party is in doubt), the Geneva Convention specifically refers to territory. It does so again, numerous times, throughout the text of the document.

So Isaacs, not the chief rabbi, is on the wrong side of international law--and reality. To say that Hamas merely "blurs" its goals with antisemitism is to blur the boundary between criticizing Israel and siding with its most radical antisemitic enemies.

Finally, an interesting note: the blog It's Almost Supernatural has reported on an effort in the South African Muslim community to boycott Jewish businesses. The boycott specifically exempts any business associated with those Jews who have criticized Israel publicly. The bloggers at IAS suggested, rather snarkily, that Jews who want to avoid the boycott should contact Nathan Geffen, who along with Isaacs has led Jewish criticism of Israel lately.

Geffen responded to IAS by accusing the blog of "anti-semitism" [sic], as if criticism of one particular Jew is criticism of all Jews! Some of the same activists routinely accuse Jewish leaders of conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism, but criticize them and you're an antisemite!

I think it is commendable for Geffen to criticize the organizers of the boycott, as he has now done. But when the "not in my name" Jews spend much of their time attacking those Jews who don't agree with them (he calls the chief rabbi a "fundamentalist," for example, in his letter of protest), and very little effort critiquing Muslim antisemitism, while indulging in Hamas denialism, they do have something to answer for.

17 January 2009 - We all live in Durban now

This is what it was like in South Africa in 2001. Now it's everywhere.

17 January 2009 - The cease-fire that isn't--and its consequences

Israel has declared a unilateral cease-fire that will take effect in 45 minutes. Prime minister Ehud Olmert has warned Hamas that Israel will retaliate against any further rocket attacks: "If [Hamas] return to their unruly attacks they will be surprised again by the hand of Israel - I don't advise them to try it," he said.

Meanwhile, Hamas has continued to fire rockets at Israeli civilians. And Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced that Egypt will not be bound by the agreement Israel signed with the United States to increase efforts to stop weapons smuggling on the border between Gaza and Egypt.

So: as the rickets continue to fly, Israel is putting down its weapons, satisfied by declarations from discredited politicians that Hamas has learned its lesson. Well, perhaps it has--the same lesson it has always learned: if you kill Jews for long enough, eventually the world will come around, and the Jews themselves will give up and give you whatever you want, even their lives, in the hope that you'll leave them alone.

Why did this happen?

It is simple: Barack Hussein Obama is going to be inaugurated on Tuesday as the 44th president of the United States. And Israel's leaders decided they did not want to rain on his parade. They know he is not favorably inclined towards Israel's position. They made the calculation that preserving the U.S.-Israel relationship is more important than preserving the security of Israel itself.

It is a calculation that is doomed to fail, because the people backing Obama most vigorously have a fundamentally different idea about what the U.S.-Israel relationship must be. For them, it must be one in which the U.S. presses Israel to make concessions, regardless of Israel's legitimate interests, and regardless of the immediate dangers at hand. This is almost certainly going to lead to tensions.

Israel's leaders have made that even more likely with this cease-fire, because in leaving the field of battle without a definitive victory over Hamas and without any real international agreement to shape the future of the Gaza Strip, they have left Israeli citizens vulnerable to the whim of terrorists once again--and thus they have ensured that the next Israeli prime minister will be Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last April I cited a report by Ha'aretz's panel of experts that predicted that the worst possible political alignment for Israel was if Netanyahu was prime minister and Obama (or Hillary Clinton) was president of the United States. (Given the fact of Obama's presidency, the best Israeli leader would be Tzipi Livni, but that is just not going to happen--not now, not in the future.)

The reason this alignment is bad is that American Democrats and the Israeli Likud have--generally speaking--fundamentally different ideas about how to fight terrorists. Left-wing Democrats approach terror the same way they approach crime: by addressing its "root causes." (There are some who recognize the importance of "law and order" approaches but they have been sidelined by the party.)

The Likud believes that you fight terror through strength. This philosophy has taken a variety of different approaches, from harsh military responses to actively encouraging settlements in occupied territory. At its best the Likud has included someone like Natan Sharansky, for whom "strength" means a commitment to human rights. At its worst it has included various religious-nationalist demagogues who have thrown reality out the window.

We're not sure which Likud will show up in office after Israel's elections in February (just as Obama has left his exact intentions rather vague). And it's quite likely that no matter what the outcome of the Gaza War would have been, we would have seen both Netanyahu and Obama in office. The difference now is that Israel has failed--prior to this political change--to fully assert its right to defend itself against terror, to balance security and diplomacy the way Kadima had promised to do when elected in 2006.

Israel may never get the chance again.

16 January 2009

16 January 2009 - No to cease-fire in Gaza

Israel is currently negotiating the terms of a cease-fire, signing agreements with the United States and talking to Egypt, which is an intermediary for Hamas in Gaza. At the same time, the Damascus wing of Hamas is meeting its Iranian and Syrian patrons at a summit in Doha and promising "victory."

Never mind, for the moment, the conditions of the cease-fire now under discussion. The process is deeply flawed and not one that will lend itself to any sort of successful agreement, whether short-term or long-term. Ironically, perhaps, the best alternative for long-run peace is continued war.

I am not one of those who thinks Israel's goal in Gaza must necessarily be to get rid of Hamas, nor do I think Israel must press for victory at all costs (though I don't think Israel should simply be satisfied with re-establishing its deterrent force, either).

But there is simply no way a cease-fire is going to achieve anything when there are two separate sets of negotiations going on--and where the reason for that is that the dominant powers in the region, the U.S. and Iran, are at odds and the latter has no interest in an overall peace process.

That will not change even after January 20. President-elect Obama and Secretary of State Clinton may want to "engage" Iran, but Iran does not want to "engage" the U.S.--and may not have any reason to, if it is as close to developing a nuclear weapon as some people seem to think it is.

(The term "tough diplomacy," by the way, which was sold by Obama to the public during his election campaign and which Clinton has now enthusiastically embraced, means nothing. It is an oxymoron, a weasel word. Diplomacy achieves nothing unless it is backed by rewards for progress and threats against failure.)

So at the moment we have two negotiations going on, each stage-managed by one of the regional powers, each purporting to describe the region as each side would like it to be: the U.S. maintaining the façade of an overall peace process, Iran issuing its usual threats about wiping out Israel.

