Friday, March 30, 2007

From Covert to Overt

Royal Marines practicing an amphibious assault (Photo: Royal Navy)

Until Revolutionary Guards abducted 15 British sailors and marines at gunpoint last week, the war between Iran and the U.S. and Britain had been confined to covert operations. These included kidnappings of Iranian intelligence operatives by American and Iraqi forces on the one hand, and Iranian terrorist attacks on U.S. soldiers on the other. Furthermore, the U.S. has probably been encouraging attacks on military targets in Iranian Baluchistan. The initial response in Britain and elsewhere to the latest Iranian provocation was muted. It is now clear, however, that this operation was not merely a repeat of previous Iranian shenanigans in the Gulf.

It might all end well in the end, but there is something quite different afoot here. In an earlier post, Noah K remarked on the obscurity of the "game of brinkmanship" played by the Iranians. It certainly came as a big surprise. To me, it looks like some radical elements in the Iranian regime are running the show; the preposterous demands for a British apology, and the manipulative use of the captured troops are evidence of that. It seemed possible at the beginning that the Brits might still bow to these ridiculous demands. But the publication of a second letter by the female sailor, obviously dictated by an Iranian interrogator, and the refusal to release her after all, might arouse even the phlegmatic British public. Let's remember that the Second Lebanon War started with the kidnapping of two soldiers by the Iranian-backed Hibullah, also suspiciously close to important deliberations about the Iranian nuclear program. British Prime Minister Tony Blair obviously did not want to walk into a trap, hoping instead that a calm response would do the trick. But things are not looking so great now, especially if it is true that the radicals are in command.

Given how serious the situation appears, it is strange that there have not been more statements by the allies. There has been hardly any saber-rattling from the Americans, for example. The quiet is rather eerie.

The rebuff that the British received at the Security Council, where Russia, China, and possibly others apparently scuttled a sharper condemnation of the incident, which would have declared that the British troops were in Iraqi not Iranian waters, was not widely publicized. Maybe the Russians and the Chinese were worried that an explicit judgment against Iran on the location of the British troops would have provided the Americans and the British with sufficient casus belli that could be invoked by them further down the line. As scary as it sounds, I think that the U.S. is very close to war with Iran right now. It might all blow over, but only if the Iranians flinch. But the Americans and the British will surely make a show of force in the coming days, with the hope that the moderates in Iran will compel the radicals to back down.

Adaptation of Israeli TV Series to Hit HBO

Asi Dayan plays the clinical psychiatrist who is the
protagonist of the show בטיפול ["In Treatment"] (Photo: Wikipedia)

I was pleased to discover that HBO will soon introduce a new show called "In Treatment," which is an American translation (and adaptation) of the Israeli series בטיפול. I saw one episode of this show in Israel and was very impressed. Watching therapy probably isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if, like me, Tony's visits to the shrink are your favorite parts of The Sopranos, and if you liked Leonardo DiCaprio's sessions with the therapist in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, you'll probably enjoy "In Treatment" (the Israeli and the HBO versions).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's a Match! Senate Passes Its Own Iraq Bill

In another victory for pragmatism on Iraq, Senate Democrats banded together today to pass a spending bill, which, like the House bill passed last Friday, sets a timetable for withdrawal. The Senate measure contains a non-binding goal of withdrawal by March 31, 2008 (the House deadline of August 2008 is binding). Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus, is said to have agonized over the decision. Pragmatism prevailed, it seems, because Nelson, who opposes announcing dates for withdrawal, saw the bill as the best way to move the discussion on Iraq toward the issues of diplomacy -- of political solutions -- and accountability. However swift the presidential veto is in coming, it won't be able to reverse this shift.

Gulf Heating Up

The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (Source:

The US Navy flexed its muscles Tuesday in its strongest show of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Two aircraft carriers, 100 warplanes, 10,000 US military personnel participating in war games in the cramped and contested straits of the Gulf, the fabled French carrier Charles de Gaulle nearby -- it all sounds like an attempt to clue Tehran into its own vulnerability.

Yet the entire game of brinkmanship being played out in the Gulf between British, American, and Iranian players is, to my mind, entirely obscure at present. What's behind the Iranians' capture of 15 British sailors? If you believe the notorious John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN, the Iranians timed their stunt to coincide with the Security Council vote last Saturday on tightening sanctions against them. On the other hand, the British, at least some of them, seem to believe that the Iranian's had in mind a prisoner exchange of Brits for Iranian agents captured by the US in Iraq.

Also, does anyone else have the impression that this story isn't drawing the press coverage or comment it merits? Some Brits do. Guardian columnist Max Hastings blames Britain's loss of worldwide moral authority. While that may have something to do with a lack of sympathy coming from some quarters, in Britain and the US, I get the sense that leaders are anxiously awaiting developments. This may explain Tony Blair's cryptic public statement:
"What we are trying to do at the moment is to pursue this through the diplomatic channels and make the Iranian government understand these people have to be released and that there is absolutely no justification whatever for holding them. I hope we manage to get them to realise they have to release them. If not, then this will move into a different phase."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rocket Wars

Haifa's oil refineries complex was hit by a rocket in last summer's war

A recent headline in Ha'aretz ("Katyusha rocket hit Haifa oil refineries complex during Second Lebanon War") brought back some disturbing memories of last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah.

That conflict began with Hizbullah's brazen incursion into Israeli territory on a squad of Israeli reservists, on Wednesday, July 12, 2006, which resulted in the deaths of 3 soldiers and the capture of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who are still being held by the organization today (unless they have been killed already). When ground forces pursued the attackers into Lebanon, Hizbullah fighters blew up an Israeli tank with a massive IED, killing 4 crew members. But what looked like a copy of the Palestinian abduction of Gilad Shalit on June 25 quickly developed into something far more frightening.

Already on July 12, the Israeli home front came under attack, as Hizbullah shelled and rocketed communities in the north of the country, along the border. But the "War of the Missiles" began in earnest on Thursday, July 13, when katyushas killed a woman in Nahariya and a man in Tsfat (Safed). In the evening of that day, Carmia reported the first katyusha attack on Haifa (see also her posts on local reactions that night and on Saturday).

