Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Subsumed

The meeting in Annapolis last month marks the transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a component of the battle for hegemony in the Middle East between the United States and Iran. Of course, the dynamics attending the 100 year struggle between Israel and the Palestinians are still very much in evidence. But the main direction of development is shaped, more and more by the larger conflict.

As in the Iraq crisis, the United States prepares to use military force to prevent further political-economic deterioration in its regional and international status. However, many well informed observers stress the low probability of armed United States intervention against Iran. There is indeed no shortage of clearly recognizable, serious considerations against the military option against Iran. These should indeed, by all logic force the Bush government to give up on the idea of another military expedition in the Gulf.

However, the political fall out of the Iraq fiasco has not prevented Bush from escalating new threats against Iran, including two major statements on the danger of a third world war, even an atomic one, to save Israel. Of course, the recent “intelligence” to the effect that Iran had scuttled its nuclear weapon program as far back as 2003 has further complicated matters for those pursuing a military option. But given the will to go to war with Iran, the obstacles are in no way decisive.
The Bush administrations wants a show down with Iran, but knows that such a war would be, to say the least, highly unpopular in the United States. But if it is a bit crude to attack Iran directly, variations and combinations that could lead to the same result must be examined. Even the Bush people can figure out that by including Israel’s fate in the equation, this would weaken considerably the reservations in the US public and in congress regarding a clash with Iran. If Bush wants to break out of relative isolation on the Iran issue, his best bet is to create a situation wherein the confrontation with Iran begins as, or is perceived as, an Israeli-Iranian confrontation.

In the past, the Democratic party leadership had no choice but to reflect rank and file pressure against US policy in Iraq. There exists, of course, a great deal of suspicion regarding Bush’s motives and plans in Iran. But Bush might finesse that opposition by involving Israel and “its security” in the coming hostilities. It will be very hard for the current Democratic leadership to oppose aggressive actions against Iran if they are sugarcoated as necessary to Israel’s security or even its very existence.

The manipulations required to structure a military confrontation with Iran as one between Israel and Iran are a relatively simple matter. There is no need to resort to work on a complicated conspiracy because all the makings of a new war are all out in the open. Israel will not fail to cooperate in getting an anti-Iranian operation off the ground for the simple reason that it has been campaigning energetically for such an operation since the debacle last summer in Lebanon. Every minister and general is on record supporting an attack on Teheran; the only disagreements are tactical. There are no questions as to “if” but there are natural shades of opinion on how and when. One of the central questions being examined is whether Israel can work out a joint activity with the US administration that involves the US coming to the aid of its faithful ally, embattled as it were against the combined forces of terrorism engulfing the region. Of course, there are too many factors involved to suggest that we can predetermine the path of events. The comment regarding the possibility of US-Israeli collusion is offered against unwarranted certainty that Bush has run out of means to further his aggressive goals.

Any of the numerous potential flash points for conflagration between pro-Iranian forces and the Israeli army provide ample opportunities to get things moving. Burgeoning hostilities between the proxies, Israel on one hand and Hamas, Hezbollah or Syria on the other hand would place Israel in the line of “indirect” Iranian fire. , The resulting tensions would enable Bush – even Bush – to sell war with the Iranians as an absolute necessity for Israeli survival. The Israelis face “pro-Iranian” formations in three fronts: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Syrians, in three areas, on the Golan, in Lebanon and along the Syrian-Lebanese border. There is no shortage of opportunities for large scale provocation, there is no shortage of room for major maneuvers that can create real threats to Iranian allies. Normal, stable circumstances in the region are the exception, the situation looks like a war waiting to happen. And Israel, will not have to stand alone.

Do Not Take This Pledge Card to the Store
Bertold Brecht once remarked that rulers unappreciated by their constituencies may on occasion have no alternative but to disperse the people. The Annapolis network has a new kind of problem. The Abu Mazen group has, via U.S. sponsorship, earned the right to receive a considerable flow of arms and funds. It has a problem, though. Abu Mazen does not have the political constituency or the territorial integrity necessary to absorb the gifts that he has earned by joining the Annapolis network.

The international community, on some sort of guilt trip, after the empty antics at Annapolis, is lining up in Paris at a donors conference. An impressive pile of pledge cards accumulates on the table. The investment sums being promised are impressive. But each card has some small print on it which says that the commitment is subject to on the ground conditions permitting its effective implementation. But Palestine, under the Hamas regime in Gaza and under the non-regime of Abu Mazen, has in the given political conditions close to zero capacity to absorb and enjoy serious growth oriented economic investments. The “international community” under U.S. hegemony does not want to invest in Gaza and cannot invest in the West Bank which is totally controlled by Israeli military, economic, logistic and geographic domination. In addition to the IDF, the relatively small region is criss-crossed by some 300 Israeli settlements, all of which fervently oppose any serious constructive activity on behalf of the Palestinians.

Thus, the donors who refuse to invest in Gaza because that would be aid to “terrorists” are unable to invest in the West Bank because of the political vacuum and the suffocating Israeli presence.
But do not despair. Condeleeza Rice has informed us that George Bush is coming to the region next month to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. She explained, somewhat mysteriously, that Bush has special ways of solving problem.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Guide to the Perplexed for Friends in the International Peace Movement

Question: I see myself as a friend of the Palestinian cause. However, in the current situation I am asked to take sides in an internal struggle, a step which I have no inclination to take. It appears that I, and many like me, simply have no alternative but to switch our attention and our efforts to other important matters until the Palestinians sort themselves out – hopefully in the near future.

Answer: You may have observed, and this no accident, that there are fewer and fewer struggles for peace and democracy which exist outside the vortex of resistance to the policies of Bush and the US administration. The chief struggle today is, of course to condemn and resist the US war in Iraq. But Washington pursues its interests all over the globe and has a hand in almost every local conflict.

It is axiomatic that all serious battles for authentic national independence and for peace run up against the structures of US political, economic and military presence. The principle of opposition to US policy is also a tremendous tool for political orientation and there is no matter, however seemingly local and disconnected from the international scene, which is not subject to this methodological approach. The same thought could and should be articulated in a simpler and more direct rule. In any local struggle we should be aligned with the forces fighting US domination. If you find yourself, even momentarily lined up in support of US policy, start clarifying things to extricate yourself from the unworthy alliance you have entered and the sooner the better. It is my experience that most genuine liberals and democrats understand this common sense rule while there are too many instances where some “leftist” groups in the region remain aligned with local elements which slip, slide and fade into cooperation with the goals of US policy. Our advice is never, but never line up with Bush. When he is no longer holding sway in DC, we will review our current attitude on this.

Q: Are you supporting Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist formation?

A: It is an old trick to accuse advocates of peace and political realism of supporting regimes, which are held in low public esteem, when we try to explain that embargo, sanctions, economic isolation, etc. are the wrong way to go. The idea is to prove that we are incompetent and irresponsible politically because we refuse to join the chorus of condemnation against “the terrorist enemy.” But, this kind of character defamation will not discourage any real fighter for peace.

In any event, there are also many sincere friends of peace who ask us why we support Hamas. We do not support Hamas. We support accord and compromise between the two main factions of Palestinian society as the only path to prevent a major human tragedy whose scope cannot be envisaged. In truth, most secular democrats are appalled at Hamas’ values and justly so. Even so, we are against Bush’s style of demonization. We will engage in a comprehensive analysis of the strength of Islamic fundamentalism. And we will utilize every opportunity to draw Hamas into a constructive dialogue instead of doing everything to convert each and every Islamic fundamentalist group into just another arm of Al-Qaeda. It is important to stress that each fundamentalist tendency has its own history, traditions and political goals. Bush and his local partners can indeed push Hamas into more radical positions and alliances. If you are out to destroy someone, you might well take into account that he (or she) will take counsel and seek help according to one rule only – his or her interest in survival.

It is important to stress that many impartial observers argue that Hamas can be seen as one of the more pragmatic Islamic groups. It is known that Al-Qaeda attacked it for participating in elections. It never opposed the all- Arab peace initiative on peace with Israel. It has rigorously observed cease fire agreements. Its historical and regional connections are with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, known for its abstention from and rejection of terrorist activity. Between idealization of Hamas and demonization of Hamas there is tremendous space for work on finding constructive paths that will benefit all sides.

Q. I support the two-state solution and have been locked in debate with others in the peace movement who support a single state solution. How do current events impact on this important debate?

A. The current crisis is a result of Israel’s obstinate refusal to negotiate a fair settlement. The absence of a Palestinian partner for peace is an Israeli propaganda ploy to hide the fact that Israel is unwilling to make even the most minimal concessions required for a just peace. At present, Washington and Jerusalem are involved in smashing the representative government and the self determination of the Palestinian people and preparing Palestinian society for an imposed surrender to Israeli demands and needs.

As long as Washington and Israel are euphoric about breaking the moral unity of the Palestinian people, they are in no mood to negotiate about peace. Instead they will generate propaganda based on empty gestures, such as releasing 250 Fatah prisoners from among 10,500 prisoners in Israeli jails. In order to continue the battle for Israeli-Palestinian peace, it is necessary to reject the schemes against the national integrity of the Palestinian people and reject the U.S. – Israel – Fatah plans to split and pulverize Palestinian society.

There is no reason to declare that differences of opinion on serious questions affecting the peace movement such as the debate between the two state or single state solutions are a thing of the past. However, there is every reason that each and every group and organization supporting peace and independence (with no difference as to the nature of the solution suggested) should rally to the cause of Palestinian national unity without which no peaceful solution of the conflict will ever be conceivable.

Q: If I strongly support the two- state solution, shouldn’t I give my support to Abu Mazen and Fatah who have a firm commitment to this kind of solution?

