I’m heading out of town for the holiday. Blogging will resume next week.
Haaretz has just published an interview with Matt Seaton, editor of “Comment is Free” (CiF)—the opinion website of the Guardian, with 3 million unique users and 10 million page-views a month.
It has not gone unnoticed by critics that CiF—and the British media in general—has a bit of an obsession when it comes to Israel. Seaton reacts to this accusation:
We spend a great deal of time thinking how to cover the subject in a balanced and fair way and not in excessive quantity. It’s difficult to do that when the Middle East is setting the news agenda.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is also a fault-line in the geopolitics of the region. That’s just a reality…..It’s a region of the world that generates so much news; we’re part of that, but it’s not of our making.
Actually, dude, it is of your making. The fault of the Guardian—and other media outlets and pundits—is constantly reinforcing the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important, central issue driving events in the Middle East. (The ongoing Sunni-Shiite dispute is arguably a larger, more influential geopolitical fault-line.)
The obsessive focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict crowds out the myriad other significant events and political developments throughout the region—and plays into the hands of Middle Eastern regimes that use Israel as a scapegoat for their problems, or to divert attention from their own internal issues.
By way of example for the sheer number of topics not being addressed, check out the website of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which closely monitors events across the Arab-Muslim world, through projects such as its Arab Reform Bulletin.
Here’s just a recent sampling of subjects:
“Political Crises but Few Alternatives in Algeria”
“Iraq’s Quest for Democracy amid Massive Corruption”
“Patriotic Union of Kurdistan: Revival or Mere Survival?”
“Egypt’s New Brotherhood Leadership: Implications and Limits of Change”
“Sunnis and Iraq’s Elections: An Evolving Balance of Power”
“Obama and Human Rights in the Middle East: Suggestions for Act Two”
“Implications of the Jordanian Parliament’s Dissolution”
Seaton is right that “the Middle East is setting the news agenda”—but it’s the Guardian that’s ignoring the wider news.
Also from the Haaretz interview, Seaton assures us that CiF is vigilant against anti-semitism:
You have been harshly criticized for posting articles by Hamas members. What are your red lines?
For example, if I was offered a piece that spoke of a Jewish lobby, as opposed to a pro-Israel lobby, that would mean automatic disqualification.
So, memo to would-be CiF columnists: Feel free to write as much as you want about how the “Israel Lobby” controls the media, the government and the economy.
Our favorite Talibanette and shill for the Iranian government was interviewed by the Pakistani newspaper, The International News:
Osama bin Laden is dead and “increasingly irrelevant”, Yvonne Ridley believes. She has also stopped writing a book about him, and is amazed that the Pakistani media did not challenge British premier Gordon Brown’s statement claiming that Bin Laden was in Pakistan. “Where did that come from? Where is the evidence? It is being repeated; no one challenges these people,” she says. “Why does he think he is still alive and in Pakistan?”
“The last tape of Bin Laden has got to be a hoax,” she said. “Since when did Al-Qaeda care about global warming? He is a useful bogeyman; whenever the US administration begins to lose public opinion, it talks about 9/11 and Osama and tries to get people in a state of fear.”
Do we need to add a new word to the taxonomy of conspiracy theorists? We have “Birthers” and “Truthers”…so, what’s an appropriate term for someone who believes that Bin Laden is dead, but is still being used for propaganda purposes? A “Deader”? Nah, that doesn’t work for me. Suggestions are welcomed in the comments section.
The latest conspiracy theory circulating among the moonbat crowd is that the “Israel Lobby” and its “Zionist-controlled Congress” have been behind the efforts to kill Obama’s health care reform bill.
What do the Zionists have against health care reform? Well, duh! Isn’t it obvious? By defeating Obama’s landmark legislation they cripple him politically, thereby guaranteeing that he’s only a one-term president….thereby paving the way for electing (or “installing”) a more Israel-friendly president and allowing the neocons to continue their imperialist agenda for the Middle East.
For instance, we have this commentary in Arab News:
Nothing would have suited the Israeli position better than a wounded US president, abandoned even by key members of his own Democratic Party on a reform pledge that had been central to his campaign for the White House. It was a close run thing, but through a combination of compromise, arm-twisting and behind-the-scenes advocacy, Obama convinced Democratic members of Congress to fall into line.
Obama probably knows just how much US Zionists tried to have him fail with health care reform. He has bested them this time. Will he have the appetite for another showdown with what is arguably the most dangerous lobby group in the world?
