Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why the Academic Boycott of Israel is Lunacy

A Product of Affirmative Action: The Education Revolution in the Israeli Bedouin Community
Source: Newsletter, Vol. 5(2004-5), Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, Ben-Gurion University, Israel

One of the things that infuriates me most about the decision by the British National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) to favour a boycott of Israeli universities is that they are actually hubs of social change. I truly wonder how many of NATFHE's members who supported the boycott have ever visited an Israeli university. Anyone who comes to Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva will be struck by the considerable number of Arab students on campus, be they Bedouin from the surrounding area or students from the centre and north of Israel. To someone who has been brainwashed to consider Israel an "apartheid" state, the fact that there are large numbers of Arab students at Israeli universities and colleges is difficult to digest.

Boycott supporters would do well to read a recent Ha'aretz article ("First Israeli Bedouin Woman gets Medical Degree" - May 31, 2006), which mentions an impressive affirmative action program operating at Ben-Gurion University. The program, called "Cultivating Medicine in the Desert", grants big scholarships to bright Bedouin high school students and puts them on a track to medical school, even if they did not attain the high psychometric exam scores (similar to the SAT)required to gain admission. All students accepted to this special program then go through a special "prep year" where they are given intense tutoring as a group. From what I recall, all those who pass the first or second year of the program then join the general stream. Throughout, they retain their scholarships. Recently, a young woman by the name of Rania al-'Uqbi, who was admitted to Ben-Gurion U in the framework of this program, attained her medical degree - she was the first Bedouin woman to do so.

This program and several others like it are all administered by Ben-Gurion University's Center for Bedouin Studies and Development. Basically, this center's main function is to act as a second student services department for Bedouin students and to hand out scholarships to qualified applicants. I've talked to one of the heads of the Center and found out that there are a number of special programs for Bedouin students in Engineering and the Health Sciences. We're talking here about some very aggressive affirmative action for very needy students. What made me really proud is that a very significant share of the funding for these programs comes from North American Jewish donors! The scholarship funds set up by various Jewish donors, a number of which favour Bedouin female students, are one of the reasons for an impressive increase in the number of young Bedouin women studying at the university. At a meeting that I attended in late April at Ben-Gurion U with several groups of Bedouin high school students whom I taught throughout the year, I heard the head of the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development declare that the biggest challenge facing them now is to encourage more Bedouin guys to study and to find enough qualified students for the scholarships.

A group of my students in Kseife, Israel

At the high school level, there are also a number of special after-school tutoring programs for students in the Bedouin sector, funded by private (Jewish) foundations, the Ministry of Education and even the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. I myself taught a group of advanced level students in a special program that funded after-school English classes for 10th and 11th graders to prepare them for their high school matriculation exams (Bagrut). A number of these students will also get full scholarships throughout university and even job placements after they graduate. Contrary to popular perception, the problem in Bedouin schools, in general, from my experience as a teacher in the system, is not so much a lack of funding, but how money is allocated and used.

Monday, May 29, 2006

This is starting to get a little scary

Picture taken at from an anti-American demonstration held by Lebanese supporters of Hizbullah and Syria in January 2006.
Courtesty of "From Beirut to the Beltway" - a Lebanese-American blog

Lebanon has to begin exercising its power as a sovereign country. If the reports of Ze'ev Schiff, Ha'aretz's well-connected military correspondent, are true, then south Lebanon may now be regarded as a strategic Iranian base. Is Lebanon willing to accept that the risks that this entails? Many Lebanese certainly aren't, although the expatriates among them are most vocal. Lebanon's leaders are going to have to get their acts together fast. Iran's decision to put long-range missiles in the hands of a militia is no joke. Here is what Schiff had to say:


Tel Aviv within range of new Iran-supplied Hezbollah rocket

By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz Correspondent

Iran has equipped the Lebanese-based radical Islamic group Hezbollah with long-range rockets capable of hitting targets up to 200 kilometers away, putting all of Israel's major urban centers - including the southern city of Be'er Sheva - within striking distance.


The rockets delivered to the Hezbollah have appeared under different names. One is Zelzal-2, and its earlier model is the Zelzal-1. Another Iranian name for the rocket is Nazeat.

The rocket was first seen in a military parade in Tehran in September 2005, the first such event following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Six Shehab-3 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles were also on display.

In response to slogans written on the Shehab-3 rockets, calling for "Death to Israel" and "Death to the U.S.," the military attaches of France, Italy, Greece and Poland, invited to the event, left the VIP platform.


Iran later provided Hezbollah with Fajr-5 rockets with a range of 75 kilometers; it is capable of striking the Haifa bay and its strategic industrial installations.


Ze'ev Schiff's article got a lot of coverage on Radio Sawa, the American Arabic language radio station which broadcasts throughout the Middle East and can also be listened to online. In the station's short newscasts (most of its content is actually American and Arab pop music), he was introduced as "al-khabiir al-'askari al-Isra'iili Ze'ev Schiff" (the Israeli military expert Ze'ev Schiff). Another appropriate job description might be "Septuagenarian journalist commissioned to 'leak' military 'secrets'".

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Largest Canuck Union Backs Israel Boycott

Canadian Union Activists have all the answers...

