Sunday, October 19, 2014

How to deal with irrationality and chaos — Part II

How to deal with irrationality and chaos — Part II

In my last post, I gave several examples of irrational or even crazy international behavior that is dangerous for Israel. A country or other entity behaves irrationally when it acts in ways that are inconsistent with reality, do not serve the real interests of the regime, or both.
Note that I said ‘the regime’, not ‘the country’. Many regimes do things that are bad for their population in the long or short run in order to enrich themselves or stay in power. For the purposes of this discussion, these actions are considered rational. Bashar al-Assad may be destroying Syria, but he is acting to stay in power, the top priority of an autocrat after staying alive.
Ideology-driven regimes often behave irrationally, because ideology invariably distorts reality. Hitler drove out Jewish scientists before the war, and then diverted resources to killing Jews that could have been used for the war effort.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when policies are ideologically driven and when ideology is just used as an excuse for pragmatic action. This is one of the difficulties in predicting the behavior of a country like Iran, where we don’t know how much influence the leaders’ religious beliefs have on their decisions.
Autocratic regimes usually act pragmatically rather than ideologically, but their behavior becomes irrational when they lose touch with reality. Think of the Egyptian generals in 1967 reporting to Cairo their imminent entry into Tel Aviv. But an autocrat doesn’t stay in power for long if he doesn’t act rationally (e.g., Saddam thinking he could defeat the US) so there is a kind of natural selection for rationality.
The US is different, because its president is often elected for reasons unrelated to competence, and he can stay in power for extended periods despite massive failures. He can’t be deposed by a vote of no confidence, nobody will overthrow him, and impeachment is rare (and slow). He also has an almost totally free hand in foreign policy; although Congress can theoretically rein him in, in practice he can take highly consequential actions before Congress can respond.
An effective foreign policy for Israel has to take into account all of these considerations. Irrational behavior based on ideology is the most difficult to handle — you can’t negotiate with someone whose ideological enmity exceeds his pragmatic interests.
Israel is in the interesting position today that the pragmatic interests of some of its traditional enemies (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) favor Israel, while the administration of its most important partner, the US, seems to have allowed ideology to warp its perspective. Rather than supporting countervailing forces to expansionist Iran (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt), it appears to be cooperating with Iran.
The fundamental irrationality here is that Iran sees the US as its enemy, both ideologically and as an obstacle to its expansion. The only explanation that I can see for this contradictory policy is that its authors think that in the short term they will gain some boots on the ground against Da’ash and immunity from Shi’a terrorism, while in the long term a sufficiently abject apology for Western imperialism will change the Iranian attitude.
But this is based on a misunderstanding of its partner. From the Iranian point of view, the message is that the US is weak and wants to surrender. Any cooperation will be exploited.
Since opposition to Israel’s existence is a high priority both ideologically and pragmatically for Iran, US cooperation with it undercuts the American relationship with Israel, which already is suffering from the administration’s lack of sympathy.
We saw this play out during the recent Gaza war, when the US applied various forms of pressure — including an apparent embargo on all kinds of weapons and ammunition — to try to force Israel to agree to a disadvantageous ceasefire proposal presented by Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar. I see this as primarily ideological, based on the administration’s misperception of the Palestinians as an indigenous people oppressed by a colonialist Israel, and their struggle to destroy the Jewish state as a ‘civil rights’ issue.
The US agreed to donate $212 million to rebuilding Hamas-controlled Gaza at the recent donor’s conference, to which Israel was pointedly not invited. In all, there were $5.4 billion in pledges. This is as if Hitler were allowed to remain in power in 1945 to help distribute Marshall Plan funds.
So we have the US, on the one hand, doing everything short of explicitly siding with Hamas in its aggression and terrorism against Israel, justifying its actions with hypocritical accusations of disproportionate use of force (while its own operations have been far more disproportionate); and on the other hand, moving closer to Israel’s most dangerous enemy, Iran, to the point of facilitating its acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Israeli policy has been to try to convince the administration that a) Hamas is an evil terrorist organization and b) Iran will be dangerous to the US if it gets nuclear weapons. Both of these efforts have been unsuccessful, because of ideological barriers to perception.
Israel’s leadership doesn’t seem to understand that relations with the US have taken a new turn with the Obama Administration. It is possible that political winds in the US have permanently shifted to the left. If this is true, then Israel can’t just wait until 2017: it needs a whole new approach.
The US is rapidly losing influence over the behavior of the Arab nations and Iran, who see it as unwilling to support its talk with action. Unfortunately, it retains a great deal of its ability to hurt Israel. While Netanyahu seems to be doing his best to take advantage of the pragmatic interests of the Arab nations to improve relations with them, if he understands the danger of the ideological shift of the US, he is keeping his thoughts to himself. Even the often outspoken Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon is speaking in conciliatory tones.
I think that an entirely different policy is needed. Israel is a powerful country, possibly the most powerful in the region. It should act like that, not like a supplicant begging the US and others to allow it to exist. It should, for example, make a clear statement that it will not permit the establishment of a sovereign ‘Palestinian’ state in Judea/Samaria. There is already one in Gaza, and it is a viciously hostile entity.
Soon there will be multiple nuclear powers here. With the US losing influence, someone will have to take up the slack. Contenders include Turkey and Iran. The idea of an Israel-Turkish alliance to secure the Eastern Mediterranean would be attractive and sensible, except that Erdo─čan’s Islamist ideology prevents it (yet another example of ideology causing irrational behavior).
A conflict between Israel and Iran, probably taking the form of war with Hizballah, seems unavoidable. If Israel prevails, then it will be in a position to control its own destiny far more than it can today. But we should expect serious opposition from the US, perhaps even worse than in the Gaza war. Planning should be in progress now to fight this warwithout assistance from the US. It must be possible to destroy Hizballah’s fighting ability before it is saved by an imposed ceasefire.
This war will be a turning point. Either Israel will come out of it as a regional superpower, or it will be so weakened that its survival will be in question.