Neither picture corresponds to reality. There is no longer a meaningful peace process, despite the best efforts of the U.S. to pretend otherwise. And Israel's impressive military and psychological victory over Iran's Gaza proxy has set Iranian ambitions in the region back significantly.

The only way a real peace process can begin to come together is if Iran realizes that it has to reduce tensions with the U.S.--and not just because the new American administration plays nice, but because the Iranian regime begins to realize it has no other choice if it wants to have a chance at survival.

During the American election, two alternatives were presented. One, championed by McCain, called for containing Iran through both diplomatic and military pressure. The other, proposed by Obama and now Clinton, proposed unilateral gestures of compromise and reconciliation to appease the Iranian regime.

It is not too late for Obama to reverse course and simply adopt his rival's policy, since it is the more sensible one. (He has already done so on Iraq.) But either way, both approaches depend on a largely unknown factor: the strength of internal opposition to the Iranian regime.

It is in America's best interest to bring about internal change in Iran, much as it did in the Soviet Union. Reckless hostility to Iran could serve the regime's interests by giving it a reason to crush dissent; but consistent military and political pressure combined with openness to diplomacy could help the regime's internal opponents.

Lately, Iran's weak opposition has been emboldened by public frustration with the regime's support for foreign terror groups like Hamas and Hizbollah, which drains resources from the Iranian economy and has worsened the country's economic and political isolation from the west.

The worse Hamas fares in Gaza, the stronger that opposition grows in its contention that Iran's vast expenditures on its proxies are a waste of money and life. That is why Israel's success thus far in Gaza is so important: it has not just made Israel look stronger but Iran weaker--especially to Iranians.

If there is no real peace process, but just a meaningless sentimental display in Washington and an even more ridiculous parody of talks in Doha, then the only way to bring both sides together is to create a new military and political reality that both regional powers have to acknowledge and take an interest in.

That new reality--there is no alternative--has to be Israel's ability and willingness to crush the extremist threat on its borders while there is no willingness on the Arab side to accept reasonable peace terms or even acknowledge the obvious military and political realities on the ground.

Perhaps a short-term cease-fire would allow that reality to sink in, and present the opportunity of an end to this war, to the great relief of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians. But if Iran--and especially the U.S.!--cannot see the cease-fire "talks" as the sham that they are, then Israel must continue crushing Hamas.

16 January 2009 - A.B. Yehshua's retort to the Not In My Name crowd

It needed to be said like this.

The doleful thought sometimes crosses my mind that it is not the children of Gaza or of Israel that you are pining for, but only for your own private conscience. Because if you are truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs, you would understand the present war - not in order to uproot Hamas from Gaza but to induce its followers to understand, and regrettably in the only way they understand in the meantime, that they must stop the firing unilaterally, stop hoarding missiles for a bitter and hopeless war to destroy Israel, and above all for the sake of their children in the future, so they will not die in another pointless adventure.

Read the rest here.

15 January 2009

15 January 2009 - Responding to Jewish critics of Israel in South Africa

Last week, several dozen left-wing South African Jews signed a letter protesting the Jewish community's solidarity with Israel.

My response, below, appeared in several South African newspapers this week.

While I respect the feelings of those South African Jews who signed the letter (above), first published in the Cape Times earlier this week, protesting against Israel's military operation against Hamas in Gaza, and I empathise with their call for a ceasefire, they are incorrect in their claim that "Israel's response is an inhumane and disproportionate collective punishment, prohibited under international law".

Israel has not only suspended its military activity daily to allow humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in Gaza, but it has also provided much of that aid.

Its response is not "disproportionate", but fully in line with the doctrine of proportionality as outlined in the First Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Court.

According to these instruments of international law, proportionality is measured relative to the legitimate military objectives of each side, not by weighing the numbers of casualties on either side. Given Hamas's incessant rocket attacks against Israeli civilians over the past several years, and Israel's exhaustion of every other reasonable means to resolve the conflict, stopping Hamas from carrying out further attacks is certainly a legitimate military objective.

The majority of Palestinian casualties have been Hamas fighters, not civilians, indicating that Israel's use of force is neither reckless nor disproportionate to the goals it seeks.

As for "collective punishment", it is in fact Hamas that has "collectively punished" Palestinian civilians by refusing to abandon its policies of terrorism and incitement, which have led to Gaza's international economic and political isolation.

It is interesting to note that many of those who signed the letter did not protest when Hamas killed Palestinian civilians in launching a coup against the elected Fatah executive, nor do they cite Hamas's numerous violations of international law, including the use of human shields and the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians.

They attack the Jewish communal leadership, but do not criticise the blatant anti-Semitism that has accompanied anti-Israel protests.

Their double standards undermine the sincerity of their call for peace. A ceasefire is urgent - but not just any ceasefire.

An agreement must commit Hamas to end all rocket fire into Israel and provide concrete measures to stop any future arms smuggling into Gaza.

Only those conditions will protect civilians on both sides from the terrible costs of war in future.

Joel Pollak

Harvard Law School

14 January 2009

14 January 2009 - Solving the cease-fire puzzle

Now that Hamas has agreed to a cease-fire "in principle," let's evaluate the different negotiating positions of the various parties to the conflict. The key question for each is: what is each party's best alternative to a negotiated agreement? That will define the least each side can accept. We also need to consider the risks of an agreement to each side, as well as what each side would like to achieve in the long term and in the current conflict.

Long-term goal: Destroy Israel, create Islamic state of Palestine
Goals in current conflict: End to Israeli operation; open borders & continue smuggling
Best alternative to negotiated agreement: Israeli withdrawal after heavy IDF casualties
Risk of agreement: Loss of legitimacy, funding, weapons

Long-term goal: Peace with neighboring states
Goals in current conflict: Restore deterrent force, end to rocket fire, smuggling
Best alternative to negotiated agreement: Continue destroying Hamas military capability
Risk of agreement: Legitimizing Hamas rule; probability that Hamas will renege

Long-term goal: Control over Egypt
Goals in current conflict: Keep Gaza from collapsing; deny Hamas propaganda victory
Best alternative to negotiated agreement: Israeli withdrawal without IDF casualties
Risk of agreement: Confronting Hamas at border strengthens internal Islamist opposition

Long-term goal: Regional hegemony
Goals in current conflict: Prevent Israel from destroying Hamas
Best alternative to negotiated agreement: Israeli withdrawal after threat of 2nd front
Risk of agreement: Diminished ability to threaten Israel through Gaza

United States
Long-term goal: Stability
Goals in current conflict: Rescue peace process; ease transition for new administration
Best alternative to negotiated agreement: Israeli withdrawal without IDF casualties
Risk of agreement: Poor relations with new Israeli right-wing government

There are also various views-within-views. In the U.S., the Pentagon might like to see Israel keep fighting, while the State Department would prefer an immediate cease-fire. The Gaza wing of Hamas is open to a cease-fire under ambitious conditions, while the Damascus wing wants to keep fighting. In Israel, Olmert wants to keep fighting, Barak wants a cease-fire agreement, and Livni wants withdrawal without a deal; even the IDF is split between those who want to make do with having restored Israel's deterrent force and those who want to guarantee that Hamas can never threaten the south again.