A: Certain kinds of leadership can discredit a just cause and a just idea by converting a conception based on mutual recognition and just peace into a program for unilateral concessions, accommodation to Israeli interests, and worse of all, delivering their fate and their birthright to the manipulations of the US and Israeli governments. Fatah is not fighting for a genuine two state solution. It is trying to survive and to compensate for its low esteem among the Palestinians by playing at hyped-up, high level diplomacy. It is not accidental that Abu Mazen and George Bush are competing in a race to the bottom in their disapproval ratings. Abu Mazen’s Fatah has transformed a program for dignity and independence into a path to abject subservience and has lost any credibility as an independent actor in the political arena.

Q. What next, what can we expect?

A. Abu Mazen’ recent declarations, together with reliable information on the deteriorating situation in Gaza and Rice’s upcoming visit all indicate that the ‘triple coalition’ is preparing concerted efforts to break Hamas’s influence and control of Gaza. Today’s NYT report (July 10, 2007) by Steven Erlanger presents graphic evidence that Israel and the United States are pursuing a detailed program to demolish all of Gaza’s industrial and business activity. Gaza is being slowly suffocated by a finely calibrated technique to show that any semblance of normal life in Gaza is unsustainable. The hope is that there will be rioting and pandemonium. People will try to escape. Food will be scarce, medical attention unavailable. Anyone who supports or supported Hamas will be on the receiving end of an object lesson not to be forgotten for the rest of their life. Do not rebel against Bush. Bush is still strong, very strong.

Abu Mazen prepares the battle ideologically. He explains in a recent interview to an Italian TV station that Hamas is committing the ultimate sin. Believe it or not explains Abu Mazen, Hamas is introducing Al-Qaeda into Gaza and allowing it to develop and become strong. Now this is a clear indication of how quickly Abu Mazen has learnt from Washington and how urgent coalition action against Hamas has become (Bush found Al-Qaeda in Iraq and this encouraged him to move up the time table for the invasion). It is most logical, in the present context, that Abu Mazen announced in the same interview that he will never negotiate with Hamas. With Bush behind him and Olmert in his corner, why would he need to negotiate with Hamas, just because it got more votes than Fatah.

For good background historical material on the Israeli left (mainly in Hebrew) see: http://www.israeli-left-archive.org/

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Very Bitterlemons

Ghassan Khatib, former Minister of Planning and currently Vice- President of Bir Zeit University, is also the representative of the Palestinian Peoples Party (the Communist Party) in the Palestinian Authority. His current article in the Bitterlemons internet forum continues the line of his party of uncritical support for Fatah. It also reveals a tragic propensity for denial, as Khatib joins the unhappy ranks of Abu Mazen supporters who refuse to see that this particular gentleman may well have outlived his usefulness to the Palestinian cause. .- Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.orgLed by George Bush, an unseemly assortment of seemingly powerful forces is trying to put Humpty-Dumpty together again. These gentlemen (US, Europe, the Arab countries, Israel) are elbowing each other in a frantic race to “strengthen” Abu Mazen. Of course, it will be interesting to be in the room when they tally up the actual contributions and compare the intake with the generous pledges. We are overwhelmed with curiosity as to how many settlements Bush and Olmert are going to disband in the coming days in order to strengthen Abu Mazen.

Some of us are willing to admit that it is important for us when analyzing any major international crisis to understand the role and the responsibility of the United States. Here in the region, we cannot remember any honest, disinterested policy or action by this country, and it is, therefore, rather difficult to get us excited enough to support any politician(s) who has linked his fate with that country. The United States has degraded the present Palestinian leadership by consistent support for the Israeli occupation and annexation. Bush then decided to exploit the results of elections that had been sponsored by the US and the international community in his “anti-terror” campaign in order to punish the electorate for voting wrong, a punishment which included massive sanctions against the civilian population of Gaza. As sad as this is, small-minded politicians in the Fatah leadership believed that something was to be gained by joining the US anti-terrorist coalition in order to marginalize Hamas. This writer has no reason to paint the Hamas leadership in Gaza as a bunch of choir boys, but it became clearer and clearer that the United States was interested in confrontation in Gaza. The US had plenty of agents on the ground in the Strip, but more important, Abu Mazen slipped into the US diplomatic and strategic orbit. There was no shortage of pro-Fatah commentators who believed that all they needed to do was to brand Hamas in Gaza as tools of Iran in order to ensure Fatah ascendancy in the Palestinian street. But it was Fatah, which collapsed in Gaza, militarily and politically. Moreover, it is very doubtful whether Abu Mazen would receive many votes today were there free elections in the West Bank. Do not worry. Abu Mazen’s supporters will not, I repeat will not, suggest that he try to renew his mandate by new elections.

Indeed, we are also aware of serious evidence of gross violations of human rights and unnecessary cruelty by the Hamas forces. Hamas has, of course, made counter-claims. It would seem to us that the renewal of unity might be served by the appointment of a joint committee of inquiry into all the events and their background. It must be clear to all involved that whatever the issues, the use of indiscriminate force and the senseless degradation of human dignity will not be forgotten or overlooked.But the most important thing is learning from experience. Ghassan Khatib, a firm opponent of Hamas certainly knows what happened in Gaza:“In addition, plans by President Mahmoud Abbas and his newly appointed security advisor Mohammad Dahlan to reform and rehabilitate the Palestinian security services under the command of the president created an impression among Hamas cadres that their military superiority in Gaza could be in jeopardy. Ever since winning parliamentary elections, Hamas had felt that its authority was undermined by a lack of control over the security services. This led to the creation of the Executive Force, which Hamas placed above other security forces. The mooted security reforms threatened this order. The battles in Gaza showed how weak the Palestinian Authority has become .- Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org

The media reports over the last several months concerning US arms shipments to Abu Mazen, coordinated with Israel, certainly confirmed Khatib’s own analysis and Hamas’ anxiety.

One doesn’t have to be a brilliant military strategist to understand why Abu Mazen was doing everything to arm Fatah to the teeth. The Fatah frenzy was so bad that they openly consorted with Mohammed Dahlan, widely considered an agent provocateur of the worst sort by all sections of the public. Abu Mazen and his people played with fire…so what do we do now, Mr. Khatib?

“In light of the situation, Abbas had no choice but to dismiss Haniyeh’s government. Indeed, in reality this move came late. The challenge, and it is a large one, is for Fateh and the new emergency government to set an example. This must mostly happen in the security sphere.”

Well, if it is military security you are looking for, Mr.Khativ, reliable sources indicate that Dahlan is in Ramallah and lost some of his turf. And General Dayton has recommended more arms for Abu Mazen. Is this grounds for Ghassan Khatib’s optimism?

Khatib has another reason for hope. He is convinced that Hamas made a big mistake in taking over Gaza and it won’t be able to digest its gains. However, we have heard this refrain before ever since the Hamas electoral victory 17 months ago. Khatib also hopes that the international community will move to pressure Israel.

“This means in the first instance that the international community must move swiftly to pressure Israel to halt its settlement expansion and ease restrictions on movement in the West Bank.” Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org

The careful reader of the Bitterlemons piece will notice that Khatib fails to mention the United States in his article. Is it not part of the picture? Are those proposed steps all that is necessary to support the United States line on Palestine?

Professor Galia Golan, a leading figure in the Zionist left, would also like to see Abu Mazen rehabilitated. But she seems much more realistic than Ghassan Khatib. For example, Khatib is convinced that Hamas will not be able to digest its military gains in Gaza, but Golan writes:
“Fateh might count on Hamas’ inability to rule (as it did after the elections of 2006), but isolation and hardship for the people of Gaza have already proven to benefit rather than harm Hamas vis-a-vis Fateh among Gazans.” Published 18/6/2007 © bitterlemons.orgProfessor Golan, is also more realistic regarding Abu Mazen’s real alternatives. She is, of course, in the Abu Mazen camp, but seems to have fewer illusions than Khatib about the blessings of the split with Hamas:
“For this reason the third option, resurrecting the national unity government and dealing also with Hamas, may be necessary. This is clearly not an ideal solution for Israel–indeed, it is one the government is most unlikely to support–but it is an option that some in Fateh (and the Arab world) nonetheless believe advisable.”

Let us start to summarize. All the “kings men” are in Abu Mazen’s corner shouting into in his ringing ears that with the kind of backing he has, if he just stays in the ring for a few more rounds, he will return to his previous glory. The true friends of Abu Mazen and Fatah tell him to sober up and start to work on the restoration of Palestinian unity. He and his people must chose between dignity and independence in a united Palestinian leadership or face ignominious disgrace as just another gaggle of politicians caught in the snare of Bush’s dangerous game. The road back to Palestinian unity will be rough and rocky. It is still the shortest road to peace and independence.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mourning Baruch Kimmerling

Stand Tall With Baruch Kimmerling
All of us must learn to stand tall and talk eloquently like Baruch Kimmerling who died this week in Israel. None of us can remember him other than moving spasmodically, seated in his mobile wheel chair, speaking his words with tremendous effort and grinning over a point that he had made in an argument.

His clarity of thought, his devotion to fairness and truth in politics and science made Baruch Kimmerling a heroic figure. Day by day, and year by year he rolled through a fog of pain and over barriers of his severe handicap to do his scientific work, all the time taking a clear and bold stand against the moral degeneration that seized this country. The hired intellectuals here had been programmed to answer charges of genocide, but they were thrown into total confusion when Kimmerling refined the charge and accused Israel of perpetrating the major crime of politicide against the Palestinian people. This charge is clear: Israel’s policies are calculated to eliminate the Palestinian people’s aspirations for national survival.