Why Europe Is Irrational About Israel

Why Europe Is Irrational About Israel

By David P. Goldman 
Coming soon after Sweden’s recognition of a non-existent state of Palestine, the British Parliament’s 274-to-12 resolution to recognize “Palestine” flags a sea-change in European sentiment towards Israel. France is thinking of following suit. The European Community bureaucracy, meanwhile, has readied sanctions against Israel. One remonstrates in vain. The Gaza War should have taught the world that Israel cannot cede territory to Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 10th year of a 4-year term. Hamas has the support of 55% of West Bank Palestinians vs. just 38% for Abbas, and Hamas openly brags that it could destroy Israel more easily from firing positions in the West Bank. Only the Israeli military keeps Abbas in power; without the Israelis Hamas would displace Abbas in the West Bank as easily as it did in Gaza; and a Hamas government in the West Bank would make war on Israel, with horrifying consequences.

To propose immediate Palestinian statehood under these circumstances is psychotic, to call the matter by its right name. The Europeans, along with the United Nations and the Obama administration on most working days, refuse to take reality into account. When someone tells you that Martians are transmitting radio waves into his brain, or that Elvis Presley really is the pope rather than an Argentine Jesuit, one doesn’t enquire into the merits of the argument. Rather, one considers the cause of the insanity.

The Europeans hate Israel with the passion of derangement. Why? Well, one might argue that the Europeans always have hated Jews; they were sorry they hated Jews for a while after the Holocaust, but they have gotten over that and hate us again. Some analysts used to cite Arab commercial influence in European capitals, but today Egypt and implicitly Saudi Arabia are closer to Jerusalem’s point of view than Ramallah’s. Large Muslim populations in Europe constitute a pressure group for anti-Israel policies, but that does not explain the utter incapacity of the European elite to absorb the most elementary facts of the situation.

Europe’s derangement has deeper roots. Post-nationalist Europeans, to be sure, distrust and despise all forms of nationalism. But Israeli nationalism does not offend Europe merely because it is one more kind of nationalism. From its founding, Europe has been haunted by the idea of Israel. Its first states emerged as an attempt to appropriate the election of Israel. As I wrote in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too):
The unquiet urge of each nation to be chosen in its own skin began with the first conversion of Europe’s pagans; it was embedded in European Christendom at its founding. Christian chroniclers cast the newly-baptized European monarchs in the role of biblical kings, and their nations in the role of the biblical Israel. The first claims to national election came at the crest of the early Dark Ages, from the sixth-century chronicler St Gregory of Tours (538-594), and the seventh-century Iberian churchman St Isidore of Seville.
As I observed on the First World War anniversary, Saints Isidore of Seville and Gregory of Tours were in the Bialystock and Bloom of the Dark Ages, the Producers of the European founding: they sold each petty monarch 100% of the show. Europe’s nationalisms were not simply an expansion of tribal impulses, but a nationalism refined and shaped by Christianity into a ghastly caricature of Israel’s Chosenness. In turn, each European country asserted its status as God’s new people: France under Richelieu during the 17th century, England under the Tudors, Russia (“The Third Rome”) from the time of Ivan the Terrible, and ultimately the Germans, who substituted the concept of “master race” for the Chosen People.

