Monthly Archives: April 2010

TNR publishes “Minority Report: Human Rights Watch fights a civil war over Israel”

The New Republic has just published a major piece on Human Rights Watch and their deeply disturbed relationship to Israel. Its a case study of demopaths and dupes, human rights complex, masochistic omnipotence syndrome, and the left-jihadi alliance. Below, a few choice passages.

Minority Report
Human Rights Watch fights a civil war over Israel.

Benjamin Birnbaum April 27, 2010 | 12:00 am


With Palestinian suicide bombings reaching a crescendo in early 2002, precipitating a full-scale Israeli counterterrorist campaign across the West Bank, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division (MENA) issued two reports (and myriad press releases) on Israeli misconduct—including one on the Israel Defense Forces’ assault on terrorist safe havens in the Jenin refugee camp. That report—which, to HRW’s credit, debunked the widespread myth that Israel had carried out a massacre—nevertheless said there was “strong prima facie evidence” that Israel had “committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions,” irking the country’s supporters, who argued that the IDF had in fact gone to great lengths to spare Palestinian civilians. (The decision not to launch an aerial bombardment of the densely populated area, and to dispatch ground troops into labyrinthine warrens instead, cost 23 Israeli soldiers their lives—crucial context that HRW ignored.) It would take another five months for HRW to release a report on Palestinian suicide bombings—and another five years for it to publish a report addressing the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza, despite the fact that, by 2003, hundreds had been launched from the territory into Israel. (HRW did issue earlier press releases on both subjects.)

In the years to come, critics would accuse HRW of giving disproportionate attention to Israeli misdeeds. According to HRW’s own count, since 2000, MENA has devoted more reports to abuses by Israel than to abuses by all but two other countries, Iraq and Egypt. That’s more reports than those on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Algeria, and other regional dictatorships. (When HRW includes press releases in its count, Israel ranks fourth on the list.) And, if you count only full reports—as opposed to “briefing papers,” “backgrounders,” and other documents that tend to be shorter, less authoritative, and therefore less influential—the focus on the Jewish state only increases, with Israel either leading or close to leading the tally. There are roughly as many reports on Israel as on Iran, Syria, and Libya combined.

HRW officials acknowledge that a number of factors beyond the enormity of human rights abuses go into deciding how to divide up the organization’s attentions: access to a given country, possibility for redress, and general interest in the topic. “I think we tend to go where there’s action and where we’re going to get reaction,” rues one board member. “We seek the limelight—that’s part of what we do. And so, Israel’s sort of like low-hanging fruit.”


How Do You Solve a Problem Like Obama? Guest blog from Uzi Amit-Kohn

I just received the following piece from a friend in Israel. I post it here at his request not because I endorse it, but because I think it’s important to think out of the box, and that’s precisely what he does. Comments and criticism welcome as always.

Unlike our brethren in the diaspora, most Israeli Jews – myself included – had no illusions about then presidential candidate Barack Obama being a friend of Israel. But even I did not foresee that Obama would team up with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to subject Israel to a “good cop- bad cop” routine, and with Iran in the role of the “good cop”, no less.

By now, even many well known figures in US Jewry have come to recognize President Obama’s undisguised hostility toward the Jewish State. Ed Koch, Alan, Dershowitz, and Martin Peretz are just three of the more prominent American Jews who have publicly broken with Obama over his treatment of Israel. Here in Israel, distrust of Obama has reached such staggering heights that this Passover, at Seder tables throughout the country – or so my extrapolation from the experiences of my friends and acquaintances leads me to believe – Barack Obama’s name came up when the Haggadah (ritual reading) came to the text of “Vehi she’amda”, which –in English translation – reads:

“This is what has stood by our fore- fathers and by us! For not just one [oppressor] alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Almighty rescues us from their hand!”

Barack Obama seems to me a person full of self-regard but totally lacking in self-awareness, so at the White House “Seder” that he hosted, he probably had no sense that those words – written in reference to such villains of Jewish history as Pharaoh, Amalek, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus and Hadrian and more recently associated by one and all with Adolph Hitler – were now being recited with a picture of Barack Obama in people’s minds. It took real skill for an American president, elected with 78% of the Jewish vote, to be recognized by millions of Jews as a potential destroyer of the Jewish People.

It has been reported that the Obama administration’s intention in creating an artificial crisis in US – Israel relations was politically to weaken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and to force him either to form a new coalition with the Kadima party and its leader Tzippi Livny, or to engineer a situation in which Livny will form a new government. The most recent manifestation of Obama’s hostility seems to be a recent report in the Washington Post, that Obama, encouraged by his own National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, and such past – unfriendly to Israel – National Security Advisors as Zbigniew Brezinski and Brent Scowcroft – plans to try to impose a settlement on both Israel and the Palestinians, and will “link” Israel’s cooperation on that violation of our sovereignty to action on the Iranian nuclear issue.

To help forestall this possibility I recommend that Israel-supporters in the United States start being very vocal, and preemptively equate any attempt to impose a settlement on Israel with 1930’s era appeasement. Ed Koch has already applied the “M-word”, writing of Obama’s foreign policy “There is a foul whiff of Munich and appeasement in the air.” We may as well start using the “NC-word” (i.e. – “Neville Chamberlain”) in this context as well.