Some of you may have come across a group of right wing Jewish loonies on the internet by the name “Israel-academic-monitors”. Well, the loonies have a zombie machine that scans the net for any appearance by a democratic Israeli academician. Automatically, they send out links to what they consider “anti-Israeli” or anti-Semitic statements made by that academician. Well, the loonies’ zombie machine sighted Baruch Kimmerling’s name in articles on his death and sure enough, the emails warning the world about Baruch Kimmerling are now scattered all over the net. Of course, they – the monitors - would explain that it is all automatic. Even so, I ask them, gentlemen, have you no shame?

Cynical Attitude to Efforts for Unity in German Left

Cynicism Regarding Efforts for Unity on the German Left
Many veterans of the left admire Monthly Review and to this very day, you will usually find something important and interesting in every issue. However, it appears that there is some sort of retreat regarding MR’s traditional high standards. The recent coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been, in my humble opinion, one sided and tends to see every unrestrained attack on the Palestinian national strategy as an expression of anti-imperialism. Those articles had, at least, the virtue of identifying with the victims of Israeli-US collusion. However, my present concern is the recent strident attack on the main sections of the German left that Monthly Review saw fit to print.

Disparagement and Ridicule Instead of Analysis
MR (May 2007) published an article by Ingo Schmidt characterized, more than anything else, by cynical disparagement of the Democratic Party of Socialism (PDS) and the West German Electoral Alliance for Jobs and Social Justice (WASG). These two groups which have united to create the new LEFT party have been more than candid in discussing the serious problems involved in building their unity. However, for Schmidt, they “are ill prepared” and the new “self-appointed” party “hardly resonates beyond its own activist and deputy circles.” The PDS is characterized by “theoretical skepticism and practical opportunism.” But why bother to continue quoting the author? It is clear that Schmidt doesn’t think much of either group and is convinced that their efforts are futile. The style is cynical and mocks the cadre of both groups while the text expresses serious reservations regarding the struggle for unity. If Schmidt is not against unity in principle, he certainly leaves the MR reader with a sense that the present efforts are more a joke than anything else.

This week, the united Left party had a tremendous electoral success in Bremen and increased its vote from some 2% to close to 9%. A recent issue of the International Herald Tribune reports growing opposition in Germany to the war in Afghanistan, led by the very same Left party. But even if things were a lot worse, there is no room for the kind of sarcastic derision which characterized Schmidt’s article.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

On the Concept Totalitarianism

This is still not a final draft. Please do not quote, but comments are most welcome.

On the Concept “Totalitarianism” and its Role in Current Political Discourse
First draft: Not for publication, distribution, quotation or use in any form. For personal use only.

A Cardinal Principle of Modern Liberalism

The basic assumption of modern liberalism is that freedom is involved in an ongoing, all encompassing struggle against a dangerous enemy, totalitarianism. The existence of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were and still are presented as the quintessential totalitarian formations. Liberal thinkers stress that totalitarianism is on the rise in modern times because of the crisis in modern life and society. This crisis, we are given to understand, spawns political and social totalitarian movements which, upon achieving power, proceed to organize social and political life on totalitarian principles. These principles include dictatorship, prohibition of opposition, large scale repression and the like.

The concept of totalitarianism is a pervasive, automatic and unchallenged element in the socialization process in most of the West. People are taught that they live in a “free society” and that their very freedom and welfare are under threat from totalitarianism. Thus, thinking people develop an abiding aversion to totalitarianism, an aversion which is so effective because it is part and parcel of the hegemonic belief structure. Almost always, the opposition to totalitarianism is something “innate” or “known.”

The concept serves as the basis for a specific historical narrative built around the struggle of good (liberal democracy) against evil (totalitarian) dictatorship. According to this narrative, we are at this historical juncture, enjoying the fruits of great victories in the battle against totalitarianism. These successes, especially the comparatively recent demise of the Soviet Union, make it all the more easier to promote the concept of totalitarianism.

One of the ‘magical’ aspects of the totalitarianism concept is that because it appears to be “fair” and “even handed”, and really above day to day politics, it looks both to the right and to the left because the dangers to freedom can spring from either direction.

Thus, the concept of totalitarianism is universally (almost) accepted and admired at all levels of political and intellectual life. All participants in current prevailing ideological and political discourse are assumed to be opponents of totalitarianism. The hegemonic rules of discourse are such that dissenting views may be disqualified if their proponents should exhibit any lack of militancy against totalitarianism in thought and reality.

The Origins of the Origins

The concept totalitarianism is justly associated with the name of Hannah Arendt, whose book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” is the standard and basic text on the subject. The Origins of Totalitarianism is actually composed of three separate books which can be, and are often read and analyzed separately. Part One is devoted to Anti-Semitism; Part Two deals with Imperialism. The final Part Three on Totalitarianism is devoted to the presentation of both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as a novel form of government. The point of the author’s argument is clear and direct. Arendt sees a common basis to the two regimes in that they both are embodiments of radical, absolute evil. Never, for a moment, can the reader escape the clear and insistent message that Arendt is writing on behalf of the “Free World” against the looming evil of Soviet Russia.

Many have commented that the book really does not exactly deal with the origins of totalitarianism. However, the book certainly deals, and in great depth, with the “distinguishing features” of the two important regimes selected as prototypes of totalitarianism : Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

The Importance of Hannah Arendt

Basic biographical material on Arendt is, of course, available on Wikipedia, but this broad outline should be helpful. Hannah Arendt fled Germany with the rise of Hitler in 1933 for Paris where she worked with refugees from Nazi Germany. In 1940, she fled the invading Nazis and was eventually rescued by a special US representative, based on her already considerable intellectual reputation. Arendt had studied with Martin Heidegger in Marburg, but she eventually relocated to Heidelberg to complete her doctorate in Political Philosophy with Karl Jaspers. It is hard to exaggerate both the depth and the quality of her educational training and her own exceptional scholastic and intellectual talents.

Here it is vital to emphasize Arendt’s pre-eminence in U.S. and European political philosophy. The number of intellectuals who have this kind of status can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The hundredth anniversary of her birth, last year, was the occasion for the wide ranging praise and analysis of her work and the discussion of a growing body of interpretative studies and a review of recent literature on her work.

The prestigious New York Review, in an article by Jeremy Waldron, greeted the outpouring of volumes and conferences dedicated to the date, by asking “What Would Hannah Say?” . Our own Yitshak Laor called her “one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century”. Nathan Sznaider wrote “She is being hailed as a profound and original thinker who devoted her life to the pursuit of a new political philosophy in the twilight years of Marxism. Corey Robin wrote: “From Slovenia to Waco, conferences, readings and exhibitions were convened in her honor.” Russel Jacoby remarked that Arendt “had joined the small world of philosophical heroes.” Whatever the reasons or the justification, Arendt is an important intellectual figure whose impact on modern political philosophy cannot be ignored. The five authorities have been cited merely to reinforce this well known fact.

Hannah Arendt on the Shores of the New World

Our discussion at this point centers on a central formative element of the intellectual milieu in New York during the forties when Hannah Arendt and her husband Heinrich Bluecher reached the US as refugees from German fascism. The grouping of “anti-Stalinist leftists” which attracted Arendt, and was quick to recognize her exceptional talents and which contributed decisive personal and social support to her and Bluechers absorption, went on over the years to fulfill a very questionable role in US public life.

The fact that former leftists, and especially “graduates” of the revolutionary Marxist anti-Stalinist (Trotskyist) movement during the thirties and the forties became leading ideologues of US reaction from the fifties onwards is well documented. The path of development among this particular section of U.S. intellectuals would have been impossible without the Trotskyist stage. The “family,” as they were known by many, moved step by step from revolutionary, communist, Marxist, anti-Stalinism during the thirties to just plain anti-Stalinism. From there the path was short to fervent, militant anti-Communism (minus Trotsky, minus revolution) and on to passionate support of the United States as the bastion of the free world during the Cold War. Those who began their political life as convinced revolutionary Marxists moved step by step from “anti-Stalinism” to condemnation of the Soviet dictatorship and on to identification with official US policies as the only sure bulwark against the tide of Bolshevik aggression.

Current experience with the neo- conservative movement in the United States will help the reader to understand how a relatively small intellectual group can become a vital factor in the ruling circles. It is not pure chance that one can even trace personal and family connections of the present influential grouping back to the anti-
Stalinist left.

This fascinating collection of intellectuals, which attracted Arendt and Bluecher, has been dubbed the New York intellectuals in a book with the same title. Even a partial list of some of the main representatives of the group is studded with famous names as Irving Kristol, Sydney Hook, Lionel Trilling, Clement Greenberg, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer, inter alia!

In New York, Arendt and her husband became a prestigious social, cultural and political addition to the New Yorkers. During the war, she had already made a name for herself with articles in various magazines, including Partisan Review and Commentary. She certainly made a strong impression on the local colleagues as someone who spoke on the basis of the broader horizons of European culture. It soon became clear that Arendt knew everything that her new colleagues knew and more.
In March 1946, Churchill, at his famous Fulton, Missouri speech, purposely and effectively destroyed the remains of the great anti-Fascist alliance of the United States, the UK and the USSR and demanded confrontation with the Soviets from positions of strength. The year 1947 witnessed additional salvos and the first confrontations of the Cold War such as the Truman Doctrine designed to aid “free peoples and defeat totalitarian regimes,” the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the CIA.

