Friday, November 25, 2005

Lurch to the Left

Sharon is a militarist and a chauvinist, but he is not a messianic fundamentalist. Reading changes and fluctuations in the regional and international map, Sharon is convinced that Israel needs room for maneuver. For this, he is forced to move to the center. This dynamic was already at work in the background when the Labor Party chose its new leader. It was either move to the left and distinguish its image from that of Sharon, or see its voters desert it in droves. It was quite a week in Israeli politics.

Israel has lurched to the left. This kind of motion implies both suddenness and reversibility. Meanwhile, Israeli politics are in the process of realignment, with major groupings and figures moving to the left.Israeli politics were and are still steeped in colonialist logic. Movement to the left in our context means a growing understanding that the occupation of the Palestinian territories is not, in its present parameters, sustainable. Current evidence indicates that the shift is for real and is finding expression in a sea change in the prevalent discourse.

Understanding Sharon

Sharon’s break with the settler right became inevitable after he came on board as a team player in Bush’s global anti-terrorist strategy. Bush’s vision of a Palestinian state (June 2002), though far from an authentic commitment to a viable sovereign entity, was an absolute necessity to prevent the total diplomatic isolation of the U.S.A. in the region. The military, diplomatic and domestic political debacle regarding events in Iraq makes it increasingly important for Bush to appear as a potential partner to consensual diplomatic action on the Israeli-Palestinian peace front.

As far back as April 2004, Sharon stated openly that the Gaza disengagement plan was designed to prevent pressure on the United States and Israel in the face of a virtual flood of two-state based peace initiatives. Sharon had to invent a pseudo peace process. He proved his loyalty to the team by presenting to Bush something that Bush and his administration could pass off as forward motion in the ‘peace process’. Working within unilateralist parameters he chose disengagement as a impressive act which did not involve serious negotiations with the Palestinians. No one except the settlers themselves believed that Israel could keep the Gaza project in a negotiated peace.

The settlers, basing themselves on theological categorical imperatives, (God told us to settle the land and keep it) could not play this game. Sharon had to choose between his former cronies in the art of expropriation and his links to Bush. It did not take him to long to decide. The disengagement break with the settlers meant a major split in his party. Sharon, it transpired, had more support in the public and among Likud voters, but the anti-disengagement forces had more strength in the party apparatus. Sharon, pressured to declare that the Gaza disengagement was the last and only Israeli concession, had to accept the shackles or split the Likud down the middle.

Sharon is in a position to know that Bush will need more ‘concessions’ of the unilaterlist kind. He trusts that his prominent standing on Bush’s team and his own skills and maneuverability will enable him to devise a series of policies which will feed the peace process with an infinite number of phases and stages. He is convinced that even if Israeli is forced into really serious bargaining with the Palestinians he, as the only person able to do so, will use his hard earned international credit to sabotage a deal or alternatively to minimize the damage. This is, in his eyes, a rather delicate operation, and he is probably right. He does not want to work on this kind of surgery with a gang of chauvinist annexationists telling him what he can and cannot do. However, despite his demand for flexibility, his basic goal remains unchanged. To save as much of the West Bank as possible for the Jewish state, to prevent an overall settlement based on the internationally recognized formula in all the two-stage initiatives: borders based on the 1967 lines, two capitals in Jerusalem and a serious international and local effort to basically ameliorate the situation of the Palestinian refugees. Sharon needs entrance to the Bush control room to prevent the only decisions that could give peace a chance.

Thus, Sharon drags serious chunks of the Israeli right to the center of the political arena. His former comrades in the Likud argue quite logically that had he intended to hew to their official line against any further concessions, he would not need to bid them farewell. Interestingly enough, even the post-Sharon Likud will not be easy pickings for Netanyahu and the settler political block. Many figures close to Sharon, like current Defense Minister, Mofaz, and Foreign Minister, Shalom, both of whom supported the disengagement, remained in the Likud out of personal and tactical considerations. Sharon rid himself of the Likud but the Likud is not yet rid of Sharon.

It is worth recalling that Sharon is still the most reliable Middle East player should Washington opt for an even more desperate path in its attempt to avoid the total collapse of its Iraqi adventure. New adventures do not seem overly attractive to Washington these days, but losers are always tempted to play one more hand (Syria? Iran?), before getting up from the table. Sharon, whether in the right or the center, will make certain that Israeli advice and services are available for any reckless scheme.

Sharon, the Candidate of the “Left”

It is a criminal offense against the very foundations of the concept of “Left”, but the media around here insist, for their own sweet needs and purposes, on calling the Labor Party in this country “Left.” By the time Sharon had inducted it into his government and pulled off the Gaza disengagement, the Labor party found itself facing a serious parliamentary election without a single issue that differentiated it and many of its mainstream supporters from Sharon. Polls held a month back showed that Sharon was the preferred candidate for prime minister among Labor Party voters (!). He also led all other candidates among members of the Labor Party elected bodies (!!). The strategy of national unity foisted on the Labor party by Shimon Peres had come full circle.

Amir Peretz, the Candidate of the Left

Somehow, enough voters in the Labor Party primary sensed that the unending liquidation sale had to end if the party was to survive. This sentiment was buttressed by some real clout, i.e., Peretz’s control of the Histadrut, the trade union organizations, which provided him with the strongest political machine of all the candidates. Peretz is impressive, he has a colorful background, he is unique in that he openly opposes the social polarization in the country and voices dove positions regarding the conflict with the Palestinians. But a sense of proportion is still valuable. He is not a revolutionary, and he does not represent a revolutionary movement. It is more than likely that Peretz will be hemmed in by the party’s ‘old guard’ and his media advisers.

But whatever his chances for electoral success or his personal ability to maintain his integrity in an environment dominated by backstabbing colleagues, Peretz has pushed the political establishment to the left by insisting on a clear connection between the fight for peace and fight against social repression. But it seems that, already, this early in the game, he is acting as if he was surprised by his own audacity. Peretz has already been pressured into modifying his super-dove image and issued some retrogressive declarations regarding the refugee issue, Jerusalem and expansion of settlements in the so-called settlement blocks.

Helpful Hypotheses

Though, the thesis that Israeli politics have moved to the left is shared by all serious observers, questions do remain as to the depth of the trend and the reasons for it. It is too early for any definite answers, but there sufficient grounds for examining what may be some helpful hypotheses.
It is common knowledge that there are serious tensions in Washington and in the ruling circles in the United States. These tensions reflect different views and approaches to international realities. Analysts speak, on the basis of credible information about camps: Ideologues versus Realists or Hegemonists versus Globalists. Whatever the background for these tensions, the Iraq crisis is exacerbating them day by day and they must of necessity influence thinking regarding the “special relationship” with Israel and dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, the resilience of the ‘special relationship’ should not be dismissed easily. After all, Israel extends a vast array of open and secret services on behalf of U.S. political and military interests.

Even so, a series of mini-crises seems to have cast some dark shadows on the clear skies. The indictment of two top officers in the ‘AIPAC’ scandal is of no small significance. There is no reason to doubt the culpability of the AIPAC officials and their willing assistance to some Israeli info gathering operation. But this could have been considered a misunderstanding among friends. Friends do not put each other on trial and matters of such a nature have always found a solution with a slap on the offending wrists.

In the same period, the U.S. Defense Department, was forced to clarify to Israel that much of its business in Beijing is ‘monkey business.’ One wag explaned that the neo-cons hate China more than they love Israel. Israel tried to ‘explain’ but the Pentagon wasn’t buying explanations. Just to make sure that Jerusalem got the message, the Pentagon demanded, with straightforward brutality, the head of Israeli Defense Department Director-General Amos Yaron. Of course, Amos was only a clerk. But Amos, doesn’t work there anymore.

Paul Wolfowitz was a serious allay of Israel in top Pentagon quarters. Wolfowitz, a neo-con icon closer to Sharon than to the settlers, but many other neo-cons such as Richard Perle and Douglas Feith were on coziest of terms with the settlers. Wolfowitz, the architect of the war in Iraq, got kicked upstairs and was given – what a nice consolation prize – the directorship of the World Bank. As part of a very strange gambit, James Wolfenson, whom Wolfowitz replaced at the World Bank, surfaced in the area as the special representative of the Quartet responsible for the implementation of the Road Map. Wolfenson could not have been appointed without Washington’s backing, but he is certainly not the run of the mill Bush appointment. His presence seems to be that of fair-minded, very shrewd and independent operator.