Obama is already tanking in the polls and is suffering the most rapid decline in his presidential approval rating of any first term president since polling began. He might decide that whatever benefit he had hoped to gain, by imposing a “peace settlement” on Israel, would not be worth the additional damage to his image and political standing.

The most mystifying aspect of this report is that Obama wants to make American action against the Iranian nuclear program contingent on Israel accepting the imposed settlement. The underlying premise would seem to be that Iran is only Israel’s problem, and that America’s friends and allies in Europe and the Middle East – let alone the United States itself – are in no way threatened by a nuclear armed Islamic Republic of Iran.

South Africa’s Second Coming: the Nongqawuse syndrome

The reason I have written so little art this blog (and not participated in the excelllent discussions) recently is because I’m preparing the manuscript of my book, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience for Oxford U. Press. One of my chapter deals with the Xhosa Cattle-Slaying of 1856-7. In trying to keep up with the recent literature on the subject, I ran across an article by Achille Mbebe, a Cameroonian post-colonialist writer who has penned a blistering indictment of the post-Apartheid government of South Africa which i thought would interest the readers of this blog. Here it is, below, with comments.

Among other things, it underlines two major points: 1) the difficulty of establishing a working democracy; and 2) the almost certainty that any Palestinian state – a fortiori a “one state solution” to the Arab-Israeli problem would produce a failed “democracy.”

South Africa’s second coming: the Nongqawuse syndrome

Achille Mbembe, 14 June 2006

A dozen years after apartheid ended, a dangerous mix of populism, nativism and millenarian thinking is inviting South Africans to commit political suicide, writes Achille Mbembe.

The deputy chair of the South African Institute of International Relations, Moeletsi Mbeki speaking recently at Witwatersrand University, made an arresting comparison between the current political situation in South Africa and the one prevailing in the period leading to the Xhosa cattle-killing in 1856-57.

The dance of the ghost

By that time, the Xhosa had been involved in nearly a half century of bloody and protracted wars with colonial settlers on the eastern frontier of their homeland. As a result of the deliberate destruction of their means of livelihood, confiscation of their cattle and the implementation of a scorched-earth policy by British colonialists, they had lost a huge portion of their territory and hundreds of thousands of their people had been displaced. As lung-sickness spread across the land in 1854, a number of prophets proclaiming an ability to bring all cattle back to life began to re-emerge.

Note that the way the British behaved in South Africa, especially under the rule of Lord George Grey, makes the Israelis in Palestine absolute angels. The Brits engaged in deliberately targeting civilians as a way to crush the rebellion. By comparison, the “collective punishment” of blowing a suicide-bomber’s house, looks most civilized. And, of course, unlike the British, whose colonialism came after a brutal conquest, the Israelis settled the land without conquest.

Then, a 16-year-old girl, Nongqawuse, had a vision on the banks of the Gxarha River. She saw the departed ancestors who told her that if people would but kill all their cattle, the dead would arise from the ashes and all the whites would be swept into the sea. The message was relayed to the Xhosa nation by her uncle, Mhalakaza. Although deeply divided over what to do, the Xhosa began killing their cattle in February 1856. They destroyed all their food and did not sow crops for the future. Stored grain was thrown away. No further work was to be done. Days passed and nights fell. The resurrection of the dead Xhosa warriors never took place.

In his book The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement of 1856-7, historian J.B. Peires contends that by May 1857, 400,000 cattle had been slaughtered and 40,000 Xhosa had died of starvation. At least another 40,000 had left their homes in search of food. According to Dr John Fitzgerald, founder of the Native Hospital who witnessed the events, one could see thousands of those “emaciated living skeletons passing from house to house” in places such as King Williams Town. Craving for food, they subsisted on nothing “but roots and the bark of the mimosa, the smell of which appeared to issue from every part of their body.”
As the whole land was surrounded by the smell of death, Xhosa independence and self-rule had effectively ended.

Achille Mbembe is a research professor in history and politics at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He is the winner of the 2006 Bill Venter/Altron Award for his book On the Postcolony (University of California Press, 2001)
A slightly different version of this article is also published in the Sunday Times (South Africa)

What’s going on?

Not long ago, many thought that South Africa’s overthrow of institutionalised racism and its attempt to build a truly non-racial, modern and cosmopolitan society was the best gift Africa had ever given to the world. Less than fifteen years after liberation, it is no longer clear that the country has the moral and intellectual capacity to generate an alternative meaning of what our world might be, or to become a major centre in the global south.

It turns out, it’s not enough to overthrow tyranny in order to establish democracy.

As the former national-liberation movement the African National Congress (ANC) implodes, the stakes are getting higher. The Nongqawuse syndrome – the name for the kind of political disorder and cultural dislocation South Africa seems to be experiencing – is once again engulfing the country. This is a syndrome South Africa has always suffered in times of demoralisation and acute social and mental insecurity. The Nongqawuse syndrome is a populist rhetoric and a millenarian form of politics which advocates, uses and legitimises self-destruction, or national suicide, as a means of salvation.

Note that a the Cattle Killing embarrasses many modern African commentators who dislike intensely the way white scholars speak of the Xhosa committing suicide at the prompting of a 15-year old prophetess. But here, it’s clearly referred to in just such a negative fashion.