Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One Day In the State of the Jewish People, a "Light Unto the Nations"

       What can be said any longer about Israel's occupation and repression of the Palestinians?  What may still be less known is the extent to which the poison of the occupation has inevitably and inexorably spread into Israel itself, into its political system and throughout its society and its institutions.  Read Haaretz for a couple of weeks, and you will learn about the rapid growth of domestic Israeli authoritarianism, violence, racism, religious fanaticism, various forms of corruption and criminality, attacks on dissent, civil liberties and the judicial system, the accelerating decline in liberal and scientific education--and more.

      For example, here are the headlines, summaries, and a few quotations from news stories and commentaries in just one day's edition of Haaretz (November 30, 2011):

"IDF freezes implementation of report calling for gender equality"  "Publicly, the IDF announced support for recommendations drafted by special military committee, but in practice it has done very little to implement them....[because of] the religious establishment's opposition."

Sefi Rachlevsky:
"It's not for nothing that several leading rabbis prefer a firing squad than hearing women sing. From Jewish law they draw the assertion that the most severe of all transgressions is the useless spilling of seed. This is compared to murdering one's children...The demons responsible for tragedies are born from Jewish seed that was wasted. This is the reason for the hiding and silencing of women, so as not to excite the men, which might lead to improper ejaculation." 

"Those who believe this are not a fringe group. Nearly 53 percent of first-graders classified as Jews now study in religious and ultra-Orthodox schools, and the prevailing theology in most of them teach these things as fact."

"NGOs say Police Ignoring Sinai Human Smugglers' Accomplices in Israel." "Organizations say smugglers have contacts in Israel demanding ransom payments by relatives and friends in Israel to free fellow migrants from Sinai detention camps.  Hundreds of would be migrants seeking to make their way to Israel are being held by smugglers in Sinai. Some have been the targets of extreme violence....In a report on the problem issued earlier this year based on the testimony of migrants who had made it to Israel last year: According to some of the testimonies, several victims were either murdered by the traffickers or were starved to death. 18 men were forced into slave labor.... The victims report not just physical abuse, but also psychological torture and humiliation. ... Seven of the victims reported that the traffickers threatened to sell their organs for transplant. The police have not responded to Haaretz's request for a response."

"Ground Breaking survey shows 1 in 5 Israelis don't have enough to eat."  Income of 19-20 percent of the families places them under the poverty line.
"Report Offers Chilling View of Israel's Working Poor." "More than half of the poor families in Israel have jobs, and that number has increased in recent years...[but] poverty among working families has deepened.  Couples with more than two children will also be unable to escape poverty, even if both parents work - one full time and the other part-time - and receive minimum wage."   [According to one worker about to lose his home]: "It's something that's happening all over Israel, not just here. It feels like the state is giving up on people. They gave up on me."
"'Talkback law' passes first reading in Knesset." Under the bill, Internet service providers could be forced to reveal the identity of the author of the offending content.

Zvi Bar-el: "Israel's take on Arab Spring may undo peace with Egypt."  "The way of life in the Arab countries does not interest Israel.  Peace, in its Israeli version, is made with leaders, preferably autocratic ones, and not with peoples. The leaders, so it is believed, will force the people to love Israel [despite] Israel's policy in Jerusalem and the territories.  If Israel wishes to 'warm up" the peace, [demonstrators said], it will have to pay the price in Palestinian coin.  This was not an "Islamist" demand....those who made this demand were completely secular.  As usual, Israel is beginning to get ready the no-Egyptian-partner. He will be an Islamist, radical and anti-Semitic, who does not understand the doctrine of winking that Mubarak employed. Because of this no-partner, peace will collapse. After all, everyone understands what an Islamist threat is."

"How Israel stigmatizes and mistreats AIDS sufferers."  "While AIDS sufferers in the West are treated with miracle drugs and can live normal lives, in Israel, those with the disease are stigmatized and given medicines that don't work. While until three years ago it was possible to say that Israel stood at the forefront of science and treatment, I am sorry to say today that this is no longer true. And since AIDS patients in Israel are anonymous, they will not go out into the streets and won't erect protest tents. It is our obligation as human beings, as a country, to change this policy. As Nelson Mandela said, our approach to AIDS reflects who we are as people."  (Dr. Itzhak Levi, Chairman of the Israeli Association for AIDS Medicine and director of the AIDS and sexually transmitted disease clinic at the Sheba Medical Center.)


One day's stories.  I must admit I have been a "liberal Zionist," a supporter of the right and possible need for the Jewish people to have their own state.  Just not this one.  Can we start again?


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Israeli Threat To Attack Iran: Will Obama Capitulate To That, As Well?