One of the worst days of that war, at least for the home front, was Sunday, July 16, 2006, when a Hizbullah missile struck the Haifa train depot, killing 8 workers, just after 9:00 in the morning. Carmia and I reported live from Haifa, as the city came under attack. At the time, we heard several rumors of strategic sites having been hit. Already, on Thursday night, the New York Times had claimed that a rocket had hit the Haifa port, as Carmia reported. In subsequent days, we heard numerous unsubstantiated reports that Haifa's famous Technion, an institution equivalent to MIT, had been hit, and that katyushas had also landed very close to the "salt-and-pepper shakers" that house Israel's main oil refinery.

Haifa's port is in the background (January 2006)

It now turns out that the refineries complex was indeed hit by a Hizbullah missile during the war, as Ha'aretz reported on March 22. Fortunately, the rocket landed in an open area. A direct hit could have had disastrous consequences - leading to the deaths of hundreds of people

The scary thing is that the IDF still seems no closer than it was last summer to a military solution that might adequately protect these strategic facilities - not to mention Israeli civilians in the north - against short-range rocket attacks. It is possible that the air force's devastating response to Hizbullah, which came with the tremendous cost of hundreds of Lebanese civilian casualties, has somewhat changed the party's calculus. But while Hizbullah listens to its sectarian constituency in Lebanon, and sometimes even to Lebanese public opinion as a whole, the organization owes its power and, indeed, its existence to the Iranians and the Syrians.

The Iranians demonstrated last week that they can still act up when they feel threatened. It remains to be seen how this latest hostage drama plays out, but there is no doubt that elements in the Iranian leadership are willing to take similarly provocative actions in other theaters as well. Meanwhile, Palestinian groups such as the Islamic Jihad may try to force another Israeli offensive into Gaza, by stepping up rocket attacks from there. Such an incursion would surely force Hamas and Fatah into the fray as well. Amir Oren has a worrisome report about state of preparedness for such contingencies in the IDF.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Barbara Lee is Key: House Passes Iraq Bill

Berkeley and Oakland's own Barbara Lee (Photo:

The US House of Representatives took one small step toward ending the war in Iraq today, passing by the narrowest of margins a spending bill that includes a controversial "time-table" for withdrawal. In addition to providing subsidies for salmon fishermen, citrus growers, and the peanut storage biz, the bill, which amounts to $100 billion in funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, calls for most American troops to be out of Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008 and sets benchmarks for Iraqi and American performance in the theater. Failure to meet those benchmarks could precipitate early withdrawal.

Still, we're a long way from the exit. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill. (A Senate measure on Iraq, which seems to be quite different, has yet to be debated). House Democrats labored to secure the bare minimum for passage. They had to work so hard not so much because of defections among the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, a coalition of conservative Dems, many of whom were recently elected, but because of liberal members of the party who opposed the measure as funding qua funding for the war. Nancy Pelosi faced a real threat from members of her caucus who would vote on conscience rather than, it seemed, pragmatism.

In the end, the liberal coalition's machinations became one of the major storylines. I was initially pleased to see yesterday that our local congresswoman here in Berkeley and Oakland, Barbara Lee, was set to cede to Pelosi and withdraw her opposition to the bill along with colleagues Lynn Woolsey (California-6), Maxine Waters (California-35), and Diane Watson (California-33). As it turns out, Lee was one of the 14 Democrats who voted against the bill. Pete Stark (California-13), by the way, voted "present." So what gives? In a bizarre twist House Democrats gave a standing ovation this morning to Lee, Woolsey, and Waters. The trio had apparently convinced enough of the other members of the Out of Iraq Caucus to vote in favor of the bill that they freed themselves up to vote their conscience. Those are I guess, the perquisites of power.

A united Republican opposition will prevent the House from overturning a Bush veto, but it's heartening to see the competence and the stewardship of House Democratic leaders like Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, and Steny Hoyer. A responsible yet timely withdrawal from Iraq can't happen without cohesion in the Democratic ranks. It appears now that even the idealists understand that.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

German Police Cadets are Sick of the Holocaust

Berlin Police Commissioner Dieter Glietsch

German politicians, activists, and Jewish community representatives have expressed outrage over comments allegedly made by "an entire class of police cadets" to a Holocaust survivor who was delivering a lecture on the Nazi period, antisemitism, and xenophobia at the Berlin Police Academy.

The incident took place nearly a month ago, on February 27, when the 83-year-old Isaak Behar visited the class, as part of a session about the Nazi regime mandated by the curriculum. Police cadets apparently told Behar that they resented "constantly being reminded about the Holocaust." Others made remarks to the effect that "Jews are rich" (Tagesspiegel).

The story, first reported by the Berliner Zeitung, has received widespread coverage in German newspapers since it broke on March 19. A report of what transpired during the discussion only reached Berlin's Police Commissioner, Dieter Glietsch, last week, "almost by accident" and through sources outside of the department. It is possible that Behar himself brought it to Glietsch's attention. The commissioner expressed his consternation about the report and about the fact that it had only reached him now (Berliner Zeitung). An inquiry has already begun, and condemnation has been virtually unanimous.

Reports about a resurgence of antisemitism in Germany invariably make big headlines - in Germany and abroad. There are certainly reasons to be concerned, but I hope that the blame does not fall on the German police or state, for the problem clearly lies elsewhere. This has not always been the case. Just twenty years ago, German politicians and civil servants were far slower in responding to reports of antisemitism. But the current German elite is sui generis in its awareness of the dark sides of the German past and its dedication to combating antisemitism and Holocaust denial - with a few exceptions. I would even go so far as to say that no country's political elite in the world today can claim to be as sincere as Germany's in confronting its past.

While the current German elite, which came to political maturity in the 1960s, shares a fundamental consensus about the importance of Holocaust education, a younger generation of Germans is slowly undermining the values and institutions for which some of its parents (the ones born in West Germany) struggled for several decades. This younger generation, composed of men and women who while born in pre-1989 West or East Germany have spent most of their lives in the unified Federal Republic, today declares that it is "sick of the Holocaust." In the words of one German headline "Deutsche Polizisten: Kein Bock auf Holocaust Vortrag" (if anyone knows how to translate this into equally compelling idiomatic English, please let me know).

