Thursday, December 31, 2009

Burston FTW*

To end the year on a satirical note, one can always count on Bradley Burston from Haaretz. This editorial on the Gaza siege says it all. Overall, the negative effects of the siege far outweigh the benefits. A strategy of COIN-inspired engagement would be much more effective at increasing Israeli security while also providing Palestinians with their basic needs. Hopefully the coming decade will see more effective policy making on this issue, and on the Israeli-Arab conflict as a whole.

Here's to a peaceful and secure 2010.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Carlo Strenger's op-ed says it all. Settlers comparing themselves to Rosa Parks? Talk about the twisted prism of the Middle East. I can empathize with the original writer that being forcibly displaced from historically Jewish land is difficult in the physical and spiritual senses alike, but that's a far cry from Rosa Parks. Strenger's treatment of this ridiculous op-ed is surprisingly fair. The original op-ed itself just illustrates the depth of the Israeli right's psychosis of self-victimization. It's a far cry from the roots of Zionism, which do not emphasize victimhood but rather pragmatic and practical action.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why Israel Should Conclude the Prisoner Swap for Gilad Shalit

There is one thing for certain in the negotiations over Gilad Shalit. If Israel does not return him in this round of negotiations, he is likely to die in captivity.

Prime Minister Netanyahu faces a difficult political and moral decision in accepting or rejecting Hamas' terms for the deal. Khaled Meshal, Hamas' leader, has signed off on these demands meaning that they are being taken seriously by senior levels in the Hamas chain of command. But for Netanyahu, the decision is between saving one soldier and putting others at risk. It is between bowing to the demands of a terrorist group responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent Israelis, and taking a necessary step to bringing this horrible saga to a conclusion.

President Netanyahu, I urge you to accept the deal with Hamas. Israel has already demonstrated that it will release prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two soldiers. The line of deterrence is already crossed. It was crossed in the early days of the war when negotiations were driven by the myopia of leaders who thought that Israel would always prevail over a smaller sub-state adversary. It was crossed when Samar Kuntar, a vicious terrorist who once smashed a baby girl's head against a rock, was freed in exchange for coffins containing two bodies less than 30 years old.

You did not make these mistakes, yet you have a historic opportunity to begin to heal the damage done to the people of Israel by enforcing the policy of "no soldier left behind." The Shalit family and the people of Israel are counting on you to not make a decision which will appease the far right. This is not the time for political games. If you refuse to make the deal, or intervene to assure its failure, you will be seen as a puppet of the far right in Israel, and your government will suffer a major political setback.

Bringing back Gilad Shalit will solidify your place in Israeli history as a hawk who knows when to be pragmatic. Your conservative views make you the ideal Prime Minister to conclude a deal with Hamas. There is an understanding between you. You have the ability to see this deal through, and bring an Israeli soldier back to his parents.

The eyes of a country are on you Mr. Prime Minister.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Anatomy of a Rumor

This YNetNews article explains everything about today's news that a British court issued, then revoked, an arrest warrant for Opposition Leader MK Tzipi Livni for her role in Operation Cast Lead.

Both the al-Quds al-Arabi and al-Jazeera sites in Arabic have independent articles running the story, although as of 5pm al-Jazeera is running this amended story which says the warrant has been revoked.

al-Quds al-Arabi originally reported (catching the eye of Haaretz) that Livni canceled an appearance at the UK's JNF national conference because a London court had issued an arrest warrant against her. While this turned out to be true, the warrant was later revoked when it became clear that Livni was not actually in the country.

Haaretz is still running the story that the warrant is good, JPost is running the story that it was revoked. Go figure.

To say nothing of the hypocrisy of Britain prosecuting the killing of civilians by other states. Really British court system? Because Britain's sterling record on civilian casualties justifies it going after other countries? I have some ashen human remains in Dresden you should meet sometime.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winning Hearts and Minds on Both Sides

Haaretz ran an article today about settlers who handed out copies of the Qur'an to Palestinians after the mosque attack at the end of last week. No doubt the settler movement could use some good publicity, but the comments made by peace activist Rabbi Menachem Froman sound sincere: "We want to create new conditions between Jews and Arabs. Arson in a mosque is an attempt to sow hatred between Jews and Arabs. Jewish law also prohibits damaging a holy place."

I write often about engaging the moderate Palestinian population but it's important to remember that there is a moderate settler population as well. Supporting efforts like these will be key to reducing the number of radical settlers who resist withdrawal from the West Bank. Moreover, a better relationship between settlers and Palestinians would benefit all parties involved and their various interests.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pollard WTF

Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard criticized Israel's plans to trade prisoners for Gilad Shalit, suggesting instead that Israel execute one prisoner every day until Shalit is freed. His comments were carried by both Haaretz and JPost.

And really, on the issue of executing people who break national and international laws, who better than Jonathan Pollard to set an example? Yet while Pollard asks that those who violate Israeli security be killed, he should be freed. Clearly there's a difference between the national security damage done by terrorists and the damage done by Pollard, but he is hardly a moral authority on the rule of law.

All this is besides the point. Gilad Shalit was a drafted IDF soldier operating inside of Israel. He was attacked in a non-combat situation and dragged across the border into Gaza where he has been held for years without proper access to the basic human rights to which he is entitled. Jonathan Pollard committed espionage against the United States and has been treated completely within the boundaries of humanitarian standards and the American justice system. To even begin to equate himself to Shalit is ridiculous.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Iran Totally Freaks

Today, Iran announced plans to build 10 more nuclear plants in response to impending sanctions from the IAEA. Here's a quick list of reasons this was a bad move on Iran's part.

1) Iran is already being isolated by the international community. Striking from a point of weakness is usually not the best for either international stability or the self interest of the weak state. Threatening to further defy the IAEA only makes Iran's problem worse.

2) Iran doesn't have the capability to build 10 new plants in the 2 month deadline it set for itself (see article). One of the major components of successful deterrence, any Intro to IR student knows, is capability. Iran had to put its money where its mouth was. It seems like it may have put its foot there instead.

3) This knee-jerk reaction demonstrates to the international community that Iran is nervous, meaning it takes the threat of sanctions seriously. Policy debates here in Washington have often focused on what carrots and sticks the West actually has on this issue. Iran's empty threat shows that sanctions are likely to alter Iran's behavior. In other words: we found a stick.

4) Big changes at the end of a tedious power-balancing process are very dangerous. In the Middle East especially, they tend to predicate armed conflict. Recall Nasser's nationalizing the Suez Canal or Hizbullah capturing two Israeli soldiers.

You'll note in both of these cases, Israel was the party to respond with military force. This situation is no different. Israel has a very fine red line, and once it crosses it military action happens, regardless of international pressure. Making statements about quickly and vastly expanding your nuclear program is a sure-fire way to find your state on the wrong side of that red line. In taking such drastic action, Iran dramatically raised the stakes for an armed confrontation with Israel.

[I should qualify by saying that because the US urged Israel to give sanctions a shot, and they seem to be working, Israel is ultimately not likely to use this development as a justification to attack Iran. But Iran almost certainly did not consider its point in its value calculus because its threat was a brink statement not aimed at Israel specifically.]

The ultimate outcome of Iran's nuclear program still remains to be seen. Sanctions are an effective threat but they also must be leveraged effectively. But today's event illustrates that the U.S. and the West have some hope of being able to resolve the issue non-militarily, which will be uplifting in the wake of President Obama's speech on Afghanistan tomorrow night. Don't forget to tune in.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bibi's Thanksgiving Treat

At 7:30pm local time, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced an 11-1 vote by his cabinet to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank. The freeze will not include Jerusalem, and will expire in 10 months.

The freeze, while incomplete, is a significant signal from the Netanyahu administration that it is ready to align itself closer to U.S. policy. While Netanyahu has successfully waited out the clock on Obama, the U.S. would do well to tout this as a victory and begin to apply pressure on the Palestinians. Glossing over Salam Fayed's preemptive comments that the freeze wasn't good enough, the U.S. should now begin exerting pressure on the Palestinian leadership. Netanyahu has thrown the Obama administration a bone by giving them a chance to move forward from a policy support for a freeze which has had limited success. This time, Obama should know to bid higher and apply more active pressure on the Palestinian leadership.

Specifically, he should focus on the content of Palestinian textbooks. Omissions of the Holocaust and gross mis-characterizations of the Jews are far more counterproductive to peace than settlements, and changing their content could be done using international funds and without compromising the Palestinian identity. Yet, creating a more historically accurate Palestinian curriculum would be a significant win for Israel on an issue on which the Palestinians are clearly in the wrong.

Yet, the U.S. must be careful not to let a Palestinian PM candidate use U.S. demands in the same way Netanyahu did, building a constituency at the expense of U.S. interests. Abbas will try to leverage his decision to not run for PM against any U.S. demands, and the American administration must be careful about letting things stall as they did this time. The next round of pressure will be a test of whether or not the Obama administration has learned from its mistakes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cynicism for a Tuesday

Comedian Ray Hanania's Jerusalem Post editorial about his "candidacy" for the PA is a perfect example of the wonderland that the Middle East can be sometimes.

The past week has seen threats, taken seriously by the West, that PA president Mahmoud Abbas would resign. Then, in response to Israeli indignation over the ordeal, Salam Fayad threatened...a state. Despite a Palestinian state being part of the Israeli position in negotiations, Israel not only took the threat seriously but criticized the plan, under which Palestinians would take responsibility for national sovereignty, security, and their economy. Which is exactly what Israel would have wanted them to do in an ideal world anyway. Except not actually because Israel wants some control. But not so much that they couldn't have just called the Palestinian's bluff on this one.

The article actually has nothing to do with this whole ordeal, but it mirrors the same kind of craziness the whole mess represents. Despite being from an American Palestinian comedian, the article is more moderate, pragmatic, and well-reasoned than 99% of discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Which of course means it's ludicrous anti-Israel screed in the eyes of the talkbackers, who levy all sorts of ideological assaults upon the peace plan which was not only a) written by a comedian but b) is actually pretty moderate and based on the accepted positions of most governments in the world. What kind of situation has the conflict in the Middle East become when a unilaterally declared Palestinian state is a threat, and the best peace plans come from the comedians, who are then criticized not for being comedians but for being reasonable?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quick Iran note

Israel's seizure of an Iranian shipment of weapons to Hizbullah is likely to put further pressure on Iran as it continues negotiations with the P5+1 over the country's nuclear program. Combined with today's protests marking the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Iran, the government has looked fairly weak. It remains to be seen, however, if the West will be able to wield enough leverage over Iran to hash out a deal which is reasonable to both sides.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Quick Clinton notes

Quick thoughts:

Sending Clinton to Israel is an excellent move by the Obama administration. She's higher ranking than Mitchell and she carries credibility and pro-Israel presumption. She also signals that the settlement freeze is a priority for the Obama administration. Clinton is now getting grief from the Arab states for supporting what they feel are inconsistent concessions, but this is pretty clearly for political purposes rather then out of a genuine feeling that the U.S. is selling out the Arab world. At this point it's unrealistic to think there will be a total settlement freeze, at least without any Palestinian concession, but to the extent that progress is possible, Clinton is doing a pretty good job.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

OMG a post NOT about J Street!

"The attacks in Baghdad this past Sunday, October 25, illustrate the challenges of creating an indigenous security force which can effectively address threats that face its state, particularly threat from insurgents who are willing to conduct large-scale, indiscriminate attacks against civilian targets."

Wow, what an insightful well reasoned thought out point. I definitely definitely could not possibly have written the article that is linked below as your thank-goodness-he's-not-blabbing-about-J Street post for the week:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

J Street Conference: Report 2

This article by Haaretz's Natasha Mozgovaya is a very fair analysis of the conference, and I agree with a lot of her points.

The report left off yesterday at the Rockin' the Status Quo party, which mostly turned out to be a few young people and more older people on a dance floor. But it seems that an analysis of the event might be more worthwhile.

I liked the energy and potential of the conference. The pro-Israel left certainly was happy to have a voice in J Street, and the conference had a heavy media attendance (at least two long tables at the opening event). Many of the panelists were true experts in their fields, and the prescence of National Security Advisor James Jones speaks to the influence the group has in Washington.

That being said, what I didn't like was the consituency. In order to garner public support and grassroots networks, the generally centrist/left-of-center J Street co-sponsored the conference with a number of legitimate but far left groups such as Peace Now and Settlement Watch. While all points of view have their place in the debate, the conference included a number of speakers who clearly were not criticizing Israel for the sake of improving it. Bassim Khoury, a minister in the Palestinian authority, went so far as to classify the political spectrum not as "right and left" but "right and wrong," to approval from the audience. As disrespectful as his presentation was for a pro-Israel conference, the audience tended to clap far more for left-wing statements than right-wing or centrist statements. While it's important for J Street to have nuance, that nuance must span the political spectrum, and not just between center-left and far-left.

There's a reason those who sit on the far left do not have a strong voice in Washington, which is because they are a minority. J Street's aim is to be able to be effective in Washington, which requires centrism and compromise. Having been to J Street events in the nation's capital, its almost as if there's J Street inside D.C., and J Street outside D.C. The group's director, Jeremy Ben Ami, said that he hoped he would be criticized from the far left. This will require taking a much more centrist approach in the future, and not being afraid of alienating some of J Street's current friends.

That being said, it seems Ms. Mozgovaya and I were not the only ones concerned. I spoke with other participants at the conference who expressed similar sentiments. One issue seems to be that many constituents come from a Jewish activist background rather than a policy background. Looking to balance these two networks would be a really good way to appear more mainstream and attract more credibility as an authority on America-Israel affairs.

Now that the group has had its first successful conference, the real work of changing policy can begin. While the overall slant of the conference and its attendees was troubling, I have faith that the organization is acting deliberately and will be a constructive actor in policy debates to come.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

J Street Conference: Report 1

The J Street conference is ongoing in downtown Washington, D.C. Entering the hotel Sunday night, I saw only 2 protesters, one of whom was dressed in traditional Arab clothing for some reason. Inside the hotel were swarms of people wearing the J Street lanyard and identification tags. The crowd assembled was extremely diverse, spanning all age ranges and originating from all parts of the country and around the world. I spoke to two graduate students at Georgetown University about their involvement with the conference, and sat at the opening event next to a British member of the Liberal Jewish movement, who had been sent to the conference to report on the state of progressive Judaism in the U.S.

The opening event itself was headlined by Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's director, who was followed by the new New Israel Fund director Daniel Sokatch. Both spoke to themes of changing the status quo. Ben Ami spoke extensively about the way in which J Street was an "umbrella organization" emphasizing his desire to "widen the tent of pro-Israel activism."

Sokatch spoke about the traditional sidelining of the progressive left on Israel. He mentioned links to Jewish values and a "Yom Kippur" style approach.

The event then featured three discussants for the evening including a young woman, a college intern, and a rabbi who spoke far too long.

Then the tables were urged to discuss questions which had been left on the table. In a show of J Street's prowess in social media and Web 2.0, participants could twitter their comments to the central display in the auditorium.

Ben Ami concluded the event with a rousing speech arguing that "Progressive is the mainstream."

The crowd at the event came from a variety of different backgrounds, which was evident by certain camps clapping at certain statements. Overall the crowd learned very activist liberal (not suprisingly) and young and old were disproportionately represented compared to middle aged. The breakdown appeared to be roughtly 30% college students/young professionals, 20% mid-career professionals and organizational representatives, and 40% activist liberal progressive Jews who were at least in their mid to late 50's.

The diversity of the crowd illustrates one of J Streets future challenges which the conference made evident. The group has a lof of different age groups who all have lots of different opinions. One of my colleagues at the conference expressed suprise that there were so few policy and security-focused people. Unlike AIPAC which specifically holds a "policy conference," the tone of J Street's event was much more "Jewish" to judge from the type of people who attended.

In a suprise event which was exciting only to me, halfway through the conference, former Minister of Defense Amir Peretz walked into the room. He is known for his charcteristic moustache, and stoood out a mile away.

More updates and analysis tomorrow.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

J Street Conference Update

Discussion continues at this hour at the Grand Hyatt hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. Today's opening session of the J Street conference was a strong start to what is sure to be a dynamic few days. My full post will appear in a few days, but highlights from tonight include:

1) Speeches from J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami and New Israel Fund Leader Daniel Sokatch.
2) Discussion groups with twitter being used to post responses to discussion questions.
3) Video about Israel featuring a side view of Yours Truly in the background.
3) Seeing former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose mustache identifies him from a mile away.

I may attend the event tomorrow night as well, but updates and analysis will follow in the next few days.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Blogging on J Street Conference

The Confused Sheikh is planning to attend the first part of the J Street conference (he will not attend the rest due to a prior engagement at one might call his "job." Expect a full report in the early days of next week.

Until then, check out this interview by Jeffrey Goldberg of J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. No doubt, the next few days are going to be interesting, full of controversy, and a historic point in American Jewish history.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why Oren SHOULD Have Spoken at J Street

Yesterday's post was an analysis of why Ambassador Oren has chosen not to attend J Street's upcoming conference. In that post I wrote about why he likely decided not to. This post is about why he should have.

It's clear that Ambassador Oren had good reasons for not attending the upcoming J Street conference, much to their dismay. That being said, coming to the conference would have had several benefits for Israel and for the Israeli embassy.

1) Coming to the conference would have been good power politics. Not going to the conference shows that the Israeli government is afraid to take J Street head on. Going to the conference would have been a strong sign of confidence, and giving an Obama-at-Notre-Dame style speech would have been even a stronger sign. It would also have demonstrated that J Street was not so salient or controversial that it was a threat to the unity the traditional right wing groups are concerned about. By not participating, it looks like the government is scared to deal with the group, which itself represents a fractured American Jewish pro-Israel community.

2) Oren's participation in the conference would have created a positive relationship between J Street and the Israeli Embassy. Alliances work both ways, and while ideologically the two may differ, all politics is personal. A J Street staff who knows and likes the Israeli embassy staff is much more likely to make less confrontational statements than a staff who is at odds with the embassy.

3) Ambassador Oren made a safe decision. However, the decisions that will make a difference in the long term for Israel are the risky decisions. Whether the choice to invade Egypt preemptively in 1967, extradite Eichmann to Israel, or sign the 1979 Camp David accords, success for Israel has often required taking risks for peace and security. That Oren will not participate in the conference shows that Israel is erring on the side of caution and inaction when the window to act is closing.

Participation in the conference would have demonstrated that the Israeli government is willing to be as aggressive in peacemaking as it is in warfighting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oren rejects J Street Invite

In an important but not wholly unexpected move, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren will not attend the J Street conference this weekend but will instead send a lower-ranking representative. J Street press spokesperson Amy Spitalnick told Haaretz's Natasha Mozgovaya that J Street is still extending the invitation.

While it is disappointing that the ambassador will not be lending Israeli support to an organization which, despite its center-left tendencies, is still very much pro-Israel, the decision is a safe one for a few reasons.

1) Legitimizing J Street would anger the right wing base in Israel supporting the Netanyahu government. After finally consolidating a constituency in the wake of the Obama settlement fiasco, Netanyahu would be foolish to give that up. And even moderate Israelis are not huge fans of either J Street or the Obama administration.

2) On balance, Oren's attendance would probably be seen as more negative than positive in the American Jewish community. As influential as J Street may be politically, AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents, the ZOA, and other groups still represent a huge constituency in the U.S. Traditional right-wing support for Israel is especially critical to Netanyahu now as he fights a crusade against the fallout from the Goldstone report in the international community. At a time when J Street has more influence over the administration than the ZOA, reassurance and support of these traditional groups from the Israeli government is important.

3) All other considerations aside, J Street represents an organization which, while not anti-Israel, stands against several policies of the current Israeli government. Just as an American ambassador for President Obama would be highly unlikely to speak for an "Israelis for Overturning Roe v. Wade" conference, it is not at all unreasonable that the Israeli government would avoid an organization which very publicly opposes its policies.

Unfortunately, there's a difference between knowing why the decision is a good one and knowing the actual factors that went into making it. While I can speculate that #3 accounted for the vast majority of the ultimate decision, insight into the Israeli decision-making process is hard to come by these days (though evidently would-be spies for the Mossad are not). It would also be interesting to see if Oren would have gone but was held back by the government (he has appeared at several Arab and Muslim events in the DC area). Regardless, this is likely to be only the opening round of a long battle between J Street and the Netanyahu administration, and one which is likely to have a significant, and positive, effect on the US-Israel relationship.

And all of this will not detract from the fact that the J Street conference this weekend will be an important and historic event which is likely lend an unprecedented voice to those who believe in moderate and pragmatic solutions to the Israeli-Arab conflict. I, for one, will see you there.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I had a great post ready for today until I came across this article from Huffington Post about a South Carolina newspaper op-ed referencing Jews getting rich by pinching pennies. The actual editorial is a bit less vitriolic than you might believe from reading the ever-spinning HuffPost, but its pretty unbelievable that an editor would let something like that get published in a paper. Here's to the communicative power of the blogosphere...

"There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves."

- Bamberg County, SC GOP Chairman Edwin Merwin and Orangeburg County, SC GOP Chairman James Ulmer

Friday, October 16, 2009

UN Showdown

The UNHRC passed the measure endorsing the report's findings 21-6-11. The text of the resolution was so biased even Judge Goldstone said he wished the wording had been more impartial.

The resolution itself having no intrinsic value (see previous post), what is interesting is how the votes came down.

In Favor
China Russia
Egypt India
Jordan Pakistan
South Africa Argentina
Bahrain Bangladesh
Bolivia Ghana
Indonesia Djibouti
Liberia Qatar
Senegal Brazil
Mauritius Nicaragua

Interesting stuff:
China, Russia, India, Pakistan: These countries account for a huge percentage of the world population and are the strongest countries besides the United States militarily. This means that for all the talk, the U.S.-Israel alliance isn't going anywhere soon. Israel should be concerned with the fact that the three major Asian powers are allying with the Arab bloc on this issue. While Israel has good ties with Russia and India, especially in defense, it may be useful to take this as a reading on what ultimately is motivating these powers (speculative hint: Price of oil?)


Interesting stuff: Ukraine. The Ukraine has been involved in a few minor spats with Israel over the past few months, leading Haaretz writer Anshel Pfeffer wrote an editorial calling for a boycott of the Ukraine back in February. Yet overall Ukraine-Israel relations have been pretty good, and this may be a small part of a greater attempt by Ukraine to get closer with Israel as a counterbalance to Russia.

Bosnia Burkina-Faso
Cameroon Gabon
Japan Mexico
Norway Belgium
South Korea Slovenia

Not interesting stuff: Norway. This may have something to do with the fact that FM Lieberman recently called Norway anti-semitic. Although to be fair, Norway was honoring a figure with close ties to the Nazi leadership at the time...

Semi-interesting stuff: Japan. A major power that did not align with India/Pak/China, yet also not with the U.S.
Cameroon. Cameroon, which has a 20% Muslim population, and Israel have had relations since 1986 and collaborated on an agricultural project this February.

There is also drama between Egypt and Britian and France over the political gymnastics which preceeded the vote and left both of the European countries off the record.

The vote today was essentially a popularity contest, and Israel definitely lost. But it is at least useful to see what international cliques are forming around Israel, and to use it as a starting point for discussion. Which allies will Israel need to court? Which are irrelevant? Which will never ally with Israel and must be contended with?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Calling a Spade a Spade

Crazy week ---> little posting ---> quick writing ---> poorly nuanced arguments. Feel free to ask for clarification in the comments section.

One point I do want to make quickly is that there is a fine line between holding Israel accountable, and hanging it out to dry. Certainly many people believe Israel was essentially the subject of a witch hunt in the Goldstone Report on Gaza. This idea is arguable for two reasons. Firstly, Goldstone and his team completed as comprehensive a review as they possibly could have. Secondly, the report is available for anyone to read and comment's subject to peer review and the general public gets to react.

The Goldstone report may be partial, but it is not an entirely unfair condemnation of Israeli tactics in operation Cast Lead that violated the law. But continuing to debate this in the U.N. is taking things too far.

The UNHCR resolution to condemn Israel serves no productive purpose whatsoever. It is a purely political tactic designed to energize constituencies in anti-Israel countries, not to advance the cause of human rights. Even if one were to say that Judge Goldstone was unfair, it is difficult to demonstrate that his intentions were blatantly nefarious. However, the proposed resolution and debate on Israel will serve no purpose of human rights. The end result will be to isolate Israel with even less benefit than the Goldstone report. Of course the Goldstone report itself was mandated in political circumstances, but the intent of the committee was accountability, even if in practice their analysis was not even-handed. Playing to politics was a necessary precondition for the report's funding and publication, and overall the findings in it are pretty reasonable.

Conversely, the UNHCR debate wastes the money of U.N. member states on the political viability of leaders who base their popularity on sectarianism and propaganda. It has not even a fringe benefit of accountability, and will end up harming the citizens of the Middle East far more than it will help them.

Accountability works both ways, and it is high time for the UNHRC to demonstrate that it is as impartial a body as would be required for the Goldstone report to retain the less-than-solid integrity on which is is based.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Good News

To be fair, the pages of this blog see a lot of criticism of Israeli policy. So to end the week off on a high note is this article from today's JPost about the efforts of the Israeli police to work with the Negev Bedouin. These efforts are a very positive step for both the police and the Bedouin community. Recruiting Bedouin to the police force puts a local face on authority which means that enforcement of Israeli law will be vastly easier. Also, a police force that has cultural knowledge of the population is much more likely to be able to identify the root causes of illegal activity in the Bedouin community.

For the Bedouin, having a police force that better understands the local population will improve access to the establishment which means that it will be easier to obtain necessary resources for the community. The creation of after-school programs by the police is also a fantastic opportunity to increase Bedouin education, which in the long term is a crucial step to moving the community towards greater integration into the Israeli population.

Finally, as an earlier post this week mentioned, the Israeli-Arab population will be a necessary ally for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of the Bedouin who will be affected by these programs have relatives in Egypt, Gaza, and the West Bank. This means a higher opinion of Israel in the Bedouin community, and better intelligence for Israel.

It is truly refreshing to see that despite riots on the Temple Mount, peace process woes, and high tensions, the Israeli police can work pragmatically to create a win-win situation for themselves as the Israeli establishment, and the Negev Bedouin as a minority rights-deprived population. Hopefully the initiative will receive the necessary funding and can become a model for programs elsewhere in Israel.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Islamic Movement

Dan Izenberg has an interesting article on JPost today about the legality of the Islamic movement. Having done research into the movement as part of my senior thesis, I agree that the issue is very complex. Firstly, there is a schism in the movement between the more moderate political side (which actively participates in the Knesset), and the more radical side which is responsible for irritating Palestinian and Israeli-Arab sentiments over the Temple Mount last weekend. The group has not, technically, endorsed violence, but there have been cases in which one could tie the Islamic movement to acts of violence. And there's always a fine line between inculcation and incitement.

That being said, the Islamic movement, like many other radical Islamic groups, promotes itself through providing social services. Many mosques are paid for by the movement, and the Israeli Negev Bedouin can in fact get scholarships to attend school from the movement.

The solution here is clearly not military, but it ties into the more militaristic tactics Israel may have to use in the West Bank. By engaging with the Israeli-Arab community and limiting the Arab public's necessity for an Islamic Movement, Israel would be much more successful at lmiting the risk of terrorism. By arresting Ra'ad Salah, the movement's leader (he was later released and banned from Jlem for 30 days), Israel is only illustrating the threat he poses, which strengthens him.

The West Bank tie-in is that Israeli-Arabs sit along a very precarious rift in the Middle East. On the one hand they enjoy being Israeli citizens overall. Yet they identify strongly with Palestinians, and face discrimination from Israelis and scorn from non-Israeli Arabs. To win the fight against extremist groups in the Palestinian territories, Israel will have to show that in can respect Arabs. At the start this will mean the Israeli-Arab community.

Monday, October 5, 2009

British MP on being pro-Israel

David Cairns, British MP, posts this editorial today in JPost. Score one for nuance.

The point of the article is essentially that being pro-Israel and being pro-Israeli policy are two different things. When support of Israel stems from support of liberal democratic policies, one can only go so far if Israel adopts some policies which are not really liberal or democratic in theory or practice.

The editorial is also significant because the majority of diaspora front-breaking we've seen has been from here in the United States. It will be interesting to see how a centrist nuanced pro-Israel movement spreads from here.

Friday, October 2, 2009


This is a really good editorial from today's Jerusalem Post on the Arab sector in Israel. It speaks very well to the issue of winning over a population in a civil, not just a military, sense.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The AJC Survey and Strategic Peacemaking

In a poll just released by the American Jewish Committee, 75% of American Jews polled agreed with the statement "The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel...Only 19 percent disagreed with the above statement." The poll was conducted with 800 respondents and a + or - 3% margin of error, and you can find it here.

On one level, the question itself invites oversimplification. Evidently, "the Arabs" are easily classifiable as one opinion unit. But ought we assume that Egypt and Lebanon have identical policy goals? On a deeper level, should we even assume radical and moderate members of Hamas have the same policy goals? Or a Bedouin sheikh and the son of an Emirati diplomat? And why should either return of territory or Israel's destruction be the only considerable options? Perhaps the goal of the Arabs is to use the Palestinians as a rallying point to maintain regime stability. Or, perhaps the goal is to create a Palestinian identity through the creation of a state. By treating Arabs as if they all have the same thought process, and either concession or destruction as the only options, one can hardly blame 75% of respondents for picking the latter option. In survey research people will answer the question they are given.

Yet the trends indicated by the poll reveal that generally American Jews severely mistrust Arabs (a full 94 percent said "Palestinians should be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement). And it represents the successful framing of the Arab world by various sectors of the Jewish and pro-Israel community as entirely intolerant to the existence of Israel, when the truth is that most entities pragmatically see that Israel is here to stay for the long term. Even Khalid Meshaal, political leader of Hamas, said that the group would accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The fact that a political leader of Hamas is even willing to make this statement is a strong indication of the effect of Israel's military and political vitality on the Arab world. Arabs may not like Israel, but since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, most recognize that it is here to stay, despite what their outdated charters may say.

Yet rather than take advantage of this statement and call Hamas' bluff, Israel, with the support of the American Jewish community, continues to hold the line that Arabs simply do not accept Israel's right to exist. To be sure, many fringe elements in the Middle East hold this position. But when ideological stubbornness costs Israel a strategic opportunity to improve security and human lives, it deserves scrutiny.

Neither the Israeli government, nor the Israel "lobby," nor the American Jews can be blamed solely for a collective inability to grasp the various complexities of the Middle East as they truly are. But each bears the responsibility to move forward from this regrettable condition. For 3000 years, Judaism has been based on nuance and subtlety. It should be these basic values which guide Jews and Israelis forward in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Update: IDF Revisiting standards?

Today's Haaretz article by Amos Harel is a great follow-on to yesterday's post about counter-insurgency policy in the IDF. The story reveals that Israeli Maj. General Amos Yadlin, chief of Military Intelligence, and Tel Aviv University Professor Asa Kasher wrote an IDF code of ethics for asymmetric conflict. Regardless of whether or not the code is adopted, the proposal is an indication of a change in Israeli military strategic thinking.

The idea that different moral standards are required in asymmetric conflicts is an important distinction. It indicates that Maj. General Yadlin understands the increased risk to civilians and intends to integrate this risk as a "ground condition" into Israeli strategic planning. Rather than the status quo in which Israel seems to be consistently be caught off guard by the impact of civilian casualties, the proposal indicates that the IDF may be learning to accept it as a part of asymmetric warfare.

On the other hand, Kasher asserts that Operation Cast Lead was carried out in the spirit of the new proposed code. While heartening that the IDF is committed to high ethical standards, this assertion illustrates the way in which Kasher and Yadlin miss the mark in a more general sense. Limiting civilian casualty in counter-insurgency is not only about morality. The IDF has still not made the link between better human rights treatment and improved strategic efficacy. Efficacy can be achieved not in spite of respecting moral principles, but because of them. Respect for civilians will not only spell a higher standard of morality, but an improved capability for victory in an asymmetric conflict.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The IDF and the Liberal Media

Jpost editor David Horovitz has an op-ed today about Israeli defense policy. The gist of his argument is that Israel needs to better explain its actions to media outlets, and comes with a long explanation of the dangers of house-to-house clearing operations in the Gaza strip.

Horovitz's recommendations are themselves spot-on. He calls for increased transparency in Israeli war zones and limited access for media outlets. He also calls for independent Israeli investigations of war crimes allegations. However, his article reflects a key oversight in Israeli defense thinking. Horovitz's entire article discusses the change from conventional to non-conventional warfare and Israel's struggle to adapt to the new threat. Yet this threat has been present since at least the first intifada in the late 1980s and arguably long before that. Horovitz suggests that one of Israel's biggest problems is that "the challenge of explaining the moral legitimacy of those military answers, for a world inclined to rush to superficial judgment, is not being adequately met." This is accurate but it hints at the idea that this explanation, or hasbara, is the only flaw.

Israel's PR problem is not only poor explanation of tactics, but use of the tactics themselves. An Israeli defense establishment that thinks it can use Youtube videos or better talking points to explain away the use of white phosphorous in civilian areas is seriously mistaken. The issue is not that journalists in Israel simply don't understand that Israel is in an asymmetric conflict. It's that they do understand, but still expect Israel to react humanely. Israel's hasbara also needs to be a two-way street. The idea that journalists just "don't get it" or are just anti-Israel to begin with overlooks a deeper dialogue which for the IDF may be worth having. Understanding journalist's concerns and hearing from them is a key way for the IDF to better get to know its audience.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Katie Cou on Very Thin Ice with Mahmoud*

Katie Couric sat down to interview Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Part one and two of the interview can be found here.

While Couric takes down most of Ahmedinejad's arguments, one thing she doesn't push him on is his comments about violence in Iraq. Ahmedinejad says that the U.S. is to blame for this violence. While the U.S. invasion no doubt created the conditions for wide-scale violence in Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran has an extensive hand at sewing violence in Iraq. Besides the EFPs used by insurgent groups labeled "Made in Iran" in Farsi, the Islamic Republican Guard Corps - Quds Force (IRGC-QF) is directly responsible for training Shia militias in Iran on paramilitary tactics and terrorism which have killed hundreds of innocent people. Iran, throughout 2007 and 2008, actively sewed the seeds of violence.

The importance of the interview, of course, is not the President's predictable incitement against Israel, the West, Zionism, the Holocaust, and Capitalism. On a deeper level, it indicates an underlying weakness. Ahmedinejad's major objective this week was to solidify his place as a strong leader of the Iranian regime. Instead, he emerged weaker, relying on smokescreens to (unsuccessfully) dodge questions about his government's brutal response to protesters during the election. Obama's announcement this morning that Iran is secretly enriching uranium at a second location 30 km from the holy city of Qom pulled the rug out under any legs Ahmedinejad had gained in New York. His press conference this afternoon put him on the defensive.

Simultaneously, the news is being reported on Haaretz as Obama, Sarkozy, Brown issue ultimatum over second Iran uranium plant. This is likely to play very well in Israel and the global Jewish community, where citizens have expressed concern with Obama's inaction on Iran. And Obama's leadership at the U.N. security council this week was a strong show of leadership in multilateralism that is likely to pay off in the future.

Final Score: Obama 1 Ahmedinejad 0

*Katie Cou is also on very thin ice with T-Pain. It is not known if T-Pain seeks nuclear capabilities at this time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Counter-Terrorism versus Counter-Insurgency

Today's Long War Journal has an interesting article about counter-terrorism versus counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. The key decision in Afghanistan is whether to target al-Qaeda or to target the Taliban, which provides funding and a safe haven to al-Qaeda. In Israel, the situation is a bit different but the distinction between the two strategies bears reiterating.

Counter-terrorism is a set of policies and procedures which prevent attacks from sub-state actors on civilians. Counter-terrorism is one of Israel's greatest strengths. Israel's ability to stop a suicide bomber intending to blow up a bus is better than pretty much any other country in the world. Counter-terrorism theory relies on an idea of concentric rings of security. Between surveillance, checkpoints, walls, security guards, psychological screening, and citizen vigilance, Israel's counter-terrorism infrastructure is extremely strong, human rights issues aside.

Counter-insurgency (COIN) on the other hand is a military strategy which coerces a population to support a state actor over a paramilitary sub-state actor which targets either military or civilian targets, or both. COIN and counter-terrorism are similar in that they both are strategies against sub-state actors who endanger governments and civilians. However, they are different in that they attack different types of sub-state actors. Just as it would be foolish to treat E. Coli, a bacteria, with Tamiflu, and antiviral, it is similarly short-sighted to fight an insurgency with counter-terrorism.

However, Israel's tactics and strategic thinking reflect the mentality of counter-terrorism. For example, in Gaza, Israel's policy was essentially to kill or capture as many Hamas militants as possible, with regard for civilian casualties as a moral and PR liability. This would be fine if Hamas were a terrorist group, but its paramilitary tactics and military-like chain of command suggest that it is more of an insurgency. In a counter-insurgency, winning hearts and minds is a key strategic objective, necessary to victory over the insurgent group. But winning hearts and minds is difficult to do in Gaza, and especially when Israel's use of white phosphorous and flanchettes are widely considered to have been used with questionable respect to civilian impact.

Israel's defense of human rights in Gaza is that despite its best efforts, counter-terrorism carries intrinsic risks of civilian casualties. This, Israel's conceptualization of civilian casualties, is the conceptualization of the intrinsic tension between human rights and security which we find in debates about terrorism policy. But ultimately, as sincere as Israel's moral or philosophical concern is about civilian casualties, such conceptions are irrelevant to a successful military policy. Israel's interest in reducing civilian casualties isn't because killing people is mean, it's because killing people harms Israel's ability to successfully conduct counterinsurgency.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


David Newman writes an interesting column in today's Jerusalem Post in which he criticizes the American Jewish left for not supporting Obama's call for negotiations more loudly. The article brings up an interesting dynamic, that between American progressive Jews and Israeli progressive Jews. At present the Israeli left has very little if any political clout in Israel, and the rise of the American progressive left has not been paralleled in Israel. However, it should go without saying that it will take broad agreement between the two groups in order to create lasting and meaningful change inside Israel. As the left regains traction in Israel, it will be interesting to see how the two groups relate to each other. Traditionally the left in Israel has pandered to its base ideological constituency, as is the trend in Israeli parliamentary politics. In contrast, liberal Jewish powerhouses like the RAC and J Street tend to take the more American-style progressive centerist approach. However, accusations of both elitism and being out of touch have been thrown at both communities. This is an interesting story to keep an eye on.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Afghanistan and Gaza

Today, the Washington Post leaked an edited version of the US Strategic Assessment on Afghanistan. Particularly interesting is this excerpt from page 46 [ISAF = International Security Assistance Force (NATO), GIRoa = Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan]:

"Civilian casualties (CIVCAS) and damage to public property (collateral damage), no matter how caused, undermine support for GIRoa, ISAF, and the international community in the eyes of the Afghan population. Although the majority of CIVCAS are caused by insurgents, the Afghan people hold ISAF to a higher standard. Strict comparison of amount of damage caused by either side are unhelpful."

The recommendation in and of itself is unsuprising. The report's authors (including Fred and Kim Kagan, Andrew Exum, and Col. Chris Kolenda) are some of the leading proponents of population-centric counterinsurgency. The recommendation reflects the cutting edge of strategy at the Department of Defense.

But this strategy represents a stark difference with Israeli policy.

"Civilian matter how caused...undermine support." This excerpt sums up the bottom line of US counterinsurgency strategy. The US is not interested in which casualties are whose fault. They understand that ultimately, any civilian casualty is a loss to them because it reduces trust in the forces of moderation including the US and NATO forces, government and armies of Afghanistan, and moderate political voices. Conversely, the Israeli government's policy in Cast Lead was to see civilian casualties as an inevitable means to an end rather than seeing reduction of civilian casualties as an end itself. Doing so would have swung the population more against Hamas, making intelligence gathering and breaking up terrorist networks much easier for Israel. This in turn would have translated into more efficacy using less money and human lives.

Secondly, the Strategic assessment is extremely self-critical. The report states that "Despite the efforts of ISAF and GIRoa, the insurgents currently have the initiative." It would be difficult to imagine a situation in which an Israeli Ministry of Defense report would say "Despite the best efforts of the IDF, Hamas currently has the initiative," even if such statements are true. Tactically, the IDF is a very creative and flexible organization. However, it has demonstrated a lack of strategic flexibility in response to threats from Hizbullah and Hamas. It is critical that the symbiotic relationship between the US and Israel include not only arms deals but also a dialogue on strategic thinking.

As an end note, one of the interesting manifestations of this symbiotic relationship is the report's recommendation that the US make declassifying images of attacks easier in order to publish them in the PR war. This recommendation is empirically supported by Israel's use of a Youtube channel to show attacks during Cast Lead. The channel became the highest viewed on Youtube and was a very successful means of disseminating information. This channel is an example the US can not only study, but follow when implementing the recommendation.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reaction to Goldstone

Haaretz has an analysis dump on the Goldstone report up on their website. The points are basically as follows:

FM Lieberman, as reported by Barak Ravid, predictably argues that Israel acted in its own defense, the U.N. charges are ludicrous and not based on facts.

Ari Shavit takes the relativist view: If you criticize Israel for Gaza, you have to criticize Obama for the airstrike in Afghanistan on September 4 which killed 90 people, mostly innocent.

Kayne West argues that Beyonce would have written a better report on Gaza.

Amira Hass, in an unexpectedly level-headed article, makes the point that Israelis don't deny many of the acts committed in Gaza, they just legitimize them.

Gideon Levy argues that Israel is killing the messenger by mudslinging at Richard Goldstone, the report's author, as well as other human rights organizations like HRW, Amnesty, B'tselem, and Breaking the Silence.

Haaretz newspaper argues that an Israeli inquiry committee should be formed, as with the panel formed in the wake of the killings in Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon

Aluf Benn argues that Israel's international legitimacy has been seriously reduced, impairing its ability to go to war in the future.

Israel Harel calls the UN report "venomous" and says "
The enemy pretends to be looking out for our morality. It has no inhibitions. It is set on the goal of undermining our status, as a prelude to undermining the existence of our country. Nothing less."

Amir Oren rehashes Shavit's point about the NATO strike in Afghanistan.

Firstly, the major difference between Operation Cast Lead and the strike in Afghanistan was that there has in fact been inquiry about the strike. That link has a slide show of the aftermath of the attacks from the Washington Post, so the American media can hardly be called "apathetic" about the incident. Conversely, there has been no internal inquiry of Operation Cast Lead, the way the Winograd Report looked into Israeli conduct in Lebanon. The US and NATO see the strike in Kunduz as a major humanitarian and strategic blunder. The Israeli government, at least externally, projects a Cheney-esque lack of regret for what are increasingly percieved as large strategic errors at the operational and humanitarian level.

Perhaps the bigger question is to what extent, if at all, the panel represented in Haaretz is representative of Israeli public opinion. Operation Cast Lead has been condemned by more than a few columnists. Yet columnists in Israel, as in most other countries, sit firmly in partisan positions. To what extent do today's editorials (and not just those in Haaretz) resonate with the Israeli public?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

The Goldstone Report from the United Nations on Operation Cast Lead is a 575-page documentation of Israeli human rights violations in Gaza. It appears after a skim-through that the report is pretty accurate in its details and sound in its methodology. Save for some passive-aggressively-worded phrases about Israel "refusing to cooperate" with the investigation, the report is a thorough work which can and should be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government decided from the beginning that since the report was likely to be biased against Israel it shouldn't even try to defend itself. As a result, no substantial Israeli defense for actions in Operation Cast Lead are given (though the report does quote IDF press releases relating to civilian casualties). The report contains no attempts on Israel's part to contextualize the extremely complicated combat situations the report discusses.

This reticence towards perceived-anti-Israel agencies is nothing new and it damages Israel. Whether the agency is Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or the U.N., Israel's refusal to engage plays well domestically, but is seen as stubbornness internationally. The strategy is sound for short-term political gain, but is likely to hurt Israel in the future.

Shifting Israel's grand strategy from a short-term to long-term focus would likely be one of the single best policy choices the state could make to acheive its interests.

What do you think? Is Israeli policy already long-term? Is it not short-term enough? Just right?

*Hopefully the new, improved, easier-to-read font will be an incentive to respond.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Boteach: "J Street - A Shameful Address"

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach launches a scathing attack on J Street and the New York Times in today's Jerusalem Post. J Street has come to be the group that conservative columnists at Jerusalem Post love to hate. And today's hypercritical rant is brought to you by the title "J Street - A Shameful Address."

While Boteach's columns are usually pretty reasonable, though often opinionated, today's diatribe goes completely overboard. The article is the epitome of the kind of knee-jerk jump to worst-case scenario analysis that plagues the debate on Israel policy in all its facets.

Consider this excerpt from the article: J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami explains why traditional pro-Israel groups get nervous when groups that dissent arise:

"Ben-Ami added further that [right-wing] groups stifle dissent because they argue that 'we're still on too-shaky ground to permit public disagreement."

Next sentence: Boteach's summary. Quoted directly. Without edits:

"In Ben-Ami's opinion AIPAC is run by paranoid schizophrenics."

Ben Ami's point was that the conservative Pro-Israel movement fears that dissent from within the Jewish/Pro-Israel community could be used by anti-Israel lobbyists to tarnish Israel's image. By saying this statement equates AIPAC lobbyists with schizophrenics, Boteach is not only making a jump which is logically inconceivable, he's missing the bigger point: Ben-Ami's characterization is accurate.

Fear of public disagreement is indeed a concern (and a legitimate one) held by more conservative members of the Pro-Israel community. In fact, today in Boteach's own paper an article appears about IDF Refuseniks on a tour of the U.S. In response to the news, StandWithUs founder Dani Klein states:

"When they see Israelis come out against their own country or their own army, in this instance, it gives those who want to be anti-Israel the fodder to do it."

So besides drawing ridiculous conclusions about Ben-Ami's statement, Boteach leaves out the inconvenient detail that Ben-Ami is proven by Boteach's own newspaper.

In that Rabbi Boteach is ultimately calling for civil and reasonable discourse, his point is well taken. But to posit that J Street is to blame for the lack of civility in Jewish/Pro-Israel politics is one-sided at best and a blatantly false and ridiculous assertion at worst. Can Boteach write off the onslaught of anti-J-Street press from the Jerusalem Post and other conservative newspapers as the fault of progressive leftists? What about the attacks from the right wing on anyone who would support Ahmedinejad's visit to the UN in New York this fall? What about the hounding from right-wing pro-Israel groups of Boston ADL chief Andrew Tarsy, who in August 2007 had the gaul to suggest that the Armenian genocide, in fact, happened?*

If Boteach truly wishes to make the case for civility, the inciting, partial, and one-sided argument he espouses is hardly leading by example. And if he thinks J Street is a shameful address, one would be well-served to lend a critical eye to where Rabbi Boteach comes home to hang his ideological hat.

*The current Israeli stance on the Armenian genocide is neutral, most likely in order to preserve positive relations with Turkey, a key moderate Muslim ally, and supplier of water to Israel and Syria.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Musing For This Day

Eight years have not been enough time for the dust to settle on New York City, Washington, and Shanksville Pennsylvania. The deep wound of September 11 has slowly begun to heal, but the scar which now begins to form will remain a permanent blemish on our history and our country. Those in the future, yet to be born, will recall this cursed day with reverence and respect. Yet we who recall it today do so on far less lofty terms.

For those who have dedicated their lives to the study and eradication of terrorism, September 11 should be no different than any other day. Reports of the use of human lives for political ends are nothing new to the men and women who have dedicated themselves to this goal. But September 11 is a day in which we set aside study and debate, and remember the all-too-human toll that terrorism and the events of 9/11 take. For the bereaved families and friends, today is not about global jihad or policy, it is about a person. Or persons. Real human beings whose loss extends far beyond the cold limits of policy, deep into the hearts of their loved ones, and indeed of all Americans. While the utter scale of atrocity committed against the People is almost beyond comprehension, the simple grief of a sister or brother, a daughter or son, and mother or father, is all too easy to understand. This is terrorism's cost.

Today, let us once again set aside our differences as Republicans and Democrats, East Coasters or West Coasters, Youths or Seniors. Let us, as we did on this day 8 years ago, join together as Americans, and as sadder yet wiser citizens of the global community, in an effort to rededicate ourselves to the work which remains.

Today, let us once again demonstrate commitment to those around us, looking out for our fellow human being, and treating all with compassion and respect. Let the worth of our common good motivate us to look past the short term gain of our individual interests.

And today, let us draw inspiration from the 2,752 people who met their end in violence by committing ourselves to peace. Let us recognize that their being taken from the Earth far too soon mandates that we live each day to the fullest. And let us firmly resolve to stand in the defense of the inalienable rights of all people, protecting and defending humanity through mutual respect and compassion for our fellow human beings.

Never Forget.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Long Day --> Short Post

The Jerusalem Post's Larry Derfner makes an interesting point in today's Jerusalem Post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

MASA U'Matan

MASA, a Jewish outreach organization in Israel, took down this video from their website yesterday after complaints from the diaspora Jewish communities. The video is a well-intentioned clip which shows assimilated Jews as pictures on "Missing Persons" posters. The ad asks Israelis to make contact with their Jewish friends outside Israel and encourage them to come to Israel. While few people would take issue with this message, the method of expression has caused a rift between Diaspora and Israeli Jewish communities.

Israel perceives itself as a gathering place for world Jewry. It's reason for existence is to strengthen and protect the Jewish people. Many Israelis live in Israel because their families were unwelcome in their original countries. The idea that Israel is the only truly safe place for Jews pervades the Israeli psyche and adds to the siege mentality so often reflected in Israeli foreign policy. Israeli Jewry perceives diaspora Jewry in terms of its own experience: secularized birthright participants from New York, poor Ethiopian immigrants, and very assimilated Russian immigrants. Therefore, it is easy to understand why Israelis would perceive that state of Judaism in the Diaspora as suffering.

But while some Diaspora Jewish communities are in fact suffering, others, such as American Jewry, are vibrant. Jews play an integral part in the American economy, and hold high offices throughout the country as well as here in Washington D.C. The various denominations of Judaism (a spectrum which does not exist in Israel) attract hundreds of thousands of followers, and many more Jews observe Judaism without affiliation to a shul or with affiliation to a chevruta or small minyan. over 100,000 Diaspora Jews have participated on birthright, and many of those have returned to Israel as counselors on other trips.

Thus, the Diaspora community gets upset when an Israeli organization implies that Judaism is dying out in the rest of the world. By portraying Jews as missing persons, the video implies that Diaspora Jews are hapless victims, a condescending attitude to take against an entire global group. In reality, many strong Jewish communities exist outside the diaspora. These communities are actively addressing the issue of conversion and assimilation, and are adapting to the realities of ideological choice in the 21st century. Of course, the other implication of the video is that Diaspora Jewish organizations are ineffective in this regard. But this charge damages the credibility of these Jewish organizations in the Jewish world as well as in their political communities.

Additionally, there is a slow distancing of secular Israelis from Judaism happening within Israel's own borders. While some Jews have left the ritual aspect of Judaism to history, many more are well-served by the myriad of choices American Jews enjoy. In contrast, Israeli Judaism is Orthodox or Chasidic Judaism. While even the most secular Israeli Jews have Shabbat dinners or celebrate holidays, many Israelis are frustrated by being put in the position of being completely Jewish or not considered really Jewish. Therefore, the problem of assimilation and distancing from Judaism happens just as much inside Israel's borders as it does outside.

Ultimately, the MASA ad makes an unfair and short-sighted judgment against global Jewry which while understandable from an Israeli standpoint, is not well appreciated by the Diaspora community. This is not the first time such issues have emerged. Israel's tenuous relationship with the Diaspora can be traced back to before its founding, and revolves around a key paradox: Israelis tend to see Israel as the true center of global Jewry, yet Israel could not survive without a strong Diaspora. In a siege mentality it is hard to concede that the extremely symbiotic relationship between global and Israeli Jewry exists. Yet this relationship is vital to both sides, and must be approached with the understanding that Judaism in the Diaspora is far from a monolith, and far from failing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

HRW and Israeli PR

Iain Levine writes in today's Jerusalem Post about the reluctance of the current Israeli government to engage with Human Rights Watch over its reports on Operation Cast Lead this past winter.

In a PR sense, Israel made huge strides this winter by establishing an English-speaking press unit, publishing videos of their operations on Youtube, and texting Palestinians. However, Israel's media strategy internationally was somewhat out of touch with the attitudes of people outside of Israel. Claiming the human rights violations are sometimes justified did little to help Israel's case, even in instances where it was arguable true. Israel acted shocked that the media would be critical of some of the less savory tactics used by the IDF in Gaza.

For better or worse, close scrutiny of Israel by the press is a ground condition. It should set the stage for Israel's PR, not surprise it anew each time Israel enters a new conflict. The argument that sometimes killing civilians is justified have merit, but it has little resonance in countries who do not deal with violence on the same level as Israel. Continual self-reflection and a struggle to do better are qualities that Israel embodies internally. It would be beneficial to highlight these qualities internationally.

Human Rights Watch would also likely present a more even-handed version of the facts if it had more of them to deal with. Refusing to engage with HRW means that Israel has no chance of getting its side of the story across. Engaging is highly unlikely to guarantee a "pro-Israel" slant, but it will shed light on the complexity of the debate in a way that makes readers of HRW reports much more aware of the complexities of the Security-Rights relationship. Overall, this will benefit Israel's ability to make its side of the story resonate with a global audience.

This is similar to the way the US military embeds reporters in its units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Allowing journalists to see the complexities of battle gives them a different perspective on the complexities of war. The Pentagon holds press tele-conferences with senior officials in Baghdad almost bi-weekly. Multi-National Force Iraq publishes a Facebook page. While the American public has clearly not swung in favor of the war in light of these measures, engagement with the public has increased the transparency of the military and given those interested a high level of access into the complexities of the War in Iraq.

Likewise, engagement is an important step that Israel could take to improve relations with journalists and organizations. In fact, one of the journalist community's biggest complaints in Operation Cast Lead was that they had no access to Gaza to document what was happening there. As a result, Israel ended up looking far more nefarious than it actually was. And Israel looks nefarious by refusing to comment on HRW's reports, which are the summaries of personal interviews conducted with civilians. Even contextualizing the events presented in the reports without justifying them would significantly improve Israel's ability to convey the complexities of warfare to a wide audience.

Of course, it is usually easier to defend an innocent client. If Israel finds that for some events it cannot provide sufficient justification, perhaps this should be an sign internally that a policy change is in order. Regardless, the PR battle is one that Israel is losing badly, and will continue to lose in the absence of engagement.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Looking to the Arab Press for Advice

Of all the places you'd expect to find a solid analysis of the settlement issue, Saudi-censored would clearly not be your first stop. Besides having its content regulated by the Saudi government, some of its columnists are, to paraphrase Rep. Barney Frank, living on different planets. But today's editorial is definitely worthy of consideration.

The basic argument the editorial makes is that by not holding Israel to a settlement freeze, Obama has let the peace process slide. This has eroded Arab confidence in the peace process and is a challenge to U.S. credibility in the conflict. While the call for a threat of sanctions is a bit too far (that would be the equivalent of a nuclear option), the points on which this call is justified are themselves worthy of consideration. The Jerusalem Post's editorial pages are filled with columnists decrying Obama's "obsession" with settlements (including Sara Honig's pearl of wisdom from today's Post). However, the reality is that Obama has kind of dropped the ball on pressuring Israel. George Mitchell, his envoy to the region, has certainly been active. But he lacks the bully pulpit, which is the key. This has allowed Netanyahu to wait out the clock on the American political arena, and buy enough time so that he can continue plans for settlement building. The settlement issue has made Netanyahu stronger, solidifying a constituency, and placing him as the voice of Israel against the American president inherently mistrusted by most Israelis. Today's news that Netanyahu would approve construction of new homes in the West Bank should come as no surprise. It will only unify Israeli public opinion around Netanyahu more for the White House to push against this. An example: White House Press Secretary Robert Gates' comment that the U.S. "regrets" Netanyahu's decision was described in the Jerusalem post as "U.S. Slams Netanyahu Construction Plan."

Between the economy, the health care debate, a supreme court appointment, and two wars, Obama has let the Israeli-Arab conflict take a low precedence. But if he wishes to be effective, the president must take a more proactive role. In Afghanistan, General McChrystal is calling for a fully resourced effort to fight the Taliban. In this respect, warfighting and peacemaking are the same. Obama must give the Israeli-Arab conflict the necessary resources and effort if he truly desires a successful resolution to the conflict there.

With an Israeli public and government who already percieve the U.S.-Israel relationship as very damaged, that card has been almost exhausted. Israelis have learned to live with a U.S. that many of them percieve as "anti-Israel." Time is running out for Obama to take a proactive stand and make the kind of changes on the ground which he has committed himself to making.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Do I Even Bother?

Because nothing says "preventing isolation" like alienation from the US, a spat with Sweden, and a boycott by Norway.

Al-Siyasa has the Scoop?

The Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyasa ("Politics") has published a story claiming Hizbullah is in possession of chemical and biological weapons. This Haaretz report is a pretty accurate translation of the major points of the original article in Arabic.

The article doesn't mention exactly what kinds of weapons Hizbullah has, nor how much of them it has, but it is specific about where the weapons came from (Iran) and where they are now ("Baalbek as well as north and south of the Litani River as of December 2008").

If Hizbullah did have chemical and biological weapons, it would significantly raise tensions between Israel and Hizbullah. But it's not clear that the story is true in the absence of more information.

While physically, Iran would theoretically be able to send chemical or biological weapons to Hizbullah, whether or not it did is a remaining question. The article is based on "European intelligence reports" and is in line with what we would expect Iran's strategy to be to deter Israel from attacking its nuclear program. That being said, the information comes from only one source which is not necessarily a disinterested player, and is not identified in the newspaper article. Al-Siyasa also appears to have a reputation of making bold claims about Hizbullah, including a June 2007 article blaming president Assad himself for a Katyusha attack on Israel.

Additionally, if Hizbullah did have chemical or biological weapons, it's reasonable to assume Israel would have known. Israel runs flights over southern Lebanon pretty frequently, and has something of a human intelligence network in southern Lebanon. If this news were a surprise, the reaction by now from the Israeli government would have been significantly stronger. But if Hizbullah did have chemical and biological weapons and Israel knew, it raises a number of questions:

1) Why would Israel keep it a secret? In 2006 it made no small show of illustrating the links between Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran. It would have altered the PR battle in a way even Israel could have understood was in its advantage. One possible answer is that Israel was aware and was feigning not knowing to improve its intelligence capabilities and to preserve the element of surprise. This is similar to what it did with Syria in 2006 when Israel destroyed an incomplete nuclear facility in that country. There was no previous announcement, which helped Israel's operational security.

2) Why would Hizbullah keep it a secret? One possible answer was that Iran wanted to put the weapons in place, and hold off on announcing them until it was necessary to deter Israel. Also, Syria kept its own nuclear reactor project a secret. So it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility, and comes with a certain level of precedent.

3) Would Lebanese elections last June have affected an announcement of weapons? Very likely, but it's not clear in which direction. On the one hand, not announcing possession of weapons from Iran would make Hizbullah look more moderate and electible. On the other hand, Hizbullah runs on a campaign of effectiveness, so having WMD would have bolstered that appearance. Nasrallah certainly made a point of bashing Israel as a part of Hizbullah's campaign strategy. But would he have gone to the point of announcing WMD?

In the absence of any definitive answers to these questions, its hard to say that the story definitely is true. That being said, there's nothing to suggest the story is NOT true. In a manner of speaking, knowing that this animal has four legs and hooves, is it a cow? Not necessarily, but nothing suggests it is not. Knowing Iran would be likely to send chemical and biological weapons to Hizbullah if it could, and knowing Hizbullah and Israel might have a reason to keep it a secret, is the story true? Same answer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Secret Israeli Pirates

An article posted on Monday by TIME magazine alleges that the Russian ship which disappeared in the Atlantic last month was secretly carrying arms. Furthermore, it argues that the ship was not hijacked by Russian and former-soviet hijackers, but was in fact intercepted by Israel. The following meager justifications are given for this challenge to the official version of facts:

1) Israel has been wary of Russian arms sales to states like Iran, with little progress on the diplomatic front.
2) Shimon Peres paid a surprise visit to Russia on August 18, 2009, a day after the ship was rescued.

Neither of the two justifications are particularly compelling. While it's true that Israel hasn't successfully guaranteed Russia will refuse to sell arms, such as the S-300 anti-aircraft system, to Iran, it's dubious Israel would go so far as to intercept a Russian ship. Firstly, Israel is getting support from Europe and the U.S. in its push to halt Russian arms sales to Iran. Secondly, considering Israel's slightly compromised position vis-a-vis its relationship with the U.S., alienating Russia is probably not the best move at this point. The article also fails to mention that at the August 19th meeting, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev promised to reconsider Russia's plans to provide arms to Iran. This is not really the reaction you'd expect from a country who'd just had a ship intercepted by one of their allies in the Middle East. An ally the size of New Jersey.

Also, while the Estonian admiral quoted by TIME might be an expert in piracy, he is certainly not an expert in Israeli foreign policy. And blaming "Israel" in general is a vague blanket accusation that lacks any specifics or details. Were the men involved Mossad agents? Were they working on behalf of Mossad? Is an Estonian army chief objective about an issue involving Russia? In the absence of any evidence whatsoever, its impossible to say that the case made in the TIME article is in any way conclusive or valid.