Condelleza Rice, busy positioning herself against Rumsfield, ‘happened’ to be in the region when Wofenson’s efforts to conclude an agreement on the vital Gaza border crossings were being shot down due to some classic Israeli obstructionism. Rice, getting her feet wet in the local conflict, succeeded in forging a settlement (at least for now). Israeli diplomacy, it should be appreciated, has a distinct distaste for high profile, high level U.S. diplomatic proximity and prefers very much to have Washington receive and rely exclusively on Israeli reports and interpretation.
While it would be wrong to conclude that there is a structural shift in U.S.-Israeli relations, it would be equally wrong for any serious observer to ignore many indications that there is a growing sensitivity in Washington to the price it pays for indiscriminate total deference to its local partner. Iraq means volatility all over the place. Sharon’s gambit expresses a sophisticated understanding of the importance and possible danger of different trends in Washington, and the need to respond to these tendencies creatively.

Palestine Still in the Picture

Sharon would like, as far as possible, to ignore the existence of the Palestinian partner. The Israeli mantra demanding the ‘dismantling of the terrorist infrastructures’ as a precondition for serious negotiations rings increasingly hollow, after Abu Mazen has brokered an internal Palestinian agreement which has had unprecedented success in reducing violence and tensions. Sharon, fearing enhanced prestige which the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen might earn from a successful electoral process, builds on the inability of the Authority to impose its discipline and would like to see Palestinian society descend into chaos. The critical weaknesses of the Palestinian Authority are no secret. Many, saddened and discouraged by this state of affairs, are all too willing to accuse the Palestinian leadership of collaboration with Sharon. Sharon knows better. He uses every conceivable strategy to avoid serious negotiations. With all its dangerous shortcomings, the Palestinian Authority still symbolizes the fact that without the Palestinians there will be no peace in the region. It can still seriously improve its local and international prestige and such an improvement would be an important contribution to the hopes for peace.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Soul Brothers

Ha’aretz military correspondent, Amir Oren (Ha’aretz, November 11, 2005) has lifted the veil on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) response to an SOS from the US forces in Iraq. I know it is hard to believe but, while you read these lines, Israel is saving George Bush from total collapse in Iraq. Top-secret military intelligence asserts that Bush is tottering because of the rising death toll in Iraq, mainly from IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices). We learn that just two-three weeks ago, a U.S. general, Joe, sought help on this matter from an old buddy, an Israeli general, Nitzan, who got another Israeli general, Shimon, to work on the case. In five days, the items and the manuals were on a plane headed overseas.

This most recent assistance is just part of an ongoing effort to pick Israeli military brains. Last summer, we learn, the U.S. Army was acquiring anti-explosive protection kits manufactured by an Israeli firm, RAFAEL in conjunction with General Dynamics. Other activity is classified.
It seems that the Israeli gadgetry is pretty good stuff. However, it just cannot solve the problem.The gadgets seem to have reduced the number of casualties per IED, but this is countered by the use of more and more devices. Moreover, for obvious clear reasons, the Navy which is helping the Army on bomb disposal is not succeeding in manning one sixth of its available positions, despite abundant extra pay benefits. Another difficulty is that many other Israeli counter-measures are not always applicable in the longer distances that the U.S. forces must negotiate. The Israelis, moreover, are trying to convince the U.S. Army in Iraq of the efficacy of a ‘combat doctrine’ based on the thesis that non-presence reduces the opportunity for getting killed. The Israelis are talking about some sort of tactical deployment named ‘control without presence.” The trouble with this tactical ‘doctrine’ is that even some generals might figure out that a strategy of non-presence in Iraq would be the best way to reduce casualties.

The Israelis are dying to help. The IDF even released some dog-trainer officers from the IDF so that they could go to Iraq and help the U.S. Army there. Thus, each and every bit of Israeli wisdom is harnessed to the U.S. war effort. If Bush tires of searching for an exit strategy, the Israelis are willing to teach him the fine points of a ‘no-exit’ strategy. You start off with a few settlements, one near the Bagdad airport, one on the perimeter of Abu Graib and one just outside Faluja.

The Friendly Pastor from Catfish Creek

Among my many sins, I was once a contact person for Peace Now way back in the early nineties of the previous century. Well, our national office contacted me as a contact person and put me in contact with an important visitor to the country, Rev. Joe Friendly (name is fictional) who represented the Catfish Creek Ministry in one of the Bible-belt states.
I met with our contact at a pleasant, quiet hotel lobby where I carefully and skillfully explained Peace Now’s negation of the settlements in particular and the occupation in general. You will have to believe me that I was very articulate and laid out our policy with great aplomb, intelligence and skill. Almost two- thirds into my spiel, Pastor Joe leaned forward and put his arm on my shoulder and said, “Son”. (I never figured out why he called me ‘son’ since I was about his age.) “Son,” he said, “it is not yours or your people’s land to give back. You see it is your fate to settle the whole of Greater Israel.” It appeared back then, and it is common knowledge now, that all this settlement business all over the place is part of what we know now as ‘intelligent design.’ This ‘thing’ is bigger than all of us…we are merely a step on the fiery path to redemption. I did not come out of this meeting empty handed. I got on the Catfish Creek mailing list and enjoyed their bulletins. One bulletin contained the alarming information that a mainstream Baptist outfit was backsliding and in the process of approving, shall we never know such evil, oral sex.

I thought of Pastor Joe today when I read about the Rapture this morning. Pastor Joe never told me about the Rapture which seems to impact more and more on Israeli politics. No less a personage than our friend, Bibi Netanayahu, starred this week at a reception in the Israeli Knesset given by the ‘parliamentary body for relations with Christians,’ in honor of a prominent evangelical preacher by the name of John Hagee. Hagee, it appears is in the Rapture business, and one of the experts on how to get there. It isn’t easy. The path includes a little war between Gog and Magog, with a lot of people, including our own Jewish brothers and sisters declaring their love for Jesus. For our purposes, one of the prerequisites for getting there is ‘the return of the Jewish people to its undivided land.”

Until the certain coming of the Messiah or the highly questionable onset of the Rapture, Bibi and his buddies have turned their attention to more practical matters:Netanyahu: “Do you think that without the power of these people [Hagee and Co.] Israel would enjoy such support from the American administration”?! MK Tzvi Handel, after being presented to the guest as a refugee, i.e., a Displaced Person from Gush Katif: “I understood from your [Hagee’s] speech that in order to love Jews, you have to be a Christian.”MK Yuri Stern (an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and a member of the extreme right National Union party which openly advocates the expulsion (by consent, of course) of all Palestinians from both Israel and the territories: “The liberal and social-democratic forces in the world who supported Israel in the past have turned their backs on Israel and we have to find new allies.” Yuri understands politics and the need to calm the anxieties of American Jews: “American Jews are afraid …they do not believe that there are Christians who simply love them. I told liberal Jews that they are sacrificing Israel on the alter of freedom of choice for abortion…”
(See, Lily Galili, Ha’aretz, November 11, 2005) Scooter Skewered
This is one of those things that you know are absolutely true but you have no way of proving on pain of death. The name “I. ‘Scooter’ Libby” is intriguing. “I” stands for Irving. Now when we were growing up, Irving, also affectionally pronounced as “Oiving,” was very near to being a “Jewish name.” It is also a historical fact, also totally unverifiable, that Jewish immigrants to the United States and Canada thought that Irving was a close enough translation or preferred substitute for Issac.I do not want to hit a man when he is down, or going down, and whom I hope brings another few people down with him, but for the sake of historical accuracy, I must ask, who scootered around the name “Irving”, and why? One theory is that it was done to prevent anti-Semitism if “I” ever got caught doing Dick’s dirty tricks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New Price List for Ingratitude - The Unilateralist’s Mentality

The Dan Halutz affair is well documented and the main facts are undisputed. Halutz, as commander of the Israeli air force, was responsible for an order on August 2, 2002 for the targeted assassination of an ‘alleged’ terrorist, Saleh Shaheda. Since, among his other evil activities, Shehada happened to live in an apartment building, a one ton bomb was dropped on the apartment complex, killing Shehada, and another fourteen men, women and children and also wounding and orphaning scores of others. There was quite a scandal. This was a bit too much even around here where people have been conditioned to believe that ‘targeted assassinations’ are the greatest invention in jurisprudence since habeas corpus.

