Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Michael Oren is one of my favorite writers. A great historian, he manages to compile long and complicated histories in a fairly simple, and easily digestible way. Despite it having sat on my shelf for a number of years, I finally read Six Days of War,” fairly recently. It is a history textbook, inundated with dates and figures, yet at the same time, it is a true page turner.

In addition to his writing, Oren is a charismatic speaker, as well. I recently heard him speak about the strategic threats that Israel faces today. The first of these threats, of course, is Iran. One argument that is raised against an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is that states are rational actors, and Iran would not benefit, to say the least, from sending nuclear missiles at another nuclear state.

As Oren illustrated, the issue is deeper than that. Were Iran to nuclearize, it would be able to put the region under nuclear alert, at whim. This sort of toying with Israel would have far reaching repercussions. Apart from destroying the tourist industry, the results of the IDF being on constant high alert would cost the state enormous amounts of money, all the while affecting a near total cessation of market activity, leading to an even greater economic disaster. This, of course, in addition to the arms race that would be launched among Israel’s neighbors, most of whom are not particularly friendly to the Jewish state (This was outlined in article for The New Republic, which Oren co-wrote with Yossi Klein Halevi).

Still on the subject of military threats, Oren addressed the issue of missiles. As mentioned, Israel’s north has been hit hard by missiles, most recently during the summer of 2006, and Hamas can now reach major Israel cities, shooting from Gaza. One of the strongest strategic arguments against Israeli withdrawals, one that was made in 2005, is that territory ceded will serve as a base for missiles that will be launched at Israeli residential areas.

Oren, a proponent of unilateral withdrawals, said that Israel has systems to thwart such attacks, and upon deployment of these systems in the near future, Hamas’s use of short range missiles will be neutralized. He mentioned two systems that will work in tandem to combat the missile threat. First, the Iron Dome, set to be operational by 2010, detects an incoming missile and launches an anti-missile missile to intercept it. The second, based on the M61 Vulcan, destroys incoming projectiles by shooting a high number of rounds per second, eliminating them in mid-air. However, even if these systems are effective, it seems the government has acted in typical Israeli fashion, and woken up very late.

With regards to prospects for peace, Oren briefly promoted the idea of developing Palestinian industry and education, and bolstering their moderate leadership. Again, I am confounded. No, he did not mention Mahmoud Abbas or Fatah as these moderates, but this statement nonetheless confounds me. But to which moderates is he referring? Assuming there are moderate figures somewhere in the Palestinian leadership, what good is it to help them if they have no public support? Did the numerous gestures towards Abbas serve as a moderating influence on Palestinian society? As Robert Kaplan asks, do they even want to be in a position in which statehood would be a real possibility?

Demographics are becoming more important every day. Jews represent only slightly over 75% of Israeli citizens. Most of the remaining quarter, do not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state, and Israel needs an overwhelming majority of Jews in order to maintain its status as the Jewish state. Nevertheless, Oren thinks that the shrinking birthrate of Arab-Israelis, alleviates cause for serious concern regarding Israeli citizens.

When looking at the entire populace between the river and the sea, Israel is approaching the day in which Jews will no longer be a majority. In order to address this problem and ensure a positive demographic balance within the area under Israeli control, Oren foresees a necessity for further Israel unilateral withdrawals from territory beyond the Green Line.

This does not add up. As he said, Israel deployed 55,000 security personnel in order to carry out the withdrawal from Gaza – the largest Israeli military operation since the Yom Kippur War. Within the framework of almost any future withdrawal plan, 80-100,000 Jews will need to leave their homes. Their homes, which are located in the heart of the Jewish ancestral homeland. As Oren himself acknowledged, in light of the difficulties encountered in Gaza, which will be compounded in any future similar action, any Israeli government is extremely unlikely to succeed in carrying out such a plan. Any unilateral withdrawal plan will probably be based on the route of the Security Fence, so unless Oren supports leaving large numbers of Israeli citizens in enemy territory, I am not sure what he is advocating.