But, in terms of sheer creativity, nothing yet matches this article by Brian Duff—a senior writer at the innocuous-sounding site, “Veterans Today Network,” which is actually a popular hangout for Truthers and their fellow travelers.
Duff sees evidence in the Zionist assault against U.S. health care reform, by virtue of the fact that Israelis already benefit from a public health care system (which, he claims, is funded by U.S. taxpayers).
Having trouble connecting these dots? No worries, Duff lays it all out for us:
Healthcare fear comes from one place, primarily, Israel. How do I mean that? Well, the voice behind the fight against healthcare is Glen Beck and the gang at Fox News. They work for Israeli, Rupert Murdoch, frontman for the extremist and very anti-American Likud party in Israel. So, if you didn’t know it, Israel, whose healthcare expenses are paid for by America, led the fight against healthcare in America for Americans.
Many American Jews are enrolled in the Israeli healthcare system and people from around the world go to Israel for medical care under this system, a system almost identical to the original “Obamacare” we were warned about. The Israeli system is both efficient and flexible with regular reviews. As noted, there are criticism regarding copayments and some opt for additional private insurance.
This system is far better and far more efficient and cost effective than the system we just put in place. This was what we were offered but as an attempt to compromise, we accepted something much less and more costly.
WHAT DOES THIS PROVE?
There was vast profit in the unfair and ineffective system we had, leading greedy and heartless people to lie about the benefits of taking on the Israeli model, even though many of the people most opposed to the new American system are either Jews or, in fact Israeli citizens, the most powerful single force in America’s news media.
How can we call Israel a democracy when their healthcare system, by Glen Becks standards would make them a communist dictatorship. Is Glen Beck a lying blowhard and his supporters ignorant dupes and fools?
It certainly proves that we live in nation whose press is totally controlled. Why would there never be a second of mention of Israelis highly successful compulsory healthcare system in the entire year of debate? Would this have stopped the massive inflow of money from America’s Jewish lobby against the Obama/Israeli plan?
Sigh. Guess it’s time for me to update the Zionist-Conspiracy-O-Matic.
More on the controversy over Sari Hanafi—the Lebanese academic who advocates an academic boycott against Israel, but who collaborated on writing a book with two Israeli academics, who also happen to endorse a boycott against Israeli institutions.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has weighed in with its opinion by issuing two public statements.
The first statement declares:
While it is crucial for scholars in relevant fields to expose and analyze the colonial situation in Palestine, this academic imperative should not imply that one overlooks how scholarship engages this colonialism. That is, this book, as a collaboration of various scholars—Israeli and non-Israeli contributors— was completed with support from the Van Leer Institute.
Contrary to the claims of some left-wing Israeli academics that the Van Leer institute is an incubator for cutting-edge critical thinking and oppositional politics, the Institute is firmly planted in the prevailing Zionist consensus and is part and parcel of the structures of oppression and domination. It subscribes to the “vision of Israel as both a homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic society, predicated on justice, fairness and equality for all its residents,” ignoring the oxymoron presented by this inherently exclusionary vision—a “Jewish State” of necessity discriminates against its “non-Jewish” citizens.
Though intellectual projects may aim to rigorously articulate the complex matrix of control that exists in Palestine, the intellectual process has a fundamental ethical and political component. As such, it is incumbent upon all scholars to realize that any collaboration which brings together Israeli and international academics (Arabs or otherwise) under the auspices of Israeli institutions is counterproductive to fighting Israeli colonial oppression, and is therefore subject to boycott.
So, I guess that means people should boycott Hanafi’s book, since it is the product of a process that empowers Israeli colonialism?
Well, no…. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shortly thereafter issued this Q&A “clarification” :
Is PACBI calling for a boycott of the book itself or of its editors despite the critical, anti-colonial positions they both promote?
Neither is this a call to boycott the book or its editors and contributors, many of whom we know to be principled supporters of Palestinian rights. It is very clear that the merit of the book itself is not the issue. The main and only issue is the violation of the PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel inherent in the research project that led to the production of the volume. The project under which the research group worked was supported and funded, at least in its founding stage, by the Van Leer Institute, as stated in the first pages of the book itself. That is the only relevant and public statement available. The Van Leer Institute, despite claims made for it, is not exempt from the academic boycott, as the PACBI statement explains. Thus, any project under its aegis and funded by it must be brought under scrutiny from the perspective of the academic boycott.
Shouldn’t Van Leer‘s support for this strongly anti-colonial project be lauded, not condemned?