First it was the British academics union, now the real proletarians have jumped on the bandwagon. Yesterday, Ontario's largest public sector union (CUPE - the Canadian Union of Public Employees) voted to support an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. According to an article published in the Globe and Mail, delegates to a CUPE convention "voted overwhelmingly Saturday to support the campaign until Israel recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination." According to the leader of the campaign, Katherine Nastovski, chairwoman of the CUPE Ontario international solidarity committee,
“Boycott, divestment and sanction worked to end apartheid in South Africa [...] We believe the same strategy will work to enforce the rights of Palestinian people, including the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties.”
All of this shallow rhetoric really leaves me wondering how many of these people made an honest effort to reflect and to seek out critical voices before they went on the attack. How many Israeli leaders have to stand up and say that they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ergo, that they support the Palestinian right to self-determination? Did anyone even take note of Ehud Olmert's statements in Washington? Hell, did anyone listen to Sharon's public suppport in favour of a two-state solution? Barak? Peres? Rabin (z"l)? If anything, it is the Palestinian government, led by Hamas, which until now has refused to recognize the existence of the state of Israel and is formally committed to its destruction, that could be accused of refusing to recognize the Jewish right to self-determination. (By the way, although I agree that covenants as such do not always dictate the political decisions of a movement which are shaped by the context in which it operates, I urge anyone to skim the Hamas Covenant to get at least a sense of where these people are coming from.

The implication that Israel is an apartheid state is also fundamentally flawed. Usually, this claim is based by its authors on the fact that Palestinians cannot freely move between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel proper. Dumb people somehow consider the restrictions on Palestinian entry into Israel as analagous to the South African apartheid system which prohibited black citizens of that country from leaving their townships and going to white areas without special passes, etc. Well, Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip are not Israeli citizens and for the most part have no desire to get Israeli citizenship. Under international law, they are no more entitled to working in Israel proper than a Canadian without a work permit looking for work in the United States. Just as the United States or Canada have the right to control the entry of foreign nationals into their sovereign territory, Israel has the right, in principle, to prevent the movement of Palestinians across its borders, especially when you consider the threat of terror. Take issue with the route of the security fence that is being built by Israel to protect itself, fine. But to call this apartheid??

Apartheid was a doomed attempt by South Africa's white minority to preserve its hold on power by denying the country's black citizens equal access to health care, education and social spaces. In the Israeli-Palestinian case, we have a majority Jewish state living next to a (disfunctional) autonomous Palestinian state-in-formation. It is up to the Palestinian state in formation to provide its citizens with a functioning goverment, economic opportunities, health services and education and it has been doing so, albeit not always successfully, since 1993. The apartheid argument has to be recognized for what it is: a bunch of crap. Plenty of South Africans (not those with an axe to grind with Israel because of its unfortunate decision to have relations with the evil apartheid regime) have already written about the problem of equating Israel and Afrikaaner dominated South Africa. If you want to criticize Israel, at least do so with some semblance of integrity and intellectual honesty.

Maybe the argument is that Israel is pursuing "apartheid policies" towards its Arab citizens? If so, then it is even more ludicrous. If Israel were an apartheid state, would it be investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in special preparatory English classes to prepare Arab Bedouin students for university? Would Israeli Arabs be allowed to go to the same hospitals as Jewish Israelis, be it as patients, nurses or doctors? Let me cite an article published in the Guardian by Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African and the founder of Yakar's Centre for Social Concern in Jerusalem:

[...] health is a visible indicator of the differences between apartheid South Africa and Israel. In South Africa, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in 1985 was 78 per 1,000 live births. Among color groups: whites 12, Asians 20, coloreds 60, blacks 94 to 150. In Israel, in the 1950s, the IMR among Muslims was 60.6 and among Jews 38.8. Major improvements occurred in health care during the 1990s and by 2001 the IMR among Arabs was 7.6 (Muslims 8.2, Christians 2.6, Druze 4.7). Among Jews, 4.1. According to the health ministry, the higher Muslim figure was due mainly to genetic defects as a result of marriages between close relatives; poverty is also a factor. Other countries in 2000: Switzerland, 8.2, and 12.3 for Turks living there; United States, whites 8.5, blacks 21.3.
In short, the status of Israel's Arab citizens is in no way analogous to that of South African blacks. These kinds of claims are no more credible than equations between the present-day United States and apartheid South Africa. If some shitty union wants to protest discrimination against Israeli Arab citizens, then they should go ahead and protest discrimination. But at least try to make the appearance of being fair and protest against discrimination around the world. Go defend Indian and Bangladeshi day labourers in the United Arab Emirates who are denied basic worker's rights and who are prevented from organizing into unions! Start punishing companies that are linked to Saudi Arabia where foreign domestic workers are regularly abused!

Related Links:

Globe and Mail Article reporting the CUPE decision

Full-text of the CUPE Resolution

The Concerned Presbyterians - a group of Presbyterians calling on the Presbyterian Church in the US to STOP its divestment from corporations doing business in Israel

Friday, May 26, 2006

Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein

Kudos to Derek, our loyal reader from Massachusetts, for drawing my attention to a recent review of a new Black Book of (Iraqi) Baathism (Le Livre noir de Saddam Hussein, Ed. Chris Kutschera) published in the Weekly Standard (Gerard Alexander, "Baathed in Blood - Chronicling the horror, and scope, of Saddam's tyranny," Vol. 11, Issue 34). Here's an excerpt of the review forwarded to me by Derek:

The pattern is plain: Over and over again, perceived abuses by Western societies--colonialism, the Vietnam war--are revisited in conversation and thought until they are part of our mental furniture. What happens to the crimes of others is very different. Some of them get sucked down the memory hole. Those of us of a certain age remember that the very independent Idi Amin was far worse, but it is Joseph Mobutu--portrayed as a U.S. ally, if not puppet--who has emerged as the durable symbol of abusive African rule.