There are also political considerations in the U.S. and Israel to watch. These did not determine the start of the conflict, but they may have something to do with its end. Israel would prefer not to test the commitment of the Obama administration to its security; it believes--as is clear on the face of the evidence--that Obama is far less sympathetic to it than Bush and it would rather endure a few more years of empty rhetoric and "tough diplomacy" than an a substantive confrontation in the midst of a war (the present spat over Condoleezza Rice is superficial, but bad enough). Livni and Barak are also positioning themselves for the elections against an opposition that will invariably charge them with failing to do all they could to destroy Hamas. They need a sound alternative they can sell to Israeli voters, and they are starting to develop clear positions and extensive justifications thereof. The public disagreements on all sides--inside Israel, between the U.S. and Israel. etc.--are really shameful and if it were not for the evident progress of the IDF one would think Israel was actually losing the war. Hamas may even hope to get a better deal from an Obama administration and meanwhile must certainly be grateful for the Israeli infighting.

Having considered all of that, here is my analysis:

Hamas is not ready for a cease-fire. A truce is still worse than its best alternative to a negotiated agreement--namely, continuing to fight in the hope of inflicting some sort of graphic harm on Israel that it can turn into a propaganda victory. Israel has denied Hamas the opportunity thus far, largely through the excellent performance of the IDF and by keeping its own aims rather vague, which has denied Hamas the chance to "win" by simply banking on Israeli failure. Regardless, Hamas probably still wants to take the chance--the more civilian lives at risk, the better for propaganda purposes.

Israel is ready for a cease-fire, but what it absolutely cannot do is accept one that allows the border crossings to open, unless such a deal is sweetened by formal recognition from Hamas and/or the freedom of Gilad Shalit. It will continue to fight as long as Hamas does--but not only for that reason: fighting is still better than a negotiated agreement that does not end rocket attacks and smuggling. Without achieving that basic aim, Israel will have to slowly step up its operation, taking greater risks (for potentially greater gains), waiting for the politicians to sort themselves out.

In short: despite what has been agreed "in principle," the fighting will continue for several more days at least, at least until Obama's inauguration. This round of fighting will in many ways be "diplomacy by other means," especially since Israel and Hamas are both reluctant to talk directly to one another. Hamas will use desperate tactics to cause at least some sort of harm to Israel; it may even directly target its own civilians in a massive way not seen before. Israel will proceed carefully, hoping to strike valuable Hamas targets without getting too bogged down in battles--but without giving Hamas the chance to claim Israel was scared of a real engagement.

It's a precarious situation. Israel has won the Gaza War until this point, but the closing days of the war are going to be the most important in determining what follows.

14 January 2009 - This says it all, doesn't it?

13 January 2009

13 January 2009 - A queer boycott by queer activists

A group of gay activists in San Francisco is demanding that a local filmmaker boycott the Tel Aviv International Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Film Festival in June because of Israeli "apartheid."

They've sent a letter to Shamim Sarif asking her to withdraw. My favorite bit:

LGBT Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, like straight Palestinians, are denied their basic human rights. This brutal occupation perpetuates war crimes on a daily basis, especially in the two-year siege of Gaza where 1.5 million Palestinians have experienced almost a complete blockage of fuel, electric power, food and medicine. Simultaneously Palestinians living within the pre-1967 borders or the “green line,” including LGBT Palestinians, continue to experience systematic discrimination and segregation, without the rights of true citizenship simply because they are not Jewish.

Note how this does not address the actual abuses suffered by LGBT Palestinians at the hands of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. As James Kirchik noted in 2006:

Take just one story—in the May 2003 issue of Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide by Charity Crouse (who is described in the story as a “Jewish lesbian anti-occupation activist”). Tarek, a young Palestinian gay man suspected of homosexuality, was sentenced to a “reeducation” camp run by Muslim clerics under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction. He said that for a period of two months he was “subjected to beatings with belts, clubs, and was forced to sit on bottles which were inserted into my rectum. I was hanged by the hands, I was deprived of sleep, and when I finally did sleep, my limbs were tied to the floor.”

The San Francisco activists of QUIT! ("Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism") treat LGBT Palestinians just like other Palestinians: there must be gay people in Gaza, people are suffering in Gaza, therefore LGBT Palestinians must be suffering just like other people, the logic goes.

But LGBT Palestinians suffer in very different ways from other Palestinians--in peacetime, not just in war. And needless to say, there is no LGBT Film Festival in Gaza City.

12 January 2009

12 January 2009 - Winning the peace, despite Ehud Olmert

Israel's apparent success in the Gaza War ought not distract from the abysmal performance of prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the last three years. Today, Olmert reminded the world why he is so unpopular when he risked harm to Israel's relationship with the United States by openly mocking outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. True, her performance at the UN Security Council was an embarrassment, and she probably deserved to be told so in public--but not by Olmert, who not only needs America's strong support but is something of an embarrassment himself.

Olmert's great contribution to Israel in the present military and diplomatic struggle has been his weakness. There are situations in which it is better to be perceived as weak--not necessarily as a victim, which is the standard Palestinian refrain in these conflicts, but as politically unable to do anything other than pursue the present option. In addition, the fact that Olmert faces indictment for corruption and is due to step down after the upcoming Israeli elections helped Israel create a false perception of military unreadiness that provoked Hamas into overplaying its hand.

