Monthly Archives: May 2007

On Western Media in Cultures of Intimidation: BBC vs WSJ on Alan Johnston

Tom Gross has assembled a fascinating dossier well worthy of consideration and comment. First, Bret Stevens in the Wall Street Journal comments on the BBC’s attitude towards its reporter Alan Johnston:


A Reporter’s Fate
The BBC held hostage in Gaza
By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal
May 22, 2007

Dozens of hostages were released in Gaza over the weekend, in the wake of a truce called between the warring factions of Hamas and Fatah. The BBC’s Alan Johnston, now in his 11th week of captivity, was not among them.

I last saw Mr. Johnston in January 2005, the day before Mahmoud Abbas was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Johnston was by then the only Western correspondent living and working full time in Gaza, although the Strip was still considered a safe destination for day-tripping foreign journalists. He kindly lent me his office to interview Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, and asked whether I was still editing the Jerusalem Post. He seemed genuinely oblivious to the notion that my by-then former association with an Israeli newspaper was not the sort of information I wanted broadcast to a roomful of Palestinian stringers.

Or, he wanted to decenter Stevens. Can he be that much of a fool?

January 2005 was also the last time one could feel remotely optimistic about an independent Palestinian future. Mr. Abbas had campaigned for office promising “clean legal institutions so we can be considered a civilized society.” He won by an overwhelming margin in an election Hamas refused to contest. There had been a sharp decline in Israeli-Palestinian violence, thanks mainly to Israeli counterterrorism measures and the security fence. A Benetton outlet had opened in Ramallah, signaling better times ahead.

In other words, either Abbas is also deluded, or he’s a demopath who knows how to play on Westerner’s desire to believe that there is a “vibrant Palestinian civil society” just waiting to emerge. But in Gaza things were different, however, and Mr. Johnston was prescient in reporting on the potential for internecine strife: “This internal conflict between police and the militants cannot happen,” one of his stories quotes a Palestinian police chief as saying. “It is forbidden. We are a single nation.” Yet in 2005 more Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians than by Israelis. It got worse in 2006, following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Hamas’s victory in parliamentary elections. “The occupation was not as bad as the lawlessness and corruption that we are facing now,” Palestinian editor Hafiz Barghouti admitted to Mr. Johnston in a widely cited remark.

When Mr. Johnston was kidnapped by persons unknown on March 12 – apparently dragged at gunpoint from his car while on his way home – he became at least the 23rd Western journalist to have been held hostage in Gaza. In most cases the kidnappings rarely lasted more than a day. Yet in August FOXNews’s Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig were held for two weeks, physically abused and forced to convert to Islam. Plainly matters were getting progressively worse for foreigners. So why did the BBC keep Mr. Johnston in place?

One answer is journalistic fidelity. Mr. Johnston had been the BBC’s man in Kabul during the Taliban era; he was used to hard places. His dispatches about the travails of ordinary Gazans brimmed with humane sympathy. And any news organization would prefer to have its own reporter on the scene than to rely on stringers.

Yet the BBC also seemed to operate in the Palestinian Authority with a sense of political impunity. Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti described Mr. Johnston as someone who “has done a lot for our cause” – not the sort of endorsement one imagines the BBC welcoming from an equivalent figure on the Israeli side. Other BBC correspondents were notorious for making their politics known to their viewers: Barbara Plett confessed to breaking into tears when Arafat was airlifted to a Parisian hospital in October 2004; Orla Guerin treated Israel’s capture of a living, wired teenage suicide bomber that March as nothing more than a PR stunt – “a picture that Israel wants the world to see.”

And, one might add, not one she’d be likely to let the world see, were it up to her.

Though doubtlessly sincere, these views also conferred institutional advantages for the BBC in terms of access and protection, one reason why the broadcaster might have felt relatively comfortable posting Mr. Johnston in a place no other news agency dared to go.

This is stated perhaps a bit too subtly. This is the core of journalism in honor-shame cultures where how you make the people appear in the eyes of others is more important than anything to do with accuracy or truth. Only when you show them they way they want, are you, as a journalist, going to get anyting remotely resembling cooperation. And if you show them negatively, then you can expect reprisals, as Stephens notes.

Subjection of (Muslim) Women and Fecklessness of (Western) Feminists

Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, author of The War Against Boys and coauthor of One Nation Under Therapy, takes on the outrageous cowardice of Western feminists in the face of Muslim patriarchy. It’s not right to claim that men should not have a monopoly on leading, and then, in so critical an issue that cuts so close to home, show so much lack of moral fiber. (Hat tip: NP)

The Subjection of Islamic Women
And the fecklessness of American feminism

by Christina Hoff Sommers
05/21/2007, Volume 012, Issue 34

The subjection of women in Muslim societies–especially in Arab nations and in Iran–is today very much in the public eye. Accounts of lashings, stonings, and honor killings are regularly in the news, and searing memoirs by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi have become major best-sellers. One might expect that by now American feminist groups would be organizing protests against such glaring injustices, joining forces with the valiant Muslim women who are working to change their societies. This is not happening.

If you go to the websites of major women’s groups, such as the National Organization for Women, the Ms. Foundation for Women, and the National Council for Research on Women, or to women’s centers at our major colleges and universities, you’ll find them caught up with entirely other issues, seldom mentioning women in Islam. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today’s campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world.

It’s because today’s “apartheid campaign” targets Israel, one of the most gender-equal cultures on the planet.

It is not that American feminists are indifferent to the predicament of Muslim women. Nor do they completely ignore it. For a brief period before September 11, 2001, many women’s groups protested the brutalities of the Taliban. But they have never organized a full-scale mobilization against gender oppression in the Muslim world. The condition of Muslim women may be the most pressing women’s issue of our age, but for many contemporary American feminists it is not a high priority. Why not?

The reasons are rooted in the worldview of the women who shape the concerns and activities of contemporary American feminism. That worldview is — by tendency and sometimes emphatically — antagonistic toward the United States, agnostic about marriage and family, hostile to traditional religion, and wary of femininity. The contrast with Islamic feminism could hardly be greater.

Writing in the New Republic in 1999, philosopher Martha Nussbaum noted with disapproval that “feminist theory pays relatively little attention to the struggles of women outside the United States.” Too many fashionable gender theorists, she said, have lost their dedication to the public good. Their “hip quietism . . . collaborates with evil.”

This was a frontal assault, and prominent academic feminists chastised Nussbaum in the letters column. Joan Scott of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton pointed out the dangers of Nussbaum’s “good versus evil scheme.” Wrote Scott, “When Robespierre or the Ayatollahs or Ken Starr seek to impose their vision of the ‘good’ on the rest of society, reigns of terror follow and democratic politics are undermined.” Gayatri Spivak, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia, accused Nussbaum of “flag waving” and of being on a “civilizing mission.” None of the letter writers addressed her core complaint: Too few feminist theorists are showing concern for the millions of women trapped in blatantly misogynist cultures outside the United States.

Good example of the same kind of evasive rhetoric we find from anti-Zionist Jews in defense of their rhetorical excess of anti-Zionism (Westernism) and silence about the morally depraved world of Palestinian resistance. The French have a saying: “Il ne faut pas mettre le doigt entre l’arbre et l’écorce” [Don’t put your finger between the tree and the bark]. Don’t get between Western radicals and their anti-Westernism.

One reason is that many feminists are tied up in knots by multiculturalism and find it very hard to pass judgment on non-Western cultures. They are far more comfortable finding fault with American society for minor inequities (the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club, the “underrepresentation” of women on faculties of engineering) than criticizing heinous practices beyond our shores. The occasional feminist scholar who takes the women’s movement to task for neglecting the plight of foreigners is ignored or ruled out of order.

Honor Killings Up in Palestinian Territories

Report: Palestinian ‘honor killings’ up

Khaled Abu Toameh, THE JERUSALEM POST May. 29, 2007

Violence against women in Palestinian society is on the rise. This is according to a report prepared by Ohaila Shomar, coordinator of SAWA (All Women Together Today and Tomorrow) which operates a hotline for battered Palestinian women.

The report, which was a group effort between SAWA and other organizations, showed that at least 48 women have been killed in the last three years in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a result of domestic violence. Until 2004, the number of Palestinian women murdered every year ranged between 10 and 12.

Most of the victims were murdered for allegedly bringing “shame” on male members of their families. The victims’ ages ranged between 12 and 85.