More often, crimes committed by non-Westerners are blamed on Westerners. As in: America provided Saddam with chemical weapons; Palestinians mimic Israeli brutality; the Khmer Rouge was driven to madness by U.S. bombing. It was Belgian colonialism that taught Rwandan Hutu génocidaires to be tribal and to kill. And the CIA created Osama bin Laden, while U.S. excesses created his followers.

The soft bigotry here is not of low expectations but of no expectations. This suggests that only Westerners have moral agency. To deny a person the capacity to initiate evil is to deny them the capacity to initiate good, or anything in between.

The result is a vicious cycle in which many educated people engage easily with the storylines they already know, and are unsure what to do with the unfamiliar. Most infamously, members of the world's intellectual and journalistic classes have a habit of not denying Communist atrocities but of knowing almost no details about them and never volunteering the topic.
Reminds me of Noam Chomsky's initial denials of the genocide perpetrated by Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (Chomsky subsequently recognized Pol Pot's crimes for what they were but his writings continued to obfuscate the issue).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Chomsky-Nasrallah Axis

(Photo: Nasrallah and his buddy Noam from MIT -

I've become quite a fan of some of the critical pieces that have begun appearing in the Lebanese Daily Star in the past months. Of course, there are the obligatory condemnations of Israel, but I sense an openess among its editors, including a willingness to publish articles by Israelis. One of the paper's real stars is Michael Young, who serves as the paper's opinion editor but is widely published and also blogs actively.

Young really made my day, with his latest piece on Hizbullah and its refusal to disarm or to dissolve into the Lebanese military and to respect Lebanese sovereignty. In his op-ed piece ("What's Hizbullah's problem with the army?" - May 25, 2006) he shows how Hizbullah's position is endangering Lebanese stability and he also takes a shoot at poor old Noam Chomsky, who, during his visit to Lebanon on May 13, really seems to have put his foot in his mouth. Apparently,
The visiting Noam Chomsky [...] declared it a "reasonable position" that Hizbullah retain its weapons "until there is a general political settlement in the region and the threat of aggression and violence is reduced or eliminated.
As Young notes,
That could be a long time, certainly longer than most Lebanese groups are willing to give the party without themselves beginning to arm.
Seems like Chomsky's revolutionary fervour just got the best of him. I'm struck as usual by Chomsky's arrogance and righteousness. What gives an MIT linguist the right to jeopardize the average Lebanese person's prospects of living in a stable society governed by the rule of law and not by armed militias?

More details on Chomsky's ass-kissing in southern Lebanon can be found in the partial transcript of the al-Manar (Hizbullah TV-Station) coverage of his visit published in MEMRI's Special Dispatch - No. 1165.

Hizbullah and other Militias Obstinate in Face of Domestic Pressure

"Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah repeated on Tuesday his warning
that the resistance had 'thousands' of rockets capable of hitting Israel at any time"

Lebanon is in the midst of a lot of political change. The withdrawal of Syrian troops and the increased confidence of anti-Syrian forces are finally allowing for open debate on Hizbullah's continued existence as an armed militia. Sayyed Nasrallah, leader of the "resistance" movement, is of course feeling the heat and is busy dodging accusations of being an Iranian and Syrian stooge. For now, however, he is still firmly rejecting calls for the dismantlement of Hizbullah or its "absorption" into the regular Lebanese military forces. His argument for maintaining the "resistance" (i.e. Hizbullah) as an armed militia is that, contrary to
Some political leaders [who] do not agree that Israel is the enemy [and] others [who] believe we can rely on international protection [...] We believe Israel is still the enemy and our resistance proved that Israel can be defeated, while all other options have proven wrong for as long as Israel has existed.
Nasrallah makes it clear that he believes that the only way to deter Israel is by preserving his terrorist organization as a militia that is not controlled by the conventional Lebanese army or by the Lebanese state. This way, Hizbullah can continue attacking Israel while the Lebanese government and army will be able to cry foul if Israel tries to hold them accountable through retaliation. Nasrallah wants to continue maintaining a terrorist militia in a sovereign country that finally wants to become a normal player in world stage. Speaking at a recent "Resistance Culture" Conference in Beirut, Nasrallah responded to calls in Lebanon for absorbing Hizbullah with the following argument:
To merge the resistance into the classical Lebanese Army is not a realistic option because this will weaken the Lebanese position in facing the much superior Israeli Army. Our army can never match the Israeli Army equipment or its experience.
So basically, Nasrallah is saying that he wants to continue operating independently so as to "resist" Israel for Lebanon even though Lebanon doesn't want him to "resist" and in order to protect Lebanon from the Israeli reactions to the "resistance" that Lebanon doesn't want.

Well, maybe I'm a little too optimistic about Lebanon not wanting Hizbullah. After all, there are probably many Shi'is that are still behind it. But if one looks at statements made by other Lebanese politicians in the wake of the Syrian withdrawal, it is clear that they are carefully upping the pressure on Nasrallah, probably in response to public opinion.

Other militias which in my view would not stand a chance in Lebanon if it weren't for continued veiled Syrian threats are all the Palestinian militias operating there from their autonomous camps. Recently, a Lebanese army soldier was actually killed during a clash between a Lebanese unit and a convoy of Palestinians bringing weapons to their terrorist base from Syria. Of course, the Lebanese tried to cover it up at first, because, dammit, it's embarassing for groups to operate with such impunity on your sovereign territory, but in the end they had to speak frankly about who was carrying weapons and where they were coming from.