Going into negotiations regarding a cease-fire, Olmert's weakness will again prove an asset, since he can plausibly use his own abysmal approval ratings as proof that Israelis will not accept anything less than a full cessation of terror attacks and weapons smuggling into Gaza. Olmert's political fragility is complemented by the overwhelming strength of the Israeli Defense Force, which has won the battles on the ground necessary to establish a commanding position at the negotiating table. Israel will likely achieve its current demands.

With today's announcement by Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh that he is willing to accept a cease-fire of sorts, but that he is determined to fight on regardless, Israel has a golden opportunity to get even more out of an eventual agreement. The unreasonable determination of the Hamas leadership to continue fighting a losing battle provides Israel with a valid reason to continue destroying the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, while the folly of Hamas's cries of victory from underground bunkers has started to undermine its political credibility in the Arab world.

(Here's my favorite example, from a Reuters report earlier today:

"Fear is the last thing we could be accused of," Hamas parliamentarian Mushir al-Masri said on Sunday. "Martyrdom is our dearest wish, but God has ordered us not to pose ourselves as easy prey for our enemies."

Offering innocent women and children, to these fanatics, is perfectly fine, but they can't be bothered to risk their own lives. The message is slowly getting through to ordinary Palestinians and the Arab "street.")

Meanwhile, Haniyeh is still demanding that Israel re-open border the Gaza crossings as a condition of a cease-fire. There is no way that Israel should agree to do so as a condition of peace. But Hamas's demand may give Israel a chance to ask for something important in return: recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, an acceptance of all prior agreements with the Palestinian Authority, and a complete end to terror and incitement. These were the original demands of the international community when Hamas took power in 2006, and Israel can reissue them now.

Of course Hamas is unlikely to accept these terms, and its refusal would again allow Israel's military to continue destroying the terror organization. The question may then become whether Israel is prepared to aim for completely eliminating Hamas in Gaza--for "regime change" that might bring Fatah back to the territory, or perhaps an international trusteeship of some sort. Israel's track record in this regard is not good; a similar attempt to knock over the Lebanese government and sign a peace deal with its replacement fared badly after Israel's initial victories in the 1982 Lebanon War.

Haniyeh may well be gambling that Israel does not have the will to go that far again. And there are definite risks in doing so--not least of which is that regime change alone will not solve the problem. The fact that Hamas was democratically elected is not an argument for its legitimacy: any election where the respective political parties are committed to armed conflict is a sham, and Hamas destroyed any claim to legitimacy anyway when it launched a coup against Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah-led executive in 2007. But its popular support is a reminder that the constituency Hamas represents, not Hamas itself, is the enduring and perhaps irresolvable problem.

The hatred for Israel among many Arabs and especially Muslims is deep--so deep that there may be no way to overcome it through negotiation. The Durban racism conference of 2001 is being re-enacted on a global scale on city streets around the world, with Arab and Muslim demonstrators dressing up in Hamas outfits and shouting "Death to the Jews" and worse (while clueless leftists march alongside them). Fundamentalist religion does not admit compromises--and if it is forced to compromise for pragmatic reasons, it certainly sees no value in compromise itself.

Israel hopes for peace, but the most it may be able to achieve in the medium term is an end to war, until the region becomes safe for democracy and human rights, in which case governments will have less need for external enemies and less support for warlike behavior. That, in turn, may depend on a fundamental reformation of Islam, which is an even more uncertain prospect. The most important factor will continue to be Israel's deterrent capability, which thus far this war has help re-establish (though the threat of a nuclear Iran looms larger than ever and is undiminished by Israel's efforts in Gaza).

Perhaps Israel's best option in the days ahead is to fight until Hamas exhausts its ammunition and withdraw to the international boundary without any agreement at all. That way Hamas will get nothing out of this conflict--not even indirect recognition from Israel--except the severest indication of what will happen to it if it tries to attack Israel again. Then again, that may not be good enough. Fanatical enemies tend to treat every outcome short of total destruction as an absolute victory. Allowing Hamas to remain in control of Gaza may not be worth the risk. Let us hope Israel's leaders are up to the challenge, this time.

12 January 2009 - A must-read from Dore Gold

The False Symmetry of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (Jerusalem Post):

Despite the language of the resolution, most international observers agree that Israeli civilians should not have to face rocket attacks from Hamas in the future, and hence Hamas must halt this activity. But in Resolution 1860 there is a demand of Israel in parallel, "to ensure the sustained reopening of crossing points" between Israel and Gaza. It is as though the cessation of rocket fire and the opening of the crossing points are symmetric demands that are increasingly mentioned in the same breath by commentators. This is like asking for a quid pro quo for Hamas stopping terrorism.

THIS IS moral equivalence at its worst. Israel should not pay anything to get Hamas to stop firing rockets which is an act of outright aggression against the Jewish State.

12 January 2009 - What next for Israel?

Two camps are forming on either side of the Gaza War. Hamas is divided between the Gaza-based leadership, which favors a cease-fire, and the Damascus-based leadership, which has categorically rejected any deal with Israel. On the Israeli side, Ha'aretz reports that foreign minister Tzipi Livni and defense minister Ehud Barak favor a deal to end the war, while prime minister Ehud Olmert wants to seize the military advantage.

The diplomatic ball is clearly in Hamas's court, which is good for the Israelis. In one way, the Gaza-Damascus split is really a proxy for an Egyptian-Iranian split in the Middle East, which suits Israel's interests for the near term. Israel holds all the military cards at the moment, but has some important decisions to make. If it stalls its offensive, it may give Hamas a chance to regroup. If it presses ahead with the third and most invasive phase of its plan, it may encounter fierce resistance and suffer casualties.

There are several apparent unknowns here. Has Hamas really prepared to make a tough stand in Gaza City, or is it just blustering? Even in its most brazen claims, Hamas admits that it has lost 40 percent of its military capacity. Can Israel hold its current position for long, or must it keep moving to retain the advantage, as David Horovitz has argued? If the next phase of the conflict proves indecisive, who will benefit diplomatically? And what will the cost be to civilians on both sides if Israel presses ahead--and if it doesn't?

There are plenty of leaks going 'round--some of them intentional, no doubt--and there is no real way to know what is going on. But while the majority of Israelis back the war, the majority of Israeli analysts seem a bit leery of advancing. Perhaps the memory of Lebanon is strong. And perhaps they know much that is not apparent to those of us watching from the outside.