Of course, German fatigue about the Holocaust, which once prompted Henryk Broder to quip that "the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz," is not an entirely new phenomenon. Perhaps there has always been a profound disconnect between the discourse of the elite described earlier and that of German society at large. Things have only become more complicated since Germany's unification, especially as neo-Nazi or "national" groups in East Germany emerged as protest movements against the communist regime before 1989, and against immigrants and leftists today. I think the reaction of the police cadets reflects the views of large segments of the German people from similar class backgrounds. They have increasingly come to the conclusion that the Holocaust is being rammed down their throats.

Contrary to the claims of right-wing demagogues, I don't believe that there is a surfeit of Holocaust education in the country. But an effective strategy to counter these dangerous tendencies cannot consist in hysteria about the return of Nazism to Germany. Perhaps, it might be a better idea to dwell on the positive. Organizations such as the American Jewish Committee have long realized this. The point is that Germans have a great deal to be proud of when it comes to dealing with their history - just consider, for the sake of comparison, the situation in Japan or Turkey. The German elite should be confident of this record and its role in in these achievements; it should speak of German accomplishments in this sphere as much as it speaks of duties and responsibilities today. At the same time, of course Germans must continue to monitor and engage critically, in clear terms and without glossing over the issues involved, the kind of self-serving (and often antisemitic) ressentiment that came to the surface in the affair of the Berlin police cadets.

I encountered some bizarre transcriptions of German words in a Ha'aretz article about the incident described above. The article referred to chants of "Zig [sic] Heil" (i.e. Sieg Heil), and to the police academy's tours of the "Ziekenhuizen [sic] concentration camp" (probably the Sachsenhausen KZ just outside Berlin). I'm not sure how to explain these transcriptions - both of these spellings look vaguely Dutch to me, so maybe they hired some translators from the Netherlands or Belgium.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gaydamak is Back, with a Twist

Is Yossi Lapid Gaydamak's Mr. X? (Photo: Knesset)

Arkadi Gaydamak, the tycoon whose political ambitions were the subject of an earlier post here, is back in the news. Apparently, he is now aiming toward the political center. He also seems on the brink of severing his ties with Netanyahu. According to Ha'aretz, Gaydamak, who "supports equality and coexistence with Israeli Arabs, and also with the Palestinians," is hoping to capture significant votes in the Arab sector. If true, this would be a welcome injection into the Israeli political spectrum, though the whole thing is sounding more and more unlikely.

I was intrigued by the following mysterious description of Gaydamak's new potential ally, who is set to replace Netanyahu as the head of this party:
(...) a well-respected senior political figure, who held ministerial posts in previous governments. This person has resigned from party politics but remains active in public life. Joining Gaydamak may turn out to be a significant development for both men.
Any bets on who this might be? Here is another hint:
Following the meeting, the personality, who is affiliated with the political center, expressed readiness on principle to join Gaydamak politically, but also raised a number of preconditions. Among other issues, he insisted on the importance of severing the ties developed between the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu and Gaydamak's party in the making.
Could it be former Shinui boss Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, who served as Justice Minister in Ariel Sharon's coalition government? I just don't think that would work at all, given that Gaydamak has been building a potential electorate outside of the secular middle class that voted for Lapid. But that might be the point.

At first, I also thought of Avraham Burg (Labor Party), but that would be an unlikely alliance, and Burg has never been a minister, to my knowledge. I even thought for a second that Ehud Barak had signed onto this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bambies in Jerusalem

The sign reads "Welcome to the Valley of the Gazelles,
a municipal and communal nature site" (Photo: Wikipedia)

Wildlife is not the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear Jerusalem. In fact, Zafrir Rinat writes in Ha'aretz, the Holy City is home to an
abundance of wild animals, which find an assorted variety of niches in Jerusalem, [and] bring nature into the city.
Most astonishing to me was learning about the "Valley of the Gazelles" (עמק הצבאים), a 205 dunam park in the middle of Jerusalem, home to a family of 20 plus gazelles.

Photo by Jeff Finger, who has more pictures and information
(in English) about this wonderful park

Preserving this park has not been easy, as it is prime land for development. Between 2000 and 2004, environmental and social activists cooperated to thwart plans to turn the park over to commercial developers ("עמק הבצבאים," Wikipedia). This struggle united members of the Democratic Mizrahi Rainbow (הקשת הדמוקרטית המזרחית) and the Nature Protection Society (החברה להגנת הטבע), among others.

In Jerusalem, Rinat reports, environmental activists have also been joined by yeshiva students and citizens from the ultra-Orthodox communities. The writer notes, however, that "one element is noticeably absent from the environmental activities in Jerusalem" - the representation of Arab residents from Jerusalem's eastern part. "Such cooperation," Rinat argues,
is a must and can be arranged even if there is no agreement on the future borders of the city and its political fate. It is essential primarily for residents East Jerusalem residents, who are more exposed to environmental blights and to neglect. As in other cases in Israel, eastern Jerusalem's Arabs have remained invisible in the environmental campaign to preserve the city's image and shape its quality of life.
Thanks to Ima for the reference and title.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Counting the Bodies with Angry Arab

As'ad AbuKhalil at UC Berkeley (March 15, 2007)

I'm not sure how much I can add to Amos's report of Angry Arab's presentation. But I think one might want to focus on the morally heinous obfuscation of the scale of sectarian violence in Iraq, particularly because we seem to have something of an audience (see their comments) that considers AbuKhalil not only credible but worthy of our respect. As you can read in detail in Amos's post, AbuKhalil asserted last Thursday evening on the campus of UC Berkeley that western media organizations like the New York Times deliberately suppress the fact that the majority of the violent attacks that the Iraqi insurgency or resistance or whatever commits are directed against coalition forces, not against Iraqi targets. Amos has his references for this, but I believe the authority of the International Crisis Group was also invoked.