Adnan el-Ghoul, "Nasrallah: 'thousands' of rockets still at the ready," Lebanon Daily Star (May 24, 2006), Online Edition

Bush Dimisses US Ambassador to Armenia, Confirming America's Complicity in Genocide Denial

John Evans

US President Bush has confirmed the dismissal of John Evans, who has served as the ambassador to Armenia for the past two years. Rumors about Evans's dismissal had been circulating for several months. His "crime"? In a February 2006 speech in California, Evans referred to the Armenian genocide AS genocide rather than "massacres."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Iranian Dress Code Hoax

Yesterday, on Friday, May 19, 2006, Canada's National Post made headlines around the world after publishing an article based on allegations by Iranian exiles according to which religious minorities, including Jews, would be forced to wear identifying coloured patches. The reports were backed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and by other exiles. I was sceptical about the news right away, because it seemed to be based only on one source (an Iranian exile). But, I have to say that reports that the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa had initially refused to comment on the issue, rather than clarifying it, made me suspicious. After all, Mahmoud Ahmadin-e-jad has surprised us time and again with weird pronouncements on the Holocaust and with unbridled threats against Israel. Unfortunately, our own Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper, prematurely joined the chorus condemning Iran for this specific measure. Within a few hours, all of my suspicions of the reports were vindicated. Ironically, it was an Israeli Iran expert who was one of the first observers to dismiss the reports. His remarks were published in Ha'aretz and later in an article published by the National Post's online edition.

"Iranian embassy denies dress code"

Chris Wattie; with files from Allan Woods, National Post, with files from CanWest News Service
Published: Saturday, May 20, 2006


Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran and the Middle East who was born and raised in Tehran, said yesterday that he was unable to find any evidence that such a law had been passed.

"None of my sources in Iran have heard of this," he said. "I don't know where this comes from."

Mr. Javdanfar said that not all clauses of the law had been passed through the parliament and said the requirement that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians wear special insignia might be part of an older version of the Islamic dress law, which was first written two years ago.

"In any case, there is no way that they could have forced Iranian Jews to wear this," he added. "The Iranian people would never stand for it." However, Mr. Kermanian added that Jews in Iran still face widespread, systematic discrimination.
One thing that bothered me in the original National Post article (no longer online) was that it was accompanied by a colour photograph of a young child with a yellow Nazi-era patch:

The picture published in the National Post

The caption didn't reveal the provenance of the picture, but it was obviously not historical. If they had published a photograph of Jews wearing the patch during the Third Reich, that would have been acceptable. But to publish a child "re-constructing" or "re-enacting" tragedy without running a caption - as if to imply that this was an Iranian Jew - is ridiculous. It only harms and trivializes the memory of the Holocaust. The picture reminded me of those painful newscasts showing settler kids evacuated from Gush Qatif whose parents put yellow Magen David patches on them.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Legislative Stalling Prevents Vote on French Bill against Genocide-Denial

A protest in France against Turkey's admission
to the EU, September 2005 (courtesy of AP-Photolur)

Some of you may know that France is one of the few countries that officially recognizes the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkish soldiers and irregulars during World War I. Following on that law, which was passed in 2001, when the PS (Socialists) had a majority in the Assemblé Nationale, opposition politicians proposed a bill outlawing the denial of the genocide. Such a law is currently on the books with regard to the Shoah; the fine is 45,000 euros. However, it seems that the ruling UMP (Gaullists) deliberately limited time for discussion of the bill, preventing legislators from voting on it yesterday. As a result, the resolution has been shelved until October. This followed French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy's public opposition to the bill, reported by AFP:
"If adopted, this text would be seen as an unfriendly gesture by the great majority of the Turkish people," he told lawmakers, warning its adoption would have "serious political consequences and weaken our position not only in Turkey but across the entire region."
As I have mentioned before, Israel unfortunately does not recognize the Armenian genocide. You can probably imagine how important it is for the Armenian people to have Jewish and Israeli support for recognition. Perhaps we can make it happen, soon and in our days.

In a recent interview, the Executive Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, Professor Israel Charny remarked that
"There are three people in our state, who openly speak of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey. These are Professor Yair Auron, Yossi Sarid and I. All others keep silent due to political considerations. Israel is in an Islamic circle and most importantly it depends on Turkey in water supplies. Proceeding from this the Israeli Government is silent on the events in 1915. Though Israeli chief rabbi Yona Metzger visited Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan and in fact recognized the tragedy in 1915 as a genocide, which is a good precedent. The chief rabbi has much influence, but he does not represent the Israeli Government."

O Israel-Boycotting British Academics, O Campus Activists, Where art Thou?

From the Lebanon Daily Star, Friday, May 19, 2006:

Cairo gets brutal with opposition demonstrators

Egyptian security forces clubbed demonstrators in the streets on Thursday and a court rejected an appeal against a jail term by a former election challenger to President Hosni Mubarak in twin blows to the opposition. Plainclothes security men beat and kicked protesters rallying in support of judicial independence in Cairo, while Egypt's highest appeal court threw out the appeal by jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the court's decision as a deeply troubling "miscarriage of justice" by one of Washington's key Middle East allies.

Reuters, 15 May 2006
Egypt: Police Assault Demonstrators, Journalists
(New York, May 13, 2006) � Thousands of Egyptian security forces sealed off much of downtown Cairo on Thursday and violently attacked protestors attempting to demonstrate in support of reformist judges, Human Rights Watch said today.


Abir al-'Askari, a writer for the weekly al-Dustour, told Human Rights Watch her paper had asked her to cover the demonstrations and the disciplinary hearing at the High Court. She arrived at 8 a.m. to meet with a group that had spent the night at the Lawyers' Syndicate:

I was just getting out of the taxi when five or six men ran up to me, carried me from the cab and took me to where the Central Security trucks and blue police microbuses were parked, at the corner of 'Abd al-Khaliq Tharwat and Ramsis streets. They beat me, put me in a police microbus, and drove me to Sayyida Zeinab police station. I screamed and resisted, and they beat me, pulled my hair and my veil. Right in front of the police station they kicked me. When people gathered and told them to stop they replied, "She's been committing adultery." They took me inside to a room where the officer claimed they sexually harassed [she named three Kifaya activist women arrested earlier in the week]. They took my purse and copied the messages and numbers from my phone. "Nobody will know where you are," the officer said. "You are lost." They tore at my clothes; my shirt buttons. They continued to slap and punch me �. I was lying on the floor. He placed his shoe on my face and said, "Anyone who comes here will get the same treatment." I was there about three hours. Finally they took me in the microbus to Corniche near the Kasr al-Aini hospital and left me; I didn't have my phone or my purse, and my clothes were torn. I had a little money in my pocket, so I went into a shop and called the deputy editor who sent some colleagues to pick me up

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Israeli Supreme Court Decision on the Citizenship Law

(Kids from Al-Faruq High School, Kseife, Israel where I was a part-time English teacher)

The issue of the Israeli law preventing Israeli citizens from marrying Palestinians is a very painful, difficult issue for me, about which I feel too conflicted to state my own opinion. I'd rather present the Israeli perspective on the issue and to analyze the overwhelming support among Jewish Israelis for the law.

The notion of "demographic control" sounds very ugly to people like us who have internalized liberal North American values. The fact is that in Israel, demography and security are conceived of as being almost inseparable. Many people would tell you straight out that they see an increase in the Arab population as a threat to their security and the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. That sentiment is of course linked to the fact that Jewish Israelis are intensely aware of the fact that they are a tiny minority in the larger Middle East. In Israel, even people who are generally quite liberal in their view of Israeli Arabs are frightened by the close ties between Arabs in Israel (quite a few of whom identify themselves as Palestinians) and Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. I used to tell people that only a minority of Israeli Arabs have been involved in terrorist attacks, but that's not very satisfying to the average Jewish Israeli. They'll ask you explicitly: why shouldn't we do everything we can to prevent an increase even in that minority?

Can one argue with that kind of logic? I think that one cannot deny that marriages between Arabs/Palestinians in Israel or "Israeli Arabs" (there are so many identities that people embrace, one, two or three at a time) are an important factor (not the only one) behind Arabs' identification with the Palestinians. How much harder is it for a child born to a Palestinian mother (and usually, it is Arab Israeli men who marry Palestinian wives) to relate in a positive way to the state of Israel and to Israeli Jewish society? A whole bunch of the kids that I teach have Palestinian mothers. I remember two sisters who always wore bead bracelets with the Palestinian flag. I never did a survey of their attitudes to Israel compared to those of other kids, but there's no doubt in my mind that that family ties can cause a very conflicted identity - it's certainly not a recipe for loyalty. Can you fault the majority of Israelis who support the law for being afraid? I won't deny that racism isn't part of the equation, but you'll find support for the law even among left-wingers who are quite outspoken in their defence of Arabs in Israel.

There's also an economic fear: there's the belief that more and more Palestinians will flood into Israel as the economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip deteriorates further. So, in the same way that certain European states have slapped restrictions on their citizenship laws, Israelis see nothing wrong with the new law. The old law extending citizenship to Palestinian spouses has come to be seen as a springboard that will allow entire extended families from the West Bank or Gaza to join their relatives in Israel. Throughout the 1990s, many many Palestinians got either citizenship or permanent resident status through marriage and family ties. I have a good friend who is from Hebron and grew up there, but moved to Israel once he graduated from university about three or four years. He was able to do so because his mother was a resident of East Jerusalem and is therefore a permanent resident. Up until the second intifada, people like my friend would have stayed in their hometowns, but now, because of the economic collapse in the Palestinian territories, the greater economic opportunities in Israel and the comparatively generous social welfare system and the relatively good public health care system have become huge draws for Palestinians. My friend, btw, is a great person, a productive member of society who works as a badly needed English teacher at a high school in the Bedouin sector. But can you expect someone like him to become a loyal citizen who identifies with the state of Israel? Will his children, in whom, I have no doubt, he will instill the moral values by which he lives, grow up to feel anything but alienation vis-a-vis the Israeli state?

Finally, there is one interesting observation that I'd like to share about the impact of this law in the Negev, among the Bedouin. Many many Bedouin men have married Palestinian women (usually from the Gaza Strip) in the past. One of the reasons has been purely economical. In Arab society, a groom pays a "mahr" (Hebrew: moher) or "bride price" to the bride. That money is supposed to go to the bride as a kind of insurance policy in case of divorce or whatever, but the bride's family usually takes part or even most of it. In any case, because of the assymetry in the economic situation in the Gaza Strip and Israel, Palestinian brides are usually "cheaper" than Bedouin brides, unless the marriage is between cousins, in which case the family members charge lower "prices." In the Negev, the "availability" of Palestinian brides was a factor that enabled polygamy in many cases. Taking a second wife was made more economically feasible. Often, these brides were taken at a very young age, too. Maybe the new law will reduce the incidence of polygamy, or perhaps it will further increase cousin marriage among the more traditional segments of Bedouin society. But maybe young people will in any case begin to abandon polygamy.

Nuclear Iran - 3 Voices

Several days ago, on May 14, I heard a really fascinating roundtable interview on (French) Radio Canada's Dimanche magazine, a weekly current events show. They had a show on the Iranian nuclear program and organized a roundtable with three Iranians, two professors and one student and interviewed them.

It is often said that Iran has a vibrant civil society and that is certainly the impression I've had since the beginning of the Khatami era. All three of the people who spoke indeed had very diverse opinions. For me, what was most remarkable, was hearing the student, who spoke excellent French, declare that most students believe that, in his words, "le gouvernment iranien doit regagner la confiance internationale [et] doit arrêter de menacer Israel" [the Iranian government must regain international confident and must stop threatening Israel]. The interview was actually held in Teheran, in a hotel cafeteria! The reporter also mentioned that a group of students had called on President Ahmadinajad to stop the uranium enrichment program.

The program again illustrated to me that Iran is one of the few places in the Muslim world where large segments of the population don't buy their regime's anti-Israel rhetoric. In fact, the years of living under Khomeini and the disillusionment of the people with the government of the Ayatollahs seems to have fed, especially among the students, a complete cynicism about the regime's rhetoric and propaganda. Unlike in parts of the Arab world, many Iranians don't seem to take their regime's conspiracy theories about Israel and America seriously. Constrast that with places like Egypt where the "intellectuals" and students thrive on anti-American rhetoric and anti-Semitism (here I'm not just repeating what I heard in the news: I didn't even have to look hard to find the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Cairo - they were being sold right on the street on book carts). My impression is that in certain circumstances, when crazy Islamists take power, as happened in Iran, they actually do the West a service, because they begin to really alienate people. In Egypt, people still see the Muslim Brotherhood as a solution - in my opinion, they only reason why they did not win the last parliamentary elections was because of widescale repression. In certain areas, the Egyptian regime let loose thugs who beat up anyone going to the polls. In Iran, a lot of the young people are way past being excited about Islam - that's way '79 for them.

The two professors represented different views. One was quite defensive about the nuclear program and also downplayed the significance of Ahmadinajad's remarks. To her credit, the reporter (Delphine Minou of Le Figaro) really pressed him on that issue and cited Ahmadinajad's declarations about "wiping Israel off the map." The other academic talked quite a lot about Iran's civil society and its desire for change.

The whole interview can be heard at:

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Brandeis Controversy

"Samah al-Azza, 13, created this painting for an exhibit at Brandeis that was later removed."

I haven't really followed the Brandeis affair and I haven't seen all of the paintings, but this one doesn't look so innocent. As a Jew, I find that snake curled up in the form of a star of David offensive. I wouldn't object to these types of paintings being shown, but I would certainly want it to be in some kind of framework, with a variety of critical perspectives offered. Otherwise, there is the risk that these paintings will be seen as innocent, "natural" responses of Palestinian children to Jewish/Israeli "oppression". In fact, they are anything but innocent expressions of "victimhood". These kids are part of a political struggle, and they know it very well. In this picture, the teenager who drew it used an graphic vocabulary/esthetic that she knew would get social approval.

Editorial on the upholding of the Citizenship Law amendment

Good editorial in Ha'aretz today on yesterday's ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court (6-5) to uphold the May, 2002 amendment to the Citizenship Law preventing family unification of Israeli Arabs who wish to live in Israel with their Palestinian spouses.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

After Walt and Mearsheimer

It's great to see Benny Morris take such a public stance. I thought he would stay on the sidelines and not get involved. I met him recently, on May 7, but we didn't talk politics. Seems like the sabbatical at the U of Maryland, College Park gave him the time, energy and motivation to step into the debate.

My question now is where we go from here. W&M's response to the polemic in which they are now engaged was not ludicrous and they seemed to come out stronger, not weaker. In their eyes, their main claim, that one cannot engage in sincere, honest debate about Israel-America relations without coming under scurillious attack from the "Israel Lobby", has been vindicated by the responses they received. I think it's important that, as Noah pointed out, someone from the military/policy establishment provide an alternative view on the strategic relationship between America and Israel.

I would also like to hear a little about W&M's exact prescriptions for American policy in the Middle East. What exactly do they want? The dismantlement of Israel as a Jewish state? The imposition of what they consider to be a "just" settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel? Cuts in military aid to Israel? If they'd come out and say what they're after, perhaps it would be easier to nail them.

One thing that really bugs me in W&M's message is their accusation that "the lobby" is constantly working to silence honest debate about the Israel-US relationship. Here's a sample from their follow-up in the London Review of Books:
But we believe this popularity is substantially due to the lobby’s success at portraying Israel in a favourable light and effectively limiting public awareness and discussion of Israel’s less savoury actions. Diplomats and military officers are also affected by this distorted public discourse, but many of them can see through the rhetoric. They keep silent, however, because they fear that groups like AIPAC will damage their careers if they speak out. The fact is that if there were no AIPAC, Americans would have a more critical view of Israel and US policy in the Middle East would look different.
The problem with these kinds of allegations is that they're quite hard to counter. It's so easy to say that people are being muzzled without offering any proof. My first instinct would be to say: let those who feel they are being silenced step up and speak up. But that could be pretty disastrous: I mean, it would open the floor to any nut who thinks they were somehow stymied by Jewish power.