Like all the rest of Israeli academic institutions…. the Van Leer Institute is complicit in perpetuating a system of colonial oppression and apartheid….Its very promotion of Israel as a “Jewish state” and claim that it is, also, a democracy betray a vision of exclusion that can never be simultaneously inclusive.
To quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Man then goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed at the next zebra crossing.”
In an unusual departure from journalistic norms, a major news magazine published an article about human rights in a Middle Eastern country other than Israel.
Time magazine reported on Egypt’s treatment of Bedouin living in Sinai—and hit a raw nerve:
TIME’s sources ranged from wealthy arms smugglers to village farmers and the impoverished desert inhabitants of huts made from twigs. But the sentiments they expressed were the same: the Egyptian government had failed them. Not only that, but in some communities, anger at government neglect and mistreatment ran so high that Bedouin said they didn’t consider themselves Egyptians; they considered the state an abusive and discriminatory agent; and some said they would go so far as to take up arms against it. A number of TIME’s sources said they yearned for the days of Israeli occupation — a sentiment that stunned Egyptians.
Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula from 1967 to 1982, and despite the existence of a cold peace between the two states for the past three decades, an intense feeling of animosity towards the Jewish state continues to dominate the Egyptian national consciousness. To the authorities of North Sinai then, the sheer notion that there were Bedouin willing to side with Israel over Egypt constituted nothing short of the most serious treason. “Journalists should depend on official sources,” declared Mosaad Arug, a member of the North Sinai local council, in a meeting convened to confront TIME’s reporter about the story. “The people you met are not in charge and should not be trusted.” More than 30 governing council members — men, women, and a few Bedouin — crowded a large conference table, many of them brimming with anger.
Council members shouted demands for the names of sources and locations. They expressed indignation at the mention of pro-Israel Bedouin; and the report that some Bedouin even cheered for Algeria (Egypt’s fiercest soccer rival) during the final round of the African Cup of Nations. Several council members launched into wider diatribes about U.S. policy in the Middle East and Israeli conspiracies in the Sinai. But most of all, they wanted the reporter to apologize for tarnishing Sinai’s name. “You interviewed smugglers. And those people are outlaws,” said another council member, Abdel Hamid Salem. “President Mubarak is a respected man. He is in our hearts and we don’t hate him, like you say.”
When names and an apology did not come forward, the anger shifted to pandemonium. “Zionist!” one man yelled as the meeting broke up. A letter submitted to TIME by the council accused TIME, along with Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, and American news website Global Post, of fomenting “irritation, division, unrest, and instability in Sinai” and of “creating a gap between the people of Sinai and the government.”
Here’s what doesn’t particularly worry me: an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel.
Hirsh Goodman at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies pretty much summed-up my views in this piece he wrote for the Jerusalem Report:
From Israel’s point of view, it has several assets that should be a reason for envy among the other potential targets of an Iranian attack, from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to Europe and anywhere else within a range of 3,000 or so kilometers from Iran. Mordechai Vanunu said Israel had hundreds of nuclear weapons. Assume he was exaggerating, and Israel “only” has 100 and Iran has one or two or even three. True, there is a size difference between Israel and Iran, but in the case of Israeli retaliation, Iran’s destruction is assured. It will be reduced to rubble.
Accuracy is never absolute and a millimeter’s error at time of launching in Iran could mean that the Temple Mount is nuked, not Tel Aviv. And in any attack, as many Arabs would be killed as Jews, the entire region’s water would be poisoned, gone would be the dream of any independent Palestinian state surviving on the scorched earth of Palestine—and why would the Iranians want to do that? In an inversion of logic, Islam and the Palestinians have become part of Israel’s shield. Jerusalem is probably the safest place on earth from an Iranian nuclear attack.
I also don’t buy into the theory that Iran would provide a terrorist group with a nuclear weapon—no government is willing to trust outside actors with that level of power. And, particularly in an era of sophisticated nuclear forensics, it would not be particularly difficult to trace the weapon back to its source.
But if Iran develops nuclear weapons, what does worry me is security—whether there are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the theft of nuclear weapons and materials.
In this regard, a recent report [pdf] on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), makes for valuable reading:
The United States reportedly offered Pakistan nuclear security assistance soon after September 11, 2001. U.S. assistance to Islamabad, which must comply with nonproliferation guidelines, has reportedly included the sharing of best practices and technical measures to prevent unauthorized or accidental use of nuclear weapons, as well as contribute to physical security of storage facilities and personnel reliability.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage confirmed in a November 2007 interview that there has been U.S. assistance in this area, explaining that the United States was unlikely to intervene militarily in a crisis in Pakistan because “we have spent considerable time with the Pakistani military, talking with them and working with them on the security of their nuclear weapons. I think most observers would say that they are fairly secure. They have pretty sophisticated mechanisms to guard the security of those.”