It was during these years that Hannah Arendt conceived and began writing the Origins of Totalitarianism. The reigning, dominant political discourse in the United States was clear and simple. The US, as the leader of the free world must resist, contain and undermine the dangers stemming from the growing strength and prestige of the Soviet Union. It was, in brief, a battle for freedom against tyranny, democracy against totalitarianism. By its author’s unequivocal intent and by its brilliant execution, when first published in 1951, Arendt’s ‘Origins of Totalitarianism” fitted in perfectly with the ruling ideological needs of her adopted country. It was greeted and duly admired by her new intellectual peer group whose anti-Stalinism had mushroomed into full scale and militant anti-Communism with calls for an even more passionate prosecution of the cold war.

One of the main figures in the group, by then a published author, Alfred Kazin, helped Arendt in finding a publisher. Previously, Kazin had helped Bluecher acquire a teaching position at the New School, no easy task since Bluecher, who was certainly qualified intellectually to teach modern European history and philosophy, did not have any formal education. In these circumstances, with the anxieties of the developing cold war, with genuine fear of an impending total military confrontation with the Soviet Union, Hannah Arendt mobilized her impressive intellectual gifts on the side of what she considered, to the best of her understanding, the Free World. The first edition of the “Origins” was published in 1951.

Critiquing Hannah Arendt and Arendt’s “Origins of Totalitarianism”

Naturally enough, there are many serious observers who challenge Arendt’s pre-eminence. Russel Jacoby sees her as simply overrated and notes that Arendt’s “star shines so brightly because the American intellectual firmament is so dim,” and goes on to belittle the murkiness of her style, especially in her more important philosophical texts:
“It is not only the general bleakness that brightens Arendt’s star. Her work can sparkle, especially her essays. Yet with the great exception of Eichmann in Jerusalem, her major books suffer from major cloudiness. Ironically, the more philosophical Arendt sought to be, the more opaque she became. Even after the most careful readings, it is difficult to know what Arendt is trying to say. This is as true of The Human Condition as of The Origins of Totalitarianism, the book that first brought her attention.

But she is the beneficiary of the widespread belief that philosophical murkiness signals philosophical profundity.

Her devotees sometimes admit that Origins is disorganized and unsuccessful. She sought to present Nazism and Stalinism as twin representatives of totalitarianism, but left out Stalinism until the conclusion. Sections on imperialism and racism, which are coherent and insightful, lack a relationship to Stalinist totalitarianism, which derived from neither. To make her argument, she yoked Nazism and Stalinism together with philosophical babble about ideology and loneliness. Somehow the “loneliness” of the masses fuels totalitarianism. ‘While it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere occurrence.’ Huh”?
Jacoby goes on to make two important additional points. He praises “Eichmann in Jerusalem” but notes, quoting Gershon Scholem, that its central thesis on the “banality of evil” contradicts Arendt’s own analysis in the Origins to the effect that totalitarianism was a “radical evil” and something that breaks down all the known standards. Jacoby also notes that the growing army of Arendt admirers relate less and less to the Eichmann book…”

Though, in general he thinks highly of Arendt, Professor Corey Robin joins a growing body of opinion, which stresses the severe weaknesses of the Origins of Totalitarianism. Robin, argues against the academic consensus which sees the Origins as her major work. He says that in that work, “Arendt’s account dissolves conflicts of power, interests and ideas in a bath of psychological analysis, allowing her readers to evade difficult questions of politics and economics.” Moreover, “historians of Nazism and Stalinism have pointed out that the relevant part of the book is the least instructive. Robin disposes with the “Origins of Totalitarianism” rather brusquely: “By the Cold War’s end, Arendt’s account of totalitarianism had been so thrashed by historians that Irving Howe was forced to defend her as essentially a writer of fiction whose gift for ‘metaphysical insight’ enabled her to see the truth that lay beneath or beyond verifiable facts.” Robin attacks the propensity of many admirers of Arendt to misuse the totalitarianism label against al-Qaida, Saddam Hussein, and Iran.

Robin attacks the ‘Arendt industry’ for ignoring the fact that “if Arendt matters today, it is because of her writings on imperialism, Zionism and careerism.” So Arendt, the authoress of the basic theory of totalitarianism is important for practically every aspect of theory except….totalitarianism. Instead of answering difficult questions of politics and economics, conflicts of power, interests and ideas she dissolves everything into a bath of psychological analysis.

Hard Anti-Communism

Hannah Arendt’s political and intellectual links with the “New York Intellectuals” are a matter of record. There does not seem to have been any kind of critical evaluation on her part of the group and her role in it. She certainly does not owe anyone any explanation on this matter of how she used her right of personal and public association. On the other hand, she certainly knew that members of this highly intellectual grouping related in highly positive terms to “Origins” and were instrumental in recommending the book and advancing its exceptional acceptance.
In his autobiography, Norman Podhoretz, a central figure of the radical right in the United States, emphasized the critical role of the “Origins” in the fight against Communism. In discussing a separate issue, related to the future of Commentary, Podhoretz employed the interesting concept, “hard anti-Communism” stating that, “hard anti-Communism [is] a position virtually every member of the family held in the early fifties.” Podhoretz goes on to explain its meaning.

“In the early fifties, the two main intellectual organs of the hard anti-Communism which had its roots on the Left rather than the Right were Commentary and the New Leader; Partisan Review was in the same camp, but more uneasily so. Hard anti-Communism of this variety rested on two major assumptions:

1) The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state of the same unqualifiedly evil character as Nazi Germany, and as such could not be expected to change except for the worse (this idea was given its most powerful theoretical support by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, which conceived of totalitarianism as an “ideal” metaphysical category rather than as a system of political arrangements responsive to changing historical conditions);

2) The Soviet Union was incorrigibly committed to the cause of world revolution, to be furthered by military means when necessary, and when possible by a strategy of internal subversion directed from Moscow; only American power stood in the way of this fanatical ambition to destroy freedom all over the world, and only American awareness of the nature of the threat could generate policies that would thwart it.”

Arendt brings the proof that Stalin equals Hitler and the Soviet Union equals Nazi Germany. The logic is plain and simple. Hitler was hell-bent on world conquest, so it is also clear that the totalitarian Soviet Union is preparing war by military means and political subversion (fifth columns and spies!). Is it unfair to say that if an individual’s theoretical contribution is converted into propaganda for war, she might be duty bound to express reservations, if she has any? Moreover, it would seem incumbent on Arendt to point out where the miscreant interpreters had misunderstood the text. But there is no reason in the world not to interpret Arendt’s magnus opus as an argument for aggressive war by the US against the USSR.

It is just that. I am not suggesting that Arendt would have applauded an aggressive war by the United States against the Soviet Union. However, from her letters during the period of the Berlin crisis, it is clear that she was in mortal fear of a confrontation between the USA and the USSR that might have resulted from Stalin’s aggressive handling of the crisis. The point is not that Arendt wrote the Origins of Totalitarianism because she wanted war with the USSR, but that the book’s main thesis served, without any need for distortion, the purpose of those who wished on the US side for escalation and confrontation, even when that meant all-out war. Again, it is hard to believe that Arendt was unaware of the political realities of the early fifties and the dangerous impact of the Origins’ message. She did not find it difficult to live with this impact.

Zizek on the Two Totalitarianisms

One might assume that the demise of Soviet Communism has made the study of totalitarianism a rather archaic affair. However, Slavoj Zizek’s incisive analysis of the current role of the totalitarianism thesis demonstrates that we are not merely examining an historical issue (howsoever important) but dealing with a contemporary and urgent political one. Anyone who believes that history has bypassed the question of the relation between Nazism and Communism is in for a big surprise. Zizek calls on the public to understand the dangers involved in the campaign in the ex-Communist countries to extend the ban on the public display of Nazi symbols such as the swastika to the hammer and sickle, and even the red star. Since Zizek wrote at the beginning of 2005, the anti-Communist hysteria in Eastern Europe has reached McCarthyite dimensions (outlawing the existence of the Young Communist League in the Czech state, the lustration scandal in Poland, resurgence of the ultra-right crypto-fascists in the streets of Budapest laying siege to the Hungarian Parliament, not to mention a literal orgy of reactionary legislation sponsored by the Catholic church). Yes, since Communism is as bad as Fascism, why should it receive preferential treatment? Why should Heidegger be condemned while Brecht and Lukacs are still honored?

Zizek demonstrates the broader implications of the totalitarianism thesis and describes how the respected German historian, Ernst Nolte spearheaded, in the late eighties, a revisionist drive to deny the assertion that Nazism was an incomparable evil. Nolte had, at his beckoning, a large public amenable to his argument that not only was Communism just as bad, but there was some excuse for Nazism in that it was a response to Communism. Zizek does not hesitate to agree: Communism was based on the antagonism between classes and Fascism displaces this essential antagonism. In other words - and this happens to be what the Communist and other democrats worked so hard to explain - Fascism introduced racism and aggression in place of class struggle so as to divert the masses from their interests in social progress and equality.

Zizek’s Stand – The Liberal Position is A Priori False

For Zizek the totalitarian issue is a current and pressing one. He demands that people make a choice:
“The ‘pure’ liberal attitude towards Leftist and Rightist ‘totalitarianism’ – that they are both bad, based on the intolerance of political and other differences, the rejection of democratic and humanist values etc. – is a priori false. It is necessary to take sides and proclaim Fascism fundamentally ‘worse’ than Communism. The alternative, the notion that it is even possible to compare rationally the two totalitarianisms, tends to produce the conclusion – explicit or implicit – that Fascism was the lesser evil, an understandable reaction to the Communist threat.”
Zizek emphasizes the link between the totalitarianism thesis and the ongoing attempt of European reaction to change the nature of Europe’s post-war identity.