Certainly if Israel could obtain its preferred terms for a cease-fire--no rockets and international monitoring along the Egypt-Gaza border--it should stop the war. It will have won a real and substantive victory, in more ways than one. The delicate task, it seems, is to escalate the military campaign enough to keep Hamas on the run--and press the advantage if the Tehran line wins out over Cairo's pleas for a deal--without incurring losses of Israeli soldiers or among Palestinian civilians that could tip the diplomatic scales.

10 January 2009

11 January 2009 - Anti-Israel protester admits protests have become antisemitic

David Rosenberg, posting at "Socialist Unity," is very enthusiastic about protesting Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

But he's troubled about a feature of these protests that he's honest enough not to deny:

Some of the negatives that need to be addressed:
* The stewarding was very poor. The failure to move people on past the Israeli embassy as darkness was falling and the riot police were tooling up made a confrontation almost inevitable and will give the media an excuse to skew the reports around the violence rather than the numbers, strength and demands of the demo.

* Although the vast majority of placards were clearly in line with the demands of the demonstration (end the siege, stop the killing) there were more than a sprinkling of placards this week with Nazi analogies etc that were more than borderline antisemitic and will be used by opponents to discredit the protest. Again the organisers/stewards need to think about how to deal with this.

* The SWP colonised a large section of Speakers corner where the march was gathering and were bellowing puerile slogans through their megaphones at the demonstrators as they arrived, appealing to them to “destroy Israel” (and presumably among them the Israeli anti-war movement) and calling on Zionists to “Go back to New York”. Not sure which aspect of socialist theory they think that comes from. But if they think the problem is Israeli/Jewish people rather than the oppressive Zionist state then they really have a lot of learning to do.

Perhaps Mr. Rosenberg ought to re-consider whether the problem is really "the oppressive Zionist state" and not the murderous Hamas terror organization and the disgusting antisemitism it promotes worldwide.

10 January 2009 - Has the UN become an active participant in hostilities?

We already know that UN refugee camps in Gaza have housed active terror groups; that Palestinian UN employees have been actively involved in rocket attacks against Israel; that Hamas and other armed groups have used UN ambulances to transport troops and weapons; and that the same groups have used UN schools as launchpads for rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.

Now the UN may have been caught smuggling military gear to Hamas in humanitarian aid shipments:

At the same time, Hamas continues to attack humanitarian aid convoys and steal food and medical supplies, while the UN blames Israel for targeting its shipments--a claim the IDF has denied. (The UN's claims help it escape a situation in which it might be seen to be enabling Israel's attacks against Hamas by boosting Israel's humanitarian image.)

So, paradoxically, while its personnel are being attacks by Hamas, and its institutions are being used to launch terror attacks and endanger Palestinian civilians, the UN is not only asking Israel to stop fighting but may be actively assisting the Hamas propaganda and war efforts.

I don't find this too hard to hard to believe--I have had classmates and colleagues who have gone to work for the UN in Gaza, and all of them have been hard-core anti-Israel activists. That's why they choose that assignment over those in the region and elsewhere that are far more compelling on humanitarian grounds.

09 January 2009

09 January 2009 - Earth to Jackson Diehl

He begins his column today:

Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip is failing...

Uh... no.

See Edward Luttwak in today's WSJ

It seems that most of the West's news reporters and pundits agree with Islamists everywhere that an Israeli victory in Gaza is impossible. They decry Israel's defensive attack on Hamas, prophesying an inevitable strengthening of Islamism among Palestinians and a dark future for the Jewish state.

How do our commentators come to this conclusion? They point, most frequently, to Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and echo Hezbollah's claim that it won a great victory. Indeed, this narrative goes, in launching their rockets at Israel, Hamas leaders were imitating Hezbollah's winning strategy.

In fact, Hezbollah was thoroughly shocked by the Israeli bombing campaign, and its supporters, who mostly live in southern Lebanon, are not likely to tolerate another wave of destruction caused by another Hezbollah attack. Even the inconclusive Israeli ground actions in Lebanon, which never involved more than six companies (roughly 600 men), resulted in the loss of some 400 Hezbollah fighters in direct face-to-face combat while Israel suffered only 30 casualties...

With few exceptions, Israeli ground forces are not advancing frontally but are instead mounting a multiplicity of raids. If their target intelligence remains as good as it was during the air attack, they will run out of targets in a matter of days. That is when a cease-fire with credible monitoring would be possible and desirable for both sides as the only alternative to renewed occupation.

Hamas will claim a win no matter what happens, but then so did Hezbollah in 2006. And yet, for the most part, Hezbollah remains immobile and the Israeli northern border with Lebanon remains quiet. If Israel can achieve the same with Hamas in Gaza, it would be a significant victory.

I think even Luttwak underestimates Israel's progress. Try Charles Krauthammer in your own paper, Mr. Diehl:

This is not about killing every last Hamas gunman. Not possible, not necessary. Regimes rule not by physically overpowering every person in their domain, but by getting the majority to accept their authority. That is what sustains Hamas, and that is what is now under massive assault.

Hamas' leadership is not only seriously degraded but openly humiliated. The great warriors urging others to martyrdom are cowering underground almost entirely incommunicado. Demonstrably unable to protect their own people, they beg for outside help, receiving in return nothing but words from their Arab and Iranian brothers. And who in fact is providing the corridors for humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians? Israel.

In the first four minutes of this war, the Israel Air Force destroyed 50 targets, taking down practically every instrument and symbol of Hamas rule. Gaza's Potemkin leaders were marginalized and rendered helpless, leaving their people to fend for themselves. At such moments, regimes are extremely vulnerable to forfeiting what the Chinese call the mandate of heaven, the sense of legitimacy that undergirds all forms of governance.

The fall of Hamas rule in Gaza is within reach, but only if Israel does not cave in to pressure to stop now. Overthrowing Hamas would not require a permanent Israeli reoccupation. A transitional international force would be brought in to immediately make way for the return of the Palestinian Authority, the legitimate government whose forces will be far less squeamish than the Europeans in establishing order in Gaza.

The disintegration of Hamas rule in Gaza would be a devastating blow to Palestinian rejectionists, who since the Hamas takeover of Gaza have been the ascendant "strong horse" in Palestinian politics. It would be a devastating blow to Iran as patron of radical Islamist movements throughout the region, particularly after the defeat and marginalization of Iran's Sadrist client in Iraq. It would encourage the moderate Arab states to continue their U.S.-allied confrontation of Iran and its proxies. And it would demonstrate Israel's irreplaceable strategic value to the U.S. in curbing and containing Iran's regional ambitions.

Either way, Mr. Diehl, get a clue.

08 January 2009

08 January 2009 - Obama wants to talk to Hamas?

So says the UK Guardian, so take it with a grain of salt. But there's no reason to deny that it's something president-elect Obama is considering--especially given the views of his Middle East advisers, and his stated belief that Hamas has "legitimate" aims.

For the benefit of the new administration, here are five very good reasons not to talk to Hamas:

1. The "realist" reason: Hamas is not interested in talks, except as a way of stalling while it arms itself.

2. The "geopolitical" reason: Hamas is being funded by Iran, which is not interested in talks even if Obama is.

3. The "domestic" reason: Until all extremist groups are disarmed, Hamas won't talk, lest it be outflanked.

4. The "precedent" reason: No talks in recent history have succeeded when one side refused to suspend violence.

5. The "human rights" reason: No regime that abuses its own citizens' rights can be trusted to make peace.

The Gaza War offers a unique opportunity for the west to contain Hamas or destroy it, depending on what Hamas does in the next few days.

If Obama extends a hand to Hamas before it complies with basic international demands, he will cancel the gains of the last two weeks, which have been won at considerable cost, and make peace even harder to achieve.

08 January 2009 - Appeasers never learn

What is it about the urbane, educated, comfortable elite that makes it so enamored of violent fascism?

Nicholas Kristof revives the appeasement rhetoric of the 1930s in a spineless piece in today's NYT on the Gaza war. After blaming Israel for Hamas's existence and for its support among Palestinians, Kristof offered suggestions for Israeli responses to thousands of incoming rockets:

So what could Israel have reasonably done? Bombing the tunnels through which Gazans smuggle weapons would have been a proportionate response, if Israel had stopped there, and the same is true of airstrikes on certain Hamas targets. An even better approach would have been to ease the siege in Gaza, perhaps creating an environment in which Hamas would have extended the cease-fire.

Kristof clearly knows nothing about the doctrine of proportionality, which he takes as some sort of ghastly body count. (I've covered this topic elsewhere.) What's worse is his suggestion that giving in to Hamas's violent attacks on Israeli civilians would have made Hamas more willing to negotiate a cease-fire.

This is the naked logic of appeasement, and it is even more grotesque today than it was at Munich in 1938, because we ought to have learned something from history.

So why are wise fools like Kristof such easy prey for the false comfort of appeasement?

George Orwell believed that the left intelligentsia of his age, who also fell for the appeasement or pacifist view, did so because they were following the communist line (after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact), because they believed that fascist victory would still allow them to enjoy their material comforts, or because they simply worshiped and romanticized power in its crudest and hence most "authentic" form. Sylvia Plath had a similar idea in her poem "Daddy":

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

Whatever the reason, I am afraid this sort of moral confusion may be taking over at a time when we can least afford it. Even our president-elect has described Hamas as a group with "legitimate" goals. Here's a reminder to Kristof (and our incoming government) of what Hamas is really about and what the costs of appeasement are likely to be:

08 January 2009 - CNN runs fake video of boy's death?

Via LGF, here's CNN featuring a video that is a likely fake:

Charles Johnson and some of the comments point out a number of problems with the video, including the shoddy re-enactment of CPR and the fact that the attending doctor is an open advocate of Hamas (and the 9/11 hijackers).

There is an additional piece of evidence: the presence of women at the funeral procession and the grave, visible towards the end of the clip.

Islamic funerals are restricted to men only. I have seen several Muslim funerals--I used to live near a Muslim cemetery--and the barring of women from funerals is one of the many complaints raised by Muslim feminists such as Nadia Davids.

It seems almost certain to me that this video is a fake.

07 January 2009

07 January 2009 - You can't have it both ways

Anti-Israel activists have adopted a curious and paradoxical propaganda line. On the one hand, they want the fighting to stop. On the other hand, they regard the Hamas rocket attacks as a natural response to the international blockade of Gaza. So they want the war to stop, but they want the war to continue.

You can't have it both ways. If you launch rockets into another country's sovereign territory, you have initiated an armed conflict against them. A blockade is also an act of war, but the blockade itself was a response to rocket attacks, terrorism and arms smuggling by Hamas and other extremist groups.

The anti-Israel crowd argues that rocket attacks are mostly harmless. They do this not only to argue that Israel's response is "disproportionate," but because they generally support the rocket attacks and want to minimize the damage these cause in order not to be seen as encouraging violence against civilians.

They also call the blockade "Israeli," but in truth it is an international blockade, held in place because Hamas refuses to stop terror and renounce its goal of destroying Israel. Hamas could very easily end both the war and the blockade by giving up terror. But it won't, and so the fighting continues.

I find it interesting that the anti-Israel crowd has sided with Hamas so easily and comfortably, expressing few (if any) reservations about its ideology, its cruelty, its use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. Instead they are content, as usual, to invert facts and wail against Israel.

This is a conflict in which, as Orwell might have said, to be "subjectively" anti-war is to be "objectively" pro-Hamas. Those who cry out for an immediate end to Operation Cast Lead were silent, almost without exception, about the attacks against Israeli civilians over the past several years.

Those few who did condemn the rockets typically condemned the blockade as well. But the latter did not cause the former. The Gaza War is a conflict between two clear goals: one side wants the destruction of Israel at any cost, and one is willing to pay almost any price for peace and security.

Israel's peaceful and diplomatic options were completely, and painfully, exhausted. The best outcome for Israelis, Palestinians and the entire region would be the disarming of Hamas. Whether that is achieved through a cease-fire, or through further war, is now entirely up to the Hamas leadership.

The IDF has generally acquitted itself well in this war. There have been mistakes, and any number of civilians killed or injured that is greater than zero must be a cause for deep regret. But the Hamas infrastructure has been smashed, and its image has suffered as its leaders cower behind schoolchildren.

Hamas may even have begun to doubt itself. According to MEMRI, Hamas TV viewers last night were treated to six minutes of Polish erotica as a technician, bored with the usual footage, flipped through the European channels. Its leaders vow to fight, but its troops are likely tired, distracted and demoralized.