Shomar, who for years has helped Palestinian women deal with violence and sexual abuse, said that 32 of the cases were related to “honor killings” and all except two of the victims were Muslims. Fourteen of the women were single, eight married, six divorced and two widowed.

Seventeen of the women had been murdered by their brothers, while only five were slain by their fathers, the report showed. The methods of murder included strangulation, poisoning, hanging, shooting and beating.

Half of the murders took place in the West Bank, while the other half occurred in the Gaza Strip.

The 40-page report pointed out that the real problem was the absence of a proper law to punish the perpetrators. The Palestinians still use a Jordanian law dating back to 1960 and which imposes a light sentence on men involved in “honor killings.”

Moral Equivalence as Moral Inversion: A Mediation of the Yawning Chasm

Rabbi Avi Shafran has an interesting meditation on the moral chasm that separates Israeli/Jewish culture from Palestinian culture. This essay seems to date to about 2002, but its points remain relevant today.

In some senses, this gap is so huge, so terrifying to behold, that anyone not wanting to sound like a moral racist by acknowledging it ends up having to take the kind of position that JeffB took in his exchanges with me in an earlier discussion. When I asked him why, if [what he perceived as] Israeli refusal to admit error infuriated him, he was not frothing at the mouth about Palestinian demonizing and refusal to accept any responsibility, he responded:

    In this particular case, I am operating from a very different paradigm than you, a paradigm which leads me to the conclusion that the Palestinians have responded fairly rationally and ethically to the situation. I don’t attribute much blame to them, and consequently see little denial or rationalization.

Few statements illustrate more laconically the moral bankruptcy of the “PCP” take on the conflict, a bankruptcy that, I suspect, derives from the fear of what kind of positions one might have to take if one considered both the Palestinians and the Israelis autonomous moral agents, rather than the Israelis as the evil agents who give the Palestinians no choice. In trying to save Palestinian honor from being tarnished by their morally degrading behavior, PCPers end up robbing them of moral agency.

The piece is clearly a work of Jewish apologetics. The question is not what motivated it, but what it’s value in shedding light on what’s going on. I personally think (unlike many “objective” historians), that morality is a critical issue in assessing both past and present problems.

Immoral Equivalence

Complaints are being voiced in many circles of American Jewry about what is regarded as the disproportionate focus in much of the mainstream media on Palestinian civilian suffering caused by Israel’s response to Palestinian terror.

Not to mention the difference between how the media handles Palestinian suffering caused by Jews and that caused by “fellow” Arabs.

However, less important than whether the media has properly balanced its reportage of the respective suffering of Palestinians and Israelis is something else. Rare in many outlets and absent entirely from some is any portrayal of the screaming moral imbalance in the carnage.

When Palestinian civilians are inadvertently harmed in the pursuit of terrorists (and innocent casualties, tragically, are part of every war), the Israeli reaction is anguish and regret; when Israeli civilians are intentionally murdered, there is self-satisfaction and celebration among Palestinians. Israel takes careful precautions to limit casualties on the Palestinian side; Palestinian bombers aim to slaughter Jews, and regard their successes as tickets to popularity and paradise.

Two points: First, innocent civilians harmed are not part of every war. World War I was low on civilian casualties. They are part of wars in which one or both sides fight from the midst of civilian populations. In this case we have Palestinians seeking to make maximal civilian casualties not only among Israelis (with their various forms of bombing), but also maximal civilian casualties among themselves (by firing from hospital and school rooftops), in order to get that media “advantage.”

Second, Palestinians would claim that this is disingenuous: Israelis at best don’t care about civilian casualties when they do their reprisals and targeted assassinations, and their “anguished regret” is crocodile tears aimed at appeasing public opinion. How much of that is projection, how much disregards the ample evidence of Israelis calling off strikes because it would harm too many civilians…? That’s up to each student of the conflict to decide for themselves.

Tripoli 2007 vs. Jenin 2002: Even-handed Media’s Double Standards

Here’s a piece which puts things in perspective about the MSM and Muslims as victims. (Hat tip: fp)

Jenin comes to Lebanon. So where is the outcry?

Jonathan Kay
National Post

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Last week, the Lebanese army attacked a squalid Palestinian refugee camp that’s become infested with Islamist suicide terrorists and guerilla fighters. On May 20, government troops surrounded the camp, with tanks and artillery pieces shelling it at close range. Army snipers gunned down anything that moved. At least 18 civilians were killed, and dozens more injured. Water and electricity were cut off. By week’s end, much of the camp had been turned into deserted rubble. Thousands of terrified residents fleeing the camp reported harrowing stories of famished, parched families trapped in their basements.

How did the rest of the world react? The Arab League quickly condemned “the criminal and terrorist acts carried out by the terrorist group known as Fatah al-Islam,” and vowed to “give its full support to the efforts of the army and the Lebanese government.” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also condemned Fatah al-Islam, and declared Europe’s “support” for Lebanon. And the UN Security Council called the actions of Fatah al-Islam “an unacceptable attack” on Lebanon’s sovereignty. As for the Western media, most outlets ignored the story following the first flurry of news reports.

At this point, please indulge me by re-reading the first paragraph of this column — except this time, substitute the world “Israeli” for “Lebanese” in the first sentence. Let’s imagine what the world’s reaction would be if the ongoing siege were taking place in Gaza or the West Bank instead of the Nahr al Bared refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli, Lebanon.

First of all, a flood of foreign journalists would descend on the camp to document Israel’s cruelty and barbarism, and the story would remain front page news to this day. Al-Jazeera would be a 24/7 montage of grieving mothers swearing revenge on the Zionist butchers, and rumours would swirl of mass graves and poison gas. The Arab League, EU and United Nations would condemn Israeli aggression — as would the editorial board of The New York Times. The Independent would dispatch Robert Fisk to embed with Fatah al-Islam. And the newspaper’s cartoonist, Dave Brown, would produce another award-winning rendition of his signature theme: Jews eating Palestinian babies.

Actually, we don’t need to speculate: What I have just written is exactly what happened when the Israeli army invaded the Jenin refugee camp to root out terrorists in April, 2002, a battle that was similar in scale to this month’s siege at Nahr al Bared. (At Jenin, 52 refugee camp residents were killed — most of them gunmen, according to Human Rights Watch. At Nahr al Bared, the figure is 45 and climbing.) The main difference between the two sieges is that Israel’s army put its troops at far greater risk by invading Jenin with infantry — whereas the less humane Lebanese army has simply pummelled Nahr al Bared with explosives from a distance. Jews apparently care a lot more about saving Palestinian civilians than do Lebanese soldiers.

Another major difference: The Lebanese have not been suffering a year-and-a-half-long campaign of suicide terrorism in which people from this camp had spread out everywhere in the country blowing up people in buses, marketplaces, and restaurants. So even the provocation for the assault is nothing near as imperative as the Israeli one.

(Personal note: I was in an Arab-Israeli “dialogue” group from late 2000 onwards, and when Sharon was elected, the prediction of virtually everyone was that the butcher of Sabra and Shatilla would go back to his meat-cleaver tactics immediately. The fact that he waited over a year before responding to some really dastardly attacks never made the slightest dent in the universal distaste that members of the dialogue had for him.)

For years, we have been told that Palestinian suffering and “humiliation” is at the root of the Middle East conflict, as well as the Western-Muslim clash of civilizations more generally. This is nonsense: The 200,000-plus Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanese camps are treated worse than dogs — with no access to decent schools or good jobs — and no one in the Arab world cares a whit. In fact, many Arabs seem to embrace the same blind anti-Palestinian hatred of which Israel is typically accused. When Lebanese armoured personnel carriers rolled through Tripoli on May 20, they got a standing ovation from local residents. “We wish the government would destroy the whole camp and the rest of the camps,” one local told The New York Times. “Nothing good comes out of the Palestinians.”

Just as Lebanon’s stew of eternally warring Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Hezbollah terrorists and militarized clans serves as a Mediterranean microcosm for the political dysfunction of the Arab world, this month’s events capture perfectly the utter cynicism of the Islamic world’s trumped up vilification of Israel, and the West as a whole. As with the Muslim- on-Muslim slaughter in Darfur, Iraq, Pakistan, Gaza and a dozen other hot spots, the siege at Nahr al Bared shows that what inflames “the Muslim street” (for lack of a better cliche) isn’t Muslim suffering, but the relatively tiny fraction thereof that jihadi propagandists and their Western apologists can lay at the feet of Jews and Christians.