I don't think today's NYT, in a statistical and visual piece entitled "Four Years of War in Iraq" could be any clearer. As for the number of attacks:
The average number of attacks tracked by the American-led coalition continues to rise. Coalition forces draw the majority of attacks, while Iraqi security forces and civilians sustain the majority of casualties.
This is a distinction that was sorely missed in AbuKhalil's polemic. If the high ground is, as the professor argued, simply counting the corpses, I think the NYT has it. Under the sectarian violence graphic, one finds the important qualification: "Note: a single incident can cause multiple deaths."

But what's at stake? I think critics of the US policy in Iraq like AbuKhalil rightly fear and ridicule a shift in the American political discourse toward a "blame the Iraqis" line. It may be politically expedient for the likes of Joe Biden or Barack Obama to dump on the Iraqis in stump speeches, but it doesn't do justice to the colossal mistakes of the Bush policy and it doesn't contribute constructively toward a solution to this problem. Still, I think that if one, in the interest of defending Iraqis against American incriminations, obscures the character or scale of civil strife and ethnic cleansing in Iraq, no one's interest is served, least of all the interest of the Iraqi people. The civil conflict in Iraq is by no means being fought in a world apart from American military operations. How the two correlate, and how the civil conflict itself is a monster with multiple, multiple heads are issues that deserve serious study and discussion.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Angry Arab at Berkeley

Sean O'Neill (l.) and As'ad AbuKhalil (r.)

Professor As'ad AbuKhalil of California State University - Stanislaus, the man also known as "Angry Arab," addressed a crowd of about 50 student and community activists at UC Berkeley on Thursday night. His short lecture was part of an event organized by Berkeley's Stop the War Coalition. He was followed by a former marine, Sean O'Neill, who started as a freshman at Berkeley after serving two tours of duty in Iraq. The messages delivered by the two could not have been more different.

AbuKhalil spent much of his time criticizing both the anti-war movement at places like Berkeley, as well as the state of campus activism in general. Strangely enough, he began his lecture with an attack on what he called "the new pet cause: Darfur." He then lambasted those devoting their time to stopping the genocide in Sudan:
This is seen as a safe cause. Parents think that this is an issue where kids can be active. They don’t know that the U.S. is an accomplice in Darfur, along with the Janjaweed. I worry about how people like [New York Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof are marketing a tragedy like Darfur as kitsch. It’s used as a substitute for activism that’s needed to prevent crimes occurring at a rate that’s larger than what’s happening at Darfur.
What crimes might AbuKhalil have been thinking of? No doubt, the crimes of the American occupiers of Iraq. Throughout his talk, the professor blamed the U.S. for the "654,000 people who have died in Iraq" since the invasion. Of course, a large number of those civilians who have died in Iraq were killed by fellow Iraqis, most of them "insurgents." But in an amazing exercise in obfuscation, AbuKhalil suggested that most of the civilian deaths were not being caused by the "Iraqi resistance." The proof? A 2005 book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by University of Chicago political science professor Robert Pape, according to which only 20% of the acts of violence by anti-American forces in Iraq are aimed at civilians. Of course, AbuKhalil conveniently glossed over the more important statistic: the number of civilian deaths. A car bomb that kills 60 civilians in Baghdad counts as 1 act, while a total of 4 ambushes of Iraqi Security Forces or IED attacks on American soldiers, might kill 5 combatants.

Although AbuKhalil admitted that a small number of the Iraqi insurgents were terrorists, he called the large majority of the "resistance" a legitimate struggle against colonial occupation. The professor chastised the anti-war left in America for accepting the depiction of the Iraqi insurgency as terrorism. From the Western media, he said, you would think that the large majority of acts of violence were perpetrated against civilians. But most are aimed at "American troops and the Iraqi puppet forces." But AbuKhalil did not stop there.

For Angry Arab, the biggest problem of the anti-war movement is that it continues to "worship the troops."
Why should you support the troops when they are on a mission of colonization, destruction of a society. This is the same culture that produced Abu Ghraib, the massacre of Haditha, the rape. Because of the worshipping of troops by liberals and conservatives alike. Even if it will offend many, we have to say no. We oppose the troops, if they’re engaged in a war against a country that is far away and has not hurt us.
He called on the anti-war movement to change course:

We have been way too intimidated on the Left about coming out to support in principle the resistance against the American occupation in Iraq.

AbuKhalil also warned that the Democratic Party would be no better than the current administration. They would simply be smarter about pursuing the "Bush Doctrine." This message was well-received by at least half of the audience, members of which spoke disparagingly about "liberals" and the Democrats. For this hard core, all of Iraq's problems would immediately be solved by an American withdrawal. And indeed, for them, it is America which caused the division and strife in the region in the first place. As AbuKhalil said:
the festering sectarian warfare [in Iraq] is largely the doing of the U.S. government. The U.S. went to Iraq and exploited Sunni-Shi’ite differences. Sectarian warfare began because of deliberate actions of U.S. In Iraq, people married across sectarian lines, unlike in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia is now deliberately funding Sunni fighters. I believe that a secular formula is best in a place like Lebanon or Iraq. But it is not up to me to tell Iraqis what they should do. I believe that no agreement reached by people under occupation is valid. No election under occupation is valid. These are puppet elections. Once the U.S. troops leave, the Iraqis will be more than capable of coming up with their own solutions.
The rest of the audience consisted of activists who probably identified more with the anti-war Democrats, including a number of people who were former servicemen, like Sean O'Neill, who spoke after AbuKhalil. Only in a place like Berkeley, would an eminently reasonable person such as O'Neill have been forced onto the defensive, trying desperately to explain that "you have to speak to Americans in their language" if you want to stop the war. Like O'Neill, I support a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq to safer bases in the Gulf. Hence, I hope that the anti-war movement does not listen to AbuKhalil. On the other hand, I do hope that Americans at large do hear what the Angry Arab has to say, for there is nothing more damning to his various causes than his glorification of the "resistance fighters" killing innocent people in Iraq daily, and his derision of the campaign on behalf of the people of Darfur.

Unfortunately, "the professor" - as O'Neill deferentially called him several times - left immediately after he finished speaking and answering questions. To be fair, AbuKhalil had a long drive home ahead of him. But to me it only reinforced my impression of him as someone who put more stock in his celebrity status than in sincere discussion. It was also rather disrespectful.