High Priestess of the Cold War

Arendt, as a leading political scientist, published an impressive array of books, articles and essays during the decade after publication of the “Origins” in 1951 up to her work on the Eichmann trial. This essay has concentrated on the “Origins” because of its deep and abiding influence on the creation of a ‘liberal consensus against extremism’. This is the same ’liberal parliamentary consensus’ which precludes any serious questioning of how the liberal-democratic order is complicit in the phenomena it officially condemns, and of course, any serious attempt to imagine a society whose social-political order would be different. People are pressured, convinced, cajoled, and enticed to stay away from the limits where assumedly democracy ends and totalitarianism begins. It is only natural that the thrust of this argument is employed almost exclusively to that section of the left which refused to be penned in by the prohibitions to think past the limits of liberal, capitalist democracy.

In the preface to the first edition of the ‘Origins’, Hannah Arendt declares: “The totalitarian attempt at global conquest and total domination has been the destructive way out of all impasses. Its victory may coincide with the destruction of humanity; wherever it has ruled it has begun to destroy the essence of man.” (Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, World Publishing Book, Cleveland, Ohio 1951, 1954, p. viii) But, for Arendt, totalitarianism is not a total loss. “Without it, we may not have ever known the truly radical nature of Evil.”

It would be naïve, to say the least, to disregard the political context of this declaration. Nazi Germany had been destroyed, just a few years back, at a horrendous cost in lives and human suffering. So, in fact, Arendt, sounding the alarm against Communism and the Soviet Union, joined her academic skill and expertise to the calls from Truman, Churchill and others to prepare for confrontation with the Soviet Union.
According to Hannah Arendt, both Communism and Fascism are basically expressions of an essentially new stage in human history, the stage of totalitarianism. The two movements are not merely similar or identical, they are actually the same, and simply different manifestations of the same essence. But the truth is that they are not identical or even similar. This becomes clear as we analyze the historical record and go over a detailed list of major differences between the two historical movements.

Major Differences between Fascism and Communism

The concept of totalitarianism which has been expanded into a broad historical theory requires re-clarification of the basic differences between Fascism and Communism.

This concept is vitally important since it serves as the analytic foundation for a belief structure that presumes to be the key to understanding, no more and no less, the main issues of the twentieth century. The concept and the theory based on it hold, in brief, that the previous century centers on the battle between freedom and tyranny. Freedom is represented mainly by the regimes obtaining in the West and the challenge to freedom is represented by the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Totalitarianism stems from the breakdown of modern society and the inability to withstand psychological pressures linked to it.

The main opposing conceptual framework is that the twentieth century ushered in an age of war and revolution which stemmed from the increasingly moribund nature of modern capitalism. The leading political movements and developments of that century are all basically reflections of the struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. Fascism and the West were in coordination, and not contradiction in facing the Communist threat. Communism, as it developed in third-world (Russia and China) conditions did have the historical drive necessary to develop social liberation, but lacked the resources to develop political freedom.

Totalitarianism is presumably the common denominator of the two movements, Communism and Fascism, and the systems that each created. The struggle against its spreading influence and domination of totalitarianism are the first and foremost issues of our time. However, this conceptual framework arguing for the essential identity of Communism and Fascism is not sustained by any serious historical examination.

A. Immediate Historical Background of Fascism and of Communism
Fascism was born out of the crisis of a developed capitalist country and its failure to achieve hegemony in the imperialist system. Communism developed from the deep general crisis of the most backward country in Europe, when Russia hoped to achieve a minimum of international standing by linking up to a powerful European ally.

B. Fascism and Communism vis a vis Their Role Regarding Status Quo of Imperialist Control
Fascism fought to achieve pre-eminence in the world imperialist system, and never challenged that system. Communism challenged the international imperialist system by rejecting it and attempting to advance independent development in its place.

C. Fascism and Communism: The Response Vis a Vis Ruling Classes
Fascism enjoyed the active approval and assistance of the capitalist class in Germany and was met with sympathy and support by international capital, which recognized the contribution of Fascism to the common front against Communism (Bolshevism).

D. Fascism and Communism: The Relation to the Capitalist Class
Communism grew and developed in a sharp antagonism with the leading capitalist forces in Russia and aroused the anxious ire of international capital, whose fierce opposition to the Communists found expression in unsuccessful armed intervention.

E. World Reaction
Reaction understood and sympathized with the need for Fascism and its goals. World reaction detested and defamed Communism in Russia.

F. Basic Property Relations
Fascism did not challenge in any basic way the property relations of German capital and its dominant role in German society. Fascism did indeed mobilize the German economy, but only on the hallowed foundations of private capital domination.
Communism revolutionized property relations in Russia, expropriating large capital and feudal land ownership. Despite tremendous obstacles, Communism inspired and created, for the first time in history, a functioning society that did not operate on the basis of the profit system.

G. Social Reforms
Fascism did not result in any major social reforms in German society or in its class structure. It did not involve any shifts designed to advance the workers.
Communism effected enormous changes in the social structure. Literacy and access to education expanded; medical attention became general, the economic structures were modernized and technological advancement was widespread.

H. Mobilization for Expansion
Fascism mobilized existing economic assets in a drive for world domination.
Communism reformed Russian society and effected major social-economic transformation.

I. Armed Aggression
Fascism led a drive towards renewed aggression and a drive for world domination.
Communism conducted a sustained bid for international collective security and departed from it only after the West refused its demand for collective security, and then, in accordance with arguably reasonable defensive requirements.

J. Spiritual and Cultural Expressions
In fascism, these were based on racism and militarism. Fascism meant the vigorous defense of the status quo and the severe repression of any movement for reform and social change.
Communism was for tens if not hundreds of millions a clarion call to rise, throw off chains of repression, to think in terms of new and revolutionary changes on behalf of the deprived and the suffering.

K. The Break-up of the Regimes
The two main instances of major “totalitarian” regimes – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are no longer in existence.
The Nazi regime was eliminated only by a fierce and lengthy world war. The end of the Communist regime was a result of unsuccessful attempts at internal reform and involved relatively little violence.

In detailing these vital differences, we are not ignoring the existence of many characteristics that do indeed serve as a basis for the totalitarianism thesis. These include the absence of basic political freedoms, instances of mass repression, one party rule and state control of social-cultural life. The existence of these and other similarities are important and there is no need to minimize them. But they do not come close to cancelling out the major distinctions and the major political significance of these differences. Moreover it is, of course, relevant to cite the indisputable historical truth that the major military confrontation of the twentieth century involved the central contribution of the Communist Soviet Union to the military destruction of the war machine of Nazi Germany. It may be of value to suggest that without that contribution and the sacrifices involved in it, we may have well entered, and remained to this day, into a dark night of 1,000 years of Fascist totalitarian rule.

Marxists present their own counter-narrative regarding the crises of wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions that characterize the last century. Hannah Arendt argues that the content of the century is the assault launched by totalitarianism against freedom. This overarching metaphysical description is characteristic of bourgeois ideology in that it completely ignores the central social and economic crisis of our time. The crisis of modern society is the internal contradiction of capitalist society whose relations of productions are an objective obstacle to human progress. The content of the century is not a parable of good and evil (which is, of course, a generalized form of Christian myth) but the long and tortuous account of the efforts to overcome and overthrow capitalism-imperialism, as humanity is still faced, to this very day, with the alternative between socialism and barbarism.

1 Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, World Publishing Co., Cleveland and New York, 1951, 1954.
2 New York Review of Books, March 15, 2007
3 Ha’aretz, October 27, 2006
4 Ha’aretz, October 20, 2006
5 London Review of Books, January 4, 2007
6 Chronicle of Higher Education, December 8, 2006
7 Alan Wald, The New York Intellectuals, University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
8 Russel Jacoby, “Hannah Arendt’s Fame Rests on the Wrong Foundation”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 8, 2005). Jacoby is a professor of history at UCLA.
9 Corey Robin, Dragon Slayer, a review of some recent books on Arendt, London Review of Books, Vol 29, No 1; 4 January 2007.
10 Norman Podheretz, Making It, Random House, New York, pp.289-290.
11 Slavoj Zizek, The Two Totalitarianisms, London Review of books, Vol. 27 No. 6, March 17, 2005
12 (Slavoj Zizek, The Two Totalitarianisms, London Review of Books, Vol. 27 No. 6, 17 March 2005.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Arendt at Bar Ilan University (2)

Hannah Arendt and “The Human Condition”
Note: Some of my friends have expressed concern that I have recently become slightly obsessed with Ms. Arendt. They really have no cause for concern. Arendt is, of course, important for many reasons. However my specific interest in Arendt arose from a desire to research the political category “totalitarianism.” My political and theoretical experience has convinced me that this is a pivotal, litmus sort of category. In most instances, those who subscribe to the need to confront the totalitarianism of both the right and the left, those who equate Fascism and Communism and, of course, Hitler and Stalin, cannot and do not understand the basic principles of progressive politics. This core problem led me to Hannah Arendt’s “classic“, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951, 1954. Arendt was, of course, a brilliant genius. But the question is a brilliant genius for whom and for what.

Hannah Arendt’s contribution to modern political theory is to be celebrated in an upcoming conference at Bar-Ilan University dedicated to one of her central philosophical works, The Human Condition. It is a well known that Arendt’s philosophical texts are complex, and her style rather murky. This might help to understand why it is so unclear whether she belongs to the left or the right, and why despite this lack of clarity, there are many on the left who consider her an exponent of their values. However, with the exception of her important, critical articles on the Eichmann trial, the main thrust of her writings expressed a hesitant kind of liberalism, more amenable to the right than the left.

Those, who reject, with due cause, the idea that Arendt’s political philosophy (as opposed to her outstanding in-depth journalism on the Eichmann trial -1961) is close to the left, can cite two interesting comments connected to “The Human Condtion.” In a letter to Arendt (September 8, 1958), Norman Podhoretz, then editor of Commentary and already one of the leading figures in the formation and the rise of the new right in the US, waxed eloquent over “The “Human Condition,”: “The book is superb, fully equal to the astonishing daring of what it undertakes.” (Library of Congress, Arendt Correspondence # 008982).