In any case, W&M reveal a tendency to portray pro-Israel advocates as bullies in the foreign policy debate, rather than as other voices. For some reason, W&M are convinced that "the lobby" is concealing some dark truth about Israel from the public. It's as if they're saying that the Jews are keeping Americans from seeing the "real" Israel and that that is the reason why no one is questioning US-Israel ties. Does the American public not read newspapers (hmm, I guess most actually don't and many certainly skip the international section)? Among those people who follow international affairs, how many people really get their news from AIPAC's website?

The "bully accusation" is also evident from the way they talk about CampusWatch in their reply to Daniel Pipes's lampooning of their original piece. First, they say that Pipes misrepresented their view of "the lobby" by asserting that he falsely accuses them of depicting it as some secret cabal. Then, however, they add this little bit:
Readers will also note that Pipes does not deny that his organisation, Campus Watch, was created in order to monitor what academics say, write and teach, so as to discourage them from engaging in open discourse about the Middle East.
That is a really objectionable claim, but I see it made way too often. All the maligning of CampusWatch is such rubbish. Since when is it forbidden to critique what academics say? I've read some really good pieces on CampusWatch by Martin Kramer and they were entirely legitimate critiques about scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I can't think of any other outlet for this kind of critical writing. If demonstrators are allowed to randomly harass Israeli academics just for their being Israeli, if people are allowed to picket Daniel Pipes lectures, if activists can trash Bernard Lewis, why can't those on the other side of the academic "divide" respond by writing a few articles?

Mearsheimer and Walt Respond

Mearsheimer and Walt have responded in the London Review of Books. So, after you've seen Benny Morris wipe the floor with their work, it might be amusing to look at their pathetic "rebuttal." I am only going to excerpt a small part, because I think it is quite representative of their response as a whole. This is what Mearsheimer and Walt write in their defense:
Finally, a few critics claim that some of our facts, references or quotations are mistaken. For example, Dershowitz challenges our claim that Israel was ‘explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship’. Israel was founded as a Jewish state (a fact Dershowitz does not challenge), and our reference to citizenship was obviously to Israel’s Jewish citizens, whose identity is ordinarily based on ancestry. We stated that Israel has a sizeable number of non-Jewish citizens (primarily Arabs), and our main point was that many of them are relegated to a second-class status in a predominantly Jewish society.
It's pretty interesting first of all that the fact alone that Israel was founded "as a Jewish state" is a problem for them. But what exactly is their excuse? Doesn't the fact that their claim applies only to Israel's Jewish citizens (in fact, not even that!) completely negate their claim? Maybe I am missing something, but if you acknowledge that Arabs (Muslims, Christians, Druze) are Israeli citizens, doesn't that mean that citizenship is in fact NOT based on "blood kinship"?

Just as a reminder, here is what they said in their original piece (p. 9, in a section titled "Aiding a Fellow Democracy?"):
By contrast, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this conception of citizenship, it is not surprising that Israel's 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class cititzens ...
They told an OBVIOUS lie. Their attempt to cover their tracks is pure equivocation and cowardice.

This is what Benny Morris told them:
On page 9, Mearsheimer and Walt write that "citizenship [of Israel] is based on the principle of blood kinship." This is an outrageous assertion, with the worst possible echoes. The truth is that since the state's inception, 15 to 20 percent of Israel's citizens have been Muslim and Christian Arabs. In 1948-1949, citizenship was granted to all persons living in the country, regardless of race or religion, and it is granted by law after five years of residency and the satisfaction of various qualifications (as in all western democracies) to applicants today regardless of race or religion--though it is true that Jewish immigrants can and do receive citizenship upon arrival in Israel, and it is also true that Israel is a Jewish state, as France is (and, I hope, will remain) a French state and Britain is a British state.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Benny Morris on Mearsheimer and Walt

Benny Morris definitively demolishes Mearsheimer and Walt in The New Republic.

Some Military History

Everyone knows about the Czech rifles that saved Israel. But I was not aware of the extent of the cooperation, which actually came at the behest of the Soviet Union. Ha'aretz reports on an exhibit documenting the short-lived alliance:
As part of the deal signed in January [1948], Czechoslovakia supplied some 50,000 rifles (that remained in use in the IDF for around 30 years), some 6,000 machine guns and around 90 million bullets. But the most important contracts were signed in late April and early May. They promised to supply 25 Messerschmitt fighter planes and arranged for the training - on Czech soil and in Czech military facilities - of Israeli pilots and technicians who would fly and maintain them. The planes, which were disassembled and flown to Israel on large transport planes, after their reassembly played a very important role in halting the Egypt Army's advance south of Ashdod, at a place now called the Ad Halom Junction.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Euroleague Championship

A little late but...

Maccabi Tel Aviv broke their winning streak and didn't earn the Euroleague Championship title this year (though they lost by only four points).

Part of the game I watched on an Arabic channel, the first channel I came across which was broadcasting the game. At the end of the game, one of the Tel Aviv basketball players was interviewed by Israeli television. So, the American player tells the Israeli audience, in English of course, "I still believe that we are the best team in Europe."

There was something surreal about that.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Jewish Think Tanks

Here is the latest apology for Mearsheimer & Walt, this time published in The Nation by Philip Weiss. Weiss faults the American "liberal intelligentsia" for overemphasizing the oil lobby (!), ignoring the neoconservative obsession with Zionism, stifling debate over Israel, and failing to understand the importance of political culture in Washington, by which he means Washington's reliance on think tanks. These policy-making machines USED to be dominated by the WASPs, Weiss says, but now that's changed. So the think tanks are where the Jews are REALLY asserting their influence over U.S. foreign policy!