More to follow from Noah K, who also attended the lecture with me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

UNESCO Ambiguates on Old City Dig

UNESCO's HQ in Paris

The report of UNESCO's investigation of Israeli excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem was published Wednesday. I can't find the full text on UNESCO's website. Only a press release. In any case, the gist of the matter seems clear. First of all, the report clears the Israelis of the accusation that their work is in any way deleterious to the Muslim holy site. But second, it criticizes the Israeli's for not communicating with the Waqf, the Jordanians, etc., in advance of the project. it would be interesting to see the full text of the report in order to gauge the relative emphasis placed on these two points.

I was somewhat dismayed to read a BBC story in which the now officially discredited accusations of some Muslim leaders were presented as banal -- as potentially truthful. As the BBC puts it,"Palestinian critics and Muslim figures internationally say the work could damage the mosque foundations." Thanks to the report summarized in this very BBC story, we now know this not to be the case.

The other issue, namely, Israel's prerogative in undertaking activities of this nature in land occupied in 1967, is much more complicated. According to Haaretz, Israeli diplomats fear that coordination with the Waqf and Jordanians would be tantamount to renouncing Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. For my part, I don't understand why the excavations should be stopped immediately if they are deemed harmless. UNESCO says that the Israelis have seen enough, but that is almost never the case in archaeology. Still, I can imagine that, perhaps, in hindsight, a more multilateral approach might have been taken to this sensitive problem.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Talking to Syria

Sunset in the north (January 2006)

One of the obstacles to negotiations with Syria frequently cited by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is American opposition to talks with Assad. Olmert did not conjure these objections out of thin air. But it is fairly obvious that invoking American opposition as the determining factor in Israel's decision not to engage the Syrians was a convenient charade (perhaps for both parties). Now, the Americans are sending signals that the Israelis are going to have to supply their own alibi.

At a closed meeting with academics at Hebrew University on Monday, U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones said that the U.S. is not blocking Israel from conducting talks with Syria. Asked to comment on Ambassador Jones's statement, the deputy press attache of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Geoffrey Anisman, told Ha'aretz that
we are unaware that any U.S. official has ever expressed an opinion on what Israel should or should not do with regard to Syria.
It is hard not to chuckle at this pithy response; the Anismanian delivery came through even in print.

I had the pleasure of meeting Anisman last summer in Tel Aviv, and he stuck out as one of the young, bright stars in the American diplomatic corps. He also has a great sense of humor, no doubt acquired after years of watching Mel Brooks and Woody Allen films and absorbing Yiddish witticisms told by Anisman Senior.

In all seriousness, the writing is definitely on the wall. Those voices from the State Department long clamoring for a kind of diplomacy that consists of more than threats and refusals to talk to certain states must be feeling emboldened. The turning point was certainly the agreement with North Korea, which, strange as it may seem, could even earn Bush a Nobel Peace Prize. Bitterly opposed by John Bolton, the North Korea deal basically marked a return to the Korea policy of Bill Clinton. America's quiet backing of the Saudi peace initiative, and the March 10 meeting with Iranian and Syrian diplomats in Baghdad are further evidence of a shift in policy.

There are of course valid grounds on which one might continue to object to dialogue with Syria, as our Lebanese friends do not tire of pointing out. I have to confess that I am still sympathetic to some of their warnings. For one, I do not know how long the Assads will stay in power, and what might happen to a peace agreement once they fall. Secondly, I worry about the effects that bolstering the Syrians now will have on Lebanon's future.

On the other hand, the draft framework for a Syrian-Israeli agreement that was leaked in January is an offer that Israel simply cannot refuse.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Self-Esteem and the Iranians

Ahmadinejad Spins a Yarn

I've long thought that many in the West underestimate or misunderstand altogether the role of Persian "self-esteem" in propelling the conflict forward. This is something I hope to take up in a future post. Of course this is not entirely off the Bush team's radar. Just last month, in unveiling to the press accusations of Iranian involvement in the production of roadside bombs used in Iraq, Bush spoke of the Iranian people's "proud history." And just last week, R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said of the Iranians, "They are a proud, well-educated people with a rich history."

Ahmadinejad's mastery of manipulating this emotion can only be gauged by someone who understands Farsi. Still, I thought I would post this notorious clip, which, I'm told, demonstrates this nicely. In it the Iranian President boasts of the native genius of a 16 year-old girl who discovered nuclear energy in her basement! Wikiquote had this translation:
"A high school student contacted me a little while ago, telling me "Mr. [Ahmadinejad]! We got a 13-16 year old girl, third year high school student, majoring in math/physics. She came to me saying, Ms. teacher I've discovered nuclear energy in our house. "Do something about it" I told her to set up a meeting at school, ask [the student] couple of questions, check how serious she is. They hold the meeting, examined her, and realized it looks to be serious. They informed me, [then] I called the head of the Iranian Atomic Agency and told him: "Dear Sir! A high school girl says something like this! Verify [her claim], if she's right then support her" [They] invited our nuclear scientist-whose average age is below 25. [The nuclear scientists] set up a meeting and invited her to inquiry. They found out she is right. They told her let's go to your house and see what are you up to. They went to her house and realized this 3rd year high school girl, with the help of her elder brother, has got some gadgets from the bazaar, assembled them and produced nuclear energy, FOR REAL! So now, [nuclear scientists] have [hired] her- now she's a nuclear scientist too. They have set up an escort for her, [she] comes, goes, has driving service, a chauffeur! This is self esteem!"

DiCaprio Makes Israel Feel Good

Inch, my flatmate's cat. Still not giving a rat's a-- about Leo or Bar

The Israeli media have been having a field day with the visit of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who accompanied his girlfriend, top model Bar Rafaeli, to her homeland. Since yesterday morning, the media has been tracking the Hollywood star's visit. Today print and broadcast media reported that Rafaeli and DiCaprio ventured to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial centre in Jerusalem, as well as other important sites in the country.