All in all, though, Oren’s talk set a very optimistic tone. However, the limited question and answer period did not flesh out the logical gaps in the his illustration of Israel’s situation today. One issue he discussed which did inspire some confidence is water – largely due to the construction of a major desalination plant, Israel might finally be digging its way out of what is still a very dry hole.

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Israel has been criticized endlessly, both internally and externally, for countless alleged crimes. A popular accusation is of collective punishment. I do not wish to examine the facts of the matter here, but to raise a general question about the legality of such acts, particularly as seen by the United Nations.

Only a few short months ago, a UN representative characterized Israel’s policy with regards to the Gaza crossings as a “crime against humanity”, by “allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.” Again, setting aside the issue of whether or not this is indeed what Israel has been doing, the greater question here is of whether or not such actions, in theory, are permissible.

There is no simple answer. Such a question necessarily leads to the examination of additional issues. To what extent is your populace a higher priority than the enemy? What is the goal of such acts? Is it an attainable goal? However, such questions have all been hashed and rehashed countless times (Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars is a good place to start).

A recent oped in the New York Times shed some light on this issue. Wayne Long, who served as the UN’s chief security officer in Somalia for an entire decade, wrote about the recent wave of piracy. A few of the examples from his experience dealing with kidnappers in Somalia, however, are extremely eye-opening. Using a fairly straightforward strategy, “United Nations assistance was withheld… until those hostages were released. In every case there was a release, and in no case were hostages harmed or ransom paid.” The problem with this is that it is precisely the same approach for which Israel is being blamed.

Long tells of a 1995 incident, in which an aid worker was taken hostage. In response, the UN humanitarian agencies operating in the area simply shut off the water supply for the capital, Mogadishu. Doing so directed the local population’s rage at the kidnappers, who took four days to release the hostage.

The piece continues with a few more similar stories, but the message is clear. The UN uses collective punishment in order to achieve their goals. They refuse to capitulate to terrorists. This was official UN policy, as undertaken in Somalia.

I’ll reiterate that I am deliberately ignoring the question of what Israel has actually been doing, or what it has done in the past. That is a separate issue altogether. Nevertheless, why does the UN decry Israel’s implemention of a policy that the UN has used in the past, and in the same breath, call it a crime? Why does it demand that Gazan terrorists not be treated the same way as Somalians?

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I’m probably paraphrasing badly, but someone once told me that the true sign of a liberal is that will stand for anyone’s belief – as long they agree they should have it. In other words, freedom of expression does not apply for those who differ from you. I would hope that is not true for all (who claim to be) proponents of civil liberties and freedom of speech, but it certainly seems to be the case when it comes to the criticism of religious soldiers in the IDF.

A few weeks ago, in an event marking the brigade’s performance in Operation Cast Lead, a group of religious, observant paratroopers left the event, in order to avoid listening to a woman singer. This was not out of protest, but because their belief is that halacha forbids for men to listen to a woman singing.

In response, the IDF chief education officer, Brigadier-General (tat-aluf) Gen. Eli Shermeister, “called the incident a ‘worrisome phenomenon’ that ‘should not be accorded continued legitimacy.'” Why should religious practices be delegitimized, according to an officer in the army of the Jewish state? Because allowing participants to leave an event “designed to foster group cohesion” would “defeat the purpose” of such an event. I don’t understand, if group cohesion is so important, wouldn’t an event acceptable to all members of the group be best suited to achieve such a goal?

Mordechai Keidar, in an opinion piece in Ynet, hits the nail on the head, “In a liberal state with free media, I would expect open and innovative thinking that would show tolerance to different people.” Where is this is tolerance?