Who knew that The Nation would ever publish an article that calls for left-wingers and liberals to ally with the likes of Francis Fukuyama! But that is precisely what Weiss does here, supporting the "realists" against the neocon "idealists." Both camps are unattractive to me politically -- the former abandoning the idea of human rights in favor of unabashed promotion of national interests, the latter cynically using the language of human rights to achieve those same interests. What worries me in general however is that we've heard very little from "realists" defending a position that the U.S. DOES have a strategic interest in supporting Israel in a post-Cold War era. It seems necessary at this point for someone other than Alan Dershowitz to come out and explain in clear and forceful terms why the U.S. has a stake in Israel's strength in the region. Its self-evidence is clearly no longer self-evident to everybody. The ideas of M&W have taken hold despite the acknowledged poverty of their article's scholarship.

יום העצמאות - Israel turns 58 - Iyar 5, 5766

A few hours ago, many people in Israel began their celebrations of Independence Day. To mark the occasion, Ha'aretz has published a number of reflections on the country's achievements and failures. Here are just a few of them.

Bradley Burston, left-of-center advocate for Israeli Anglophones, invites us all to "begin the next Israel" in a piece titled "Leftists who love Israel" He admonishes both those on the right and the left to come to terms with that entity. Burston also gave a little shout out to the Bay area:
Let the left be resigned. It won't be the Jew-free West Bank that Jews in Berkeley might like to see.
Tony Judt writes about "The country that wouldn't grow up" - a critique that we should all take seriously, though I still think he lacks a certain kind of sympathy and perspective. Furthermore, the charge that
the State of Israel remains curiously (and among Western-style democracies, uniquely) immature.
to me typifies the view of the European and American (Jewish or non-Jewish) liberal who is terribly out of touch with what is going on either in Israeli society or in the larger Middle Eastern context. Israel is simply not a European country!

I recently read some reflections by Tom Segev about remarks made by the conductor Daniel Barenboim on BBC, which I think are pertinent:
To illustrate the European nature of Israeli society, [Barenboim] told this anecdote: When the violinist Jascha Heifetz came to play in Israel, the taxi driver asked him which cadenza he would include in a certain Beethoven concerto.

But that was in the 1950s. Today a man like Heifetz wouldn't take a taxi and the driver wouldn't be able to talk to him about cadenzas. Because in the years after Barenboim's childhood in Haifa and Tel Aviv, Israel has taken on a clearly Middle Eastern character: Mizrahiyut has become a part of its identity. Evidently, citizen of the world Barenboim isn't aware of this. He rightly calls for more teaching of the Arabic language, but very many Israelis are currently fluent in Arabic. Many of them learned the language during their army service in the territories, and their knowledge of the language didn't do much to give them more of an affinity for the Palestinians. Similarly, the Hebrew that Palestinians learn as prisoners in Israeli jails doesn't endear Israel to them that much, either.
Yoel Marcus also has some nice things to say in "A doozy of a country."

Anyway, I hope you have a happy Independence Day!

Monday, May 01, 2006

יום הזיכרון - Remembrance Day - Iyar 4, 5766

Earlier today at 8 PM, Yom HaZikaron, the memorial day for fallen soldiers began in Israel.

We await reports from our Israeli contributors. In the meantime, here are President Moshe Katsav's words reported in Ha'aretz:
Speaking directly to the mothers of the fallen, Katsav continued, "Tonight will certainly be another sleepless night for you, another night of pain and suffering. We bow our heads to the families of Israel Defense Forces' martyrs, martyrs of the Jewish security forces, Druze, Bedouin, Muslim and Christian, who gave their souls and their lives for our independence."
May God comfort them among all the mourners of Zion, Jerusalem, and the world.

Dennis Ross Presents Strategy on Iran

A New Strategy on Iran. Ross argues that the proposal of a meaningful package of sanctions and benefits might entice the Iranians to change course. He envisions a multi-polar nuclearized Middle East where the potential for miscalculation far exceeds the Cold War era's.

May 1 - Nationwide Immigrant Rallies in the US

As many of you know, people across the United States are rallying today to draw attention to the importance of immigrant workers to the American economy and to American society. Hundreds of thousands are marching in the country's major cities. Many people are boycotting stores, walking off the job, and staying out of school, the New York Times reports. Here in Berkeley, many university employees are staying off the job.

Being an "alien" in this country myself (albeit a "legal" one), I view these efforts with great sympathy. My friend and flatmate, a Korean pursuing a doctorate in law here, suggested that legal alien academics stage a day-long boycott too. I doubt this university could function even a day without us foreigners.

However, not everyone is happy about these protests. I just saw a plane fly by with a huge banner declaring that "America is Full!"

In the meantime, workers and wanna-be revolutionaries across the world are celebrating May 1 according to local custom, which may or may not include marching peacefully, playing the guitar, singing corny songs, throwing bricks at policemen, burning flags, and getting arrested (not necessarily in that order).

American Jewish Committee 100th Annual Meeting

The American Jewish Committee will be holding its 100th Annual Meeting from May 2-5. The program looks fascinating. It is above all a great testament to the AJC's high regard for ideas, and its ability to bring its humanistic visions of the world and Judaism to the most pressing issues in international and domestic affairs.

We are fortunate to have one of our contributors attending (and presenting at) the meeting. Hopefully, we will be receiving a few impressions of the event.