Avner Cohen is an Israeli political scientist, currently at the Monterey Institute of International Affairs.   He is considered to be the world's foremost expert on the Israeli nuclear program.  His work is so accurate and authoritative, in fact, that he has come close to being arrested when returning to Israel.

Cohen has an extremely important column in the November 13 issue of Haaretz, in which he demolishes the myth that the Israeli
attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981 was a success, let alone that it should serve as a model for a similar attack on the Iranian nuclear program. (His article can be read at

Cohen demonstrates that even the 1981 Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor was strongly opposed by many of Israel's top military and intelligence officials, who in fact--despite the widespread view to the contrary--were proven right.  That is, while the attack seemed at the time to be a "success," in fact the consequence was that Saddam Hussein redoubled his efforts to get nuclear weapons, hid most of the program underground, and was on the verge of producing nuclear weapons until the 1991 Gulf war essentially ended the Iraqi program. 

      An Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear program, even if the United States joined it--which seems (let us hope) inconceivable--would have even less chance of succeeding in disarming Iran, and would be far more likely to result in catastrophic consequences for Israel and perhaps the entire region; indeed it cannot be ruled out that Iran would find a way to attack our own country.

       Almost certainly the primary purpose of the Iranian nuclear program is deterrence, not aggression--as has been the case for every other nuclear state.   There is not the slightest evidence to support the supposed Israeli fear that, out of the blue, Iran would launch a nuclear strike against Israel--in the full knowledge that the entire country would be literally annihilated by Israeli nuclear retaliation.  

       The supposedly more worrisome problem is that Iran might covertly give nuclear weapons to terrorists, who might believe they could use them against Israel and escape retaliation, as it might not be clear who originated the attack and where it came from.   However, that possibility is remote, since Iran would have to assume that it would be blamed for any nuclear attack on Israel and would be destroyed in retaliation--even if it hadn't been the source of the attack.

      No doubt in part for similar reasons, to the best of our knowledge no nuclear power has ever given nuclear weapons to terrorist groups--not even the most extremist or supposedly the least rational states, like North Korea and Pakistan.  Still, however remote the possibility, it is sufficiently worrisome to make serious efforts to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, as in fact the world is doing now--but almost no military experts, including most of Israel's own top intelligence and military officials, believe that a military attack has any chance of meaningful success.

In that light, one would assume--or would like to assume--that the current Israeli threats are bluffs, designed to induce the international community to step up economic sanctions against Iraq.  Nonetheless, the level of Israeli irrationality, as demonstrated on an almost daily basis, is so deep that nothing can be taken for granted. 

Obama must be told that no matter how far he is prepared to go in capitulating to Israeli madness, he cannot put at risk our own national security.  A simple but blunt statement by the president that Israel must in no circumstances attack Iran would almost surely prevent it from doing so. 

Obama has an absolute obligation to act--and right now.

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Embarrassing Error

Oh, boy (oy), am I embarrassed.  In listing Israel's immediate neighbors, I forgot to mention Syria!  I'd like to think of it as an occupational hazard of trying to rapidly respond to breaking events, like the Goldstone oped.

Anyway, it was not because mentioning Syria would have undercut my point that its neighbors not only recognize Israel's "existence," but want peace with it. On the contrary: regardless of the Asad family's domestic repression, both father and son have long sought a settlement with Israel, including full normalization of relations with it.  It is Israel that has repeatedly rejected such a settlement, even though its own military leaders, including plenty of hardliners, have repeatedly said that the settlement that would be acceptable to Syria was also in Israel's national interest.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Not as Bad as South Africa? Richard Goldstone’s Defense of Israel

As disingenuous and pernicious as was Richard Goldstone’s previous Washington Post oped, in which he essentially retracted the Goldstone Report’s fully-substantiated finding that Israel committed war crimes in its attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, yesterday’s NY Times oped is perhaps even worse. Goldstone writes that to characterize Israel’s policies as “apartheid” is an “unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel,” one among other “assaults that aim to isolate, demonize, and delegitimize” Israel.

Other commentators have pointed out that the characterization of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians as one of apartheid is now quite common among serious observers--definitely including Israel’s own dissenters, including among many others Haaretz, Israel’s most prestigious newspaper and B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organization. What is even more striking, however, is that both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak—neither of whom are likely to be accused of seeking to delegitimize Israel—have also warned, in just that language, that Israel is on the road to apartheid.