The flowering of Jewish national life in Israel makes the Europeans crazy. It is not simply envy: it is a terrible reminder of the vanity of European national aspirations over the centuries, of the continent’s ultimate failure as a civilization. Just as the Europeans (most emphatically the Scandinavians) would prefer to dissolve into the post-national stew of European identity, they demand that Israel do the same. Never mind that Israel lacks the option to do so, and would be destroyed were it to try, for reasons that should be obvious to any casual consumer of news media.

Europeans cannot live with their past. They cannot live with their present, and do not plan to have a future, for they do not bear enough children to forestall demographic ruin at the hundred-year horizon. With its high fertility, national spirit, religiosity and unabashed national self-assertion, Israel reminds the Europeans of everything that they are not. Much worse: it reminds them of what they once desired to become. The idea of Israel as well as the fact of Israel are equally intolerable to them.

It remains to be seen whether Germany–the one European country that has made a vigorous effort to come to grips with its dreadful past–will allow anti-Israel sentiment to turn into diplomatic isolation. One hopes that Angela Merkel, Germany’s talented and well-intentioned chancellor, will stand in the way of this. Europe may not be quite a lost cause for Israel, but it is at grave risk of becoming one.

How to deal with irrationality and chaos — Part I

How to deal with irrationality and chaos — Part I

Words like ‘insanity’, ‘derangement’ and (more mildly) ‘irrationality’ are used more and more these days in discourse about the Middle East.
In no particular order:
The insane hatred for Israel in Europe. David P. Goldman explains the European derangement (his word) here:
The flowering of Jewish national life in Israel makes the Europeans crazy. It is not simply envy: it is a terrible reminder of the vanity of European national aspirations over the centuries, of the continent’s ultimate failure as a civilization. Just as the Europeans (most emphatically the Scandinavians) would prefer to dissolve into the post-national stew of European identity, they demand that Israel do the same. Never mind that Israel lacks the option to do so, and would be destroyed were it to try, for reasons that should be obvious to any casual consumer of news media.
Europeans cannot live with their past. They cannot live with their present, and do not plan to have a future, for they do not bear enough children to forestall demographic ruin at the hundred-year horizon. With its high fertility, national spirit, religiosity and unabashed national self-assertion, Israel reminds the Europeans of everything that they are not. Much worse: it reminds them of what they once desired to become. The idea of Israel as well as the fact of Israel are equally intolerable to them.
Europe is still Israel’s biggest market, unfortunately, and its spite can be painful, although not fatal.
While we’re talking about attitudes toward Israel, there is the consistent irrationality of the Obama Administration. For example, John Kerry said this yesterday:
I think that it is more critical than ever that we be fighting for peace, and I think it is more necessary than ever… As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL (Islamic State) coalition, the truth is we – there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt.
This is nothing more than the discredited ‘linkage theory’ which claimed that every problem in the Middle East would be solved if only the Palestinians could be appeased by being given a nice piece of Israel to chew on. The fact that Kerry could bring this stinking red herring back from the garbage dump of bad excuses to squeeze Israel with a straight face is remarkable (but then Kerry has always been impervious to reality when it goes against his ideology).
Much of the problem with the administration is a combination of ineptness and the State Department’s permanent inability, since the days of Marshall and Truman, to come to grips with the idea of a Jewish state. Rigidity when ideology is contradicted by reality is a form of irrationality, and when carried to the extreme that it interferes with one’s functioning, becomes a mental disorder. But I’m convinced there are other, darker motives at work in the White House as well. Only some of it is rational.
Then of course there is the savagery of Da’ash (or ISIS if you prefer), which is so far from the norms of civilized society that its practitioners — many of whom originate in civilized societies — would be called insane if they acted the same way in a different context. Yes, public beheadings are a form of psychological warfare, but there is also a negative response to their subhuman behavior which they don’t seem to care about. To a great extent, they do what they do because it makes them feel good.
In addition to irrationality, the ongoing withdrawal of American power from the region is bringing about a chaotic situation as traditional alliances, blocs and in some cases (Iraq, Syria) nations crumble. This state of affairs is hugely complicated with numerous entities — Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Russia, the US, Hamas, Da’ash, the Kurds, etc. all with different agendas and shifting alliances. There is a mixture of rational and irrational motives.
Interestingly, Israel’s traditional bitter enemies Saudi Arabia and Egypt seem to want to cooperate with Israel. The Saudis know that Israel doesn’t want to overthrow their regime, and won’t bomb their oil fields — but Iran might. And Egypt’s Sisi and Israel have a common enemy in Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, Israel’s traditional ally, the US, is moving toward an alliance with Iran against its former allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Michael Doran explains,
An examination of Obama’s recent moves in the Middle East reveals that he has exploited the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State (IS) in order to increase cooperation with Iran in matters of regional security. Of course, administration officials dismiss any suggestion that they are “coordinating” with the Iranians militarily. In their next breath, however, they grudgingly concede otherwise—acknowledging, for example, that we provided advance notice to Tehran of the anti-IS coalition’s bombing plans in Syria. They also acknowledge opening “a quiet backchannel” to Tehran in order to “de-conflict” Iranian and American operations in Iraq. …
Too clever by half, this distinction is hardly lost on America’s traditional allies in the region, all of whom regard the Iranian alliance system, which includes Syria and Hizballah, as their primary enemy. Middle East media are replete with stories of backroom deals between Washington and Tehran. Given the enormous gap between what the Americans are claiming in public about Iran and what they are seen to be doing in private, even the false reports carry an air of plausibility.
As the US moves away from Israel and as the charade of nuclear negotiations with Iran continues, making it more and more likely that Iran will become a nuclear power, the Israeli policy of simultaneously aligning herself with the US and trying to resist US pressure to give up the store to the Palestinians is becoming more and more dangerous.
In part II I will suggest some different ideas.