Naturally enough, Dan Halutz became the next commander in chief of the IDF and reenters our story with his role in the disengagement this year. In the furious debate leading up to it, Halutz pioneered an idea that sought to clinch the advantages of the disengagement for the concerned public.The idea was simple. Since we were no longer in charge of Gaza, there would be no cause for restraint in responding to attacks on Israeli settlements or towns bordering on the strip. Halutz ‘‘hoped that the Palestinian were aware of the high price they would have to pay.” (September 12,2005 Unispal Internet Site, October 6, 2005.)
This was an open expression of strategic thinking that had been elaborated in the IDF war room in planning the engagement. General (Reserves) Eival Giladi, an advisor to the Sharon government on military and security affairs and the acting court-theoretician had had already issued a dramatic warning on Israeli strategy in the context of the disengagement: ”If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people.” (Ha’aretz, June 22, 2005). (File this statement away; it may be the first example of openly planned collateral damage).

Dove General with Long Claws

Mahsom (Checkpoint) Watch, a women’s group for human rights and against the occupation, has recently emerged as one of the most successful protest formations. At a recent conference, they hosted a surprise guest, Gen. (Reserves) Amiram Levin, who created quite a stir by declaring that all occupations, including Israel’s, lead to corruption and are doomed to failure. It seems that Levin, as early as three years ago, had submitted proposals supporting the idea of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. But how would Israel maintain order in the event of Palestinian attacks? Levin says with all due candor:

“Together with the announcement that we will leave the territories in two years we publicize the price of terror attacks: one price for an attack against civilians and another price for an attack against soldiers. If you shell Sderot, we`ll consider that a declaration of war, with all that this entails. After a Qassam hits an open field, we`ll give the Palestinians a few hours of warning so that they can evacuate the residents and then we`ll send a D9 to demolish 20 homes. For property damage we`ll raze 50 homes. For bodily harm, we`ll destroy 70 homes, and so on.”(Quoted in Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz, October 7, 2005.)

The underlying ‘justification’ for this kind of thinking can be traced back to the protracted and often bitter dispute here in dove circles about how to relate to unilateral actions by Israel, e.g. the disengagement. The peace seeking “unilateralists”, personified by Labor’s Shimon Peres, seduced themselves into thinking that Sharon was doing their job – and only he could do it! Peres and others who saw disengagement as a ‘historic breakthrough’ have delivered most of the sane secular community into Sharon’s camp, and this despite the fact that Sharon had been quite open about the fact that he was actually forfeiting a minor piece to better impose and defend annexation on the West Bank.
The pro-Sharon doves claimed that they had little to lose. But, it just doesn’t work that way. They praised Sharon so much that one fine morning they awoke to the news that Sharon was the favorite candidate for prime minister of …the members of the Labor Party and even of the members of Labor’s Central Council. Shimon Peres was indeed happy with Sharon, and even more important, the illusion of progress to peace was warmly embraced by George W. and Condi. Washington, under siege, needs any kind of hardly credible Israeli concession – incomplete and qualified as it is – to produce as its ‘good deed for the day in the Middle East’.

At home, Israel’s ostensible largesse pumped up a frenzy of self-righteousness. Since the Palestinians do not recognize our generosity, though it comes in the form of unilateral action by Israel according to its own timing and interests, we will be forced to rachet up the price they pay for resistance, even further. Last week after a serious, but minor incident, one of the hundreds that both sides have been sadly experiencing for years, the IDF decided that two and a half million Palestinian car drivers will have to get off and stay off the roads. Well, this kind of collective punishment – draconian measures against two and a half million people - could seem logical only to an Israeli body politic embittered by the fact the our ‘unilateral’ concessions are seen as weakness.

But this mentality of ‘now we can get tough’ has a logic of its own. It is this ‘logic’ originating with the generals, which has permeated public consciousness, already steeped in admiration for Sharon. This is the very admiration for Sharon that had been promoted encouraged and enhanced by our unilateral peaceniks.

Mainstream Liberal Gets Rid of His Inhibitions

Yaron London was considered a mainstream liberal the last time anyone looked. London is a prominent media personality on television and in the press. He does not have too many ideas of his own, but he does function well for reflecting public sentiment. London is almost overjoyed at the advantages of disengagement. Even in the absence of any agreement on the border, he is certain that Sharon has granted him one.

“This is one of the benefits of a border: An occupying power must distinguish between innocent civilians and hostile ones; between masked men bearing arms and open-faced ones; between motor mechanics and missile mechanics; between “ticking bombs” and sleeping ones.Now, because we are not occupiers, we have freedom of action. If we are attacked, everyone on this side of the border is one of us, and everyone on the other side is one of them. If innocent people are harmed, we might well be sorry, but we will bear no responsibility.” Yedioth Ahronot, October 16,2005

The temptation to see an opening for peace in the unilateral Gaza disengagement nurtured a unilateral frame of mind. The Israeli unilateralist believes that we do not really need the Palestinians to make peace. And if they disrespect our right to do things our way, let them beware, because the price will be high, very high.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Sharon as the Hero of the Left

I guess it is the time of year for trends and fashion. This fall almost everybody, including some of our friends in the peace movement are wearing Sharon. The disengagement in Gaza, the uprooting of the settlers and then the dramatic victory in the Likud Central Party have all intoxicated the faint-hearted. Instead of Peace Now, we are hearing Sharon Now.

Here again, the wish is the father of the thought: Sharon can make peace. He has the parliamentary mandate and the public support. Now since there is no visible alternative, isn’t it a simple question of smart politics to stop confronting and angering him and isolating ourselves in the public?

She Has A Dream

Janet Aviad is the hands-on chief of Peace Now, which has not held a leadership election for as long as anyone remembers. Veteran journalist, Daniel Ben Simon, interviewed Aviad as one of the personifications of the latest trend that highlights the Prime Minister as the hero of the left. Aviad’s conversion on the road to Gaza is only relevant after detailing her previous opposition to Sharon. But now? Aviad explains: “What he did was the most important thing that ever happened to the Israeli left, because what could be better than having Sharon himself evacuate settlements. I am now an optimistic woman with hope, who feels wonderful because the state underwent the disengagement without a trauma.” Ben Simon concludes: Now Aviad hopes that the dream of a new Sharon will never end. (Ha’aretz, October 3, 2005).

Tsali Reshef, one of the founders of PN and a sort of a ‘grey eminence’ today, together with Aviad and others in PN, misread Sharon’s clever gambit as an ‘unprecedented historic breakthrough’. They, with the Labor Party, which is busily exploiting the ‘new Sharon’ legend as the main excuse to remain in the government, continue to spread illusions regarding Sharon’s real policies and intentions. These illusions, along with more than a little servile flattery flourish and are being enhanced precisely when the Likud leader, exploiting the credit earned by the disengagement, remains in real control of Gaza and unabashedly moves to tighten even further Israeli control over the West Bank. Sharon and his policies remain responsible for the stalemate in the peace process and for the day-to-day suffering of the Palestinians under brutal occupation. But, I guess that if reality is so bitter, some people prefer to ‘disengage’ by dreaming.

So as to confirm the worst anxieties, Peace Now has decided to de-emphasize the demand for a speedy resumption of negotiations and the exposure of violations of human rights under the occupation. According to Reshef, these things are important, but there are other organizations for dealing with them. Accordingly, Peace Now has developed its own plan for three or four more staged evacuations (up to 2010) of groups of settlements on the West Bank. Disengagements, it seems, are an ‘in’ thing. Sharon will undoubtedly take a very close look at the detailed Peace Now outlines when he can no longer bluff anyone with his declared adherence to the Road Map, with his governments famous fourteen reservations.