In the same context, Professor Russel Jacoby considered it is important to recall that Arendt seriously considered dedicating the work known as The Human Condition to the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger was, of course, a well known collaborator with the Nazi regime and a devoted admirer of the Fuhrer. She wrote to Heidegger that she refrained from the dedication “because things had not worked out” between them but she wanted him to know that the book “owes practically everything to you in every respect.” (Russel Jacoby, Professor of History UCLA, Chronicles of Higher Education, December 8, 2006)

Of course there is the objection that Heidegger’s long time, slavish affiliation with National Socialism does not, in itself, disqualify his philosophy. Even so, it is rather unlikely that precisely Heidegger’s philosophy would inspire and sustain a rational, humanistic set of values on the Human Condition. And if we actually want to get to the roots of The Human Condition, wouldn’t it be more logical, following Arendt’s own admission, to devote the conference to Heidegger.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Conference on Hannah Arendt at Bar Ilan University

An international academic conference devoted to the subject “Hannah Arendt and the Human Condition” is to take place at Bar-Ilan University this month. The Heinrich Bell Foundation, the Mark Rich Foundation and the Faculty of Jewish Studies at the University of Basle are co-sponsoring the event which is being convened with the support of the President of Bar-Ilan University, Professor Moshe Kaveh.

The tremendous prestige of Hannah Arendt (born in 1906) among intellectual circles in the United States and Europe over the second half of the twentieth century explains the reason for a virtual flood of conferences, lectures and publications marking the hundredth anniversary of her birth. But all during the period that Arendt’s status was steadily rising in the international academic arena, she did not enjoy comparable good fortune here in Israel. In Israel she was vilified and banned.

Hannah Arendt had, through her active involvement in aiding the escape and emigration of refugees to Israel after Hitler’s rise to power, acquired first hand knowledge and experience with the Zionist establishment. Despite this, Arendt expressed concern that chauvinism was emptying Zionism of its ethical content and she gravitated to Martin Buber’s group formed around similar anxieties. Moreover, from the first years of Israel’s existence, she was among the sharpest critics of Ben Gurion’s policies and opposed Israel’s arrogant attitude towards the Arab environment. The years of tension between Arendt, who was on her way to international renown, and the Zionist leadership, found their most profound and dramatic expression after she came to Israel in 1961 to cover the Eichmann trial for the New Yorker. Arendt dared to express blunt criticism of the proceedings on the pages of the New Yorker and refused to join the chorus of admiration for the Israeli legal system. The entire Jewish-Zionist establishment accused her of villainous treachery against the holy of holies, the official Zionist version of the Holocaust and its meaning.

Meanwhile, over the years, Arendt had become the high priestess of right-wing , anti-Marxist liberalism. Her book, the Origins of Totalitarianism,
(1951) became the authentic and quasi- official text for justifying the Cold War waged then and later by the United States government. Arendt “succeeded” in providing the theoretical foundations for the superficial and simplistic thesis that the battle between the United States and the Soviet Union was the battle between liberty and tyranny. In this period, she became a prominent member of a group, later termed the New York intellectuals, which received thinly disguised covert support from the newly operative CIA. Of course, this unpleasant connection does not in any sense exempt us from the obligation to relate seriously to Arendt’s contribution on the theoretical and philosophical levels. (1) While Arendt made a name for herself by virtue of her analytical insight into major universal issues of political philosophy, her antipathy for the Zionist and Israeli establishment was an open secret.

Her clear distaste for Israeli policies and practices explain why radical circles in Israeli academia respected her and held her in high esteem. Indeed, Arendt never hesitated to attack official Zionism or the Israeli political establishment led by David Ben Gurion and his successors. Her courage in this respect earned her the undying hatred of the local political and media establishments which sought to turn the world famous political theorist into an object of scorn and ridicule. Important professors played a leading role in the campaign of personal vilification against Arendt. At the same time, not so paradoxically, many critical, left- wing academicians, usually of the younger generation, were attracted to Arendt and saw in her a thinker of the left or someone whose work could not be defined on the left-right axis. In fact, the ideological content of Arendt’s major work is closer to the right than to the left. The writer hopes to provide, in due course, the basis for this assertion, which exceeds the scope of this article.
The years went by. Arendt died in 1975. Meanwhile, there are almost no other serious liberal, but intensely anti-Marxist and anti-Communist thinkers of her caliber. Arendt, whose impressive intellectual talents are widely recognized, is studied and appreciated as an intellectual prophet for her generation. Thus, it transpired that Israeli academia had a serious problem. When the Israeli academicians go abroad they encounter unstinted praise and deep admiration for Hannah Arendt. But when they return to the homeland, they are reminded that she is a “hater of Zion” of the worst sort – a disloyal daughter who has turned away from the tribe.

The local establishment had to wrestle with a serious dilemma. What should be the decisive factor in determining how to relate to Arendt’s status and her influence? Is it her international “rating” or her local “rating”? The decision to hold the conference at Bar-Ilan University which is the last in a series of conferences during 2006 in Arendt’s honor gives us the answer. At Bar-Ilan, Israeli academia has surrendered shamelessly (from its own point of view) to the members of the academic left who have embraced Hannah Arendt in no small degree because of her ability to reject local chauvinism. It is the international rating that decides the issue.
This result can be explained from a different angle. The Israeli academic establishment is willing to conform to the prevailing global approach to Hannah Arendt because her status as an anti-Marxist, anti-Communist theoretician is overwhelmingly more important than her “reservations” regarding Zionism. It will turn out that the disloyal daughter is truly faithful because of her contribution to the “right side” in the battle of civilizations, a contribution that is sorely needed these days.

(1) The rise and fall of the New York intellectuals has been conclusively documented. See Allen Wald (1987) and Frances Stoner Saunders (2000). Irving Kristol, a leading member of the group summed it all up beautifully when he explained that for him there is no difference between the CIA and the Federal Post Office System, except for the tendency in the CIA to be blabber mouths.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Severe Limitations of the NGO Format

Something is wrong. There are more and more organizations on the left. But this plethora of NGO’s does not seem to signify an expansion of action on the left and growing impact on society here in Israel. There are signs that there are other processes at work. The following essay can be seen as an attempt by the writer to set off a serious debate on the organizational paths of the left. (1)

The NGO Format and the Work of the Left
The writer readily admits that he is inspired by an organizational model from the not too distant past. In the broadest sense, progressive content calls for progressive forms of organization. A progressive organization is one in which the exploited, the oppressed and those who have allied themselves with their cause associate for the improvement in their situation. The first requirement is that the group must be independent vis a vis the government and the establishment and able to decide its own policy on the basis of democratic procedure. Its political goals and aims must be expressed openly and it must consider itself free to engage in any lawful activity necessary for the advancement of its declared goals. The group itself provides the main financial support for the work of the organization through dues, contributions and funding campaigns and activities aspiring to create the broadest social network of members and supporters. If it enlists support from outside sources this is done in the name of solidarity. Such support is unconditional and the donors do not presume to supervise or control the organization in any form or fashion. On the contrary, any such attempt or suggestion of control would be considered unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of the group.

This kind of organization that appears so totally utopian in the above description was commonplace in the not so distant past. It was and will be the sign of vibrancy and relevance on the left.

The left in all of its various formations and personifications suffered a serious retreat with the demise of the Soviet Union and other related phenomena. Almost, as if in a parallel development, there was an enormous proliferation of non-governmental organizations, which continues to this very day. Many people saw the appearance of the NGO movement as a satisfactory substitute for the traditional left organizations. Even those who tended to express important reservations were hard pressed to oppose the NGO phenomenon which seemed as a welcome development when so many veteran groups on the left were in a state of retreat and dispersal.

This process also occurred, of course, in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. And the NGO’s in Israel, especially those dealing with subjects and raising demands that are generally considered causes of the left, are the subject of the present inquiry.

I cannot hide my opinion that the NGO operation is a poor substitute for vibrant, fighting organizations of the left. But my skepticism does not change the fact that many fine, wonderful and progressive people who are on the left consider the NGO’s as perfectly valid tools for left wing activity. Therefore, since NGO’s will be around for quite a time and may even be considered the main vehicle for day to day progressive activity, it is time to subject the phenomenon to detailed criticism.

NGO’s: People, Money, Office…Politics
On one end of the scale there are excellent NGO’s, staffed by wonderful and devoted people, who do important work. On the other end, there are also highly problematic NGO outfits, whose output is rather insignificant; the operators have secured their own income and spend their time writing for more grants and composing reports about activities that leave no imprint on the local scene.

Any attempt to create criteria for evaluating the different NGO’s must deal with two central aspects of this kind of organization. External funding is the critical common component of all the groups. This, of course, means that none of the groups is a truly independent entity. Moreover, it is common knowledge that NGO’s are not political and not supposed to participate in politics. They do have political impact but it must be registered under some other the heading of another kind activity such as humanitarian, educational, and advocacy related problems. These limitations on independence and the scope of NGO activity tend to tend to inhibit the action of many NGO’s in times of crisis when the resources of the groups and their membership is critically needed by the community.

Criteria for Evaluating the NGO
The following criteria should be employed in any attempt to evaluate the value and effectiveness of any particular NGO. There are important conceptual and practical differences between NGO’s operating in different fields of activity, so these criteria must be applied with due caution and a readiness for revision. It is hoped that the beginnings of the discussion here will inspire a wider debate among all concerned.

Measurement Is Absolutely Necessary and Always Problematic

We shall proceed in presenting criteria which seem to us central to evaluating the functioning of any NGO group.

People: Membership, Activists, Democracy
Who are the people working out of this NGO? How many non-staff volunteers are involved in the group. Are there members and membership lists? What is the ratio between paid staff members and volunteers? Does the group chart the development of membership and members activities?

The principle that we are trying describe here is very basic:
The main, central and essential goal of the organization should be drawing unorganized individuals into the work of the group. The main work of the staff should be attracting, interesting and helping new/old volunteers carry out the work of the groups.

Membership must be real and must grant real powers in running the organization. People are drawn into the organization in order to further its goals, but they can only sense that the group is their own if they have a genuine democratic role to play in determining policy and how the group functions.

Only the constitution of a clearly-defined membership can avoid the manipulation that comes when it is not clear “who decides.” Regular general meetings of the membership must monitor the work of an elected administration and approve annual reports and [re] elect the leadership.

In summary, the NGO should be devoting its main strength to mobilizing volunteers and empowering them in the administration of the group.

Funding and Staffing
Funding is the heart of NGO activity and its main problem. Obviously, the first duty of any group is to know the identity and the reputation of the funders, since all money is not “kosher.” The next central question is the relation between salaries and operating expenses. If the whole or almost the whole of the budget goes on salaries, then it is obvious that very little efficient work is actually being done. Here, I make the assumption that there is usually a sharp and clear distinction between internal work and work in the field. Simply said, every sustained effort outside of the office is “work in the field” and most of the expenses and most of the time of paid staff and volunteers must be in the field.

The group that wants to believe in its mission should be able to contemplate its continued existence without the bulk of its current funding. The organization should of course work seriously on generating its funds from the conventional sources abroad. But the group must recognize the ever present danger that the means become the goal, and it is the scramble for outside funding which justifies and perpetuates the existence of the organization. Moral and spiritual independence requires of the membership a determination to reach and maintain a modicum of financial and political independence. This spirit is the main guarantee of the group’s ability to transform itself in the face of different circumstances. The central conclusion is that any group worthy of its existence should be devoting serious efforts to local fundraising and covering some part of its budget from “internal sources.” In this respect, it is worth observing that there are many progressive middle class, affluent and even relatively wealthy people who could support progressive activity in the country. It seems that in some ways, the local NGO’s are influenced by the local Israeli mentality which has been conditioned to look abroad for funding without ever looking into its own pockets.

It goes without saying that all financial operations be subject to the most stringent version of regular accounting procedures. The group and its members must be guided by the principle that public funds are sacred and should be treated with a sense of respect.

Is there a policy regarding staffing. One of the danger signals is the existence of one or two “big chiefs” for whom the NGO has become a personal power base. These may be and are usually talented and devoted individuals with a record of devoted service to the goals of the left. But the very fact that it is clear to all concerned that everything rises and falls on the “big chief” means that the NGO is sacrificing, as it were, democracy and values to so-called efficiency. The NGO is usually structured as to become a stronghold for forceful individuals. The problem is that sooner or later this imbalance dis-empowers all others connected to the group. Indeed there is a danger that the NGO reproduces completely (or almost completely) the values and the mechanisms of the society which it is challenging in one form or another. Therefore, policies regarding staff positions, remuneration, work conditions and hiring-firing policies must be declared openly as a basis for the group’s operation.

The Non-NGO’s
It is worth mentioning that even in the period when most groups on the left are NGO’s, the left’s most impressive achievements of come out of groups which are not NGO’s. Women in Black, Yesh Gvul, Ta’ayush, Anarchists Against the Wall, Machsom Watch and the Refusenik movement chose to ignore the “convenience” and the advantages of the NGO’s format. After all is said and done, it is spontaneous moral urgency which is the best motivation for action. The existence of an “office and a staff” and connection with an overseas funding operation, are often an impediment to action.

The Media – Ah, the Media
In a world, where the measurement of effectiveness is indeed difficult and problematic, there is a tendency to over emphasize the importance of media coverage. There is something very ephemeral and even mystifying in counting lines in the press, or seconds on television as proof of effective activity. The point is not that these outlets are not important, but that they can be deceiving and act as a substitute for real action and activity. The tremendous expansion of media outlets has led to a major devaluation in such coverage. Moreover, successful and thoughtful action by the organization can generate coverage without ignoring the most important organizational questions: the educational value, the sense of empowerment, the activization of more and new people.

Respect and Self-Criticism
The writer realizes that he has not dealt with all the important aspects of the question on hand. He also wishes to stress that many devoted and capable people on the left are involved, as a result of circumstances, in NGO work. However, there is also a real danger that for generations to come, the NGO format will appear to be the main or exclusive format for the left’s action. This was and is not true and the main purpose of this article is to remind us that autonomous, independent, politically informed membership-based organization is not a thing of the past, but the hope for the future.

(1) The reader is directed to “The Emergence of a Palestinian Globalized Elite”, Sari Hanafi and Linda Tabar, Muwatin, Jerusalem 2005. See also an important article by Arundhati Roy, Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2006 on problems and limits of NGO’s in third world settings

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Welcome, Welcome to the New Palestinian Government

Welcome, Welcome to the Palestinian Unity Government
The establishment of a united Palestinian government is an important step forward in the battle for Palestinian rights and for a just peace coming as it does when Israel is on the defensive and US policies in the region are in deep trouble. It has been long clear that the Palestinians and the Arab countries are ready for a far-reaching compromise for peace. If there is a chance, at this point, for serious negotiations, it stems from the crisis of Bush’s policies. The area is in turmoil, and US control of the Middle East is on the downgrade. The entire world keeps telling the US government that the tension surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US blanket support for Israel is destroying the last vestiges of US prestige in the region. With the US wallowing in Mesopotamian mud in Iraq, the so-called “moderate” Arab countries are demanding a revision in US policy. Rice is trying to pass off a new round of blather and chatter as the resumption of the ‘peace process’, but more and more nations and countries are losing their patience. Everybody has had enough of the bluff.

The only alternative to the present ugly reality in Israel-Palestine is peace based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. With all the favorable developments surrounding the Saudi initiative, it is far from certain that given the obstacles, the odds are in favor of an early peace. Looking dispassionately at the obstacles to genuine peace, even the most engaged advocate of the two-state solution knows that we are talking about a possibility and not a probability. In any event the current struggle for peace is an important element in the international effort to further isolate and expose Bush and Co.

Many of us were pleased to see Mustafa Bargouti among the ministers in the new Palestinian government. Mustafa Bargouti is well known to the peace camp in Israel and to the friends of peace in the international community. He appears regularly in the international media as an effective and articulate spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. As a rule, Bargouti supports serious dialog between Palestinians and Israeli groups fighting for a just peace. His frequent appearances in important meetings of the protest movement bear witness to his humanist principles. He was absolutely right when he declared on television this week that if Israel really wants peace, all the issues can be solved peacefully within the framework of the two-state solution. If the people of Israel will find a way to overcome the obstacles raised by the Olmert government, peace can be achieved ushering in a period of prosperity and security.

The Contours of the Settlement Were Never Clearer
Though no one can promise that there will indeed be a two state solution, we can say with a reasonable degree of exactness - as a result of contacts over the years and repeated analysis of the real possibilities - what a two state solution would look like. The contours of this very settlement appear in almost identical formulation in a long series of proposals, many of them from authentic Palestinian and Arab sources.

The borders will be determined in accordance with the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed alterations. Obviously, there will be serious bargaining about territorial trade offs. The more reasonable approach suggests that it will be easier to find a fair trade off, close to the 1967 borders, than demanding the evacuation of heavily populated Israeli properties. But the 1967 principle means that the Palestinians will demand and receive territory of equal political and economic value.

Jerusalem will indeed serve as two capitals – Israeli and Palestinian as the Palestinians extend sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods in the city.

There will be a fair and just solution of the refugee problem. The practical translation of this conception, fathered by Yasser Arafat, draws a distinction between the indispensable need for recognizing the rights of the Palestinian refugees on one hand and the implementation, of those rights on the other hand - which will take into account Israeli demographic concerns. The Palestinians can and will demand serious damages and large scale compensation, which is all the more reasonable since repatriation to Israel will be possible only in a small minority of cases. Financial compensation, citizenship rights, recovery of property, choice of domicile, limited repatriation, and subsidized emigration opportunities can go a long way towards a serious improvement in the life of each and every refugee family, though they may not meet the criteria of absolute justice. It is right and just that any responsible Arab negotiator will put the moral demand for repatriation on the table. It will remain there until it is replaced by a serious international material and moral commitment to the welfare of the refugees and a modicum of Israeli cooperation is ensured. At that point it will be possible to enable the mechanics of compromise to do their work.

The New Utopians
Sadly enough, the Israeli ruling circles have recklessly undermined Israel’s moral right to existence. But this does not mean that Israel is on the verge of collapse. Any orientation on swift and just revenge for the crimes against the Palestinians would be politically foolhardy and morally problematic, since it would be quite unhelpful to insist that the Israeli people pay for the miserable policies of their leaders. In all likelihood, the armed conflict must and can end before Israel fully understands the nature of its crimes and mistakes.

It must be understood that we are still very much in the era of practical solutions (with all their limitations) to burning problems and still searching for ways to shorten the duration of human suffering. In case the advocates of the one state solution have not noticed it, we are not in a revolutionary period. We need to pursue the kind of politics which takes into account this reality however unpleasant. Ignoring reality involves immediate and costly failure, and has long ago lost its heroic dimension.