Muslim blood apparently comes cheap — but only when it’s drawn by other Muslims.

As Churchill once commented wryly: “The Arabs don’t mind being oppressed as long as it’s by other Arabs.” The point here being a matter of honor-shame. When an Arab strongman dominates others, they admire the strongman, when an outsider — or worse, a rebellious subject insider like the Jews — dominates Arabs, it’s an unbearable affront to honor. Thus when Assad killed 20,000 Arab Muslims in Hama in 1982 – the same year that the Phalange killed less than a thousand Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla — the Arab world had nothing to say.

And neither did the media… which suggests the uncomfortable possibility that the media, in their coverage, reflect, conform to, and amplify the distorted world of Arab honor-shame concerns, highlighting not that which causes them real catastrophes, but what causes them narcissistic injury.

How’s that for a nice illustration of the superiority of the HJP over the PCP as an elegant (if tragic) explanation of the problem?

Islamic Society of Boston Drops Suit

Important, breaking news. The Islamic Society of Boston, who, in trying to use the law to bully people who worried about radical Islam penetrating into American communities, ended up rendering themselves vulnerable to the penetrating eye of “discovery”, has dropped its suit against a wide range of orgnaizations and individuals. (This is, by the way, what should have happened to Charles Enderlin who tried the same thing in France, except that the rules of French discovery do not permit much.) The David Project, which spearheaded the response to this suit, despite enormous pressure from mainstream Jewish organizations who feared looking “illiberal” in attacking “mainstream” Islamic organizations, deserves all the credit. Solomonia has the breaking story, as well as the best review of the whole saga.

Breaking: Islamic Society of Boston Drops Lawsuit! Updated with MAS Release

The Silencing ends!

This press release just in from The David Project:

    Islamic Society of Boston Drops Lawsuits Against David Project, Concerned Citizens, Boston Herald and Fox, Abandoning All Of Its Claims Without Receiving Any Payment

    David Project to Continue Public Records Lawsuit To Force Disclosure of Evidence on Boston Redevelopment Authority-Islamic Society Land Deal

    The David Project has announced that the Islamic Society of Boston (“ISB”) and its officers have withdrawn all of their claims against all of the citizens who raised concerns about the ISB, its funding and its leadership, as well as all of their claims against the Boston Herald, Fox-TV and the various journalists whose investigative pieces about the ISB in 2003 and 2004 disclosed damaging information about the ISB and its controversial land deal with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (“BRA”). The ISB and its officers have abandoned all of their claims against all of the defendants they sued 2 years ago, without payment to the ISB or to them of any money whatsoever.

    The ISB’s decision to drop all of its claims against all of the 17 defendants it sued back in 2005 alleging “defamation” and accusing them of conspiring to violate its civil rights comes just months after the defendants–who included a Muslim cleric, a Christian political science professor and the Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors, as well as Boston civic leader William Sapers and national terrorism expert Steven Emerson–had begun through their lawyers to conduct discovery into the ISB’s financial records, its receipt of millions of dollars in funding from Saudi Arabian and other Middle Eastern sources, its contributions to certain organizations and the records of certain of its officers and directors. The ISB’s abandonment of its lawsuits comes only weeks after two of its original Middle Eastern Trustees, Walid Fitaihi of Saudi Arabia and Ali Tobah of Egypt, suddenly resigned as Trustees just before they were required to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts court hearing the case.

    The David Project, whose public records litigation against the BRA forced the public disclosure of evidence regarding the below-fair-market land deal between the BRA and the ISB and the role played in that deal of BRA Deputy Director Muhammed Ali Salaam, will proceed exactly as before with its litigation, seeking the remainder of the documents presently withheld by the BRA. That litigation, The David Project v. Boston Redevelopment Authority, is on file in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston.

Read the rest.

In a bizarre but not unexpected twist of honor-shame culture, somewhat like Yassir Arafat and his gang shooting their guns off as they leave Lebanon and go into Tunisian exile in 1982, the Muslim Association of America claims victory for the Islamic Society of Boston.


MAS Declares Victory in Protecting the Right to Build Major Islamic Center

(Legal Settlement Ends Effort to Stop Construction of New England’s Largest Islamic Center)

In what has been described as a major victory for religious freedom and civil rights, the Muslim American Society (MAS) and its Freedom Foundation have provided the primary leadership, support, and strategy on behalf of the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) in achieving a major victory and settling a four-year legal battle, which attempted to stop the building of the largest Islamic center on the east coast.

The Islamic Society of Boston’s Islamic Center, which is being constructed in the Roxbury section of Boston, had been under a multi-level campaign of negative reporting and disinformation. These efforts resulted in a lawsuit initiated by the David Project, and filed by James Policastro. The law suit sought to stop the completion of the Islamic center. Consequently, a law suit was filed on behalf of the ISB against the David Project, Inc., Citizens for Peace and Tolerance and other related defendants. Today, the Muslim American Society, America’s largest grass roots Muslim organization announced that the ISB, the David Project, Inc., and Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, have ended all litigations against each other including James Policastro’s suit against the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Roxbury Community College and the Islamic Society of Boston.

MAS and its Freedom Foundation was instrumental in bringing together various religious communities in the Boston area and developing an outreach strategy that focused on embracing diversity and fostering mutual respect and trust. “As MAS, we were able to overcome a strong and divisive element in the Boston community that had tremendous legal and financial resources. This element, led by the David Project, had extended its vast resources toward stopping the construction of the new ISB Islamic Center. We at MAS were adamant in our defense of the right of Muslims in this country to build mosques and were determined not to let the David Project use dilatory legal tactics in stopping the completion of this magnificent Islamic Center I think that this settlement is indicative of the fact that we achieved our overall goals of protecting religious freedom and Muslim’s civil rights by providing factual information about the ISB, and Muslim houses of worship, reducing tensions between various communities, and complying with the express wishes of the Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino, for all sides to come to some type of negotiated settlement”, stated M. Bilal Kaleem. The settlement prevents any further legal action by the defendants to stopping the building of the mosque and re-affirms MAS’ basic principle for the respect and sanctity of all houses of worship. The construction of the mosque is ongoing, and on June 9 there will be a special celebration for the capping of the minaret (top most portion).

MAS outreach efforts on behalf of the ISB settlement was supported by a diverse coalition which included the Jewish Workman’s Circle, Father Helmick (a specialist in conflict resolution) American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Tekiah, the Boston Tikkun Community, Community Change, Inc., The Diocese of St. Francis of Assisi, the Massachusetts Chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, United for Justice and Peace, Cambridge United for Justice and Peace, Clarendon Church and Dorchester People for Peace, The Muslim Public Affairs Council.

The new ISB Islamic Center will provide a place of worship to the ever expanding Muslim population in the area, and serve as an educational resource to universities and other educational institutions. Additionally, the Mosque will house an inter-religious center that will focus on interfaith dialog, research and positive engagement between diverse faith traditions.

The Muslim American Society will hold a press conference on behalf of the ISB, pertaining to this settlement on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. In front of the ISBCC at 1 Malcolm X Blvd, in the Roxbury community.

And like Yassir’s return to the territories to bully his “fellow” Palestinians with his mafia of aging thugs in 1994 with the Oslo Accords, we may not have seen the end of this Islamic Society of Boston’s plans, which their dropping of this suit was intended to protect. Apparently, this ain’t over yet.

Israele Siamo Noi: Italy’s New Bestseller?

Ruthie Blum, whose laser vision has skewered more than one unsuspecting victim, interviews Fiamma Nirenstein, the fiery Italian journalist who went from 60s radicalism to proud Zionism in her life of passionate integrity. Fiamma’s new book — Israele Siamo Noi — represents what I hope will be the beginning of a turn-around in European perceptions… from the sick (in the Nietzschean sense) self-hatred and dhimmi appeasement of the current anti-American, anti-Zionist “left” to a healthy respect for all that Western culture has achieved in the way of civic culture, freedom and tolerance, and the courage to defend it against global Jihadis. Her insights into why the Italians don’t want to think about the threat posed by Islam are at once illuminating and depressing.