And after all is said and done, with a trend here and a ‘rating’ there, Ariel Sharon is only as strong as his mentor, George W. Bush. Bush, however is knee deep in the mud of Mesopotamia and Louisiana. Imagine Sharon trying to pull him on to dry land.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

In a Lighter Vein: The New York Review of Books and I

I maintain my subscription to the NYRB because it is a vital source for following the recent publication of important books and intellectual trends in liberal academia. NYRB content is always intelligent, usually liberal but rarely radical. In short, it is serious stuff and generally cannot be dismissed irrelevant. However, it must be analyzed and criticized. Easier said than done, especially as the NYRB somehow conveys that any serious student of a pertinent subject would actually need to read most of the books mentioned in the articles or featured in the no less impressive ads of the distinguished academic publishing houses.

So you come out of reading the NYRB with a troubling sense of inadequacy, uncertain that you could really critique what needs criticizing and frustrated by the certainty that you just don’t have anywhere near the time (or maybe not even the talent) required for what appears to be an almost Herculean task.

My senses of inadequacy and frustration (and I am quite certain that I am the only one with this kind of response) were heightened and deepened when thumbing through a the recent issue (NYRB – September 22, 2005). Staying on top of the NYRB is almost a personal challenge for your correspondent, a progressive Israeli Jew in the Middle East, and an activist in the peace movement. In short, I should be abreast of what intelligent people are saying and writing on the ME and related subjects.

Thumbing through a recent issue of the NYRB (September 22, 2005) will help in understanding my “problem”.

Here Goes

On the cover: Banner: Adam Shatz: ‘The Jewish Prison’;
Selling September 11 by Jonatah Raban;
Christian Caryl: Why Suicide Bombers Do It.

So it is clear from the beginning that the mission is not going to be easy – there are already three major articles related to my subject and who knows how many books will be scanned. Inside the front cover: University of Michigan Press presents new titles. The first is ‘The One State Solution by Virginia Q. Tilley with a warm recommendation from Tony Judt, who has written much of excellence on the subjects of our interest.

September 11: The article by J. Raban is rather disappointing. Its main point is that the Bush administration has used 9/11 to gnaw away at democratic foundations in the United States. However, there is arather exaggerated attempt to analyze all these effects from a Seattle-specific perspective. The author’s residence in that city is insufficient to justify such a narrowness of approach. Raban doesn’t deal much with the ME and that is really not a fault, but there is very little new thinking on what’s happned in the United States. One senses an editorial need to feature something on 9/11.

Nothing of relevance is advertised by Yale UP. Palgrave Macmillan publisher presents ‘Future Jihad – Terrorist Strategies against America’ by Walid Phares. There are short blurbs from a Fox news analyst and a West Point lecturer. Maybe we can get along without this one.

A new periodical is on its way with the vulgar and provincial name: The American Interest. One assumes that the goal is to identify the American Interest in order to pursue it. It may not have occurred to the promoters that others might be interested in defining the American Interest precisely in order to oppose it. There are quite a few big names on the editorial board and on the global advisory council, but not a single liberal or progressive one. The presence of Professor Itamar Rabinowich, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, whose main claim to fame is his ability to parley his academic status into high profile jobs, provides very little comfort.

The University of Pennsylvania Press has issued a collection of articles under the title “Exile and Return Predicaments of Palestinians and Jews. Two academics of note – Ann M. Lesch and Ian S. Lustick are probably involved in an attempt to balance seemingly mutually exclusive rights. I think to myself that the predicaments are, or should be, clear by now. Rescue should be the name of the game. The same publisher is offering “Landscape of Hope and Despair –Palestinian Refugee Camps’ by Julie Peteet, for those who are weak on the Palestinian side of the predicament. This may be hard reading for some of our [patriotic] Jewish brethren and hence is recommended especially for them. Less directly related, but of relevance for the broad view, is the book, ‘Crimes of the Holocaust’, by Stephan Landsman on the difficulty of prosecuting crimes against humanity. Three books worth serious attention from one publisher!

Columbia University Press is publishing ‘Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint’ by Helen Cixous. Here is an example of a link that we simply had not noticed before. It doesn’t appear related to the ME conflict. But since we know so little about Jewish Saints, young or old, we cannot be certain that there are no important insights to be gained therein.

We hit the jackpot at the University of California. Six (!) out of ten books advertised deal directly with our subject and yet another deals with Iraq: ‘Beyond Chutzpah’, by Norman G. Finkelstein should be able to make a decent case for the ‘misuse of anti-semitism.’ Recommendations by Amy Goodman and Baruch Kimmerling will not prevent a barrage of hate reviews, which should make the book all the more relevant. Willian B. Quandt writing on the ‘Peace Process’ will represent that wing of the United States diplomatic thinking exiled by GW and the neo-cons. ‘100 Myths About the ME, by Fred Halliday will, I guess, turn out to be required reading’. David Cook on ‘Understanding Jihad’ and Melani Mcalister on ‘Epic Encounters or Culture Media and U.S. Interests in the ME’ come with serious recommendations. Knowing Dan Rabinowitz, ‘Coffins on Our Shoulders’ by him and Khwala Abu Baker should be a definitive exposition on the subject of ‘Israeli Palestinians’. Six out of ten books from the University of California Press!

Four books from Cambridge deal with Jihad, Al Qaeda, The Conservative Debate on Iraq and the Torture Debate. It might be safely assumed that if we ‘are not in the heart of the ME’ in these books, we are not too far off.
A particularly fascinating title comes from Cornell University Press; ‘Orientalism and the Hebrew Imagination’ by Yaron Peleg. This is a narrative around the politics and culture of early Zionism. I really cannot tell if Einstein on ‘Race and Racism’ from Rutgers has anything on Zionism and the ME, but Einstein is important enough to see if and how he deals with the Jewish-Zionist complex.

Why Suicide Bombers Do It

In one of those excellent review essays at which the NYRB excels, Christian Caryl surveys seven (7!) books that deal with the suicide bomber phenomenon. One of the books, still to be published, is by an Israeli author, Ami Pedahzur. There is one clear lesson from the survey for us in Israel. The Israeli tendency (part natural, part manipulation) to see suicide bombing as a uniquely horrific expression of the warped Palestinian mind’s peculiar attraction to violence is baseless. Pedahzur’s book, it seems, fits into this general demystifying approach. It seems that some important observers, such as University of Chicago political scientist Robert A. Pape feel that the suicide bombers can present a coherent, even compelling case for their actions and methods. At any rate Pape doesn’t hesitate to suggest withdrawal as the best answer to this kind of protest against occupation. Now a Marxist would argue that suicide bombing against civilians is counter productive since it would tend to solidify support for the occupier, but Pape doesn’t hesitate to vindicate the horrible tactic by suggesting that the best thing for any occupier confronted by a serious wave of s/b/ is to get the hell out of there.

The University of Florida Press has published ‘Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy’ by Irvine H. Anderson. Perhaps it might be helpful in analyzing the poisonous impact of U.S. Christian fundamentalism on U.S. policy.

Self-Imposed Prison

The Jewish Question is the name of a delightful and insightful review article by Adam Shatz, the literary editor of the Nation on ‘The Jewish Prison: A Rebellious Meditation on the State of Judaism’ by 85 year old, Jean Daniel

It is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of this issue. Daniel’s secular Jewish trajectory is not all that rare in the Jewish world. Jews on the left who had enough ideological independence at their disposal were uncomfortable to say the least when the Soviet Union and Arab nationalism got into bed together. The June 1967 War was a watershed event and many Jewish intellectuals were horrified that Israel, whatever its transgression would pay the ultimate price for one of the twists and turns in world politics. Somewhere along the line, those same intellectuals had to come to grips with the new realities of Israel’s resulting ‘liberal occupation.’

To make a very long story short, Israel was increasingly giving the Jews and Judaism a bad name. No wonder that more and more secular humanist Jews, of whom Jean Daniel is an outstanding and stirring example were impelled to disassociate themselves from Israel’s ruling politicians and the official leadership of organized diaspora Jewry, which opted for the total confinement within the walls of a chauvinist Israeli identity. This is the prison referred to by Daniel who charts the various paths by which Jews renounce their moral stature and their independence of judgment.