There was a period in which the left did indeed formulate revolutionary policies and slogans for the Middle East. But back then there were some indications that revolutionary ideas and forces were at work in the region. Though these views were based on exaggerated hopes and unrealistic expectations, they did reflect real ideas and forces. They did build on the daily practice of thousands of dedicated activists. The most common slogan on the left back then was the establishment of a single democratic secular socialist state. That slogan back then was infinitely more relevant and achievable than the idea of a single democratic state of Jews and Palestinians in Palestine today. Today, the support for a one- state solution draws its encouragement from the current stalemate and everything it involves. The highly tenuous logic holds that, if the two-state vision is not working, then the potential for a single state solution increases. But there is not the slightest attempt to outline the processes or the actors which will struggle for a single democratic state. Of course, many will admit that “it is a good idea.”

The advocates of the one-state solution usually share with the left a completely totally justified condemnation of the role of the United States and its collusion with Israeli intransigence. However, in the foreseeable future – even envisioning highly positive shifts in the international and regional alignment – there are only two possible states of affairs. The first, and the most likely, is the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This involves constant fluctuations in the levels of tension and repression and periodic wars by Israel to maintain its deterrent capacity and to prevent slippage in the existing balance of forces with the ongoing danger of a general catastrophe. The second is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside of Israel.

In passing, it is relevant to notice that what we have today is a one-state affair. Israel continues to integrate the occupied territories through Israeli settlement efforts and reinforces it grip on the remains of the Palestinian economy. Given favorable circumstances, Israel is always on the look out for expanding absorption of Palestinians into the Israeli labor force. Of course, it is also highly important that both peoples are clearly locked into the idea of an independent sovereign state.

Only one ideological approach can justify principled opposition to a two state solution: the classic position of Palestinian nationalism (which, of course, is in no way morally inferior to Jewish nationalism). The classic position of Palestinian nationalism is that Palestine is an Arab country and must be the exclusive basis for the self determination of the Palestinian people. This is a principled and coherent position and accepting a deal for anything less, which seals off the possibility of an Arab state in all of Palestine, is tantamount to treachery. The true nationalist is ready to wait until there is a major reversal in the relations of forces and the important thing, until then, is not to compromise principles.

However, the prevailing experience with all or nothing approaches is that more often then not, you can end up with nothing. This is more than likely here in Palestine where there are a number of processes impacting on the small, tiny territory of Palestine, any of which might cause the final and total collapse of the Palestinian nationalist vision. These include Israelization, Islamicization or Pan-Arabization.

Israelization could conceivably dissect over time and eventually dismember the national movement by a combination of repression, assimilation and expulsion. We see evidence of partial Israeli successes in all these fields.

Islamicization, very much on the rise, has the potential to eliminate all secular, national perspectives. Most devoted Palestinian nationalists see political Islam as more of a danger than an ally. To complete the list of potential disruption of the Palestinian vision, it is necessary not to forget the past. At one point, Pan-Arabism, presently in retreat, almost replaced any special role for Palestine independence.

Of course, the hoped for reversal of fates - the collapse of Israel - might indeed rescue the chances for full Palestinian national liberation. But this involves a rather ironic danger: that the Palestinians find themselves in the role of oppressors of the Jews in the country. There might be some sort of poetic justice in such a reversal of fate. But that kind of role might conceivably be worse for the Palestinians’ national vision than the long night of victimhood in their own land.

We Must Test Our Principles in Real Life
Bush and Cheney are growingly isolated. Forward looking Palestinian policies are contributing to that isolation. Washington is locked on the horns of a dilemma. It can either cooperate in a joint international effort to reduce mounting tension and dangers in the region or it can stall and look for the first opportunity to re-establish unlimited domination by new military expeditions. The old clearly delineated relation of military, economic and political forces is crumbling. It takes a lot of realism in Washington to interiorize the new situation. The US must try and recognize that it has lost “big” in the Middle East and that the only way to prevent further escalation is to deal sincerely with foes and friends. It is to be hoped that at one point the US leading groups will become convinced that accords and agreements based on the new circumstances are preferable to new wild and irresponsible adventures. These are the circumstances that can impart new life into the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Olmert Leads Israel in a Five Front War

Ehud Olmert is leading Israel to the dizzying heights of superpower status and superpower strategy. With one hand tied behind his back (we are referring, of course, to his need to devote his thoughts and energy to repelling the criminal indictments coming his way), Olmert has done, with his “free hand” almost the impossible. It is worth recalling that not so long ago, Israeli military doctrine warned the political echelon about getting into a confrontation on more than one front. Olmert, who already bears direct responsibility for the Lebanon war fiasco last summer, is developing the appetite of a glutton for armed confrontation. In his short premiership, he has gone to war at the drop of a hat and seems to consider it a great success. Why, just last week he told the press that the committee that he had appointed to examine his conduct of the recent war, was totally satisfied by his explanations of his role in the war. With such a success under his belt, no wonder that Olmert has no qualms about leading Israel into a four, or even a five front war.

The Palestinian Front – Two Prongs
The West Bank prong in the war against the Palestinians: almost nightly for the last several months, Israeli army raiders, usually disguised as Arabs, search out and arrest tens of “wanted” (that’s a noun and not an adjective). When this operation goes a bit askew, or meets resistance, then a pogrom ensues. Last month an unsuccessful attempt to arrest a “wanted” in the middle of the day in the middle of the Ramallah market ended in a major shoot- out. When things got hot, the Israelis sent tanks “ablazing” into the center of town to extract their exposed unit.

The Gaza Prong – Israel has recently smashed into the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun in a vain attempt to prevent the dispatch of home-made rockets at the town of Sh’derot (and other communities along the Gaza border). Israel has revved up the tanks for another incursion into the Gaza strip. However, the internecine strife among the Palestinians seems to have convinced the Israelis to hold off because, meanwhile, the Palestinians were doing their work for them. Any alert observer understands that the chances for a major Israeli incursion will multiply if the Palestinians dare to overcome their differences and establish a unity government, as they seem to be doing these days.
Summarizing the Palestinian front – Israel is involved in a two-pronged “low intensity” war, that can intensify any minute, especially in the Gaza area.

Lebanon – New Incursions – New Flare-ups
According to its previous pronouncements, Israel would be in a state of permanent bliss if only the Lebanon army, and not Hezbollah, was arrayed along its northern border. Now it is the Lebanon army and the UNIFIL force that just cannot get it right. Often, in a border incident, its hard to reconstruct exactly what happened. Not this time. Far from denying responsibility for the February 7, 2007 clash, Israel has admitted a recent change in the IDF deployment that caused the incident with the Lebanese army.

“An IDF force crossed over the fence yesterday evening near the border in the area where four Hezbollah explosive devices were found at the beginning of the week. This is an area where the international border is tens of meters north of the fence. The fence and the border are not identical and there are small plots of land between them. The IDF has recently changed its policy and it now examines plots north of the fence… An infantry force accompanied by two bulldozers entered the area to see if there are any explosive devices and to level the area. Tanks backed up the force from south of the fence.” (Ha’aretz, February 8, 2007) The following morning, Israeli aircraft were swarming all over southern Lebanon. The Israeli version is that the IDF is very concerned about the four explosive devices lying there in the mud. This is hard to believe since the info is that they may have been residue from the last war…

Summary of the Lebanon front
Israel sees itself in a critical ongoing conflict with Hezbollah. Many in the government and the army see the present period as only an interlude between rounds. But if anyone, including the Lebanon army, gets in the way, Israel responds with military force. Israel is also poised to respond militarily against any Hezbollah gains in internal Lebanese politics. There is no peace and growing tension on the Lebanese front.

Iran in the Cross-Hairs
Israel is very open about its intentions regarding Iran. Israel is not willing to forfeit its nuclear monopoly in the region. Aided in no small degree by Ahmadinajad’s provocative declarations, Israel has become Bush’s chief co-conspirator. The two connive and threaten, and the only disagreement is “who goes first.” At any rate, whether the coming war is a Bush-Israel or an Israel-Bush operation, the Iranian front is militarily the most serious of all the fronts. s Israel is more and more convinced that returning Iran to the Shah-like control is the key to eternal stability in the ME. In short, the Bush-Israel pair is in dire straits and has come to believe that war is the only way out.
In summary: Israel is in the vanguard of the forces pushing for regional conflagration, another major front.

The Syrian Front – Getting Warmer
Admittedly, the preparation for war on this front is less in the news. But most of the past and present generals (quite a sizeable population, in themselves) never tire of explaining that Lebanon-Syria or Iran-Syria are package deals. Explanations of this kind became urgent because there was some sort of public initiative for negotiations with Syria, based on reports of serious Syrian overtures. Rice did not have to exert herself too much explain to Olmert that negotiations with Syria are a Baker-Hamilton plot, to be avoided like the plague.

Declaring War on the Islam World
The Israeli government can argue till it is blue in the face that the new excavations near the Temple Mount and in the vicinity of the Al Aqsa Mosque are an innocent engineering and archeological operation to replace a dangerous structure. Ha’aretz represents Israeli paranoia in arguing that the approach to the Mograbi entrance is a “crucial Israeli interest.”

But this is a crude and cynical provocation designed to show everyone that it is Israel which is the sole arbiter of all matters connected to the holy sites and that Israel does not need to consult anyone regarding its actions. The act is so flagrant and the timing is so irresponsible that Israel’s Security Minister, Peretz, has demanded that Olmert stop the operation immediately for fear of escalation and deterioration in the security situation (Ha’aretz, February 8, 2007).
Are we a bunch of “nervous Nellys” because we are uncomfortable and challenge the wisdom of involving Israel in a five front war. It is more likely that we are not hysterical at all but rightly concerned that we are in the hands of idiots and/or madmen (cross out one or leave both in).