One on One: Making the case for commonality

Ruthie Blum, THE JERUSALEM POST May. 9, 2007
Fiamma Nirenstein rushes into her kitchen to brew some Italian coffee before we sit down to discuss her latest best-seller, Israele Siamo Noi [Israel Is Us; Rizzoli Publishers], which sold out in its first week and is already on its second printing. On the table, amid a mound of newspapers – The Jerusalem Post prominent among them – is a laptop with at least three documents on which she is working simultaneously: one, an article she needs to finish by evening to meet her deadline for the Milan-based daily, Il Giornale; another, a lecture she is preparing for her upcoming trip to Rome; yet another an entry for her popular blog.

The music of the bubbling espresso pot is accompanied by the repeated Outlook Express jingle signalling she has new mail and the ring of her home and mobile phones.

“Pronto,” she answers each, practically simultaneously, talking to one caller in Italian and the other in Hebrew. This she does while ushering me into the salon and gesturing that I take a seat on the couch. The spacious, sunny living-and-dining room may as well be a multilingual Mideast studies library, for all the books on the subject lining the walls, and the dozens more piled high on other surfaces – a number of which she herself has either authored, co-authored or contributed to.

Given the room’s decor, it may as well be located in Florence, where Nirenstein was born and raised; in Rome, where she lives and works (and visits her 25-year-old son, Binyamin) half of every month; or in Tuscany, where she spends her summers. The panoramic view of the Holy City from the floor-to-ceiling windows is the only give-away to the location of Nirenstein’s home in Jerusalem – which she shares with her Israeli husband, Ofer Eshed, a TV news cameraman.

“Israel is a country of heroes,” Nirenstein says in Italian-accented English, now turning her undivided attention to our hour-long interview. “My book tries to destroy the vile myths perpetrated about its being ‘colonialist’ or an ‘apartheid state’ on the one hand, and about terrorists ‘being militiamen fighting for freedom’ on the other.”

Nirenstein does this, she explains, by dissecting what she calls the “sick words” that have infiltrated the language and consciousness of an increasingly anti-Semitic Europe – terms she and a group of Italian academics plan on collecting for a glossary, “because such word abuse prevents even the possibility of understanding what Israel is all about.”

She comes by her passion for Israel – and familiarity with the conceptual distortions characteristic of “autocratic ideologies” – honestly. The daughter of Holocaust historian and long-time Al Hamishmar correspondent Aharon “Nir” Nirenstein (who came to Palestine in 1936 from Poland, and went to Italy in 1945 with the Jewish Brigade) and Corriere della Sera journalist Wanda Lattes, Nirenstein was an ardent communist in her youth. And, just as Zionism was part and parcel of her upbringing, so too, she says, was she caught up in the “mental corruption” that caused her generation to look to the likes of Che Guevara for inspiration, while attributing the world’s ills to “capitalist imperialism.”

Nirenstein, who has been reporting from Israel for the Italian print and broadcast media for nearly two decades, after years of being an international columnist (recently, she moved from the Left-leaning La Stampa to the conservative Il Giornale), is a European version of a neocon. Her journey across the political spectrum – like that of her American counterparts – began as a response to the radical climate of the 1960s in her own country. Unlike theirs, however, Nirenstein’s was paved with an added complication: To side with anything resembling the right wing in post-World War II Italy meant aligning with the fascists.

Still, Nirenstein asserts, “You cannot run away from reality indefinitely. Ultimately, you have to know what’s right in terms of values, and be courageous about standing up for them.”

For her, this endeavor has taken the form of examining, reporting on and writing extensively about terrorism – and defending Israel in the face of it. “This costs something, of course,” she says, alluding to the bodyguards who pick her up from the airport every time she lands in Italy, and shuttle her from place to place throughout her stay there.

This is the tip of that iceberg of intimidation that permeates even Western countries (not to mention anyone in Arab lands) when it comes to reporting negative news about the Palestinians and Muslims. Anyone who does not appreciate the “price” one must pay to report accurately, does not understand why our news reporters — even the top echelon — do not serve us, their audience, well.

During her most recent stint to promote her book – an appeal to Europeans to emulate Israeli democracy – Nirenstein says she was pleased about the positive reception it received, but stops short of being optimistic. Shrugging and smiling wryly, she sighs: “I’m afraid Europe will only wake up if terrible things happen that none of us would wish on ourselves or on anybody else.

Why is it significant that your book has received so much attention in the mainstream Italian press?

My previous [eight] books have also been given extensive coverage, but what’s significant in this case are the headlines. “Israel: A model for all of us,” and “Israel: A model for democracy.

Even the newspaper Corriere della Sera – which isn’t known for its pro-Israel attitude – titled the review: “Israel – a laboratory of democracy for all of Europe.”

I got the sense that this book released a cork in European public opinion. Many people have approached me and whispered in my ear, “I am with you.”

I would like to think this is true, and anecdotal evidence I have culled from British and French friends and acquaintances suggests that it is. But like the “silent majority” of Palestinians that Rees assures us wants to be freed of the madness that rules them, they have enormous difficulty standing up and speaking out. As the Japanese saying goes, “The nail that sticks up is hammered down.”

The Power of Demonization: It’s all in the Intent

All Things Beautiful has an extremely interesting meditation on the power of demonization. I quote from her conclusion:

Here is where the real power of demonization lies. Human beings are notoriously bad at figuring out other people’s motives, and if there’s anything that experience teaches us, it’s that when people try to ascribe motives to people they don’t like, they almost always ascribe to them motives that (a) aren’t at all what the real motives were and (b) are much worse than the real motives were. You see it in estranged husbands and wives and parents and children: once you get angry with somebody you get very bad at figuring out what their motives are, and once your anger settles into permanent hatred you can be all but guaranteed to get it wrong. If, therefore, I were to attempt to spell out what I thought were the motives of the person I wished to demonize, I would be likely to come up with something as patently absurd as Krugman’s utterly-bereft-of-sanity wild-assed speculation about the near-Satanic motives of The Evil That Is Dubya:

    Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

Now anybody who is not himself blinded by hatred of Dubya will, upon reading that, simply say, “My God, Krugman has lost it,” and go on about his business. The danger of specificity, you see, is that the more specific you make a charge, the easier it is for your opponents — or, in Krugman’s case, your readers’ simple common sense — to show the absurdity of your charge, thus destroying its effectiveness: instead of hating your target, people merely laugh at you. So you see, it is far more effective simply to slap on some label that drags in the connotation of evil motives, without ever providing an explicit accusation of evil motives against which your target could defend himself. Specifics can be refuted. Vague connotations cannot.

You could, for example, call Republicans “fascists.” Not one Democrat in a hundred could tell you what makes a particular system of government “fascist,” nor would those hundred Democrats really care. In modern American language, “You fascist,” means, “You’re a Republican, plus I hate you.” Similarly, to call someone a “fundamentalist Christian” now means nothing much more than, “You think that there’s a single moral code that applies to everybody and in particular to me, even if I happen to dislike its requirements, plus you are uneducated and probably toothless and at most a short walk from the trailer park…plus I hate you.” “Liberal” is rapidly coming to mean something similar on the other side, and of course I’ve already pointed out what has happened to the term “feminist.”

That’s the beauty (from the demagoguic standpoint) of labels. And that’s the power of demonization. —

Okay, but that still leaves us with our original question: ” Why is this a problem?

It’s a problem because, by demonizing, one drives a wedge between people that can only lead to profound hostility and eventually violence. Now in some cases, that’s not exactly the wrong thing, as Tigerhawk pointed out in a recent post. There are people whose motives are genuinely evil — like Jihadis who wish to take over the world and turn it into a dystopia resembling Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. They are enemies and deserve not so much demonization as denunciation. But when you live in a democracy and you go after the other party because they do things you really don’t like, then you are on the road to conspiracy, factionalism and terrorism. It will be the death of the very democracy whose values prompt you to denounce in the most ludicrous terms, the behavior of the opposing party.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Even-Handedness: Eric Alterman’s Meditations on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Eric Alterman has an interesting meditation on the Arab-Israeli conflict and how difficult it is to discuss it. It’s remarkably “even-handed” which, coming in a journal like The Nation is already an immense step forward. But the very evidence it presents makes it clear that this conflict as fearful a-symmetries. How to move forward? Good question for which Alterman offers at least one suggestion.

the liberal media | posted May 17, 2007 (June 4, 2007 issue)
‘Can We Talk?’

Eric Alterman

The difficulty of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from more sources than one can comfortably count, but surely one of the most significant is our inability even to discuss it. The emotional intensity of so many people’s investment in their own self-justifying story line censors the effects of any potentially upsetting fact.

For instance, I thought it a pretty significant problem for Israel’s unquestioning defenders when Peace Now revealed that nearly a third of the land currently occupied by Israeli settlements was actually listed as private Palestinian land. In other words, these so-called “facts on the ground” rest on exactly the pattern of illegal seizure that critics have long alleged and successions of Israeli governments have sought to cover up. But I’ve yet to read a word from those dedicated to defending any and every action by Israel explaining how this new information affects their arguments.

I don’t know what Alterman reads, but the responses were immediate, and underline a serious problem with the game of even-handedness that he’s playering here. Indeed, Peace Now had to retract their claims, if grudgingly, by quietly revising their figures for the settlement Ma’ale Adumim (near Jerusalem), from 84% built on Palestinian privately owned land to 0.54%. Notes NGO Monitor:

In short, we are dealing a classic example of the credulity of Western sources for Palestinian claims. And even when they admit the mistake, they fall back on the rhetorical values of the grotesque exaggerations. Shades of Gitmo=Gulag. This is one of the most dangerous “advocacy” trends in “self-critical” Western discussion of the conflict, contributing considerably to the unfathomable Palestinian sense of grievance.

Similarly, the apparently never-ending deadly violence between Hamas fighters and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in Gaza–to say nothing of the murderous hatred both sides openly profess toward all Jews–ought to provide considerable cause for pause among those who demand an immediate end to the Israeli occupation, security concerns be damned. And yet from those who hold that position, one hears precious little about Israel’s entirely understandable worries about the prospects of being asked to live alongside a failed, fanatical and heavily armed Islamic state.

Absolutely. Note the lack of symmetry in this supposedly even-handed presentation. The mutual killing of Palestinians is something amply documented despite the mutually reinforcing tendency of Palestinian sources to downplay it, and the Western press to follow their lead. The accusation against the Israelis comes from advocacy journalists within the framework of an Israeli culture that permits — and critiques — any accusation against them.

Personally, I deal with this problem by refusing to discuss the conflict with anyone, anywhere, assuming that the likely result of any face-to-face dispute is almost always personal fury rather than intellectual enlightenment.

I don’t think this is the right approach. The important thing is to explore what are the verbal “land mines” that set off anger, and how can we at once defuse them all the while permitting important information and opinion to be discussed?

    In polite discourse, one does not say certain things lest there be violence. In civic discourse, one can say what is necessary and there won’t be violence.

It’s terribly important to talk these things out, not shout down opponents as recently at UCLA.

A Terrorist Swims in the People He Claims to Fight for Like a Shark in Water

Nathan Thrall has a piece on the novel by Matt Beynon Rees, The Collaborator of Bethlehem. The protagonist is a self-critical Palestinian, Omar Yussef. He represents, according to Rees, a silent majority. How do we encourage them to speak? (Hat tip: SH)

A loss of trust

Nathan Thrall, The Jerusalem Post, May. 24, 2007

Omar Yussef, a balding 56-year-old grandfather, non-practicing Muslim and teacher of history at the UN-run Girls School in Dehaishe refugee camp, was squabbling over a dinner bill with his friend and former pupil, George Saba, when gunshots rang out nearby. The two friends were seated in an empty restaurant not far from George’s home in the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala. They hadn’t seen each other in some time, for George, like many of Bethlehem’s Christians, had left and moved to Chile, home to the largest Palestinian community outside the Arab world. Unlike most Palestinian migrants, George had recently returned. But the Bethlehem he came back to was one in which he was now even less welcome, one in which dinners between old Muslim and Christian friends had become rare.

Moments before the gunshots, George and Yussef had been sipping tea and sharing baklava. George had told his old teacher how his home had been the target of Israeli fire when local men from the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade had used his rooftop to shoot across the valley at the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. George had vowed that he would not let them do it again. Now, as the bursts of gunfire continued, George and Yussef went to the restaurant’s door.

“Jesus,” George said, “I think they might be on my roof again.” Before Yussef could stop him, George was off. The next time they saw each other, some days later, it was in a damp, rank jail cell. Yussef was visiting and George was incarcerated, arrested for collaborating with Israel and accused of facilitating the recent murder of a Martyrs Brigade fighter. George was facing imminent execution. Yussef was determined to spend the next days and nights doing all in his power to exonerate his friend. He would confront Bethlehem’s corrupt authorities and all-powerful gunmen. He would search for the identity of the real collaborator.

A TOP-STORY apartment in a tall building in the Givat Oranim neighborhood of Jerusalem, just a short drive from Dehaishe, is where Yussef’s creator lives. British-born and Oxford educated, a journalist for over 15 years (most recently the Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine), Matt Beynon Rees is the proud father of a first novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, the first in a series of Omar Yussef mysteries. In an airy study overlooking Rehov Shai Agnon, Rees sits on a beanbag across from a framed cover of his first book, Cain’s Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East, and paraphrases the words written in his novel’s prologue: “All the crimes in this book are based on real events in Bethlehem. Though identities and some circumstances have been changed, the killers really killed this way, and those who died are dead just the same.”

One of those real events in Bethlehem, Rees says, “was a man who was dragged into the street and shot as a collaborator. Sometime later, I went to the head of Fatah in Dehaishe and he said, ‘No, he wasn’t a collaborator. He just was a powerless guy.’ There was a collaborator who had been involved in an assassination. The government didn’t know who the collaborator was, and they wanted to kill someone to put off other collaborators. So they killed this guy.”

Though Rees’s criticisms are harsh, he can hardly contain his love of Palestinian society. Blue-eyed and fair skinned, he speaks unabashedly of feeling “incredibly alive” when he first stepped foot in the West Bank, “like a 19th-century Victorian who came to the source of the Nile.”

The idea for the novel came to Rees when he was in Irtas, just south of Bethlehem, in 2003. He was covering the murder of a man from Fatah who had been shot in a cabbage patch while sneaking home for Iftar, the evening meal with which Muslims break their Ramadan fast.

“I was standing in the cabbage patch with the guy’s wife and mother and they were talking to me in a very emotional, very eloquent, very forthright way,” recalls Rees, who once worked at The Jerusalem Post. “And I remember standing there thinking, ‘this is great. I’m really learning something about Palestinians and how they respond to an extreme situation. What’s not so great is that I know it’s going to be one paragraph of color at the top of my story in Time. Then I’ll have to have a paragraph that says that the Palestinians say this, to be sure the Israelis say that, and the State Department says let’s be nice. And it’s worth more than a paragraph, what I’ve learned here.'”

The event provided the basis for the first murder in the novel.

Rees says he wrote the mystery because he wanted to get at the interior life of the Palestinians.

“Journalism is limited by its formulas, it’s limited by its pretense to objectivity,” he says. “And what it doesn’t get at is what happens inside a Palestinian’s head. That emotional core, that core of the Palestinians’ thinking, is missing.”

I’m not sure this is the case. Maybe Time Magazine has no time for close-up looks, but I’d argue that a serious look at what the Palestinians really think is important news. The problem is that it’s so often done from the perspective of “cognitive egocentrism.”

Why are Palestinians Killing Each Other in Gaza: Pollak Takes on Yglesias

Noah Pollak takes on Matthew Ygliesias at Michael Totten’s blog:

Who is responsible for Gaza? A reply to Matthew Yglesias

Read the whole thing, but for here, the conclusion:

There is something very consistent about governance in the Arab world. Among the Arab countries today in which there is a modicum of internal stability, each is controlled by an Arafat-type figure — an anti-democratic strongman who is able to crush all challenges to his authority. Likewise, among those Arab countries that aren’t ruled by a despot, the political dynamic is also consistent: In Lebanon, Iraq, and now Gaza, sectarian violence is the dominant form of political expression. It’s true that Arafat’s authority was weaker in Gaza than in the West Bank, but in Gaza there was always another strongman present to keep a lid on things: the Israeli occupation. When Israel disengaged in the summer of 2005, suddenly Gaza was without any master at all, and that’s exactly when the territory started going full-tilt toward the Hobbesian state of nature it now finds itself in.