Unfortunately or not, when the Zionists crack the whip, almost anyone who wishes to survive within the organized Jewish community stays in line. Many Jews who really know better prefer the good will of their neighbors and communal brothers and sisters to getting into a bitter, always emotional and often hysterical, confrontation with their neighbors.

One of the additional reasons that humanist Jews have become disgusted with Zionism is that its representatives keep on insisting that nothing radically wrong has happened and that somehow all the smashed pieces will be reassembled. In comparison, the disappointment over the failure of the Soviet regime was greater, harsher and deeper. But there was nobody around who kept insisting that this was a momentary shift in national strategy. In this sense, the failure of the Soviet Union paved the way for new beginnings. In Israel-Palestine, we are encouraged to believe, a slight shift in parliamentary politics would be enough to put the country back on a moral trail. There is very little, if any, sincere soul searching among the Israel boosters over how Zion’s light unto the gentiles has turned into the long dark night of occupation.

Thus we arrive at that absurd point where any criticism of Israel is categorized as blatantly anti-Semitic, or unconsciously anti-Semitic, or anti-Semitic, in practice, whatever the intention of the critic. It may be difficult to include Jean Daniel in the growing legions of the anti-Semites, but have no fear the campaign is on. The Israeli lobby doesn’t want any humanist and independent Jews, however prominent, in the Jewish community. You either line up or get out.

Jean Daniel has, as Adam Shatz so brilliantly writes, refused to prefer tribal loyalty to the universal application of justice. And the pursuit of justice happens to be a core belief of Judaism.

One Last Book that Has to Be Read

Alan Dershowitz is an author who does very well in the commercial bookshops. So his ‘The Case for Peace – How the Conflict Can be Resolved’ (Wiley) has to be closely monitored. Amos Oz tells that he ‘read it with thrill.’(?) I will be quite surprised if this book is anywhere as even handed as it presents itself to be.

I would like to stress that the few lines of response from me about the books mentioned are not intended to come in place of a genuine review. But that is an important aspect of the problem.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Anti-Communism and Opposition to Communism

Many progressives and even liberals have often joined Communists in making a distinction between opposition to Communism and anti-Communism. Quite obviously, the clarification of this distinction is not a simple cut and dried matter. However, the political and theoretical importance of the distinction is a serious matter.

Opposition to Communism is the more easily understood category. Communism as a major political and ideological force could not but arose opposition on every level. For the most part this opposition stemmed from a clear system of values and interests. The rational element of the opposition was dominant, and as a rule it did not need to distort Communist to base its opposition. Religious people could, for example, base their opposition to Communism on its negation of religion, and the same principle holds true down the line. Supporters of free-enterprise and the divine right of private property did not need to distort Communism to explain their opposition to the system and the idea. This did not mean that the opponents of Communism abstained from distortions and slander, but that their core position was based on a rational analysis of authentic factors.

Over the years, as a result of fierce ideological and political struggle another current of analysis grew prominent in reactionary circles. This analysis was based on the demonization of communism and everything that it represented. From this vantage point, Communism was simply the incarnation of evil. It had to be fought the way one fights the devil, by ascribing it supernatural and insidious qualities. Real history and the complex play of historical forces that produced Communism and imparted it with gigantic moral and political impact are ignored and or disregarded by anti-communism. Instead of rational historical analyses that can even be found in sources bitterly opposed to Communism, anti-communism becomes the symbol, motivating force and explanation of evil and its ramifications.

Anti-Communism is built around a set of dogmas, which often contradict one another. The regimes are always a product of political terror, but the clear expression of popular support is a product of brain washing. The regime is interested only in military strength and squelching political opposition, but somehow manages to record serious progress in education, health and social security for the overwhelming mass of the people. The lack of political options and opportunity are always the product of the communist regime and never related to the conditions and the historical development connected with the Communist regimes. Anti-communism is that ideological trend that sees the communist regimes as a result of the arbitrary imposition of brutal dictatorships by power hungry cliques. The crises of capitalism, the brutal suppression of communism and all reformist tendencies, the isolation of the Communist countries, the fierce ideological, political, and economic conflict against Communist regimes by stronger and more developed countries - all these important historical elements. The racism, militarism and exploitation endemic to the capitalist system are all eliminated from the historical equation.

The blood of millions of martyrs in the struggle against fascism, racism and national oppression are erased from the historical record and their aims and aspirations are derided and ridiculed because they were Communists and as such the instrument of evil.

The history of Communism and the communist experience is not a complex of successes and failures, but the stern revenge of history for those who leave the path of parliamentary democracy and civil rights.Those unfortunate nations who never had the options of following that path either then or now are advised to get a book on U.S. constitutional law. The anti-communist abandons all historical analysis in favor of a manual of absolute criteria and the victory of capitalism is the final and unequivocal proof of the superiority of liberal values. At any rate, the past and current crimes of imperialism pale in comparison to the crimes of Communism. Simply said, the crimes of reaction are opposed to the essence of democracy and the crimes of communism are the legal offspring of the regime.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

CPIraq Praises New Constitution

To: Iraqi Communist Party - Central Information Bureau
From: Reuven Kaminer*

Dear friends,

I have received, and have every reason to consider authentic, your recent statement on the recently adopted draft constitution. Over the years, I have heard and learned of many brave chapters written by your party. The Iraqi CP was known for its intense internationalism, for its struggle against imperialist machinations to ‘divide and rule’ your country, and for your courageous opposition to the brutal and cruel Baathist regime of Saadam Hussein. I know also that you have paid for your principles with the blood and suffering of your finest people.

I also appreciate that there are many complexities in the given situation in Iraq. There is a wide array of forces aligned against the occupation, and I can appreciate that many of them are motivated by questionable objectives. This being said, it is my duty to tell you that I was concerned and saddened to read your recent declaration – a copy of which I am enclosing below.

International public opinion and almost all serious commentators on the situation in Iraq are clear about the main purpose of the draft constitution.
The adoption of this draft is a clear component in the campaign of the Bush government to prove that the main purpose of the occupation of Iraq is to bring democracy to your country. Therefore, I was pained and concerned to read that you believe:

“The declaration of this document, and the forthcoming referendum, constitute an important development in the on-going political process in the direction of consolidating democracy and its institutions, completing the transitional period, restoring security and normal conditions, and achieving our country’s full sovereignty and independence. “ (My underlining – RK).

This is manifestly untrue in two essential aspects. First of all, according to all reliable reports, the draft does not enjoy any serious support among the Sunnis in the country. There are also signs that large segments of the Shihite community oppose the constitution. How can you speak about ‘consolidating democracy’ when all objective observers express anxiety that the draft constitution is deepening the divisions in the country and creating a danger of civil war?

Second of all, you refuse to relate to the role of the U.S. occupation in manipulating each and every significant development concerning the draft constitution. How can a document ‘made in the U.S.A.’ be the harbinger of democracy in Iraq, and how can you separate the analysis of any development in Iraq from the demand for an immediate withdrawal of the U.S. forces and an end to the occupation? Unfortunately, this seems to be a consistent approach on your part. In the past, I tended to ascribe your ‘welcoming’ position to the U.S. invasion to your understandable shock and relief over the end of the long night of horrific Baathist repression.

Today, your equivocal position regarding the U.S. occupation (and this is an understatement) is unacceptable in every sense. You must be aware that in addition to its inherent contradictions and lack of logic, your position can only be of help to the chief enemies of peace and the Iraqi people. It is painful to see you make every effort to ignore the U.S. occupation. You write:

“The draft constitution has emerged out of a protracted process, due to the fact that it has taken place under difficult conditions in our country, on political, security and socio-economic levels, as well as a balance of forces that has developed out of abnormal and exceptional circumstances. It is the outcome of a struggle between different visions and opinions with regard to the future of Iraq.” (My underlining – RK)

Here we have the most distressing and saddening example of this intentional disregard. We have here ‘protracted process’…’difficult conditions’…’abnormal and exceptional circumstances’, but we do not have a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the occupation.

Here in Israel, the first principle of progressive politics is the priority we grant to ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories, a thirty seven year old occupation, which would be impossible without the support and the connivance of the United States. Our experience has proven the importance of acknowledging the real role of U.S. interests and imperial motivation.

I write with the fervent hope that not too much time will lapse before the Iraqi Communists take their rightful place in the world-wide movement for peace and against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This is also the key to democracy and independence in Iraq.

Yours / Reuven Kaminer


Iraqi Communist Party - Central Information Bureau
29 August 2005

Statement About Draft Constitution

The text of the adopted draft constitution of the republic of Iraq, which will be put to a public referendum in mid October 2005, was read out yesterday in the National Assembly in Baghdad.

The declaration of this document, and the forthcoming referendum, constitute an important development in the on-going political process in the direction of consolidating democracy and its institutions, completing the transitional period, restoring security and normal conditions, and achieving our country’s full sovereignty and independence.

The draft constitution has emerged out of a protracted process, due to the fact that it has taken place under difficult conditions in our country, on political, security and socio-economic levels, as well as a balance of forces that has developed out of abnormal and exceptional circumstances. It is the outcome of a struggle between different visions and opinions with regard to the future of Iraq.

All this had its direct and deep impact on the process of drafting the constitution that we had wanted, and strived for, to be one that enjoys consensus among the various constituents of our people: ethnic, religious, confessional and political, and also express a spirit of equal citizenship for Iraqis.

While viewing positively the draft constitution in its general context, we stress at the same time our reservation regarding many of its articles, especially those that, in some of their clauses and formulation, encroach upon the desired civil-democratic character of the constitution, and those that restrict women rights and do not allow them to achieve equality with men.

Finally, we had hoped that the process of writing the constitution, presenting it to the people and for referendum, would take place in a more transparent manner and in more conformity with the need for respecting parliamentary traditions and norms.

Iraqi CP, Statement On Draft Constitution 29-8-2005

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Israelis Against Pat Robertson meet with Venezuelan Ambassador to Israel

His Excellency,
Mr. Angel Rafael Tortolero,
Ambassador of Venezuela in Israel

Dear friend,

Please accept the following declaration by more than 100 Israeli citizens who wish to express their solidarity with your country and President Chavez in response to the vile and dangerous provocation emanating from the ultra-right in the U.S.A.

We are certain that the people of Venezuela will know how to reply to Robertson and his sponsors in high places by strengthening the independence and the progressive nature of their country.


On his widely broadcast television program of August 24, 2005, Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, openly called for the assassination of President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela. The Christian fundamentalist activist politician and media figure – who is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Israeli settlers and the Greater Israel movement - had the temerity and impudence to explain the ‘advantages’ of such a murderous step for the United States

Public opinion in the United States and all over the world was justifiably shocked and dismayed. Robertson’s declaration is an open and unalloyed act of terror. It is a dangerous and inflammatory criminal act in every sense. It is the duty of international public opinion and every concerned citizen to condemn this brazen act and demand that Robertson face the full weight of both international and domestic law. .

List of signers:

Anson, Yonatan;
Abrahami, Guy;
Abdu, Safa;
Abu-ras, Thabet
Agnon, Amotz;
Altman, Colman;
Altman, Yenina;

Bahat, Amira;
Bar, Iris;
Bar Yoav;
Baram, Haim
Bar-Dina Talma;
Bar-Haim, Yoram;
Bar-Or, Osnat;
Ben Ami, Eyal;
Bendersky, Nora;
Berger, Tamar;
Blanc, Judy;
Bresheet, Haim;

Chadad, Rafram;
Cohen, Elliot;
Cohen, Veronika;

Dascal, Marcelo;
Davidi, Efraim;

Eviatar, Zohar;

Firestone, Pnina;
Fischer, Mickey;
Fogiel-Bijaoui, Sylvie;
Freund, Elizabeth;

Garti, Hagar;
Giladi, Avner;
Goldfarb, Pedro;
Goldreich, Oded;
Gonen, Benyamin;
Gozansky, Tamar
Gozansky, Yoram;

Harari, Ido;
Halevy, Meidad;
Hemed, Rola;
Hirsch, Aharon;

Indig, Eran;

Kaminer, Dafna;
Kaminer, Matan;
Kaminer, Noam;
Katriel, Jacob;
Katriel, Tamar;
Kim, Yuval;

Law-Yone, Hubert;
Lehan, Tamar;
Leibner, Gerardo;
Leshem, Micah;
Livneh, Yonatan;
Loss, Yossie;

Maor, Adam;
Matar, Anat;
Matar, Haggai;
Michaeli, Eytan;
Mekyton, Yossefa;
Merhav, Lily;

Naffa, Hisham;
Nehab, Smadar;
Nitzan, Aviv;
Neiman, Ofer;
Nissen, Alex;
Noach, Haia

Pade, Guy;
Peter, Dani;
Podjarny, Einat;
Polak, Monica;
Prezma, Matan;
Puterman, Israel;

Ram, Haggai;
Ravon, Ada;
Raz-Krakozin, Amnon;
Reinhart, Tanya;
Ritter, Dan;
Ron, Dana;

Seroussi, Ruben;
Shachar, Itamar;
Shabtai, Aharon;
Shir, Nomi;
Shmuelof, Mati;
Silberstein, Bruria;
Silver, Talmon;
Sivan, Daniel;
Shuldiner, Zvi;
Steinfield, Nurit;
Swirsky, Gila;
Sztyglic, Carlos;

Traubman, Lily;

Uziel, Ehud;

Wagner, Roy;
Warchawsky, Michael;
Weitmann, Uri;
Wesley, David;
Wesley, Elana;

Yacobi, Rama;
Yahalom, Ofer;
Yaron, Tamar;
Yerushalmi, Shmuel;

Zackheim, Uri;
Zbik, Tami

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Israelis Denounce Robertson's Terroristic Call for Assassination

Israelis Denounce Robertson's Terroristic Call for Assassination
Press Release

Contact: Reuven Kaminer –

Put Robertson on Trial!

One hundred Israeli academicians and peace activists have signed an urgent letter to the Venezuelan Ambassador to Israel, Dr. Angel Rafael Portolero, in order to express their solidarity with President Chavez and Venezuela. The letter is in response to the criminal incitement by a prominent U.S. fundamentalist Christian politician, calling for the assassination of Chavez. The text of the declaration follows:

On his widely broadcast television program of August 24, 2005, Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, openly called for the assassination of President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela. The Christian fundamentalist activist politician and media figure – who is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Israeli settlers and the Greater Israel movement - had the temerity and impudence to explain the ‘advantages’ of such a murderous step for the United States

Public opinion in the United States and all over the world was justifiably shocked and dismayed. Robertson’s declaration is an open and unalloyed act of terror. It is a dangerous and inflammatory criminal act in every sense. It is the duty of international public opinion and every concerned citizen to condemn this brazen act and demand that Robertson face the full weight of both international and domestic law. .

Among the signatories:

Academicians: Altman, Colman; Ben Ami, Eyal;
Bresheet, Haim; Cohen, Veronika; Dascal, Marcelo; Freund, Elizabeth; Giladi, Avner; Goldreich, Oded; Gozansky, Tamar; Katriel, Jacob; Law-Yone, Hubert; Leibner, Gerardo; Matar, Anat; Raz-Krakozin, Amnon; Ram, Haggai; Reinhart, Tanya; Shabtai Aharon; Shuldiner, Zvi; Wesley, David.

Peace activists: Bar, Iris; Berger, Tami; Blanc, Judy; Hamad, Rola; Kaminer, Matan; Katriel, Tamar; Matar Haggai; Noach, Haiya; Peter Dani; Polak, Monika; Ravon, Ada; Steinfield, Nurit; Swirsky, Gila; Traubman, Lily; Shachar, Itamar.
Journalists: Davidi, Efraim; Naffa Hisham; Baram Haim; Warchawsky Michael.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Beilin between Geneva and Givat Ram

Yossie Beilin sureyed the post-disengagement political scene in a short op-ed piece in today's Yidioth Ahronoth. The substance of his message was the necessity for renewing the peace process as soon as possible. The problem is that he, under the influence of his party's needs, determined that nothing is possible until after elections in Israel and for the Palestinian Authority. This means freezing the process for another six months. A very dangerous piece of advice. There should be absolutley no linkage between the two issues - peace initiatives and elections to the Israeli Knesset. It is not absolutley clear why Beilin handled this contradiction so clumsily.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

It is a Shame, but it is all a Sham

This is the decision that was not adopted yesterday:“The government of Israel announces its full and unconditional support for the Road Map and agrees to implement it.”

The government decision that was adopted yesterday is replete with loop holes, conditions and reservations. This decision can serve as a source for endless debates as to its meaning, and if the need arises, it will provide a lot of work for lawyers. As a matter of act, nothing of any real importance happened yesterday in the meeting of the Israeli cabinet. Sharon can now say that he adopted his version of the road map. Bush can issue a statement about a ‘positive step’.

One can only remark about the deepness of the need of so many honest and sincere people to believe that maybe, perhaps, possibly there is some basis for hope and optimism. No one can blame them. Even so, it is strange that this need can still be satisfied by the strutting and empty words of prominent people in air conditioned offices. We have seen too many comings and goings and press conferences and endless reams of commentary on too many occasions to allow ourselves to believe – in the absence of real forward movement on the ground – that something important has really happened.

This government cannot and will not make any real concessions regarding settlements or even illegal outposts. Meanwhile, this is the only thing happening: Before, during and after yesterday’s cabinet session, Sharon is supplying his friend and ally, George W. Bush, with a bit of space for a public relations campaign featuring Bush, the renowned warrior, in his new role as peace maker. Watch Bush get a lot of international spin out of totally ambiguous statement by Sharon to the Israeli cabinet.What is amazing is how this game is played out with absolutely nothing positive happening on the ground. To the contrary, Israel, pursuing ‘security interests and fighting terror’ continues to make life hell for more than three and half million people under occupation. Sharon and his ultra right partners continue to slither and to blather. So far, nothing else is happening.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Refusal on the Left and Refusal on the Right

Is it right and proper that potential refuseniks on the left reexamine their position in the light of the fact that the settler right is adopting this form of struggle? Does refusal to serve in the Israel Defense Forces undermine the foundations of democracy and the Israeli social contract? Has the right really drawn encouragement to refuse from refusal on the left?

It is indeed necessary to re-examine our support for refusal in the light of recent political developments. These developments, such as Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan and the brewing of the settler right rebellion determine the shape of public discourse. It is therefore incumbent on us to examine the hard questions that arise in the context of the current public debate.

As to content and the political thrust, the difference between refusal on the left and refusal on the right seems quite clear. Refusal on the left is part of the battle against the occupation. This occupation corrupts Israeli society, empties democracy of content and blocks the path to peace. Thus, there is no similarity between the two acts of refusal. On the contrary, they are polar opposites. The battle against occupation is based on universal values incorporated in international law and generally recognized principles of equality and morality. It is part of the battle for national and civil equality and against national repression. The right, for its part is fighting to strengthen, deepen and expand the occupation. It is to be hoped that the different basis for refusal on the right and on the left, requires no further explanation.

Refusal, the Duty of the Citizen and the Rule of Law

It is of course true that there is a technical similarity between the two kinds of refusal. The law demands showing up and obeying military discipline. The refusal by the soldier to follow an order activates a chain of disciplinary sanctions. But this external similarity should not hide or obscure the vast difference between the two approaches in regards to the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It is no surprise that the establishment attempts to categorize both kinds of refusal as an anti-democratic action and a violation of the rules of the game vital for every social formation.

Your correspondent confesses that he is not convinced that we live in a genuinely democratic society, and not only because of the occupation.In my humble opinion, Israel is about as democratic as it is independent. But lets put aside the historical and theoretical debate on the essence of democracy. Let’s disallow another central argument of the left to the effect that one nation cannot be permitted to decide, even according to the most democratic of procedures, to rule over another nation and to deny that nation its own rights on the basis of the majority in the ruling country. We shall limit the focus of the discussion to those arguments that are presented in public discourse based on the consensus obtaining in
Western liberal democracy.

After we have put aside some very compelling points concerning serious shortcomings of what generally passes for democracy, lets examine, in terms of the basic liberal norms, the place and the function of the right in Israeli society. Back in 1967, the supporters of the Movement for a Greater Israel choked off and shackled any free democratic discussion concerning the fate of the territories recently conquered. Back then, illustrious pillars of Israeli society such as Agnon, Alterman, Haim Guri, riding gun for the Zionist Revisionists (Jabotinsky’s outfit) and the militaristic-minded Ahdut Ha’avoda (if you know your Zionist history) issued a solemn proclamation declaring, inter alia, that ‘no government has or will have the right to return the liberated territories’. The annexationist right did not consider it sufficient to declare any free discussion regarding the fate of the territories as ‘off limit.’ They proceeded to introduce hundreds of thousands of settlers and establish hundreds of ‘legal settlements’ and another hundred or so manifestly ‘illegal settlements’ in the territories. This project was designed first and foremost to frustrate any democratic discussion and to impose, for all practical purposes, a veto blocking any serious thought of meaningful negotiations.

The settlers and their allies have Israeli society by the throat. This part of the picture does not prevent the Israeli establishment from asking us to participate naively in what they seek to present as a free and democratic debate, and to accept the legitimacy of the anti-democratic decision to continue and deepen the occupation. The decision is anti-democratic on two levels. Firstly, of course, towards the people under occupation (sorry, I promised not to talk about this) and secondly, towards the people of Israel who have been denied elementary freedom of decision regarding any meaningful alternative. The establishment continues to work hard to spread the illusion that, in the present circumstances, it is possible to have a free debate on the fate of the territories. The settler right and its allies has consistently demolished all the elementary rules of democracy and the rule of law, but the establishment asks us to continue the game as if we were still on a level playing field.

Presently, the settler right, flaunting the rule of law, is openly preparing itself to challenge the regime. It is using the refusal weapon as part of its campaign to block the disengagement initiative. Of course, there are individual soldiers (or draftees) on the right who are sincerely trying to figure out the right thing to do. However, in fact, the refusal act for them does not involve serious questions of conscience. In truth, they are part of a massive apparatus, a state within a state, which is based on settlement organizations, motivated by rabbinical authorities, and in control of a variety of armed para-military formations. Of course, within this ‘state’ there are different tendencies and various levels of militancy. There are blackmailers and ‘dead enders’, there are cool calculators of how far to push the limits of rebellion, as well as crazed fanatics stirring the embers of messianic flame. But none of these dream of accepting the verdict of a democratic decision to end the occupation, or the simple logic that this decision should not be prejudiced by a host of illegal facts created on the ground over the years. The refuseniks on the right are soldiers in the army of their own state. Their army has a clear goal, to drag the whole nation to an endless occupation, to an endless war for all of Eretz-Yisrael, between the sea and the river. They began this project many long years before anyone on the left dreamed of refusal or even entertained the thought that there should be a limit to blind devotion to the defense of the country. Sadly, our refusal on the left is a non-factor for the settlers. They have their own project, the conquest of the land. That is the reason for their existence.

According to the requirements of this goal, the soldiers of the right chose between refusal and service. Everything is subservient to their goal. Often, when they chose to remain in the ranks, this is done to strengthen their positions in the IDF, and to increase their potential to influence the army or parts of it. Now the rulers of this country really want to have their official army, and they are unpleased over the fact that many of their ranks are actually enrolled in a different army and answer to another authority. But the establishment, lacking character and any sense of security, has gotten used to this situation. Nobody is rocking the boat. Thus, the present army is not any better, and maybe even a bit worse than the policy of the government, which is supposed to be the only factor giving the orders. In the light of all this, why shouldn’t every thinking young person ask himself the fateful question: for what are we supposed to kill, for what are we called on to die. Today, the answer is clear, crystal clear. The IDF is dedicated to preserve the rule of the IDF and Israel in all the territories that are slated for immediate or eventual annexation. It is the height of hutzpah to demand from the left that it remains sensitive to the needs of the social contract and national unity while the cowardly establishment has become a discredited ally of the radical right and its annexationist project. After that same establishment has ignored over the years creeping annexation and the creeping inroads on the democratic process it wants to convince the public that it is the refuseniks on the left who endanger stability and legal process.

In the light of the anti-democratic subversion of the right, it is surprising and even painful to hear voices in our own refusenik community who approve of the refusal on the right and consider it as having much in common with refusal on the left. Some of our friends are impressed by the soul-searching of soldiers on the right and consider their adoption of refusal as an act threatening the military and civilian hierarchy. There is a tendency to see refusal as mainly a personal decision to solve a personal problem while ignoring the all-important political context. This tendency leads friends to consider a crypto-fascist phenomenon as an anti-militarist event.

In our conditions, there are undoubtedly difficulties in explaining the tremendous difference between refusal on the left and refusal on the right. But whenever we can convince people of the political significance and meaning of the occupation, we will be able to convince them that refusal to serve it, is an important and vital step towards democratization of Israeli society.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Letter from Jerusalem

In our very first lessons on the British constitution we were impressed with the most salient of facts to the effect that the British Parliament can turn a man into a woman (or vice versa). This, it turns out, was excellent intellectual and psychological preparation for understanding what is happening in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, before our very eyes.

Today’s issue of the Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, informs us that the next meeting on the Israeli cabinet is going to turn the College of Judea and Samaria into a university. It appears that the initiative is coming from the Minister for Education, Limor Livnat. Ms. Livnat, it transpires, has granted her acquiescence to Sharon’s Gaza Disengagement Plan conditionally.

The condition – you guessed it – is to intensify settlement in the West Bank. Livnat figures that the ‘new university’ will attract additional population to the Ariel area. She is also certain, according to the same source, that there will not be any difficulty concerning her initiative which has reportedly received the backing of Ariel Sharon, with the United States, which has given its blessing to the settlement blocs, Ariel included. Thus if all goes well, the Israeli government will turn a college previously established by fiat of a military officer in the occupation, into a full fledged university. Livan claims that there is no financial problem involved since the College is already funded by the Israeli Council of Higher Education.

Those who follow the vagaries of Israeli internal politics must appreciate that Livnat’s gambit is also a brilliant counter-maneuver against Shimon Peres’ initiative to establish a new, ninth Israeli university in the Galilee. Peres’s initiative has received the enthusiastic backing of the Labor Party’ especially as he is going around brandishing a $100,000,000. check from former Israeli mogul, Arnon Milchen. The Council for Higher Education is against the Galilee plan because it has learned the hard lesson that philanthropists like to fork out sums for buildings named after them or their dear ones. But this doesn’t mean a hill of beans when it comes to paying salaries and keeping the floors clean.

Even so, the CJS might well become a university by virtue of a cabinet decision. There will be no difficulty in finding a name for the new university: the George W. Bush University (OT).

Stay posted for further developments. You may have discerned that your correspondent is a bit obsessed by this story.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Bar Ilan University in the Defense of Academic Freedom

Bar Ilan University and the College of Judea and Samaria (CJS) are in the news. So here is some additional information for those interested in the subject. The CJS has recently submitted a request to have its research Master of Arts degree recognized by the Council of Higher Education (CHE) in Israel. Such a step is necessary if a student who completes his MA at the CJS plans to go on to doctoral studies in an Israeli university.

The relationship between the CJS and the Council of Higher Education in Israel is a bit complicated. If you check out the accreditation situation, it becomes clear that the CJS is not accredited by the CHE. However, the CHE does note on its website that the CJS is accredited by a separate body which is called the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria CHE-JS). This Council is situated at Bar Ilan University. The CHE-JS does not have a website and does not reveal to the public its composition. So we do not know the identity of the people who work out of an Israeli institution and consider themselves qualified to confer accreditation for BA studies and MA studies (non-research trend up to this point).

On the other hand, the CHE-JS is quite candid about the source of its jurisdiction and states that it operates on the basis of a decree issued by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). In my translation, the decree is for the ‘Administration of Local Authorities (Judea and Samaria) [tsav b’dvar nihul moatsot mikomiut] Number 892 from the year 1981, article 3 (h), addendum 4 – Orders regarding Education.’

Thus, the relevant IDF commander created a council for higher education in the West Bank. Some hard questions:
Can an army officer create either directly or indirectly a council for higher education?
Who defined the function and the goals of this CHE-JS? The IDF? The Council itself?
Who are the members of the CHE-JS and who appointed them?
Who in Israel decided and when was it decided to recognize the degrees granted by the CHE-JS?
What is the past, present and future relationship between Bar Ilan and CJS?

It would be stretching the concept of academic freedom a bit to include the right to set up and sponsor an ‘institution of higher learning’ in occupied territory.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Letter from Jerusalem

Though George Bush has been forced by a host of factors to abandon his ‘hands off ’policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this does not mean that the United States is even considering using its power and prestige to advance a solution to this ongoing crisis. Instead of serious engagement and the mobilization of its influence, the Bush administration has opted for a policy of ‘low intensity diplomacy’. The U.S. was obliged, in the face of wide international feeling that there is a chance for making progress towards a settlement, to show increased interest. However, the United States continues to avoid really necessary steps that would effect a real change. Low intensity diplomacy can be recognized by a flurry of important people traveling back and forth discussing everything and anything and deciding absolutely nothing about the real problems.

Sharon’s Gaza Disengagement Plan (GDP) was conceived in order to block genuine negotiations. It’s a classic ‘filler’ and designed to help the United States cover its ‘do nothing policy.’ We witnessed a new demonstration of this situation this week with the publication of the Sasson report. The report, ordered quite a while back by Sharon at the insistence of the U.S. government, could not come at a worse time for those who initiated it. In simple words, the report confirms that Israeli government and the IDF occupying army, employing almost every illegal subterfuge in the book, have been intensively engaged in massive and illegal settlement action. This involves the further wholesale theft of broad stretches of the remaining tiny and truncated sections of Palestinian territory – in addition to the considerable tracts of territory grabbed by the infamous security wall. The Israeli government, with the tacit connivance of the United States, has been liquidating and pulverizing the territorial foundations of the future Palestinian state, despite Bush’s ‘vision’ and new promises from Washington that the Palestinian state would be contiguous…

The devastating content of this official report ordered by the Israeli government would seem to require some sort of reaction from Washington, if only to prevent the low flame on the back burner from dying for lack of sufficient oxygen. However, Condi Rice and others speaking for Bush, declared that it is advisable to concentrate right now on the more ‘dramatic’ events linked to the Gaza Disengagement Plan. In this, our newfound ‘drama critic’ joins the ranks of those who hide between the ‘one thing at a time’, plea - when that one thing is helping them buy time. The Sasson report is worth a special meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the ongoing blatant acts of aggression against peace and the future of the Palestinian people. This is what is needed to impress all concerned with the urgency of the situation.

Those ‘in the know’ don’t really need a Security Council session to know that Abu Mazen and the renewed peace process are living on borrowed time. However, Bush and Sharon are not willing to proceed with the peace process until they are convinced that Abu Mazen has sold out and will sign on for the ‘temporary Palestinian state’ project.’ Most indicators, at this stage, are that though Abu Mazen is playing the U.S. game, he has not joined the U.S. team. As a matter of fact, there is every reason to continue to hold that neither Abu Mazen nor any other conceivable Palestinian leader could agree to a settlement less satisfactory to the Palestinians than the one agreed to – in broad lines – by Yasser Arafat.

Sharon and Bush are playing for time. But time gives the radical Islamisists political and strategic breathing space. Politically, this will enable them to convince their public that Bush and Sharon are leading the Palestinians up a blind alley. Strategically, this will enable them to renew resources and recruitment and also convince sections of the Fatah grass roots armies to join them. When violence returns to the scene, Sharon will ask how anyone can expect him to negotiate in such conditions and Bush will explain why Sharon is taking the only reasonable and consistent stand possible against terror. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of plain people in Gaza used the lull in the fighting to demonstrate for food and jobs.