Dr. Esther Herzog does not agree (Hebrew). She attributes “gross and ugly contempt exhibited by [Keidar’s] column towards the secular culture and educational system, that points more to ignorance and close-mindedness than to openness and cultural-social sensitivity.” How is she able to say that with a straight face? The only ones who exhibited a lack of sensitivity and close-mindedness here are those who dare to say that religious soldiers should not be permitted to practice religion.

Herzog continues, in essence calling Judaism chauvinistic, mischaracterizing the soldiers’ actions as “boycotting women.” She claims that accusing the secular community of a lack of values is a smokescreen for “discrimination, deprivation, and exploitation of women.” The differences between the religious and secular communities are much more than gender-based, and by characterizing everything she does not like as sexual discrimination, Herzog is crying wolf, and badly.

Keidar’s accusation that “a cultural vacuum [has been] imparted to a whole generation of young people by the secular education system” because of its “drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and the club culture,” is one that needs to be addressed, not deflected. It needs to be examined, for secular need not mean value-less, and should not mean anti-religious, either. And if Israel is really the “liberal state” it claims to be, then freedoms need to be accorded even to those with whom IDF event planners disagree.

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The fact that there is an ongoing PR war for Israel on campuses is no secret. A multitude of speakers, social events, editorials, student groups on both sides – all devoted to protecting or harming Israel’s reputation on campus in the West.

Much less known is how tarnished the image of Israel is in Israel itself. During Operation Cast Lead large demonstrations were held in places like the University of Haifa and Hebrew University, waving enemy flags and accusing Israel of committing massacres in Gaza.

If it were simple that then it would not be so alarming. Freedom of speech is an important value, and protesters, comprised of a minority group of enemy sympathizers, will only anger the Zionist majority, thereby undermining their own cause. However, these sentiments are not checked at the door to the lecture hall.

A recent study by Im Tirtzu* illustrates a worrisome picture of higher education in Israel. The study is not short, and is important for the understanding some of the reasons behind the abandonment of Zionism in favor of pseudo-universalism. However, the most important findings concern materials assigned in classes that deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Six well known, and relatively well-represented, scholars were chosen and syllabi from classes at Israeli universities were examined to see which of these scholars’ work was assigned, and how many times. These scholars are, on one side, Baruch Kimmerling (read Benny Morris review, destorying Kimmerling’s book), Uri Ram (proudly “post-Zionist”), and Edward Said (need I say more?). On the other side, are Amnon Rubinstein (legal scholar, former Meretz MK, who has written widely on Zionism), Ruth Gavison (law professor who has also written on the dilemma of Jewish-Democratic state), and Shlomo Avineri (written widely on political philosophy, as well as Zionism).

Of these scholars, Kimmerling’s work was assigned 23 times, Uri Ram’s 10 times and Edward Said – four times. Ruth Gavison, Amnon Rubinstein and Shlomo Avineri’s work, combined, was only assigned seven times.

The study also looked at academic publications by the political science departments of universities, and found that, overall, nearly 80% of studies published are either anti-Zionist or anti-nationalist in general.

Academic freedom is important. Very important. Repressing that freedom is bad. However, if Zionism stands on solid grounds, and is based on historical facts (and it does), then Israel’s students are being taught by professors who harbor more than just a bias against Israel. They are misleading, at best, and at worst – lying.

In any case, the question must be raised – how is it, that in Israel, of all places, this is happening practically unnoticed?

*The link does not work now, because Im Tirtzu’s website is temporarily (I hope) down.

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To Boycott or Not to Boycott, That Is the Question No it’s not. Stanley Fish, law professor, and NY Times blogger, appears reasonable in debating whether or not an academic boycott of Israel is a good idea. However reasonable, though, he does not come to a concrete conclusion about such a boycott until the very end where he briefly mentions that “those actions, [the boycott of South Africa].. were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them.”

What he does is attempt to rebut arguments of opponents of the boycott. One such argument is that such a narrow focus on Israel is dishonest and hypocritical. The claim presents the question: Where are the calls for boycott of, and divestment from Sudan and China, not to mention Saudi Arabia and Iran? Picking Israel is dangerously close to antisemitism (if not more dangerous).