It is too early to declare victory, and the worst fighting may yet be ahead, but Israel is winning. And despite the usual protests that greet any attempt by Israel to defend itself, the Gaza War has made one thing clear: you can't have it both ways. You can be pro-Palestinian, or pro-Hamas, but you can't be both.

07 January 2009 - Israel following the Powell Doctrine?

Elder of Zion
has a very interesting post on General Colin Powell's doctrine for US military action:

The doctrine is summarized as follows:

1) Military action should be used only as a last resort and only if there is a clear risk to national security by the intended target;
2) The force, when used, should be overwhelming and disproportionate to the force used by the enemy;
3) There must be strong support for the campaign by the general public; and
4) There must be a clear exit strategy from the conflict in which the military is engaged.

Perhaps the Powell Doctrine didn't apply to Israel in 2001, as that was the very start of the mortar and rocket attacks towards Israeli towns in the Negev and massive force may not have yet been considered a "last resort."

But while we do not yet know Israel's exit strategy, the first three points are exactly in line with what Israel is doing today.

07 January 2009 - The west gives up, just as it is winning

For once, I agree with an observation by Juan Cole--though I'm not as enthusiastic as he is about what is happening in the western media:

The Israeli propaganda blitz around their attack on Gaza has been greeted with uncharacteristic skepticism by the American public and even by some of the mainstream US press. Even the Jewish American community is uneasy about this one, in a way perhaps unparalelled since the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon and siege of Beirut. Jews for Peace in Los Angeles are actively protesting the Gaza atrocities, and newspaper articles from around the US on local protests held this weekend often mention mixed Arab-American and Jewish-American rallies.

Ironically, just as the west is giving up on Israel--in anticipation of Barack Obama's ascent, no doubt--the Arab media is beginning to show an unusual amount of skepticism and irritation towards Hamas (even though it continues to stoke hatred against Israel). To some extent this is the result of fear among "moderate" Arab governments that Shia Iran and the Sunni extremists pose a direct threat to them as well as Israel.

But there seems to be some grudging support for Israel among ordinary people in the region as well, under-reported though it may be. Even Iranian dissidents have caught the bug, and are condemning--at heavy cost--their own government's role in supporting Hamas:

Israel's current crimes in Gaza are strongly condemned - but it is equally [important] to condemn the terror organizations that use kindergartens and hospitals as a shield against the [Israeli] attacks. [Hamas's use of human shields] prepares the ground for intensified bombardment [by Israel] and for the killing of children and civilians, and [therefore] it is an inhuman act.

Unfortunately, we see that in Iran itself, a faction that outwardly pretends to be sympathetic to the Palestinians [actually] regards the [Gaza] tragedy as an opportunity to stifle the voices of the [Iranian] human rights [organizations]. [This faction] has launched harsh attacks against human rights activists and against political factions critical [of the regime].

It would be almost fitting for the west, having miscalculated at almost every turn in its relations with the Arab world, to give up on Israel just as the Middle East is coming to terms with the probability of its victory. We see signs of this in Obama's continued, mumbling equivocation; in Condeleeza Rice's support for a premature cease-fire; and in the various protests around the world, at which grim-faced lefties are marching arm-in-arm with determined Islamist radicals screaming religious slogans and calling for Palestinians to continue fighting.

The Gaza Strip is now the front line in the battle for civilization, a fact that has dawned on those in the Middle East who value their own civilization and realize it cannot survive in the possession of fanatics who send their children to die as suicide bombers and human shields but cower in hospital maternity wards rather than fight with courage or surrender with honor.

06 January 2009

06 January 2009 - Human rights activist commits human rights violation

This speaks for itself:

A protestor from the Adalah human rights organization demonstrating outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem against the IDF operation in Gaza threw a stone at a vehicle in the area after the driver shouted, "Shame on you" to the protesters.

The stone hit the head of a police officer in the area and he was evacuated for medical treatment. The stone-thrower was arrested and the demonstration was scattered.

05 January 2009

05 January 2009 - Is Israel winning the media war?

Pesach Benson of MediaBackspin has asked me and several other bloggers to answer the following two questions:

1) Is Israel winning the media war?

2) What more could Israel be doing on the media front?

My answers:

1) What is the objective of the “media war”? If the point is to affect public opinion, then Israel is losing. As it must: there are billions of people whose only sources of media are state-produced or state-censored--and whose only alternatives offer radical, not liberal, critiques. And the free media of the democratic world offer, at best, “balanced” coverage that gives both sides equal weight--if Israel’s lucky.

If the objective of the “media war” is to affect elite opinion in the democratic world, Israel is faring even worse this time than last, because what’s important to mainstream journalists and pundits is not truth or right, but power. And many sense--or hope--that the incoming Obama administration is going to change U.S. policy towards Israel, so they are emphasizing anti-Israel attitudes in anticipation.

But if the goal of the “media war” is to provide the political cover Israel needs to achieve its military goals, it is indeed winning. The point is not only to win debates but to give those already inclined to support you good reasons for doing so. That means not only the U.S. government but also anti-jihad Arabs, Iranian dissidents, etc. In that regard, Israel’s performance is an improvement over the last war.

On a personal level, I believe “winning” the media war means standing up for objective truth, especially the truth of words. When Israel’s enemies distort words like “proportionate” and “militant,” they create a propaganda world that frustrates dialogue and peace. I want to see a two-state solution emerge, which means setting boundaries around violence--violence against people and violence against language.

2) The most important thing Israel can do on the media front is to achieve its military goals. Again, the world respects power above all. So Israel must defeat Hamas thoroughly and humble it if possible. Minimizing civilian casualties is important for its own sake, and also for PR purposes, but the best media victory is one in which--Saddam-style--the fanatical enemy is seen to give up without a fight.

Israel must continue to explore the possibilities of new media. The use of YouTube by the IDF has made a real impact, especially the videos of secondary explosions and humanitarian aid. New videos of how Hamas treats Palestinian civilians have started to emerge and they are also important. In addition, Israeli consulates have started using Twitter to great effect, as have Israeli bloggers. This must continue.

Israel's supporters should not simply use new media to win public debates (though it helps), but also to connect like-minded people to one another, so they can share information and quickly translate it into action (protests, lobbying, fundraising etc.). Meanwhile, the best media warriors remain the men and women of the IDF. Only victory with honor can change the terms of the debate, where there is one.