What is interesting is the excitement that this visit is generating in Israel. Since the second intifadah broke out, Israelis have been feeling deserted. There is a sense of loss and longing for the days when peace seemed very near. Stars from all over the world flocked to Israel during that time period. Many American artists came to Israel to perform before the outbreak of the intifadah, which brought everything to a standstill. There was a brief time period after the intifadah died down which seemed to revive what had been happening before. But the tensions were never far away, and with the Hezbollah-Israel war, the expected return of concerts and shows didn't materialize. This was exemplified by the Depeche Mode concert, scheduled for August 2006; 40,000 people had bought tickets for the show which was ultimately cancelled.

After so much negative press in the international media, Israelis are hungry for some positive attention for once. As much as Israelis pride themselves on their self-sufficiency and toughness, they seem to have a craving for external validation, which the blond-haired and blue-eyed DiCaprio delivers.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Tsipi Livni for Prime Minister

Who is behind signs calling on Livni to replace Olmert?
(Photo: Ynet)

Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni has so far been very cautious about acting on her ambitions to one day succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. With Olmert facing unprecedented disapproval ratings over his handling of the Lebanon war, corruption, and lack of discernible strategy, however, a group of independent activists has apparently decided to promote Livni from outside the party. On Sunday, ads featuring the foreign minister's face, the Kadima logo, and the caption, "honest leadership and a cleaning of hands," appeared around Tel Aviv. The signs called for Livni to replace Olmert as the head of the government (Ynet).

Kadima sources have denied that the foreign minister is behind these signs. Indeed, they believe that the persons responsible for these ads could not have come from the party. They are probably right. Livni is too smart to risk her standing, and Olmert is too clever to let her undermine him in this way. So, the initiative either comes from activists who see Livni as a credible candidate to oppose Bibi's comeback try, or from people trying to bring about some kind of internal Kadima crisis.

In the meantime, Olmert, facing domestic pressure as well as a White House trying to salvage something from two disastrous terms, has hinted at his support for the Saudi initiative for a larger regional peace settlement between Israel and the Arab states. As Aluf Benn notes,
The Saudi initiative gives Olmert a chance to recover, if he can manage to demonstrate political progress. He doesn't have a lot to lose.
For the first time, it also appears that American opposition to (or rumors about U.S. vetoes of) Israeli negotiations with Syria might be softening.

Of course, the Palestinian front remains as fragile as ever. It will be a miracle if the unity government lasts. It is clear that the interests of Fatah and Hamas conflict. Without a major change in Palestinian political culture, it is hard to see how these two sides will agree to share power indefinitely.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Collapse of the Ottoman Era

Allenby Park in Beer Sheva (June 2006)

Salim Tamari, a faculty member of Birzeit University and a visiting professor in the history department here, presented an interesting talk today at Berkeley's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. His talk, "Palestine 1915: The Collapse of the Ottoman Era in the Diaries of Soldiers from the Great War," sought to unsettle both the Turkish as well as the Arab nationalist historiography of World War One using the diaries of a lieutenant and a private serving in the Imperial Fourth Army commanded by Jamal Ahmad Pasha.

The Fourth Army fought in the Levant, at Suez, and in the Hijaz. The informants on whom Tamari relied were initially garrisoned in Jerusalem. Both of these diarists exemplified the complex, situational identities that were the norm in the Ottoman Middle East. According to Tamari, Lieutenant Muhammad al-Fasih, who hailed from Mersin (Iskandarun, which is now in Turkey, near the Syrian border), was a "Turkified Arab." Private Ihsan Hasan al-Turjman, on the other hand, was an "Arabized Turk" from the Old City of Jerusalem. As his last name indicates, members of his family were employed as translators. While the "Arabized Turk" died in 1917 (in murky circumstances on which more later), the "Turkified Arab" went on to become a decorated officer in the Kemalist army after the war. It was indeed only after WWI that their national identities crystallized. Tamari argued that this was the case for many Ottoman subjects in the Levant.

With his talk, Tamari hoped to undermine two dominant narratives in the historiography of the Great War. Both of these histories feature the motif of betrayal. On the one hand, Arab nationalist historians have represented the story as driven by the Turanian (pan-Turkic) betrayal of the Istanbul and Ottoman elite, which had allegedly abandoned the idea of an integrated constitutional regime of citizenship that would include Arabs and grant them a certain amount of cultural autonomy (such as Arab-language instruction in schools). These historians point to the aggressive Turkification campaign waged by the triumvirate of Enver, Tal'at, and Jamal Pasha. The Turkish side, on the other hand, believes that the Arabs betrayed the empire, pointing to the Hashemite alliance with the British and the fact that Egypt never rebelled.

Often occluded by these narratives is the fact that more Arabs fought in the Ottoman army than took part in the Arab Revolt on the side of the Husseinis and the Syrian nationalists. Indeed, alongside Albanians, Bulgarians, Kurds, and Turks, Arabs made up 1/3 of Ottoman forces. Tamari estimated that perhaps half of the 97,000 Ottoman troops who died at Gallipoli were from the Levant, Egypt, or the Hijaz. In the annual commemorations attended by ANZAC and Turkish veterans representatives nowadays, all of the fallen Ottoman soldiers have been retroactively Turkified.

Another view of the memorial

In the Holy Land more specifically, pro-Ottoman affinities were and remained strong among the Arabs. It was hard for many inhabitants of the Jerusalem mutasarrifate to imagine themselves as cut off from a network that included Halab (Aleppo), Beirut, Damascus, and Anatolia. Many supported the idea of a federated Arab-Turkish Ottoman state, an idea that was also contemplated by parts of the leadership of the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihad). Arab nationalists, on the other hand, favored either an independent Greater Syria to be ruled by Prince Faysal from Damascus. There was also the option of an independent Palestine, which has of course received a lot of prominence in the historiography.