How the US first agreed and then refused to help locate a missing IDF soldier

How the US first agreed and then refused to help locate a missing IDF soldier


Lingering questions remain from this episode.

For the IDF, it was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war with Hamas. On July 19 and 20, only days after Israel began the ground offensive against Hamas, an Israeli armored personnel carrier, with nine soldiers inside from the Golani Brigade, crossed into the Hamas stronghold of Shejaia in Gaza City. It was an older APC, built in the 1970s, and was in dubious mechanical condition. The armor protecting the APC was several inches less thick than the newer models in the IDF.

That such an older, outdated and unprotected APC was sent into battle would become the subject of a bitter controversy within the IDF. These conditions set the seeds for a national tragedy that still haunts Israelis.

Sometime early Sunday morning, July 20, the APC stalled out in one of the Hamas neighborhood’s densely packed streets. Two soldiers got out to see if they could fix it. But this was Hamas’s backyard: Scores of terrorists were densely packed throughout the neighborhood, in apartment buildings, mosques, tunnels, underground passage ways and alleyways.

And then Hamas struck: Terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the APC which penetrated the thin armor and apparently hit a stockpile of munitions inside. The APC exploded in a fiery blast. Soldiers who witnessed the explosion were helpless. No one could have survived. Still, even worse, an IDF drone showed that up to half a dozen Hamas terrorists had converged on the burning vehicle, which prevented an immediate effort to retrieve the APC along with the bodies of the soldiers inside. In addition, the prospect of another explosion inside the APC kept other soldiers from the Golani Brigade at bay.

The Times of Israel later provided an English summary of an exclusive report from the Israeli website that reported details it had obtained from a classified IDF report of the incident It described what happened next: “At that point, the Golani Brigade’s command, assessing that the soldiers in the APC had been killed, ordered other soldiers in the field to converge on the APC and evacuate body parts from within the vehicle. However, the soldiers were wary of nearing the APC, as they feared weaponry inside could set off a secondary explosion at any moment. The soldiers also reported hearing shouting in Arabic in the vicinity of the APC, according to Walla.

“Golani Command decided to summon IDF combat engineers to erect a dirt barrier around the APC and seclude it from the surrounding area.

“The subsequent IDF investigation concluded that Hamas gunmen had already reached the vehicle and taken parts of Shaul’s body by this time.

Hamas later released an ID photo of Shaul, along with his army ID number.”

The IDF retrieved the APC, but it made a grim discovery in identifying the remains of the soldiers who perished inside the vehicle. The IDF could only find the remains of six soldiers, whereas it knew seven had been inside when the vehicle exploded.

Shortly thereafter, Hamas made a startling announcement on that Sunday evening: The terrorist groups claimed it had kidnapped the seventh soldier, St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul. The military wing of Hamas broadcast a statement that “Israeli soldier Shaul Oron is in the hands of the Kassam Brigades.” To prove its claim, Hamas released photos of Oron’s ID and other items he carried on him. To further bolster its claim, Hamas hacked into Oron’s Facebook page and posted claims in Arabic, Hebrew and English that it had him. Hamas taunted the Israeli public with cruel and sadistic propaganda on the hacked Facebook page.

On Monday, July 22, as international news reports carried Hamas’s claim of capture of Oron, the IDF really had no idea what happened to the soldier.

The only statement made by the IDF at that point was that Oron was missing in action. Even two days later, the IDF still did not know if he had been kidnapped by Hamas or was dead.