Even so, Goldstone’s defense against the apartheid charge must be examined on its merits. Goldstone wishes to distinguish between Israel’s policies within its own borders, towards the Israeli Arabs, and its policies in the occupied territories. Inside Israel, he asserts, “there is no apartheid,” and “nothing there comes close” to the international legal definition of apartheid: “systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group…”

True, the situation of the Israeli Arabs is not nearly so bad as that of the South African black population under apartheid—but (as others have pointed out) the argument is a straw man, since few if any serious critics of Israel have claimed that its policies and behavior towards its own Arab minority—as opposed to those in the occupied territories—is equivalent to apartheid. Nonetheless, while Goldstone concedes that there is too much “de facto separation" between the Jewish and Arab populations, and some Israeli “discrimination,” he ignores the proven facts that the Israeli Arabs are distinctly second-class citizens, systematically denied equal economic, social, cultural, and increasingly even legal rights.

“The situation in the West Bank is more complex,” Goldstone allows, but—and this he obviously believes is his trump card—“there is no intent to maintain an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group” (my emphasis), a “critical distinction” in Goldstone’s view, because “South Africa’s enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority,” whereas “by contrast, Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.”

Here and elsewhere, close attention must be paid to Goldstone’s language: characteristically he asserts something that is clearly designed to give a certain impression, but at the same time, if read literally and the ambiguities are ignored, might provide him with an out when he is challenged on the facts, allowing him to claim he has been misunderstood.

In the first place, one may suspect that Goldstone's emphasis on the racial component of apartheid--as opposed to systematic oppression that may not be essentially racial in intention--is designed to support the argument that Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians does not constitute apartheid.  Even if not, of course, it doesn't necessarily follow that Israeli oppression is less onerous than was that of South Africa--or indeed, even worse, as a number of former South African antiapartheid activists have written. 

Perhaps my suspicion of Goldstone's true intentions in this case is mistaken--but surely not in other cases.  For example, consider again Goldstone's bald statement that “Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters”--a perfect example of a statement that is literally true but in all essentials a lie. Yes, Israel has agreed to the “concept” of a two-state settlement, but as every serious observer of the conflict understands, not the reality. Further, of course, the statement is clearly designed to convey the impression that it is only the Palestinian refusal to negotiate that is blocking a settlement—another lie embedded in a perhaps technically and narrowly true statement.

In another example of Goldstone’s polemical techniques, he writes: “The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to refute it to minimize unreasonable hardship.” You almost have to admire the technique, for in one literally true statement it tells three lies.

First, as everyone knows, another and probably the main purpose of the “security barrier” was to grab more Palestinian land and to protect the illegal Jewish settlements beyond Israel’s accepted boundaries. Second, if the Supreme Court “in many cases” ordered a change in the route of the barriers, it follows that in other cases--probably most other cases--it has refused to do so. Third, in any event the Israeli government and military have often ignored Supreme Court rulings or "interpreted" them in such a way as to essentially defeat their purpose.

In characterizing the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Goldstone also makes technically true statements that nonetheless embody false symmetries and conceal the real truths. For example, he characterizes the conflict as one in which there “are claims and counterclaims,” where “attacks on one side are met by counterattacks from the other,” where there is “hostility and suspicion on both sides,” and in which Israel “sees” its behavior as “necessary for self-defense,” whereas the Palestinians “feel” oppressed. No realities then—no Israeli oppression, no Palestinian victimization, just conflicting perceptions.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, Goldstone clearly wishes to provide an excuse for Israel's occupation and repression of the Palestinians when he writes that "Israel, unique among democracies, has been in a state of war with many of its neighbors who refuse to accept its existence.  Note that he doesn't say that Israel "is" in a state of war, just that it "has been;" yet he says Israel's neighbors "refuse"--as opposed to "refused"--to accept its existence.  The characteristic trickery is obvious: if he had put everything in the past tense, that would lead to the conclusion that Israel would no longer have any excuses—even assuming that in the past it had--for its occupation and repression of the Palestinians. So, there's scarcely any doubt that Goldstone once again is being deliberately
misleading---and that's a polite way of putting it.

Surely Goldstone knows the facts. Israel's closest neighbors are Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. The Israeli-Egyptian conflict ended
with the 1979 peace settlement, and the Israeli-Jordanian conflict ended in 1994--in any case, both conflicts were not primarily over any refusal
to accept Israel's existence. For the last thirty years, Saudi Arabia has been attempting to settle the overall Arab-Israeli conflict on terms which not only fully accept the "existence" of Israel but call for full normalization of diplomatic and economic relations between Israel and
the Arab world--and all 20 states of the Arab League are now on record as supporting the Saudi plan. As for Lebanon, of course it is Israel
which has engaged in repeated massive attacks on that country, not the other way around.

In short, other than Iran every state in the entire
Middle East region now accepts the existence of Israel, and to the extent that Arab-Israeli conflict remains, it is overwhelming a consequence of
Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians.