Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rice Stands up for Lebanon

UN Ambassador Susan Rice today lambasted Syria for its flagrant disregard for Lebanese sovereignty. Ambassador Rice's comments come at a critical time for Lebanon, whose tensions over the expected indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon have it bursting at the seams.

Breaking down the motivation for Rice's statement is a complex task in the wake of Syrian comments disparaging the peace process, the upcoming midterm elections, and Hezbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah's speech earlier today. Support for the tribunal is a key component of holding Syria and Hezbullah accountable. However, US support would delegitimize the Tribunal's indictment by allowing those accused to claim the indictment is a US/Israel conspiracy.

It appears that Rice is pointing out the Syrian violation of Lebanese sovereignty to demonstrate the US' commitment to Lebanon and the Special Tribunal, and to cleave between Hezbullah and its nationalistic rhetoric. Criticizing Hezbullah alone would be a gift to Nasrallah. By taking the more regional focus and supporting Lebanese sovereignty, Rice is achieving all three US policy objectives.

Given that Rice is known here in Washington as a team player, and holds a position which President Obama raised to cabinet-level, the move is likely a deliberate play on the part of the Obama administration. Obama's outreach to Lebanon has been slightly less than that of President Bush, but present nonetheless. Maintaining the stability of Lebanon is certainly an administration priority in the Middle East. This priority is raised by the now crippled Middle East peace talks. And regional inflammation will draw attention away from the talks and heighten the rhetoric of radical actors.

The move today is not likely to have significant ripple effects, but will likely be an effective component of a slow, steady US strategy of support for Lebanese stability but also the progression of the Special Tribunal.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Citizenship: The Shin Bet's Latest Weapon

The Israeli Shin Bet lent its support today to revoking the citizenship of Israelis convicted of loyalty-related crimes. Shas MK Eli Yishai, who proposed the policy, claims it would act as a deterrent to would-be traitors.

So the idea is that the best way to mitigate the negative effects of to isolate.

Not to mention that this is the same party pushing for a loyalty oath on the grounds of preserving "democracy." Evidently, it's democratic to impose ideas on minorities by signed oath, but not democratic to preserve the rights of radical fringe groups. To be sure, many of these groups tacitly profess violent action against the State of Israel. But even those who seek to destroy states are given protection in liberal democratic societies.

Perhaps more importantly, the definition of a "loyalty-related offense" is a discussion usually had in reference to authoritarian regimes like Syria, not a liberal democratic state like Israel. Is protesting a government policy a loyalty-related offense? Is supporting Arab candidates for office a loyalty-related offense? Jews tend to have a bad track record in societies who believe in defining the opposition out of citizenship. It's concerning that an Israeli MK would make such an Orwellian proposal.

Of course, the Israeli right is the Israeli right, and it says what it says. The Shin Bet, however, cannot afford to be ideological. When the lives of innocent people are at stake, there is little time for a state to indulge in the ideological delusions of radical partisans. Yet in supporting this policy, that is precisely what the Shin Bet is doing.

The most effective way to deter would-be terrorists or traitors to the state is to give them a sense of self-identity within Israeli society. Mainstreaming minority communities gives them a reason not to reject the establishment in a way that leads to terrorism. It gives them a stake in the well-being of the state, and an incentive to use political, rather than violent, action.

The Israeli police have already recognized the importance of creating this trust between minority communities and the state. Their understanding needs to be pervasive throughout the Israeli security establishment in order for the state to achieve true sustainable security.

Paul the Octopus

Paul the Octopus, who predicted the World Cup winners, has died at the age of 2 1/2. Paul was widely known in Iraq. In a classic twist of Arab humor, many Iraqi journalists jokingly suggested that Paul be brought in to help choose the new Iraqi government.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Human Rights Narrative

Today, Lebanese PM Sa'ad Hariri condemned Israel's proposed loyalty oath as "racist" and said it would hurt chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

First of all, the least qualified state on Earth to lecture about antagonism between ethnic groups is Lebanon, a state which has fought multiple civil wars between different ethnic factions. Secondly, the statement has nothing to do with Israel, and instead is a move designed to undercut President Ahmedinejad's visit to Lebanon last week in which he attempted to project Iranian power in Lebanon by himself bashing Israel.

Yet few, if any, media outlets are likely to point any of this out. And it's not because of anti-Israel bias.

Rather, Arab states like Lebanon have grasped a critical PR concept which Israel has not. Arab states have successfully mastered the human rights narrative. By couching rhetoric in these terms, these states are successfully able to mount a verbal attack on Israel in a way that resonates not only with their target audience but the international community as well. Regardless of whether this is fair, it is the reality. And Israel must respond in kind by demonstrating an improved mastery of the human rights narrative. Israel's current rhetoric is that of "self-defense," a rhetoric which in the current era is seen as a cynical manipulation of facts regardless of who does it. To be more successful at fending off PR attacks, Israel should grasp the narrative of human rights, which will more successfully advance its policy goals in the international community.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bibi Begins to Tilt

UPDATE: Senior Labor MK threatens to withdraw from coalition unless peace talks resume by the end of the year.

Original Post:

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu requested that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman revise the loyalty oath proposed for new immigrants to Israel to apply to Jews as well as non-Jews, likely the result of pressure from the American Jewish establishment and a less-than-impressed State Department.

The shift is a latest in a series of last-minute attempts by the Prime Minister to keep all his ducks in a row, so to speak. Balancing between the US, the Palestinians, and the far right has been an act which until now, Netanyahu has been handling with finesse. The past week indicates this may be about to change. Bibi is starting to tilt.

The first sign is the lack of decisive action on a settlement freeze. A Bibi of a year ago would either have called a settlement freeze while continuing building on the side, or called off a settlement freeze while effectively freezing anyway.* Bibi of today is continuing to stall, drawing the ire of the Palestinians and testing the patience of the State Department.

The second sign is Netanyahu's original support for the Loyalty Bill without reciprocation to another party. An earlier post raised the question of whether Netanyahu's support was part of a larger deal in which he would appease the far right in order to pacify them in the wake of a settlement freeze. This appears (so far) to not have been the case. Rather, Bibi is supporting the loyalty oath to keep Lieberman happy...and for no other overt reason.

The final sign is today's switch from supporting the loyalty oath in its far right-friendly form, to form which would include both Jews and non-Jews. This quick turnaround may be deliberate, but appears to be more likely a response to reaction from parties other than Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas.

Bibi is no longer playing the long game, waiting out Obama's settlement request until it lacked political salience, and stalling peace talks. He appears to be in a much more vulnerable position, reacting to the weekly fluctuations of Israeli politics, an inevitable consequence of the Israeli political system.

In short, Netanyahu is weakening. In seeking to stay power, he has sacrificed the ability to advocate his agenda. The tyranny of coalition politics and multiple divergent actors has begun to take its toll. This is hardly Netanyahu's fault, and his political run remains an amazing example of coalition balancing, one which politicians and academics should closely scrutinize for its lessons. Yet PM Netanyahu is demonstrating an inability to execute. His premiership has a way to go, but the clock has begun to tick.

*Credit for this elegant bifurcation goes to a source speaking off-the-record.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Morning Read

This article on American Jewry from Haaretz, by an Israeli lecturer at Tel Aviv University, sums up the major issues in US-Israel relations. It's pretty non-controversial but gives an excellent sense of the field right now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

J Street Op Ed Nails it on Youth Engagement

"For our sake, and for Israel's, there must be a change in how our community discusses these issues...When you shut the door to questions and constructive debate, you effectively shut the door to young people."

Full editorial here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bibi WIN

Bibi makes a brilliant move this afternoon on a settlement freeze. The Palestinians can't accept it, and the US can't call him on it. Checkmate once again.

Dear Danny

Dear Danny Ayalon,

Thanks for your enlightening Op-ed in the Jerusalem Post this morning. You've put all my fears about the loyalty oath bill to rest.

Your point that the oath is just like the American Pledge of Allegiance is spot on, and I'm glad to see that Yisrael Beiteinu is advocating the nuanced notions of citizenship of America in 1954. And I suppose the equivalence of "To the republic for which is stands" and "the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state" is obvious because standing for something and being something are clearly identical.

And thanks for your heartfelt warning at the end of the op-ed: "Those who disparage clearly describing Israel as the eternal aspiration of the Jewish people provide ample ammunition to those who seek the end of our national existence." Because nothing says Jewish and Democratic like accusations of treason for holding a different point of view.

Thanks for writing an op-ed which cuts to the chase, not once mentioning Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, or Christians. Omission is a strategy which has well served the cause of Zionism in the past. And thanks for naming names when you accuse three Arab members of parliament of wanting to undermine Israel's national existence. Especially considering the number of Israeli Arabs who express faith in the parliament in the first place, its important that we further alienate the few non-Jews in Israel who still bother trying to effect equality through democratic means.

Most importantly, I'm glad you and Avigdor Lieberman have been so proactive about correcting this long-standing problem in Israel's citizenship law. What more effective way to promote Israel's position as the Jewish democratic state than to force new immigrants to just say its the case. Saying something makes it true, especially for you and your friends, Danny Ayalon. Could you also just makes sure to say that Israel is secure? Considering the damage this bill does to Israeli national security we'll just need to take care of that side of things too. And could you say Hamas is defeated too please? Those kids in Sderot could really use a good night's sleep.

There are those who might argue that the best way would be for Israel to embody Jewish values and include non-Jews in the political process. That being a Jewish haven doesn't have to come at the expense of alienating those who are not Jewish. But minority rights are awfully expensive, and I'm glad to see Yisrael Beiteinu is taking a pragmatic and realistic stance on this issue. Cutting corners with cheap political stunts designed to alienate Arabs and weaken PM Netanyahu will mobilize your voter base. And what could be more democratic than that?

The Confused Sheikh
Camel's Nose Blog

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Massive Israel PR WIN

Netanyahu has now personally condemned the video depicting an Israeli soldier belly dancing next to a female Palestinian detainee. This is a strong, unequivocal signal that this incident is not tolerated by the government or representative of Israel. Needless to say, peace talks are putting the squeeze on Netanyahu, making it more likely for him to be outspoken on an easy issue like this one.

Nonetheless, this statement is an example of Israel controlling the narrative and using the media power of the Prime Minister to get Israel's message out in the media space. Kol haKavod, Government of Israel.

On an unrelated note, the Knesset's loyalty oath bill, in which Arabs whose families have lived in the region for centuries would have to refer to Israel as the Jewish homeland, looks likely to pass. Netanyahu offered a softer wording for the oath that all citizens would be required to take, but appears to not have pushed it through. Between this and the settlement stalling, Netanyahu has engaged in significant capitulation to the far right, at the expense of his capital with the American government.

Hypothesis: Netanyahu is softening up the right because he is under significant pressure to approve a new settlement freeze and will eventually do so. Discuss.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this.

Supporters of Terrorism Arrested in Nazareth

Two Israeli Arabs, Sheikh Nazim Abu Salim, and Mohammed Naarani, have been arrested for allegedly lending support to terrorist groups, illegal unionizing, and conspiring to commit crimes.

Since these activities are all illegal it is just that the two were arrested. However, the arrests showcase the importance of working to integrate Israeli-Arabs more deeply into the fabric of Israeli life. The message of isolation which radical sheikhs preach is one which discriminatory Israeli policies bolster rather than falsify. Arresting supporters of terrorism is an important step in ensuring Israeli security, but it must be supplemented with policies which integrate communities in which those who support terrorism live.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Yom Kippur War Documents Declassified

Interesting article about discussions which occurred at the start of the Yom Kippur War, just posted on Haaretz.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Settler Mosque Burning

Dear Jerusalem Post,

Not to call you out on this, but I'm calling you out on this. Readers, take note where this morning's headline about settlers burning a mosque in Bayt Fajar appears on the JPost site (10:45am EDT here in Washington):

Including the top headline which I couldn't fit into the picture, the story is running at number 8, after two advertisements and a human interest story about Egyptian comedy.