Kidnapping an Israeli soldier is one of the highest priorities for Hamas, since Israel has proven willing to trade large numbers of imprisoned terrorists to get back just one soldier, as happened in the case of Gilad Schalit. The news of Hamas’s alleged kidnapping triggered wild celebrations in Gaza.

The IDF and Israeli intelligence agencies initiated a massive manhunt for Oron, to no avail. “We simply did not know whether he was alive or not,” an Israeli military official told me, “or whether Hamas had killed him or whether Hamas had simply kidnapped his body. But we had immediately set up a dragnet around the entire area to encircle the terrorists and prevent them from leaving the general area. We knew we did not have much time.”

The dragnet proved porous, as Hamas terrorists had many ways of escaping, especially through the network of tunnels they had built.

But in hacking Oron’s Facebook page, Hamas may have inadvertently given away the location of the terrorists who had him or his body. That’s because whenever a Facebook account is accessed, Facebook’s servers automatically keep a record of the Internet Protocol address where the account was accessed. IP addresses can provide a location of the IP address where the Facebook account was hacked.

In addition, there was a remote possibility that Oron had been carrying his cellphone, although Israeli soldiers are not supposed to take their cellphones into battle. But if he had done so, then it was theoretically possible that Hamas had hacked into the mobile Facebook application on his phone. If the Israelis could obtain the Facebook server data as soon as possible, they might have had a chance to find the whereabouts of the terrorists who took Oron.

Israel made an urgent appeal to the FBI for help in trying to determine the remote source or information that would be stored on Facebook servers indicating the location where Oron’s page had been hacked into. Upon receiving the request from Israel in Washington on July 21, the FBI immediately issued a “preservation letter” to Facebook ordering them to preserve all data saved on their server pertaining to the Oron’s account.

At 4:25 p.m. on July 21, the FBI contacted a United States Attorney’s Office in a nearby district to initiate the legal process to get a court order to serve Facebook for server information on the account belonging to the soldier.

“Due to HAMAS status as a Designated Terrorist Organization (DTO), there is a great effort to locate those who kidnapped and/or killed ORON,” read an FBI email to the US Attorney’s Office. “HAMAS is already using the kidnapping as propaganda, which is material support to a DTO.”

In the email, the FBI noted there was unusual activity on Oron’s Facebook account after his kidnapping and said it needed more information from Facebook that it could only obtain with a court order to be able to fully determine what “HAMAS was doing with Oron’s Facebook account and possibly his phone.” Was the US Attorney’s Office in a position, the FBI wanted to know, to immediately obtain a court order for the FBI to deliver to Facebook? Shortly thereafter, the US Attorney’s Office thought it was near ready to be able to immediately obtain a court order. But before it could obtain such an order, it needed specific information on Oron’s Facebook account that it could present to the judge.

At the same time, back in Israel, the reports of the possible kidnapping of began to dominate Israeli news as the Israeli public became more anxious by the hour. The IDF meanwhile would not confirm that he had been kidnapped or that he was dead or alive, only that he was missing in action.

To be sure, the IDF was using all other available intelligence means – technical and human – to try to determine the fate of its missing soldier.

The attempt to secure information via the soldier’s Facebook account was just one of the multiple efforts being made by the IDF but deemed a “worthy shot” by a senior Israeli military official. So as these other efforts were under way, time was ticking away on the Israeli request to the FBI to get vital Facebook server information on the Hamas terrorists who had either kidnapped Oron or seized his remains. The more time elapsed, the less the odds of finding the soldier.

But the next day, July 22, the US Attorney’s Office received a startling response from the FBI: “Thank You for your effort, input and assistance. I regret to inform you we have been denied approval to move forward with legal process.

We were told by our management we need a MLAT [Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty] in order to continue to assist our partner with the request in question.” Those words put an immediate halt to the Israeli request.

An MLAT is a standardized legal agreement between the United States and other countries that spells out the legal and diplomatic protocols in processing requests for legal information pertaining to court cases in either the United States or in another country. MLATs go through various bureaucratic channels, usually take weeks to process and would generally be used for non-pressing legal matters in which the United States or another country was carrying out a legal process such as a prosecution involving a citizen of another country.

Prosecutors familiar with their use say that an MLAT would definitely not be used in an urgent life-or-death intelligence or counter-terrorist incident, especially with a close ally such as Israel. “In a pressing court matter, there is no way the USG would invoke an MLAT with a close ally,” said a veteran prosecutor who has worked on international counterterrorism cases.

Law enforcement officials knowledgeable about this incident say both prosecutors and the FBI were shocked at the turn of events. “This sudden reversal was devastating,” said one law enforcement official who was intimately familiar with this incident.

“For those working this case, they felt this decision was tantamount to a death sentence. Nothing less.”