And so to blame recent Bush administration choices for this lawlessness — or more precisely, to invent stories about administration choices — is more than a bit much. Even if the PA elections in 2006 hadn’t occurred, I doubt the battle we are seeing today wouldn’t have happened. The fight is foreordained by Gaza’s demography, its political and religious extremism, Arafat’s death, and Israel’s unwillingness to police the territory. The Bush administration is simply along for the ride — as is Israel. And the reason why Abbas has never been able to emerge as a leader of the Palestinians is because his weakness is similarly foreordained. Consensus-based political leadership is anathema to the Arab world. We’re seeing that rather starkly today in Gaza.

All of that said, I think that Yglesias ends up being partially right (even though he doesn’t mean to be) when he lays the lawlessness in Gaza at Bush’s feet. The sad truth is that Gaza today is a testament to the failure of the entire 14-year project of creating the Palestinian Authority, retrieving Arafat from exile, and attempting to drag the Arabs of Palestine, against their will, into western political modernity. This process was started, and most forcefully pushed forward, by the Clinton administration, and today its corpse is still being dragged around the Middle East, Weekend at Bernie’s-style, by Condoleezza Rice.

Readers might be surprised to hear — Mr. Yglesias probably among them — that less than a year ago, Yglesias wrote the following: “I happen to think the White House made the right call on the question of Palestinian elections — even in retrospect, even knowing that Hamas won.” A couple of days ago, he called these administration officials “morons” for having supported the very same elections that he now condemns. I know it’s best to just hurry past the contradictions, especially when they involve the reshuffling of positions in order to condemn the Bush administration. But it is too enjoyable to avoid the conclusion that here, Yglesias is calling himself names.

This last point gets at a key issue: it is at least my impression that if anyone had said that democracy couldn’t work in Iraq because of cultural factors particular to Arabs a decade ago, they’d have been called racists by the same people who heap abuse on Bush for being so stupid as to think that democracy can work in the Arab world.

Also, don’t miss Michael Totten’s own photo-essay on Gaza: The Story of Gaza.

The Real Apartheid: Lebanese Fighting Reveals Two Forms of “Racism”

Carlos, of Peace with Realism has an interesting piece on the fighting in Lebanon, which reveals both the prejudices of the Lebanese against the Palestinians, as well as the Western media against Israel (although, when one thinks deeply about it, it’s really a prejudice against the Arabs, whom they apparently have so low an opinion of, that when they behave abominably — shelling civilian residences indiscriminately, killing children — they can’t even get mildly indignant).

May 23, 2007 – For the past several days the army shelled the Palestinian refugee camp. On the first day six civilians were killed, including two children, with more deaths to follow. Sixty more were wounded.

Thousands of civilians fled the camp as the shelling continued. Artillery fire disrupted delivery of food and water to the camp, preventing United Nations convoys from getting through. Hidden by darkness, civilians continued their flight, with as many as 10 people packed into one car, flying white flags from their windows. “There are dead and wounded on the road, inside the camp!” one woman screamed.”

The 40,000 refugees remaining in the camp had neither food nor water. Homes, mosques, and water tanks were hit. Damage to the infrastructure was extensive.

Oddly, there was no cry of outrage from the United Nations and the international community. No protests or demonstrations from Palestinian advocates around the world. No denunciations by Arab leaders defending their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Because this refugee camp is in Lebanon, and the attacking army is Lebanese. In the Middle East Arabs are allowed to kill Arabs without protest, especially when they are fighting “terrorism,” and even when there is civilian “collateral damage.”

This happened in the Nah al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese army was going after the Fatah al-Islam group of “militants” who were hiding in that camp.

Were such harsh measures really necessary? Wouldn’t it be more enlightened to examine the “root causes” of terrorism, if we really want to stamp it out?

Consider this:

There are about 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in camps scattered throughout Lebanon. They live in poverty and crowded conditions, in a state of apartheid, with fences separating them from the rest of Lebanese society. Lebanese law regards them as foreigners, with none of the privileges of citizenship. The rate of unemployment is as high as 70%, and those who do work perform menial jobs that others shun. “I don’t even bother looking for work any more,” says one inhabitant of the Rashidieh refugee camp who has a wife and nine children to feed. “They treat us like slaves. I get seven or eight dollars a day at most and it’s not enough for food.”

The children in these camps constitute the third generation of Palestinian refugees. Shaheen Chugtai, a spokesman for Save the Children, says: “When you put people in that kind of situation for a long period of time you find inevitably there is more stress, more violence, more abuse.” They are Arabs living as pariahs in an Arab land.

Many people don’t know that the number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is roughly equal to the number of Palestinian refugees. But there are no Jewish refugee camps. In Israel that would be considered shameful. Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, made them full citizens and gave them their dignity. Only Arab countries have the entitlement to discriminate against their own refugees in perpetuity, and receive sympathy for it.

It’s time to examine the root causes of the refugee problem. It’s time to consider the real apartheid.


Logan, Kitty. “Lebanon Faces New Enemy in Palestinian Camps.”, May 22, 2007.

Logan, Kitty. “Civilians Flee Lebanese Camp After Ceasefire.”, May 23, 2007.

Logan, Kitty. “A Life of Filth for Lebanon Refugees.”, May 23, 2007.

Logan, Kitty. “Thousands Flee Fighting in Lebanon Camp.”, May 23, 2007.

The point is well taken. Israeli values — the liberal commitments of civil society — would consider treating their own refugees like this shameful. (Indeed they treat their own Arabs better than the Arabs treat the Palestinians.)

The Arabs have no shame when it comes to abuse — it’s a sign of your manhood that you can step on someone else. And the Western world, especially the Western media, at once fails to shame them by revealing the depths of their depravity, and by reporting the suffering of the refugees as an Israeli responsibility.

I recently posted Calev Ben David’s piece on the Media’s ADD, it’s lack of interest in killing when it wasn’t Israeli related. Here’s another example. This pattern illustrates what an analyst remarked about the media after their coverage of the 1982 Israeli incursion into Lebanon. This is the media’s “moral playground.” They get to wax indignant about Israel; ignore the grotesque behavior of the Arabs, and no one can expect them to show any moral seriousness.

The results of such a combo of childish moralism and ADD are a Western public that doesn’t have a clue to the forces that produce war in this part of the world.

“We Pray that Israel will Come Back and Rule Us Again”: Gaza Residents Say the “Unsayable”

An interesting news report from Gaza by an unidentified British TV station (crew filming is presumably Palestinian which makes the candor all the more remarkable). (Hat tip: LGF)

At one point the narrator says, “And then he says what you’d think was unsayable here”:

“Who will rule us? Now most of the people in this area, if you ask them, will say ‘We pray that Israel will come back and rule us again.'”

“Really?” says a surprised (if understated) Brit.

“Really,” he replies.

Fisking Baskin: Why People Think You are a Flake

Gershon Baskin, who has been working tirelessly for peace with the Palestinians, and in the post-2000 Middle East still seems to live in the hopes of Oslo, has written a defense of his position in response to the many nasty talkbacks he gets for his efforts at the Jerusalem Post. Fisking below.

Answering my critics

May. 21, 2007

Since February 2005, I have been writing this column in the Jerusalem Post every other week. The talkbacks to my articles which also appear on are consistently angry, aggressive, and opposed to almost everything I write. The responses to my repeated calls for taking steps toward peace with our neighbors have been complete rejection.

The basis of opposition comes from those who question the very existence of the Palestinian people. Others, who might be willing to recognize that Palestinians do exist, are not wiling to accept the reality of their presence on any part of the Land of Israel. Others who might be willing to accept the presence of Palestinians in some part of Eretz Israel are not willing to accept the possibility of equal rights for them within the State of Israel or even in areas that are under the control of the State of Israel.

This conveniently overlooks the key criticism: the Palestinian leadership — which has tentacles deep into Palestinian society as a result of the dominion of patriarchal alpha males — does not accept the presence of Israel. All the “objectors” you talk postulate, as well as you, live in a fantasy world where Israeli agency is critical. You seem to think that if Israelis change their ways — basically in being nicer and make more concessions — then they can resolve these matters.

The lesson of 2000 was a painful one, repeated after the evacuation from Gaza in 2005: concessions are invitations to further aggression. This means that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict by peaceful means is not in the hands of the Israelis. It is in the hands of those Palestinians and Arabs who, no matter how insane, self-destructive, and morally revolting the path might be, consistently chose war with Israel over peace.

