Foxtrot and Contingency

Let me be perfectly clear. Samuel Maoz’ film Foxtrot, that won eight Ophirs in Israel, the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize in Venice and was a runner-up to the shortlisted nominations for the Academy Award for the best foreign film, is superb. I, however, do not recommend that you see it. The film is just too heart wrenching, just too painful to watch. When physical self-harm is used to inflict pain on oneself in order to distract from the far more ominous and inescapable emotional pain, then you get some idea of the depth and breadth of the pain aimed at the audience. We cannot feel the self-inflicted physical pain. Extraordinarily, that is a relief. For we cannot escape feeling the emotional pain.

And there were so many times I wanted to escape, to just get up and leave the theatre. Admittedly, the pain for me might have been doubled because I watched the film yesterday with my youngest son and the film is about the loss of a son. Admittedly, that pain might have been doubled again because of a trauma of death that my son went through that was not that dissimilar to the one in the movie. Nevertheless, when I awoke this morning after going to bed early because I had been so emotionally rung out, I still felt like a dishrag that had been wrung dry. I slept seven hours in total instead of my usual 4-5 hours.

I will tell you the opening of the first 60 seconds of the film, but no more. After a seemingly unrelated frame of a truck driving down a lonely and dusty road, an Israeli soldier appears at the door of an upper middle-class family in Tel Aviv. Daphna Feldmann (Sarah Adler), the mother of a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray), faints. Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) is stunned into silence. This is all in the first minute. Little is said. Little needs to be said. And the emotional impact simply grows from there. Reflecting and thinking about the film, rather than reliving it, is itself an escape.

What started as a dance to the syncopated ragtime music of composers and performers like Scott Joplin, the foxtrot was translated by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers into a dance with elegance and fluidity in a 4/4 time signature rhythm. The foxtrot dance alternates between two rhythms – slow-slow-quick-quick and slow-quick-quick. The quick-quicks are reduced to punctuation marks in the movie.

Instead of a free-flowing rhythm, the foxtrot in the film is reduced to a stilted and rigid exercise of squares in which the dancer returns to the original point. According to Maoz, “We thus enter the Foxtrot dance of traumatic circle: no matter what you do, you always end up where you began.” However, instead of going around in circles, the movie actually travels in rigid and repetitive squares. And when illustrated in the film, instead of a close dance, the individual performer moves in isolation. Right, back, left, return. Yamina, sig, smola, shub. The movie moves in a straight line, yashar, yashar, only between the corner points of the square, each time after a radical ninety degree turn.

The term “foxtrot,” reduced to very selective essentials, is ironic. There is never a trot. And the movement is so sluggish as to be paralyzing. As we watch each parent separately from a bird’s eye view in the claustrophobic intimacy of a washroom in the beginning act, we suffer from vertigo, but not from movement, but from lives that literally have come to a dead stop even as their bodies painfully curl up in foetal positions.

The film has four acts, though the director insists that there are three. “The three-act structure enabled me to offer an emotional journey for my viewers: the first act should shock them, the second should hypnotize, and the third should be moving. Each sequence reflects, by using various cinematic tools, the character that stands in its center. The first act, featuring Michael, is sharp and concise—just like him. It consists of detached compositions. The third act is loose and warm, just like Dafna. It floats a few inches above the ground. The second act takes place in a surrealist outpost, occupied by four soldiers and an occasional wandering camel…This act is uniquely non-verbal (in) its wry sense of humor and surrealism.”

It is not as if there is no relief from the emotional pain of Act One. There is. The relief even includes some gentle humour in the second act as Maoz describes it. But the main relief in the film in that second act is boredom, the alternative enemy of human happiness to pain. We choose to be bored, even in the most boring context, precisely because we blame the boredom on externalities. We do not choose emotional pain. Further, boredom is painful in a very different way than emotional pain. For boredom messes with our heads, not our hearts. Boredom results from being disengaged from another (in a Freudian slip, I first typed “from amother”); emotional pain is a product of intimate engagement. We become bored when we are cut off from both internal and external stimuli. We experience the greatest emotional pain when internal and external stimuli combine to whack us in the solar plexus. With emotional pain, there is no one to blame. When people are bored, they always blame their surroundings rather than taking responsibility for their own circular obsession with being bored.

For the German 19th century philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, “the two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.” Life is an oscillation between pain and boredom, between torment and repetitive actions without meaning, such as Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill daily only to see it roll down again just before he reaches the summit. Which is the worst hell? In Schopenhauer’s pessimism, to the degree we escape one, to that degree we are thrust into the arms of another.