Would Iran be as transparent about its security measures? Would it accept assistance from other countries to safeguard its arsenal or nuclear materials? Openness and cooperation with other governments are not exactly the defining characteristics of the regime in Tehran.
Also, not everyone is confident in Pakistan’s safeguards. While CRS notes that “security at nuclear sites in Islamabad is the responsibility of a 10,000- member security force, commanded by a two-star general,” it also quotes this Senate testimony [pdf] by arms control expert Michael Krepon. He observes that, during times of crisis, nuclear weapons tend to move around alot:
When tensions rise precipitously with India, the readiness level of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent also rises. Because the geographical coordinates of Pakistan’s main nuclear weapon storage sites, missile, and air bases can be readily identified from satellites—and therefore targeted by opposing forces—the dictates of deterrence mandate some movement of launchers and weapons from fixed locations during crises. Nuclear weapons on the move are inherently less secure than nuclear weapons at heavily-guarded storage sites. Weapons and launchers in motion are also more susceptible to “insider” threats and accidents.
Do we think things would be any different in the tension-filled Middle East?
And, there’s yet another issue: the emergence of a viable opposition movement in Iran. Last time I checked, regime instability plus a nuclear weapons program doesn’t equal enhanced security. While we can’t know for sure how regime change in Iran could unfold (purges? trials?), there’s a pretty good chance that some senior military officials would not feel particularly welcome and leave the country. A briefcase full of weapons-grade enriched uranium and some blueprints sold to the highest bidder would make for a nice retirement fund.
If say, Hamas or Hezbollah acquired a nuclear weapon, would they use it on Israel? Again, I don’t know. But I do know that nuclear blackmail would radically change the balance of power in the region, and not for the better.
Perhaps most disturbing, I don’t see pundits addressing the issue of nuclear security in Iran. Instead, we have “experts” like Andrew Sullivan who point to Pakistan’s nukes as a model for stability:
“And what’s so awful about a nuclear stand-off between Iran and Israel in the Middle East? It is not necessarily a stable situation in a region when one country – and one country alone – has nuclear weapons in a region like the Middle East. In fact, it might encourage that country to act militarily with impunity, to over-reach and generate excessive hostility. Nuclear deterrence worked very well for much of the world for a long time in preventing conflict rather than exacerbating it. It may be the one thing preventing an India-Pakistan war. Why is it unthinkable in the Middle East?”
Read the CRS report Andrew, and then get back to me.
I suppose this was inevitable: advocates of boycotting Israel are cannibalizing themselves.
The LA Times reports:
A politically charged uproar has erupted on the campus of a leafy university over the academic collaboration between a local Arab professor and two Israeli counterparts.
In a town hall at the American University of Beirut earlier this month, nearly 300 in the crowd castigated Sari Hanafi, a scholar and Palestinian activist, for his role as co-editor of the book, “The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Hanafi worked on the book with two Israeli scholars from Tel Aviv University, Adi Ophir and Michal Givoni, both of whom publicly oppose the Israeli military presence in the West Bank.
Lebanese law forbids contact between its nationals and Israel. The two countries remain technically at war. There’s also an ongoing effort to isolate Israel called the Palestinian Academic Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which many AUB students and faculty support.
“This open collaboration between an Israeli academic and an AUB academic is unprecedented in my 50 years of service at this university,” said Tarif Khalidi, professor of Arab and Middle Eastern studies at AUB, who addressed the audience at the March 8 meeting. “I say ‘open’ because God knows what might be happening under the table. This is especially disturbing in a country like Lebanon, which is still in a state of war with Israel.”
Hanafi apologized to students and faculty at the town hall but also strenuously defended himself before the hundreds assembled. “We are committed to a common cause which should open up the space we need for a vigorous yet respectful conversation on the issue of academic boycott and the publication of my recent book,” said the 47-year-old social scientist.
“The current Israeli government is arguably the most vicious in the history of that state,” Khalidi said. “Any act of cooperation or collaboration is seen in Israel as a blow to the international boycott. I cannot think of any instance in which collaboration with Israeli scholars, on any level, can serve the cause of Palestine, Lebanon or the Arab world.”
The issue has roiled the campus. Ahmad Dallal, provost at AUB, issued a letter urging calm but reminded scholars they must adhere to Lebanon’s rules.