Intimidation of Media in Gaza: Compare it to the Rest of the Arab World

Avi Issacharoff has an important piece on the fate of (Arab) journalists in Gaza. All the Western reporters have fled, and what’s left is Arabs working for Arab and Western news agencies. The pervasive violence against reporters is close to suffocating, and yet — the journalism is better in Gaza than elsewhere in the Arab world according to one observer.

For Gaza journalists, kidnap is no longer the biggest fear

By Avi Issacharoff

What happened last Friday to Abd a-Salem Abu Askar, the head of Abu Dhabi television in the territories, is the nightmare of every journalist in the Gaza Strip.

At about 7:30 P.M. that day, Abu Askar left his house in Gaza City. Some 200 meters away, he ran into a roadblock manned by masked gunmen, who demanded his identification card. Then one radioed: “We’ve detained Abu Askar.” Abu Askar managed to call his office and say that he had been kidnapped; a few minutes later, a van carrying 10 gunmen arrived, removed him from his car, beat him up and took him to an unknown location.

The kidnappers, who said they were from Hamas, interrogated him for two hours about his business, his sources and his income. Meanwhile, his office contacted members of the Gaza Journalists Union, who in turn called senior Hamas officials, including Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Two hours later, the kidnappers were ordered to release Abu Askar.

But since the Hamas-Fatah infighting in Gaza began last week, being kidnapped is no longer the greatest danger facing journalists. On the very first day of the clashes, a reporter for the Hamas-affiliated paper Falastin was shot dead, along with another employee of the paper.

“The danger is real,” said an employee of a foreign news agency. “Journalists have stopped leaving their houses. You can’t move in the streets for fear of being hit by a stray bullet.”

“And even if you stay home and don’t move, that doesn’t mean you’re safe,” he continued. “So many media offices have been hit during the battles because they are located in strategic, multistory buildings: Al Jazeera, Reuters, German television, Radio Al-Quds, private production companies and others.”

Those who can, travel in armored cars, but few journalists are so privileged.

One day last week, dozens of journalists huddled for hours in the Ramatan studio in Gaza City, which is located near the house of a senior Fatah official, as bullets rained down on the building. One of them, A., said that he was not afraid of the warring organizations themselves, but of “the young roughnecks, who care about nothing and don’t know what journalism is. I’ve already received more than a few phone calls: ‘Why did you say that, why didn’t you say something else’ … It’s frightening, but you learn to work with these threats. [But] I know at least one journalist who preferred to leave Gaza, for fear of his life.”

You learn to live with it? This is violent micro-managing. It pervades the news that comes out. You don’t “learn to live with it” (which suggests you learn to ignore it and go on); you learn to manage it.

A., who writes for a Palestinian paper, also noted that since BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped, “foreign journalists have virtually stopped coming to Gaza. The foreign media have to make do with us – the locals.”

But despite this grim picture, he stressed: “There is more freedom of the press in Gaza than in any other Arab country.” Even the foreign media understand that “despite all the pressures on us, we can still provide an accurate picture [of events],” he said.

There’s a famous essay by Leo Strauss called “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” about how much writers in the Middle Ages needed to write with someone looking over their shoulder and the incredible subtlety of the texts they produced which give the reader hints about what’s going on. The best of the journalists may do that for us from Gaza, but how many of those are there? And how many editors and readers pick up the hints?

What is Propaganda? Questions to JeffB

In my effort to explain the virulent anti-Zionism of the “Left,” I suggested that it was a matter of moral envy and competitiveness, since Israel, under conditions of existential threat, behaved far more humanely towards its enemies, and more democratically towards its own people than, say, the brutal totalitarians Lenin/Stalin and Mao, who between them are responsible for over 100 million deaths of their own people. To this JeffB responded with a particularly categorical dismissal of the notion that the Israelis had ever been or are now the object of an existential threat on the part of Palestinians and other Arabs.

I quoted this comment in an subsequent post on Krauthammer’s brief history of the prelude to the Six-Day War. Jeff B’s response — that Krauthammer’s piece is “typical propaganda” — offers us an opportunity to consider the entire issue of what differences there may be between propaganda and history, one of the more significant boundaries which post-modern approaches have problematized.

I quote JeffB’s initial response to my claim that Israel was under existential threat:

What existential threat? The notion that the Arabs want to literally exterminate the Jews is a self-serving paranoid delusion unsupported by any evidence. Did Arab armies in 1948 or 1967 or any other time massacre Israelis or otherwise display any genocidal intent or action? No. Were the Jewish populations in Arab countries after 1948 ever subjected to any organized genocidal efforts? No. There were riots in which people were killed, but there were no death squads, no concentration camps, no planned or organized efforts to threaten the existence of Jews.

Now I would personally describe this as an excellent example of propaganda. Jeff, who admits that he is not particularly knowledgeable about the history of this conflict, makes a statement that is so categorical — “no… no… no… no… etc.” that in order to reflect a careful assessment of the historical material, would necessitate a great deal of research. (It’s always hard for an historian to assert categorically that nothing of the sort ever happened, since first he must go through all the evidence, but also consider the periods and places for which there is no evidence, before reaching so bold a conclusion.) In this case, Jeff has to have at least looked at the evidence put forward by historians — and neatly collected by Zionists eager to make the point — that the Arabs have indeed expressed their desire to commit genocide, and when they could, indeed carried out massacres. (A number of commentators have suggested an extensive reading list for Jeff.)

Jeff B has apparently not done anything of the sort. (Correct me please if I’m wrong.) So where did he get the “information,” and what gave him the assurance to assert it so boldly. (He could have written, “as far as I know…” or even asked the question, “what evidence…?”) But he did not. He spoke as either a seasoned historian speaking aggressively about a topic he has mastered, or as someone quoting a position he has heard and accepted as his own.

I have wondered, even at the blog, about whether JeffB is a troll: is he here just to yank our chain, not really interested in debate, but only in drawing us into a discussion so he can assert his anti-Zionist political credo. There were points — this post prominent among them — when I tended towards yes; but others — his recent comment on paradigms — when I felt he was really engaged in substantive discussion. So, with your permission and participation, Jeff, let me ask you some questions.

(And to the other, often excellent commenters at the site who take on Jeff, let’s leave off the name-calling. I’m not sure it helps anyone to dismiss “leftists” as a bunch of idiots, even were it true. If you want to make a point about how problematic “leftist” thinking, a highly valid point as far as I’m concerned, make it substantive. otherwise, let’s stick to the issues.)

First, who is your source for the statement above in bold/italic? Is this from your research? From a friend whose reliability you trust enough to make it openly in a forum where you are subject to serious challenge?

Second, what if it turns out you are wrong? What evidence would you accept as probative (rather than mere propaganda — see below)? What importance does this assertion of “no evidence” have for your view of the conflict?

Third, how do you decide what makes something propaganda, and what makes it “true”? You posted this categorical dismissal of assertions above in a manner that makes me strongly suspect you’ve been listening to Palestinian propagandists whose “narrative” systematically dismisses any Israeli claims that the Palestinians/Arabs bear responsibility in this conflict.

(Indeed, what makes the Palestinian narrative so striking, particularly in that it has become a favorite of many post-modernists, is that it is above all totalistic, and excludes other (e.g., Israeli) narratives in ways that not only fly in the face of the evidence, but also the post-modern imperative of abandoning “grand narratives” and listening to many narratives.)

And yet, when offered some evidence of Arab genocidal intentions, you dismiss it as “typical propaganda”:

As for Krauthammer’s text, it’s typical propoganda that conveniently ignores Israel’s misdeeds and the valid enmity they produce to wrongly portray Israel as the innocent victim of Arab malice.

I infer certain things from your response. Please correct me if my inferences err. The key element here is not the factual basis of Krauthammer’s assertions. For that you’d have to read Michael Oren’s book, Six Days of War, upon which Krauthammer based his essay. Instead, you seem to dismiss his comments as propaganda because they [are intended to] “conveniently ignore Israel’s misdeeds and the valid enmity they produce to wrongly portray Israel as the innocent victim of Arab malice.” This suggest that you identify propaganda by its effects, not its accuracy (although presumably, to call something propaganda is to assert its inaccuracy and possibly dishonesty).