One other option that Tamari unearthed using the diaries, which he claims was part of the discourse, was the "decentering of Palestine." Palestine, as he pointed out, of course, was not an Ottoman administrative unit at the time. It probably makes more sense to speak of the Jerusalem district, which the Ottomans imagined as stretching from Jaffa in the north, to the southern part of Nablus, and including all of the Sinai peninsula. Private Ihsan reports that based on this Ottoman conception of the area, many people between 1915-1916 were contemplating a union of this area ("Palestine") with Khedeval Egypt. The reasoning was that the British would not allow the Jerusalem district to unite with Syria, for fear of it falling under French control. The private, as Tamari noted, obviously could not have known that such a union would have contradicted British promises to the Jewish national movement, which became known with the Balfour declaration in 1917.

Obviously, this option became moot when the Egyptians did not rise up against the British, and when Allenby forced the Ottoman army northward as the British and their allies invaded from the south. Nevertheless, according to Tamari, pro-Ottoman forces remained strong in Nablus, Akko, and Haifa.

Map at the Allenby memorial in Beer Sheva (June 2006)

The other part of Tamari's talk was devoted to the disintegrating effects of the Great War on Ottoman society in the Levant. The conscription of so many young men, combined with a locust attack in the spring of 1915 and the requisitioning of remaining crops by the Fourth Army, led to widespread starvation. The hunger and the breakdown of traditional society led to radical transformations, especially in urban centers. Adult men disappeared from the public sphere and an increasing number of women were forced to earn a living, though their options were extremely limited. Many turned to prostitution. Official bordellos for soldiers were established in Jaffa, Damascus, Beirut, and Jerusalem (which supposedly had 12 such institutions). Private Ihasan noted this collapse of his society with observations of prostitutes walking to the Damascus Gate.

The Great War also meant the end of a certain kind of localism. Tamari pointed to a declaration by Ihsan that he "will even go outside Jerusalem to get married." Such a statement would have been unthinkable before the war, the sociologist explained. But with so many soldiers being garrisoned far away in the empire (it was Ottoman policy to try to station soldiers far away from their homes; hence, Albanians and Bulgarians in Jerusalem, and so many Arabs at Gallipoli), and with the stablishment of railroad lines (aided by German military engineers) and the building of roads, local affinities began to break down. Ottomanist as well as nationalist identities competed to fill the void.

I will add two more notes of interest. Private Ihsan was killed in 1917, most likely by his commanding officer. This commanding officer, an Albanian, had apparently been harassing the private for months - "he had fallen deeply in love with Ihsan, who would have none of it." After Ishan complained to the commander, another Albanian, the would-be lover was demoted. Ihsan's C.O. then threatened him with death several times, coming to his house and seeking him out elsewhere. Until Tamari's discovery, the private's family had claimed that he was shot for deserting.

The actual finding of Ihsan's diary in the first place is also noteworthy. Tamari discovered the manuscript in the Hebrew University library. It did not have a name on it, and only through some sleuthing and a measure of good luck (which involved cross-referencing with another diary of a person who turned out to have been Ihsan's teacher) did Tamari discover the identity of the journal's author. In the Hebrew U. archive, the manuscript is filed under "absentee property." Tamari believes that it was probably found in an abandoned Arab home in East Jerusalem in 1967. He added that it was good that the Israelis found it, because if Ihsan's family members knew that it would come to light, they would probably have destroyed it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

King Abdullah II Puts on Clinic

King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan
(Photo: Royal Hashemite Court Archives, Nasser Ayoub)

King Abdullah II of Jordan today addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate in the U.S. Congress. Ahead of his trip to the United States, the King reiterated his conviction that time is running out for a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Last Friday, the ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom criticized Israel for dragging its feet, and called upon it to choose between the "prisoner mentality of 'Israel the fortress'" and living in peace with its neighbors.
Today, the King urged the U.S. to commit itself to a revival of the peace process, cutting out the criticism of Israel:
I come to you today at a rare and indeed historic moment of opportunity when there is a new international will to end the catastrophe. And I believe that America with its enduring values, its moral repsonsibility, and yes, its unprecedented power must play the central role.

Today I must speak, and I cannot be silent. I must speak about a cause that is urgent for your people and mine. I must speak about peace in the Middle East.
King Abdullah's speech was of course long on vision and short on policy. But that is to be expected for an address like this. The Jordanian ruler pointed to the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis, but also referred to the Taba and Geneva accords.

In his flawless, unaccented American English, King Abdullah appealed directly to American values, invoking F.D.R. and referring repeatedly to the hope for freedom, peace, and prosperity. Standing in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Dick Cheney, he projected optimism and the air of a serious statesman. The CPSAN camera panned several times to his beautiful, smiling wife, Queen Rania, watching the proceedings with other members of the royal family, and with her hair uncovered. There is no doubt that King Abdullah can put himself on the map as the most popular Arab leader in America today, provided that parts of his address make the television screens. He certainly communicates better with Americans than Olmert could ever hope to. I would even say that he put on a better show than Bibi would have - Americans like optimism a lot more than pathos and dire warnings.

In light of this, I was surprised (or perhaps not) to read the FOX News web coverage of the address. According to FOX,
Top House Democrats said Wednesday they are "disappointed" with Jordanian King Abdullah's address to a joint meeting of Congress in which he singled out the plight of Palestinians without mentioning the role of Palestinian groups in preventing a Mideast peace.

In a room with a number of pro-Israeli politicians, the king devoted his speech to discussing an end to the conflict in the Middle East, but he focused primarily on the needs of the Palestinians and suggested that Israel was holding up the peace process.
It is true that King Abdullah did not mention Hamas's refusal to recognize the State of Israel. To be sure, the King is trying hard to pressure the U.S. to force the Israelis forward, and thereby to ease his own domestic problems and improve Jordan's strategic situation. And yes, it's possible that Tom Lantos and Joe Lieberman were not enthusiastic about King Abdullah's words, especially in light of his remarks last week. But the FOX coverage would have one believe that King Abdullah's speech was a complete failure. That is simply not the case.