And thus, the FBI was never able to supply Israel with any information on Oron’s Facebook account that might have led to the location of the soldier or his remains that had been seized by Hamas.

It’s also clear that there was no guarantee that this information, once obtained, would have located the terrorists or Oron.

Three days later, on July 25, after an exhaustive forensic investigation, the IDF concluded that Oron Shaul was dead.

“Today, July 25, 2014, at 14:40, a special committee lead by the chief rabbi of the IDF, announced the death of the IDF infantry soldier, Staff-Sergeant Oron Shaul, who was killed in battle in Gaza on July 20, 2014,” the army’s statement said.

To this day the soldier’s body, as well as that of another soldier who died in battle, Lt. Hadar Goldin, remain in the hands of Hamas. Recent reports indicate Hamas is interested in negotiating a swap for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and that Israel has appointed an IDF officer to head up these negotiations.

Lingering questions remain from this episode. Senior law enforcement officials, on condition of anonymity, have told me that the withdrawal of authority to the FBI to retrieve the Facebook records for Israel came from the attorney general’s office.

But why would Eric Holder’s office reverse such a request, especially since it was so urgent and came from such a close ally? And if it was not the attorney-general’s office who reversed the request, and then who did? It could only have come from someone very senior in the US government.

This article was based on interviews with US law enforcement officials, and Israeli military officials and a review of official documents.

Steven Emerson is a frequent writer on terrorism issues for US and international publications. He is the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism ( and the author of six books on national security and Islamic terrorism.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

These are not the old ‘American values’

These are not the old ‘American values’

WASHINGTON — The White House remained firmly behind its criticism of Israeli settlement construction and pushed back on Monday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s retort that the US rebuke goes “against American values.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest pointedly noted that American values were responsible for US support of Israel and for building the Iron Dome anti-rocket system to protect Israelis.
“When it comes to American values, it’s American values that led to this country’s unwavering support of Israel,” Earnest said. “It’s American values that have led us to fund and build an Iron Dome system to protect the lives of countless Israelis.”
“It’s clear how American values dictate or at least guide our thinking,” he added.
The ‘settlement construction’ in question is the building of 2610 units — 800 of which are intended for Arab residents —  in a Jerusalem neighborhood just across the Green Line called “Givat Hamatos.” The plan actually received final approved in 2012, but a recent announcement by the Mayor of Jerusalem was publicized immediately before PM Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama by Peace Now, which called it “destructive to the two-state solution.”
The White House and State Department responded predictably, with exceptionally harsh statements that the action would “distance Israel from even its closest allies” and “call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement.”
The US also strongly criticized the action of several Jewish families to legally purchase apartments in the Arab-populated Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem — a place where Jews lived prior to the ethnic cleansing of 1948.
None of this is surprising, given the administration’s policies. But as a (former) American, I think I know something about American values. And this ain’t them.
There is no question that Israelis are grateful to the US for its support of the Iron Dome system, which doubtless saved many lives. But the actions of the administration during the recent Gaza war are troubling.
While they seem to have no problem with Jews hunkering down and trying to deflect missile attacks, US officials — including Obama — were highly critical of Israel’s striking the sources of those attacks, despite the fact that the 1:1 ratio of civilian to combatant casualties was far better than the the US record in recent and current conflicts.
John Kerry pressured Israel to accept a Qatari-Turkish draft of a ceasefire agreement, despite the fact that these nations were the major backers of Hamas, and their proposal — as opposed to the Egyptian draft that was finally accepted — was advantageous to Hamas.
And although it is hard to prove, it is probably true that the FAA ban on US flights to Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport was instigated from the White House. The ban, which was followed by similar actions by non-US airlines, had the potential to seriously damage Israel’s economy. It was seen by many in Israel as a shot across its bow.
So is trying to deter a country from striking back at an aggressor consistent with American values? The US certainly responded with great force to Pearl Harbor and to 9/11 (even if its targeting was a little off in the latter case).
Fighting back against aggression is clearly an American value, as the US’ own actions and any John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movie should make clear. But as many observers noted during the Gaza war, the US supports Israel’s right to self-defense in principle, but not in practice.
It is also hard to understand why the US insists that any building across the Green Line, even in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem like Givat Hamatos, violates American values. It doesn’t even violate the American desire to divide Jerusalem on the principle that Arab neighborhoods will become part of ‘Palestine’, because it is already a Jewish neighborhood. What it does violate is the PLO contention that all of the land that was illegally occupied by Jordan between ’48 and ’67 was thereby transformed into ‘Palestinian land’ and belongs to them. But this is illogical, and anyway they believe that everything belongs to them.
Finally, the most glaring contradiction to American values is the objection to Jews living in Silwan. Arabs can live wherever they want in the eastern or western parts of Jerusalem. Why should Jews be prevented from doing so? There is a word for this, and it is entirely in opposition to present-day American values: segregation. It is remarkable that President Obama, who is exquisitely sensitive to civil rights issues in other contexts, doesn’t apply the same reasoning to Jews.
There are other American values that the administration is violating. One is the idea that you don’t stick your nose into other people’s affairs, especially to intervene on the side of a racist bully, which is what the PLO and Hamas are. More specifically, you don’t insist on taking away someone’s land in order to give it to terrorists who will use it as a launchpad for violence.
Apparently the administration’s idea of “American values” is more akin to doctrinaire left-wing European values. But I don’t think most real Americans agree.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Understanding the Goals of Hamas and Israel