But in your brief comment you make two things clear about your own thinking: 1) Israel’s misdeeds have produced legitimate Arab enmity, and 2) (therefore) the Israelis are not the innocent victims of Arab malice. Let’s call these two points your “moral conclusion” about the conflict (what I would call PCP2). Thus anything that might lead towards the conclusion that Arab hatred may not be justifiable, and that Israelis are the victims of excessive enmity cannot be admitted as historical evidence, but rather automatically becomes propaganda lest your moral position lose its grounding. So you conveniently dismiss as propaganda anything you don’t like.

I’d go one step further. The idea that to present the evidence as he did means that Krauthammer wants to present Israel as innocent (rather than, in this case, the aggressed) strikes me as a serious over-simplification. I know few Zionists who don’t agree with the statement that this is a morally complicated problem with rights and wrongs on both sides. It’s the Palestinians and Arabs who insist on their innocence, on their “legitimate” anger and hatred, on the total guilt of the Israelis. As a result, any attempt to undermine this totalistic “moral” discourse, registers as an effort to reverse it. It reminds me of people who, when criticized, say, “Oh, so it’s all my fault.” That may be a good rhetorical move, putting the critic on the defensive, but it’s above all an avoidance mechanism for facing responsibility.

Now this may strike you as a reductio ad absurdum, but then I’d argue that to summarize Krauthammer the way you did, is also a huge oversimplification. But if I’ve done you an injustice, please explain under what conditions something that challenges your moral conclusion can make it past your propaganda “radar screen.” Similarly, what kind of skeptical filters do you apply to the Palestinian position: under what conditions are you willing to consider that some of their assertions represent not historically valid assertions but propaganda designed to “conveniently ignore the Arabs’ misdeeds and the valid enmity they produce to wrongly portray the Palestinians as the innocent victim of Israeli malice.“?

I will be posting a number of pieces that address this issue of “existential threat,” (as have and will the other commenters at this site). I think this issue lies at the heart of this conflict, and I’d like to hear from you about them. But I’d also like you to reflect on what the relationship between your moral commitments/conclusions and your consideration of historical evidence, and what kind of evidence you need before you will admit something that challenges your (awfully simplistic) moral vision of this conflict.

In your comment on paradigms you write:

Well-intentioned physicists can agree to analyze data within both paradigms and see which gives results best comporting with “truth”. At best they can come to agreement, at worst they can accurately delimit points that can benefit from further research/discussion and points on which opponents respectfully agree to disagree.

How about trying on both paradigms rather than clinging so ferociously to one that you dismiss as propaganda whatever historical evidence contradicts it, and you accept as historical “fact” whatever the proponents from “your” side assert, however much those assertions might be historically unfounded “propaganda”?

Arborial Patience: Slow but Steady…

Thanks to Phil for the lead to Arborsmith.

Here’s a pretty impressive display of what happens when you’re not paying attention. Metaphor? To my semiotically aroused mind, everything is. Here the tortoise overtakes, indeed swallows the rabbit. Yet another case in the annals of vegetable omnivorism.

tree eats bike
“Trees will eat anything!”

Arabs Threatening to Destroy Israel? Don’t be Ridiculous

Jeff B, who has stimulated so much discussion here over Finkielkraut’s essay, asserts in his last comment:

    What existential threat? The notion that the Arabs want to literally exterminate the Jews is a self-serving paranoid delusion unsupported by any evidence. Did Arab armies in 1948 or 1967 or any other time massacre Israelis or otherwise display any genocidal intent or action? No. Were the Jewish populations in Arab countries after 1948 ever subjected to any organized genocidal efforts? No. There were riots in which people were killed, but there were no death squads, no concentration camps, no planned or organized efforts to threaten the existence of Jews.

Now Jeff has, of his own admission, acknowledged that he’s not well versed in the history of the conflict — something some of the better-versed commentators had noticed as well. So how he knows with such certainty that “the Arab armies… never displayed any genocidal intent or action” is something of a puzzle. But with that in mind, I post here a piece by Charles Krauthammer distilling the work of historian Michael Oren.

I was 18 at the time, and I remember well watching the footage of crowds of Arabs in the streets — we were told, students — dancing in the streets calling for the annihilation of Israel and driving the Jews into the sea. At the time — because they expected victory — they were unabashed about admitting their intentions. After they lost, they started complaining bitterly about Israeli imperialism. And when I came back from spending the summer in Israel (along with tens of thousands of volunteers, Jewish and non-Jewish from all over the world) the following Fall to go to college, I remember a leftist saying to me, “Israel? That’s a pretty militaristic society, isn’t it.” He preferred Mao, murderer of 70 million Chinese in peacetime.

Friday, May 18, 2007; A23

Prelude to the Six Days

By Charles Krauthammer

There has hardly been a Middle East peace plan in the past 40 years — including the current Saudi version — that does not demand a return to the status quo of June 4, 1967. Why is that date so sacred? Because it was the day before the outbreak of the Six-Day War in which Israel scored one of the most stunning victories of the 20th century. The Arabs have spent four decades trying to undo its consequences.

In fact, the real anniversary should be now, three weeks earlier. On May 16, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser ordered the evacuation from the Sinai Peninsula of the U.N. buffer force that had kept Israel and Egypt at peace for 10 years. The United Nations complied, at which point Nasser imposed a naval blockade of Israel’s only outlet to the south, the port of Eilat — an open act of war.

How Egypt came to this reckless provocation is a complicated tale (chronicled in Michael Oren’s magisterial “Six Days of War”) of aggressive intent compounded with miscommunication and, most fatefully, disinformation. The Soviet Union had reported urgently and falsely to its Middle East clients, Syria and Egypt, that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border for an attack. Israel desperately tried to disprove this charge by three times inviting the Soviet ambassador in Israel to visit the front. He refused. The Soviet warnings led to a cascade of intra-Arab maneuvers that in turn led Nasser, the champion of pan-Arabism, to mortally confront Israel with a remilitarized Sinai and a southern blockade.

Why is this still important? Because that three-week period between May 16 and June 5 helps explain Israel’s 40-year reluctance to give up the fruits of that war — the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza — in return for paper guarantees of peace. Israel had similar guarantees from the 1956 Suez war, after which it evacuated the Sinai in return for that U.N. buffer force and for assurances from the Western powers of free passage through the Straits of Tiran.

NGOs at Work: Gaza Doctor Plots Israeli Assassinations with Help From Doctors without Borders

An interesting item from AP, with a comment from David P. Steinman:

Palestinian Charged in Death Plot

By Associated Press
May 17, 2007, 10:31 PM EDT

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian working for an aid group was charged Thursday with gathering intelligence on Ehud Olmert as part of a plot to assassinate the Israeli prime minister.

Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service arrested Masseb Bashir, a resident of the Gaza Strip, a month ago, according to court documents.

The indictment said Bashir, 25, admitted during his interrogation that he entered Israel to gather information on several Israeli leaders, including Olmert, as part of an assassination plot against them.

Bashir said he easily entered Israel with a permit he held because he worked for the Paris-based Doctors without Borders.

As Palestinians Self-Destruct, They Blame Israel

A short summary of what’s in the Palestinian press about the civil war: it’s Israel’s fault. So much of this illustrates exactly why the Palestinians are in such bad shape. They do not inhabit reality when it comes to assigning blame. The only thing that is real in all this are the bullets that kill.


Verbal attacks on Jews mount in Palestinian media

By Michael Widlanski

Gunmen of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, desperate at being pushed back by rival terrorists from the Hamas Islamic movement, reportedly launched artillery attacks Friday on the Islamic College in Gaza that is a Fatah stronghold, but there were reports that Fatah forces were retreating or throwing down their weapons in many areas.

The attack on the Islamic college, along with anguished pleas for a ceasefire from officials of the Palestinian Authority, were a strong sign that the Fatah forces were in almost complete disarray before the well-motivated and well paid forces of Hamas. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, it seemed the Palestinian Authority had vanished.

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas was shown on his own TV station kneeling in deep prayer as one of Abbas’s officials offered a fervent plea for unity and rapprochement between the Islamic forces of Hamas and the somewhat more secular forces of Abbas’s own Fatah and PA security forces.

“We have to stop fighting each other,” declared the mosque sermonizer, speaking from a mosque in Ramallah in the West Bank during the nationally televised Friday mosque speech on official Palestinian Authority (PA) television Friday.

For its part, Hamas has pretended that most of the attacks on Fatah were committed by Israel, and it has taken a public posture of accepting or calling for a ceasefire, while keeping up the pressure on Fatah.