However, Schopenhauer inverted the experience of each. Boredom is largely a product of external and objective conditions, but that eminent philosopher believed that boredom comes from the inside. Emotional pain is a product of the internal and subjective, but Schopenhauer attended only to physical pain and attributed it to be a product of poverty and the absence of external conditions that would have allowed us to thrive and prosper instead of feeling pain. The movie tells an opposite story to that of Schopenhauer, of inner emotional pain and external boredom.

But the main philosophical concept underlying the powerful impact of the film is contingency. Contingency has two very opposite meanings. It refers to what may happen. The movie is an exercise in imaginative possibility rather than a depiction of reality. The controversial scene which aroused the ire of Israeli politicians is not a depiction of how the IDF behaves, even though this is what some viewers and commentators thought, but an extension of circumstances to make what is possible plausible. As Maoz said in an interview, “This is not a film about the occupation or the Palestinians. It is a film about Israeli society. Second, a work of art should not aspire to imitate and recreate reality; it should interpret, illuminate, or unravel its hidden aspects. And this is exactly what Foxtrot is trying to achieve.”

The second very different meaning of contingency refers to something liable to happen rather than simply a mere logical possibility. If we take the film to be about contingency as a likely existential liability rather than a remote logical possibility, then from my knowledge of the ethics governing the Israeli army, what is depicted may be a logical possibility, but is also a calumny in portraying the IDF. As Maoz himself said, “I was doing something that seemed right and logical. I wanted to deal with the gap between the things we control and those that are beyond them.” He was not depicting an existential reality.

The second act is a stylized surreal portrayal, a depiction that attracted the wrath of some leftist Israeli politicians for that stylistic quality and the wrath of right wingers because of the content. In spite of the detailed and heightened reality of the first and third acts, the power of the film comes, not from its existential portrayal of reality in the first and third acts, but from the logical sense of inevitability.

For Immanuel Kant, teleology, the end purpose and meaning of everything, is regulative; it is not a depiction of actuality. It serves as a guide, not as a depiction. Hegel argued that teleology served as such a guide only because of an instinct built into reason itself to bring everything together into an actual whole that appeared to constitute reality. That propensity would end up leading people to believe that they understood the absolute truth of the present when a belief in the absolute was precisely what had to be disaggregated in each age. The great philosophic irony is that most commentators took Hegel to be an advocate for the absolute and not someone who described its all-embracing and claustrophobic but inevitable propensity to characterize life that way.

Is the film about self-knowledge, the whole humanistic effort since the Enlightenment and even the Socratic foundations of philosophy? Or is the film a critique of the militarism that infects Israeli society? Is it a fearless autopsy on human emotions in general and Israelis in particular much more than a social critique? Certainly, Maoz’s first film, Lebanon, belonged to the latter category. “Lebanon, was based on my experience as a 20-year-old gunner in one of the first Israeli tanks to enter Lebanon in the 1982 Lebanon War. That film helped me to try and understand what it means to kill other human beings, as I did during my military service at the IDF. I had no other choice, and yet the notion of taking lives is an excruciating burden I am forced to live with. Foxtrot was born from a different place. After Lebanon was released in 2009, I was overwhelmed by the stories other Israelis with PTSD have told me. I realized I was not alone. There are endless variations of my story and the kind of pain and guilt it germinates.”

Maoz actually offers the same answer in the film. The son of the parents, Jonathan, is a sketch artist. The last drawing he made hangs on their wall. Each parent offers an opposite Freudian interpretation of the drawing. Neither takes it to be about reality. Is the irony that they presume a deep psychological meaning – however opposite for each – when there is none, or is the irony that most members of the audience will believe the parents missed the point – that this was an actual portrayal of a horrific reality?  The audience is then invited to laugh at the parents rather than examine why they do this instead and what such an interpretation says about themselves. Why do commentators and members of the audience tend to interpret the sketch to be about the son’s effort to externalize his trauma rather than a surrealist element in the movie intended to provoke self-examination? Is the weakness of the film, and its limited box office appeal, a result of this ambiguity, when there is one intended outcome but the opposite actual one?