I should add that the true tests of Israel's media effectiveness are yet to come. The first will be when an Israeli strike causes (or Hamas stages) large numbers of civilian casualties. The second will be when Barack Obama takes office on January 20. Regardless of where the Gaza War is by then, Israel is going to have to develop new media strategies to deal with a new and challenging American political reality.

05 January 2009 - Obama votes "absent" on Gaza - again

Given the opportunity to address the Gaza War, Obama declines again:

How difficult--or disruptive--would it be to say: "I support Israel's right to defend itself"?

Or even: "We need a cease-fire as soon as possible"?


Not ready to lead.

05 January 2009 - Joe Klein attacks "Jewish neoconservatives"

I'm puzzled by Joe Klein's descent into antisemitic conspiracy theory-land as he responds to Bill Kristol of the NYT. Klein says:

...Kristol is a cagey guy. He benefits from the delusion of Iranian potency. The more menacing and evil Iran seems, the stronger the arguments for the war that Kristol and many other Jewish neoconservatives really want: a U.S. attack on Iran to make the world safe for Israel (as if such a war could or would accomplish that). He comes very close to endorsing that in his last paragraph.

I'll leave, for the moment, Klein's silly belief that Obama will be able to unite the world against Iran more easily because America will suddenly become more likable. I'll even disregard his total distortion of Kristol's position on Iran.

But his reference to Kristol's Jewishness is disgusting, no less so for having been done by a fellow Jew. There simply is no cabal of "neoconservatives," Jewish or otherwise, manipulating American power for Israel's benefit. Klein's comment is the stuff of extremist hate sites, not reasoned analysis.

Perhaps this is a sign of how far gone the American media establishment really is.

05 January 2009 - Obama does not support Israel in Gaza

Despite the best hopes for president-elect Obama's administration--and though I supported McCain, I wish him well--it is clear he does not support Israel in its fight against Hamas in Gaza. Israel's opponents wish he would be outspoken about his opposition. Nonetheless, his silence is deafening.

Obama's given excuse--that there is "one president at a time"--would not matter if he agreed with President Bush, who has fully supported Israel. Many other leading U.S. politicians from both parties have spoken out (as did Obama, on the campaign trail). They have spoken with one voice, in support of Israel.

The only way America could appear to have two presidents at once is if Obama openly disagreed with Bush, separating himself from the broad American consensus in support of Israel's right of self-defense. He has certainly spoken out on other issues on which he wanted to draw a contrast with the status quo.

His reluctance to speak on the Gaza War indicates that he does disagree, at least in part, with Bush and with Israel. He doesn't want to provoke the stiff opposition that open condemnation of Israel would invite. But I expect he will express his true feelings once he has the reins of power.

Ironically, Obama's coyness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--studded with contradictions, and abetted by media cover-ups such as the Khalidi affair--may have encouraged Israel to respond to Hamas now, before Obama takes office, in order to avoid disagreement with the new U.S. administration.

05 January 2009 - Robert Fisk can't even lie correctly

Writing about the Gaza War, Robert Fisk repeats the lie about the Jenin "massacre" that wasn't.

And what's more, he gets the date wrong. Israel's Operation Defensive Shield happened in 2002, not 2000.

Here's a screenshot of his willful stupidity before it gets corrected:

And here's the quote (h/t Backspin; my emphasis):

But the last time Israel played this game – in Jenin in 2000 – it was a disaster. Prevented from seeing the truth with their own eyes, reporters quoted Palestinians who claimed there had been a massacre by Israeli soldiers – and Israel spent years denying it. In fact, there was a massacre, but not on the scale that it was originally reported.

It's sad that some people still take this guy seriously.

04 January 2009

04 January 2008 - Iran: "$1 million for Mubarak's head"

Proof that the Iranian regime is mad:

According to media reports, the Iranian government has offered one million dollars for the assassination of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Question: why aren't they offering a reward in Iranian currency? Could it be because one million Iranian rials only equals 100 U.S. dollars?

04 January 2009 - The most important video of the Gaza War

Palestinians using ambulances flying UN colors as troop carriers

Also, Hamas is hiding its top leaders, as well as their largest stockpile of Grad and Katyusha rockets, in the basement of Gaza's main hospital.

These are war crimes.

UPDATE: Pamela of Atlas Shrugs points out that this video may be an old one. And, indeed, it dates from 2004, as I found upon further investigation. Still, the point stands.

04 January 2008 - Sri Lanka invades Tamil territory

A must-read from Tom Gross at the National Review:

Prof. Steven Plaut of Haifa University in Israel emails me the following:

The jets bombed the bejeebers out of them. The ground forces invaded. They at long last suppressed the terrorists, who had conducted a long campaign of suicide bombing and planting bombs, and put an end to any notion that the terrorists and their sponsors would be granted their own state.

Many civilians were killed and wounded, yet not a single protest was made against the invasion anywhere. I am of course referring to the conquest by the army of Sri Lanka over the past few days of the last hold-out city of the Tamil independence rebels.

Kilinochchi was the last town held by the Tamil “Tiger” Rebels, considered to be a terrorist group by the United States. With it fell the last Tamil hope of setting up an independent state or even of getting autonomy inside Sri Lanka. The Tamils have their own state inside India but were not satisfied with that manifestation of “self-determination.” Kilinochchi, 579 kilometers north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, was until recent months the center of political power for the rebels.

Meanwhile not a single Solidarity-with-the-Tamil-Tigers protest has been organized on a single Western campus or in a single downtown square. Mobs and “academics” have not taken to the streets to demand an end to the war of aggression against the Tamils. Leftist web sites have not proclaimed every injury of a Tamil civilian to be a Nazi-like war crime and an act of genocide.

Eurocrats have not pontificated about how the Sri Lankan response to the terror was out of proportion. The International Solidarity Movement has not sent in protesters from the West to try to defend the terrorists. Communists and fellow travelers have not organized flotillas of boats carrying aid to the terrorists. Israeli politicians have not lectured the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka about how the whole problem is that they are insensitive to the needs of the “Other.”

None have proposed dividing Colombo and handing over half to the Tamils. Virtually no one knows that 65,000 civilians have died in the fighting and the media have no interest in covering the story.