Yet Fish says, “If you supported the boycott of South Africa and the disinvestment by universities from companies doing business in or with that country, you are obligated, by your own history, to support the boycott of Israeli academics.”

“Anti-boycotters” do not (nor should not) argue what Fish paraphrases. Such an argument is moot, if not harmful in the end, since South Africa was clearly apartheid.Israel, on the other hand, has, by and large, acted justly (if not a bit meekly).

Fish misses the point entirely. Whether or not the theoretical boycott of a criminal state may be an interesting philosophical question, but is irrelevant with regards to Israel. Fish’s starting point seems to be that Israel is wrong and has committed crimes – and that the problem at hand is how to address these crimes.

I should expect more from a law professor. I don’t, but I should. Over 2,000 words, and not one actually deals with the question of Israel’s culpability. Fish’s implies that whether or not Israeli academics are responsible, the Israeli government is wrong, and is criminal. Indeed, his starting point is that Israel’s actions today are as wrong as apartheid South Africa’s were.

Nowhere does he look at Israeli actions in Gaza this past December/January, actual attacks, what preceded them, Israeli aid to Gaza, whether there was a causus belli, Israel’s jus ad bellum and jus in bello, and examine them in light of relevant international law – the UN Charter, Geneva Conventions, treaties to which Israel is a signatory. He just decides that 2009 Israel = 1948 South Africa. This is one academic that has definitely not performed “the tools of argument, fact and historical research.”

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Roger Cohen is either a racist, a fool, or suicidal. His utterly stupid column this week has been parsed by plenty of others, and I have no desire to rehash his drivel.

Cohen doubts that “Hamas is sincere in its calls for Israel’s disappearance.” That must mean that the recent poll conducted in the P.A. shows that a majority Palestinian society actively seeks peace (Hebrew Ynet). How else can one explain that if elections were held today, genocidal Hamas, led by Haniyeh would win 47% v. Fatah, led by Holocaust denier Abbas.

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The NY Times came out today with yet another backwards analysis of the Middle East and what needs to be done. How has the West and the the Obama administration (and the NY Times is a fairly accurate representative of the administration) not yet learned that more often than not that the blind pursuit of peace at all costs will result not in peace, but endless war?

Former President George W. Bush made a serious mistake by shunning Syria, pushing it further into Iran’s arms. Coaxing Syria away from Tehran would benefit Washington, deepening Iran’s isolation on the nuclear issue and encouraging Syrian cooperation in stabilizing Iraq. It would benefit Israel, giving Syria greater incentives to cut off arms flows to Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it would benefit Syria, by providing the wider diplomatic and economic opening Damascus has been seeking.

Bush made plenty of mistakes. Shunning Syria was not one of them. Not placing enough effective pressure on Iran was. Creating an environment in which Iran is truly an outcast, even to Russia (and North Korea? maybe not), would leave Syria with no patron. Sometimes the sticks work without carrots.

Negotiating with Syria will not “benefit Israel” in any way. It will do nothing but endanger Israel further. Syria has never done anything for Israel. It has nothing to truly offer Israel. It needs to submit. As cliche as it may sound to liberal ears, giving up the Golan will only embolden Israel’s enemies, and Israel has no real incentive to do so.

The Times continues by rewriting history, blaming “widespread civilian suffering in January” on Israel (Operation Cast Lead), and accusing Israel of “damag[ing] Mr. Abbas’s credibility as an effective defender of Palestinian interests.” That one is fine with me. However, since when is it a country’s responsibility to help the credibility of their enemy’s leader?

The rest of the editorial is just as ridiculous, and calls for Hillary Clinton to undertake more stupid ventures in an area of the world that is not under American jurisdiction.

I think that the NY Times editorial board needs to spend some time in Gaza or Iran as ordinary citizens, and then editorialize about how benevolent they think these societies are.

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