Understanding the Goals of Hamas and Israel

In a sermon, a rabbi does a deceptively simple thing to help explain the nature of the Middle East conflict.


A couple of weeks ago, Laurie Goodstein, in the Times, wrote of American pulpit rabbis who are sometimes too skittish to express their true feelings about Israel and, in particular, its current government:

Debate among Jews about Israel is nothing new, but some say the friction is now fire. Rabbis said in interviews that it may be too hot to touch, and many are anguishing over what to say about Israel in their sermons during the High Holy Days ...
I expressed the thought on Twitter (a famous vehicle for complicated thoughts) that it is pathetic for rabbis to avoid discussing certain subjects for fear of offending members of their congregations. What's the point of being in the clergy if you can't speak your heart? Many rabbis, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, have sometimes found themselves to the left of their congregations—or at least to the left of their most influential congregants—on matters related to Israel, but speaking truth to (synagogue board) power is a risk they are required to take.

Later that day, I also endorsed a seemingly contradictory position, one advanced by Peter Beinart, that pulpit rabbis would serve their congregations better by talking about Judaism, rather than about geopolitics (where, he suggests, they have no huge comparative advantage over such paid scribblers as Beinart and Goldberg). Here's Peter:

The greatest threat to Jewish life in the United States is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s religious illiteracy. The American Jewish community represents an unprecedented experiment in what happens when you combine mass ignorance of Jewish law and tradition with radical acceptance by the gentile world. The result is tragic. It’s not tragic because more than seventy percent of non-Orthodox American Jews now intermarry. People should grab love where they can. It’s tragic because so many of the young American Jews who choose not to raise Jewish families don’t even know what they’re discarding.
That evening, Goldblog Chief Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (who in his spare time also serves as senior rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation, the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington), emailed me with a question, which went, essentially, "What do you want from me?" But nicely, of course.

I acknowledged the seeming contradiction in my tweeting by telling him that I'd rather hear rabbis teach their congregants Judaism, but if you're going to talk about Israel, then you might as well say what you think. He assured me that that was his plan for Rosh Hashanah.

And he executed the plan very well. I've been collecting sermons from around the country on the subject of Israel, in order to understand where mainstream Jewish thought is today. (Hint: It's not where Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson think it is, but nor is it where the left might think it is—many rabbis, like many rank-and-file Jews, were shocked this summer by the ferocious return of anti-Semitism, and by the deep desire on the part of Hamas and its sympathizers to annihilate the Jewish state. So far, the sermons I've read seem less naive about the nature of the conflict than they have in the recent past.) I've read some eloquent writing, but so far I'm partial to Rabbi Steinlauf's, because he managed to be crystal-clear in his condemnation of Hamas and of global anti-Semitism, but also resolutely clear about the responsibility of Jews to keep hate from hardening their hearts.

Through much of the summer, I was trying to explain the actual nature of Hamas, which is a hard thing to do when the prevailing narrative has the group playing the role of the aggrieved resistance. Steinlauf solved this conundrum by doing something deceptively simple. He read from Israel's Declaration of Independence, and then from the Hamas Charter, as a way of illustrating the radical moral difference between two competing understandings of the world:

At a moment like this, we need to go back to basics. We need to remember who we are as Jews, and why we are here, and what the vision and dream of the State of Israel is in the first place. On May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion spoke these words.

“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Thank God, the modern state of Israel is indeed all of these things. Within these words we hear of Israel’s commitment to be based on prophetic values of justice. In the haftarah of Yom Kippur, we will recite the words of Isaiah who tells us that God wants us to “... unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke ... to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.”

Contrast the Israeli Declaration with the foundational “Covenant of Hamas,” where article 7 quotes the Koran and reads, “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: “O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.”
He then went on to caution against the temptations of hatred:

Yes, these terrorists are motivated by an anti-Semitism as pure as that of Hitler. But on this New Year, as we face the unshakable truth of anti-Semitism in Gaza and the world, and reel from the deaths of children—we must, above all else, resist the urge to sink to Hamas’ level. Instead, we must stand strong and hold fast to the foundational principles of Israel and Judaism. If we are to play our part in overcoming the darkness of our time, the narrative of Israel must no longer be about Jews vs. Arabs, or Israelis vs. Palestinians. ... It is not about the powerful vs. the powerless. The struggle in the Land of Israel is a struggle between those who yearn for peace and those who do not yearn for peace.
And he continued:

We must ... realize that no one people or ideology owns the claim to the worst victimhood in this world. There is, in truth, only one story of victimhood in the entire human saga, and that is the loss of innocent life at the hands of any and all people who do not value peace and justice and the dignity of life itself. The Mishnah itself, in Sanhedrin (4:5), explains: God created the world from one single person, from Adam, "... for the sake of peace among humankind, that one should not say to another, 'My parent was greater than your parent.' ...  There is a parallel teaching to this in the Koran itself! The evil that we struggle against is not in Islam. Yes, Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, has its problematic texts—but as a religion it is not evil. [The evil] is in the twisted, distorted ideas of Hamas and other fanatics.

I remain partial to the view that American Jewry is threatened more by its own ignorance than by anything that may happen in the Middle East. But if rabbis are going to speak about Israel, then they should speak with clarity, as Steinlauf did at Rosh Hashanah.

Europe loves ‘Palestine’

Europe loves ‘Palestine’
European governments, in part responding to pressure to appeal to Muslim residents, to appease oil-producing nations — who haven’t stopped wanting to weaken Israel despite their worries about Iran — or perhaps because of anti-Jewish feelings that are under the surface, are pressing harder than ever to give another piece of the land of Israel to the Arabs.
In a brilliant example of non-sequitur argument, Sweden’s new Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven announced in his inauguration speech that
The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved by a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law. It must guarantee both the Palestinians [sic] and Israelis’ legitimate demands for national sovereignty and security …
A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognise the state of Palestine.
This is the first time a sitting member of the EU has recognized ‘Palestine’, a non-state that has no borders, economy, control of its population, or legitimate government (elections are four years overdue in the Palestinian Authority). Nevertheless, international recognition is one of the most important prerequisites for statehood, and Sweden’s action will be significant.
It should be obvious that Lofven’s statement makes little sense. Palestinian demands for sovereignty do not come from a desire for peaceful coexistence — otherwise there would already be a Palestinian state — but to make Israeli security, and ultimately Jewish sovereignty, impossible.
The ‘legitimate demands for national sovereignty’ made by Palestinian Arabs are not equivalent to those of Israel, because they are disingenuous. They are part of a program to deny Jewish sovereignty and to possess the land and property of the Jews of Israel. A “two-state solution” as envisaged by the Arabs and doubtless by Lofven involves Israel ceding control over areas that are essential to its security.
The Arab position also includes a right of ‘return’ for the descendents of Arabs that fled the country in 1948, which would convert Israel into an Arab-majority state. The PLO (not to mention Hamas) doesn’t hide its intention to continue the struggle until “all of Palestine is liberated.”
The Europeans are able to rationalize their behavior — which just happens to be politically advantageous — by appealing to the historical and conceptual narrative sold by the Arabs and other enemies of Jewish sovereignty. The narrative portrays the establishment of the state of Israel as an act of colonialist expropriation of indigenous land.
As I’ve said before, this requires a massive distortion of historical fact – suddenly, Arabs from Syria or Egypt who had been in Palestine for one or two generations have to be presented as the remnants of a millennia-old ‘Palestinian’ civilization, and Jews who were hated and exterminated in Europe have to become ‘European colonialists’.
Nevertheless, this fits perfectly with the post-colonial worldview that is popular in academic and left-wing circles. The effect is to sanctify what is really a racist attempt to end Jewish self-determination in the only place it exists in the world and ultimately to ‘purify’ the Middle East by ridding it of Jews.
Unfortunately this point of view has become the conventional wisdom in much of Europe, which is suffering from dual guilt for its responsibility for several hundred years of realcolonialist exploitation throughout the world, and of course the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis (with a great deal of European cooperation, thank you).
If the new Swedish PM would like to improve the lot of the Palestinian Arabs, he should favor a form of less-than-sovereign autonomy for Arabs in parts of the territories, with overall Israeli security control over borders, airspace, etc.
But that will never happen, because according to the conjunction of post-colonialist doctrine and political correctness that has infected the dying European societies, every group that claims indigenous status (except for Jews) has a right to sovereignty. And the more violently that group behaves, the stronger their claim.