“I take this opportunity to remind all members of our community that, as an institution of higher learning with an historic presence in Lebanon and the Middle East, AUB is deeply committed to upholding the essential values of academic freedom, and will do so within the bounds of Lebanese law, which strictly prohibits collaboration with Israeli institutions,” he wrote.
Interestingly, Hanafi’s Israeli colleagues, Adi Ophir and Michal Givoni, were among the 540 signatories to a petition calling for the boycott of Israeli goods and institutions, in protest of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza.
So, to summarize, AUB values academic freedom, except when it involves working with Israeli academics, because it undermines the boycott of Israel, which is intended to serve the cause of Palestine—and that boycott includes Israeli academics who themselves support boycotting Israel to pressure their country to end its “brutal policies” toward Palestinians.
I guess the logical next step is for academics to begin boycotting themselves.
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen this frickin’ map on websites, blogs…even protest signs:
Recently, Andrew Sullivan stirred-up a controversy in the blogosphere when he posted the map on his site. Sullivan’s “reliable source” for the map was blogger/pseudo-academic Juan Cole—a guy who once claimed that Israel only wages war in the summertime, because that’s when American and European universities, the “primary nodes of popular opposition,” are closed down. (I mean, let’s face it, nothing strikes fear into the heart of the IDF like the prospect of thousands of anthropology undergrads waving “We are Hezbollah!” signs.)
Anyway, I feel that Sullivan inadvertently performed a public service: By creating a controversy over the map, he encouraged long-overdue public scrutiny. Enter the Economist, which gives the map a royal fisking:
The map fails to distinguish between land that is owned by Jews or Palestinians, and land that is controlled by Jewish or Palestinian political entities.
Take the vast triangular tract of land at the south of the map. That’s the Negev desert. Apart from a few small oases, kibbutzes and towns, it’s empty wasteland; it isn’t owned by anyone. It represents almost half of the territory of Israel/Palestine. In 1946, the map represents it as “Palestinian land.” That’s silly. In 1949, it has somehow become “Jewish land.” That’s almost as silly, though Jewish irrigation projects did gradually, over a period of decades, turn an increasing (if still-small) portion of the desert into arable agricultural land claimed by Jewish owners. But the impression the map gives is that in 1947-8, Jews seized that land from Palestinian owners, which is absurd. What happened was that a piece of empty desert which had been under the control of the British Mandate (who got it after the Ottoman Empire fell apart) was awarded to the Jewish state. This is a question of political control, not land ownership.
Here’s an even more obvious case. See that rightward bulge at the map’s top right? In 1946, it too is green, and by 1949, it too has turned white. That bulge is the Sea of Galilee. It seems fairly straightforward that representing this body of water as “Palestinian land” in 1946 and “Jewish land” in 1949 is rather absurd.
Even within settled areas, like the coastal plain, the Galilee and the West Bank, it’s impossible to tell from this map whether “Jewish land” refers to land owned by Jews or land under Israeli/Jewish political control. What about land that continues to be owned by its Palestinian owners while politically becoming part of Israel? Such land is not represented on this map. And so forth. The map needs to distinguish four categories of land: land owned by Jews under Israeli political control; land owned by Jews but under Palestinian political control; land owned by Palestinians but under Israeli political control; and land owned by Palestinians under Palestinian political control. On the 1946 map, furthermore, there would need to be a different means of representation entirely, since there was, at the time, no Jewish or Palestinian political control. This map blurs the distinctions incomprehensibly, and it does so in a way that tendentiously maximises the impression that Jews have seized Palestinian-owned land.
So, thanks Andrew!
A new documentary film explores the controversy that surrounded the 2009 Toronto Gay Pride Parade by the inclusion of groups that branded Israel an apartheid state—in particular, the organization Queers Against Israel Apartheid (QuAIA), which is not to be confused with the U.S. group Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT)….which, I’m sure, will eventually have an internal ideological argument that will produce the splinter groups Queers Undermining International Zionism (QUIZ) and Queers United Against Israel Lobbies (QUAIL).
Anyway, the film, Reclaiming Our Pride, was just screened in Toronto. “I made this documentary to convey visually the presence of groups in the Gay Pride Parade that we felt were hateful, exclusionary and created a toxic environment,” filmmaker Martin Gladstone told the Jewish Tribune. “Their targeting and singling out of Israel was inherently anti-semitic and part of a worldwide movement to isolate and alienate Israel as a pariah state. We’re hoping that the executive board of Pride will remove these groups from participating in the Pride Parade.”
Here’s the trailer: