Monday, August 31, 2009

Israeli Arab Isolation

Two related stories today out of Israel. First, Rawi Fuad Sultani, 23, was accused of working on behalf of Hizbullah on a plan to assassinate IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Ashkenazi. In a separate story, Arab MKs threatened "civil disobedience" if Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar mandated the removal of the Nakba from Israeli Arab textbooks. Nakba is an Arabic word meaning "catastrophe" and refers to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, in which hundreds of thousands of refugees were created as the result of war, pressure, and coercion from Arab states and from Israel as well. The Nakba essentially set the Palestinians down a path to nationality and, moderates hope, statehood.

These two stories both speak to the continuing isolation of the Israeli Arab community. While the community in some ways isolates itself, the arrest of a 23-year old Israeli Arab for involvement with Hizbullah is proof enough of the national security implications of this isolation. While Israel is not totally responsible for this situation, it can and should act to decrease isolation. This would be best accomplished by providing equal funding for basic services like education and medical care. It would also be accomplished to writing Israeli Arabs into Israel's historical narrative rather than trying to edit them out. Much like the US teaches children about Native Americans and the way they were mistreated, Israel must also cofront its past as a state responsible for, in some cases, the forced expulsion of Palestinians. In reality, this recognition is at least a generation off, but ultimately security considerations must take precedence over issues of whom did what to whom, when.

Recognizing the Nakba would not intrinsically detract from Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. Rather, it would incorporate the Arab narrative into the Jewish one, with positive results from the moderate Israeli Arab community. This latest case of Israeli Arab involvement in terrorism is not the first time and is unlikely to be the last. Considering the relative expense of improving basic social services, a recognition of Palestinian suffering by the Israeli government is a cost-efficient way to fight terrorism without truly compromising Israeli legitimacy.

Snarky comment of the day: Lieberman now says Israel will not permit the Palestinians to build unilaterally a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has already explicitly stated his willingness to see a Palestinian state, and in fact offered economic cooperation and strength as the basis of this state. So evidently, if you're a Consul General in Boston and point out how Israel's policies hurt its image in the US, you should be reprimanded. But if you're Lieberman and contradict your boss, the Prime Minister's, policy, thats fine.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Update: Paranoia and Apartheid

This weekend has been a pretty good one for radicals in Israel.

From the right: Avigdor Lieberman et al.

Commenting on the Swedish newspaper issue,
Interior Minister Eli Yishai saying he would act to prevent Aftonbladet reporters from receiving work permits in Israel.

This ridiculous show of bravado is little more than retaliation. And it is the kind of petty control-wrenching which typifies a petty Arab dictatorship more than a liberal democratic state like Israel. Furthermore, for the Israeli right to be hounding the Swedish government because it issued an "apology" not a "condemnation" is a petty distinction which is being used as a Gulf of Tonkin to instigate a war which is very unlikely to end successfully for the right wing.

To some extent, the Swedish government's claim that its hesitancy stems from free speech is questionable. Free speech is important, but reasonable people agree it does not extend to protection of libel. On the other hand, the Israeli government has certainly not acted to dispel the claims in the article by providing facts to the contrary. And in a diplomatic sense, Israel has far more to gain by pulling Sweden and accepting the apology than by pushing it away.

The "siege" mindset of the Israeli right is heavily at work in this instance, and the paranoia of those who see Israel's stubborn intransigence as a righteous crusade for justice is misplaced. Israel was intended to be able to survive a siege on Jews, not to propagate one. Right-wing Israeli leaders are only creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by hounding a government whose very intentions were to dispel anti-Semitism. Their actions are likely to isolate Israel rather than create the place among nations that Israel is destined to take. Fear of anti-Semitism is understandable, but it is a poor motivation for foreign policy. And fear is at work in the minds of the Israeli right.

From the left: Professor Neve Gordon

Ben Gurion University Professor Neve Gordon published an Op-ed in the LA Times
calling Israel an "apartheid" state and using this label to call for a boycott of Israel. Professor Gordon has a long history of making far-left statements, but this statement is one of his more high-profile ones, and is sure to get a lot of attention. The far left may call his claims "brave." The far right may call them "treasonous." But examining the facts behind the issue allows for a much more reasonable synthesis.

Firstly, boycotts are ineffective against Israel because, as mentioned above, the people and government generally adopt a siege mentality. Boycotting Israel will only entrench this mentality and make the government even more intransigent than it already is, a move which will be supported by many Israelis and a wide swath of the American public. It's hard to believe that even a more liberal American pro-Israel group like J-street would support a boycott of Israel.

Secondly, despite what Jimmy Carter says, to call Israel an apartheid is inaccurate. Inside Israel, Jews and Muslims share the same roads, use the same hospitals, shop in the same stores, and vote for representation in the same parliament. This is not to say that discrimination against Muslims and Arabs exists in Israel, but it's a far cry from apartheid. Gordon justifies his claim primarily by speaking about the situation in the Palestinian territories. In this case he is correct that there are two systems of roads, and two separate legal systems. However, this is a condition of belligerent occupation, not apartheid. Palestinians are not full citizens because they live in occupation, not because they were somehow defined out of the legal system.

This distinction is important for two reasons. First, it preserves use of the shock-word "apartheid" for conditions which factually merit it. Secondly, it allows us to identify the most effective solution. Palestinian human rights would be improved by ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state, not by trying to shame Israel into action.

The Feel-Good Takeaway:

On both the far left and far right, the extremely complex situation in the Middle East is over-simplified to present a case for radical action based on emotion rather than rational discussion. The right is not wrong to ask Sweden to sustain efforts against anti-Semitism. The left is not wrong to call attention to the institutionalized discrimination against Arabs and Muslims in Israel. But ultimately, both sides must begin with a recognition of the complexity of the conflict and offer solutions which do justice to the Israeli and Palestinian people who experience the conflict as a way of life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lieberman, or Diva-Man?

Avigdor Lieberman is now demanding a written apology from the Swedish government. Their crime? Well nothing per se. A lone author for a lone Swedish tabloid wrote an article about how Israeli soldiers allegedly harvested Palestinian organs during Operation Cast Lead. The website has a good description of the article's content for those readers not conversant in Swedish, and ever-so-classily has titled the whole article "Israelis Killed Palestinians for Organs." Thank you to our fair and balanced friends at the Saudi-censored media.

Immediately after the paper published this story, the Swedish ambassador to Israel issued a harsh condemnation of the paper's content. The Swedish government distanced itself from that statement by saying that it was issued by the ambassador without the evident consent of the government. However, the statement from Sweden noted that freedom of expression "carries a certain responsibility."

Foreign Minister Lieberman is not satisfied with these actions. He demands a printed statement from the government, and threatened to block the trip of the Swedish Foreign Minister to Israel in the coming days. The suggestion has been made that Israeli diplomats should speak to the Foreign Minister only about the issue of the newspaper. It's not clear where Netanyahu stands on the issue.

Here's why Lieberman's strategy is a bad idea.

1) Lieberman already has a reputation as a reactionary. Pushing the issue, which the Swedish government apologized for on its own, will only entrench this image internationally and domestically.

2) Because Lieberman is such a reactionary, coverage of the story is likely to focus on his demands, rather than on how ludicrous the story is. In the end, it's possible Lieberman would end up looking more radical than the newspaper.

3) Europe and Israel are not exactly BFF at this point in time. As much as it feels good to scorn them as anti-semitic, Israel can use European support, especially on the Iran nuclear issue. Chastising a country for apologizing fully, but not fully enough, may be how Lieberman manages to spend the little political capital he has with Europe.

4) Lieberman's recklessness in making the story about the government will be percieved in Europe as a smokescreen effort by those who see the concept of Israeli organ stealing as a legitimate possibility. It will further entrench Israel's reputation for knee-jerk condemnation of any criticism no matter how legitimate, and will group this crazy story with more legitimate ones (like the B'tselem testimonies on the war in Gaza).

In conclusion, Lieberman's policy is a classic case of letting the siege mentality in Israel go too far in dictating a reasonable foreign policy. In the end, playing like a Western nation and letting this go will get Israel way further than hounding the Swedish government because they can.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nu, So Sue Me.

The Confused Sheikh has been on a bit of hiatus with changing jobs, trips around the country, and being glued to the town hall meetings on healthcare (courtesy of the CNN webcast). But there's been a spate of Middle East news just waiting to be analyzed.

Settlement Freeze

Most significantly, Bibi agreed to a secret settlement freeze. And I mean "secret" settlement freeze in the way I mean Israel's "secret" nuclear program. Evidently, there is a de facto moratorium on expansion until at least the end of the year. This allows Obama to get what he wants while allowing Netanyahu to save face. In a harbinger of things to come, Obama has shifted his rhetorical spotlight to Palestinians, calling on the PA to end incitement to violence against the Jewish state. Considering that settlements are somewhat more physical than incitement, this appears to be more of a bone to Netanyahu than the formation of a legitimate demand on the Palestinian leadership. Although removing incitement from PA textbooks would be a great first demand to place on the Palestinians (and I'll throw out a bone to the Obama-scorned ZOA by posting a link to their press release on the subject here).

Medvedev Visit

Yesterday, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was in Israel, where promised to reconsider selling the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. This is significant because Russia has been viewed suspiciously by many in the U.S. as having shady objectives on the Iran nuclear issue. Could it be that U.S. support for Israel allows us to use Israel as a proxy by which we can pressure Russia to support the West on the Iran issue? Would Russia rather look like a benefactor to a major American ally than a weakened 2nd-best capitulating to U.S. demands? Sources say more than likely.

Actually, Israel playing the Soviet Union and the U.S. off each other for support is very much precedented. The Israel-Russia relationship may be one to watch closely in this time of less-than-stellar relations between Israel and the U.S. Russia won't take over, but it could theoretically be a spoiler U.S. policy towards Iran one day.


Peres' annoucement that the Israeli government looks forward to a meeting with the U.S. and Palestinians almost, but not quite, mitigates his ridiculous comment yesterday that a missile from Iran would be like an "Airborne death camp." Besides the fact that "Airborne Death Camp" is a good name for an emo punk band, it's a totally misplaced Holocaust reference. You know things have gotten a little out of control in Jerusalem when the Holocaust is used to illustrate how bad a nuclear attack would be. It's analagous to calling it "Hitler Flu."

And with the spate of anti-semitic posters of Barack Obama at healthcare meetings, and this genius lady (wearing an IDF t-shirt...what?), its really enough. Using the Holocaust for shock-value has no place in civil discource, or international diplomacy, period. Even when Israel does it.

Huckabee visit to East Jerusalem

I humbly defer to my fellow center-left pro-Israel Washingtonian, Spencer Ackerman, of the Washington Independent, for his analysis.