The King played the role of "moderate Arab leader" and trusted American ally perfectly. No backbencher and no ordinary American could have come away from the address thinking that this was a one-sided, Israel-bashing speech. While the King spoke of the "denial of justice and peace in Palestine" and referred to "60 years of dispossession and 40 years of occupation," he never blamed Israel directly for this history. He referred not only to the "Lebanese father saving money to send his children to college" and to the "Palestinian child on the way to school," but also to the "Israeli mother" fearfully watching her son board a bus. He invoked the memory of his own deceased father, King Hussein, who spoke to the U.S. Congress more than a decade ago, together with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin z"l. The message was clear: back then, the U.S. committed itself to a negotiated peace settlement, and today it must continue that legacy. It was a potent expression of his opposition to unilateral solutions:
In 1994 with Israeli PM Yitzhak* Rabin beside him, [my father] spoke of a new vision for the Middle East. And their courageous work received bipartisan support from your leaders. And there was tremendous hope for a new era, that people would be brought together, that a final and comprehensive settlement of all the issues would be achieved. Thirteen years later that work is still not completed. And until it is, we are all at risk. We are all at risk of being victims of further violence resulting from ideologies of terror and hatred. It is our greatest and most urgent duty to prevent such dangers to our region, to your country, and to the world. The choice is ours: an open world full of promise, progress, and justice for all. Or a world closed, divided peoples, fear, and unfulfilled dreams. Nothing impacts this choice more than the future of peace in the Middle East.
* For people interested in this kind of stuff: logically enough, the Jordanian King pronounced the het in Rabin's first name as a voiceless pharyngeal fricative - this is noteworthy only because, besides the Arabic phrases, King Abdullah spoke without the trace of any accent. Americans, of course, pronounce Rabin's first name with a simple h or sometimes with a voiceless velar fricative (as in Bach). And while we are indulging in glossophilia - the King also made a comment about his New England boarding school experience, where he learned that "one should only talk if what one has to say will improve on silence."

King Abdullah's speech was interrupted several times with enthusiastic applause. He gave Americans what they wanted to hear - an appreciation for America's traditional role in the world and an inclusive vision of a future Middle East. And he managed to do this specifically as an Arab and Muslim leader, pointedly beginning and ending his speech in Arabic.

Opening with the words bismillah al-rahman al-rahim [In the Name of God the most Graceful and Compassionate] and concluding with the greeting salam aleikum, which, he translated for the benefit of the audience, as "peace be upon you," King Abdullah expressed his pride at standing in the House chamber ("this historic institution") as his father had done in 1994. He gave "shout-outs" to Nancy Pelosi and Keith Ellison, telling legislators that
It is a special privilege to be here in the year that the American Congress welcomes its first woman speaker and its first Muslim-American member of Congress.
Ellison returned the favor by answering the King's salam at the end of the speech.

The full CSPAN video of the King's address is now up.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Arab Peace Initiative

(Image: Wikipedia)

At a summit that is to be held in 3 weeks, the Arab foreign ministers are expected to reiterate their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative announced in Beirut in 2002. Then, the Arab leaders declared
that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government (see full text of the initiative).
In Ha'aretz today, Akiva Eldar excoriates Israel's leadership for ignoring the Saudi peace plan. The peace initiative, to be sure, is not without flaws. Its provision on the Palestinian refugee problem refers only vaguely to UN Resolution 194. In section 2.II, the initiative calls for the
Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194
That UN resolution, which dates to 1948, resolved
that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible (see full text).
Needless to say, this is not a tenable option today. Israeli FM Tsipi Livni has been lobbying the Arab leaders to amend this phrasing, but she is the only one who seems to have taken any notice of the upcoming summit to be held on March 28 in Riyadh.

Let us not be mistaken in thinking that the rest of Israel's leadership, most notably Prime Minister Olmert, is ignoring this initiative because it has grasped the strategic ramification such a resolution might have for Israel. There is no evidence that Olmert's inaction is due to any real thinking about or engagement with the future of the State of Israel. Rather, the prime minister is continuing to do what he knows best - bungling his way through office.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Radio Canada International Arabic Edition

RCI Arabic's flagship program bi la hudud (Without Borders, or Sans Limite in French) is hosted by May Abu-Sa'ab

I recently discovered Radio Canada International's Arabic Edition and have been pleasantly surprised by its content. RCI Arabic has only two anchors, May and Fadi, and does not broadcast 24 hours. Unlike BBC Arabic, it does not aim to be an alternative to pan-Arab news stations and, in contrast to America's Radio Sawa, it makes no attempt to appeal to the lowest-common denominator or to young people. Instead, RCI Arabic's main goal appears to be to inform Arabs outside of Canada, especially potential (educated) immigrants, about Canadian society, the challenges of immigration, and about the place of Arabs and Muslims in the country. Another target audience is probably the Arab population in Canada. Canadian multiculturalism and the integration of immigrants in Canada are themes that come up in almost every show. Having listened to the station for the past week, I sometimes get the impression that the hosts are required to meet certain word quotas in their broadcasts - the ِArabic word for integration (اندماج) comes up every five minutes or so. There are also high-brow programs with Arab Canadian academics and intellectuals and frequent health-related features.

My only criticisms so far concern the lousy music (it's always some mediocre Canadian or Québecois content) and, on a more serious note, the fact that the editors don't use the station to promote Canadian values in the Middle East. Radio Canada International should be using the station as a means to stimulate more balanced discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Arab world. I would also expect RCI Arabic to do stories about human rights and press freedoms or the lack thereof in the Arab Middle East. Until now, when politics were discussed, the few guests that I've heard so far were Arab Canadian academics or community activists who repeat the same pan-Arab, anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric that one could hear on any popular Arab satellite or radio station. Especially irritating was an interview with Naïma Mimoune, a woman of Algerian origin emigrated to Canada in 1998 and is now running for or involved with the separatist Parti Québecois (PQ) in the Quebec provincial elections. Madame Mimoune, who does not appear to be related to Maimonides, justified her support for the PQ by asserting that it was the most sympathetic to Arab immigrants and by referring to its "pro-Arab" position during the war in Lebanon last summer. Both hosts, to their credit, challenged their guest to explain her support for the PQ. I think they went as far as to suggest that Mimoune's immigrant constituency might be deterred by the potentially destabilizing effect of separatist agenda. They also noted that the Quebec Liberal party has a prominent Arab parliamentarian, Madame Fatima Houda-Pepine.