I do not take the film to be primarily a critique of the IDF and the extent to which it does or even could engage in literal corrupt cover-ups that infects and makes complicit the lives of individual soldiers in the IDF. I do not interpret the film, as the Israeli Minister of Culture, Miri Regev, did, as offering a “searing, for her, unjustified, critique of Israeli militarized culture.” As Maoz declared, “If you choose to see this narrow picture (that of Regev), it will be your choice. But I will do anything to force you to see the bigger picture.” Does the film attempt to provide an understanding of military reality or is it primarily an exposure of inner psychological reality? The overwhelming focus of the film on the parents and their internal emotional pain suggests that the latter is the case, that the film is primarily about self-understanding and is not a critique of society, however depressing the external narrative concerning the perpetual nature of the external conflict.

Maoz said, “I needed to find a dance that you can do in many versions, but you will always end at the same starting point. This is the dance of our society. The leadership has to save us from the loop of the foxtrot dance, but they’re doing the opposite.” However, he also said that, given the Holocaust, “we couldn’t complain, we had to repress, and we became a second generation of traumatized victims.” Sometimes he seems to describe the film as a social critique, at other times as a socio-psychological inquiry into the Israeli and human soul. Is the terrible scene in the film’s second act and depicted in the drawing an ewar, death,ffort to describe political reality or is it a metaphor, as Maoz said, “a microcosm of our apathetic and anxious society”? “For me (Maoz), this was the climax of an unhealthy situation that gets more and more crooked. We prefer to bury the victims rather than asking ourselves penetrating questions.”

 

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Israel’s African asylum seekers: What needs to be done

FEBRUARY 8, 2018, 2:26 PM 11

BLOGGER

Israel is home to nearly 40,000 African asylum seekers and migrants – of whom some 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% Sudanese – some of whom began to arrive as early as 2005. At the time, asylum seekers from these two countries – both of which are dictatorships that brutally repress their populations and violate their human rights – began to arrive in Canada.

As a Canadian member of Parliament, I chaired the All-Party Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition, founded in 2003, where we documented the Darfurian genocide and the subsequent ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities perpetrated by the Khartoum regime, and where most Darfurians from this killing field received asylum in Canada.

Equally, the Eritreans fled a country which has been characterized as the “North Korea of Africa,” and where National Service can be tantamount to indefinite slave labour. The Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights – where I served as vice chair – held hearings into the human rights situation in Eritrea, with witness testimony and evidence documenting the major human rights violations perpetrated by this dictatorial regime. Some 97% of Eritrean asylum seekers received refugee status in Canada.

I write as the Israeli authorities have begun handing out deportation notices pursuant to the government’s “Infiltration Law” adopted by the Israeli Knesset in December, and where deportations are due to begin in March 2018. As of this writing, women, children under 18, and families — as well as Darfurians who have received protected status (some 600) — will not be deported.

When the Darfurians and Eritreans first started to arrive in 2006-8, Israel initially did the right thing in granting them temporary protected status, understanding that deportation would amount to a violation of its obligations under the International Refugee Convention, which Israel had ratified and the adoption of which it had championed in 1951.

However, as the arrivals continued to increase, with the numbers rising to a high of 2,000 per month in 2011, the apprehension grew of African asylum seekers as a security and demographic threat. The political and public discourse dramatically changed with them now characterized as “infiltrators” — “mistanenim” in Hebrew — which was as prejudicial as it was pre-judgmental in effectively predetermining a status which had yet to be determined. That rhetoric began to worsen as the numbers grew, with the “infiltrators” now being increasingly referred to as “criminals” and “predators” – and by government officials, even as a “cancer” – all designed to “make their lives miserable so that they will want to leave,” as one government minister put it at the time.

Indeed, as I testified before a Knesset Committee in 2011, Israeli political leaders — who should have known better — were then engaging in ongoing incitement against asylum seekers that was designed to stigmatize, criminalize and expel, rather than evaluate and properly determine their status according to law. Moreover, the situation of asylum seekers/migrants was further mishandled from the beginning by the dispatch of them to South Tel Aviv where the infrastructure was already crumbling before their arrival – rather than any equitable dispersal around the country – and where the increasing “criminalization” of these asylum seekers only served to incite the otherwise neglected Israelis in South Tel Aviv against them. I myself have made many visits to South Tel Aviv over the years, and I acknowledge and appreciate the pain and fear that besets many of these residents. But this could — and should — have been avoided by not sending the asylum seekers to South Tel Aviv to begin with, by not inciting against them, by instituting a proper refugee determination process, and by respecting — rather than restricting — their right to access employment and social services until such time as their asylum request could be properly processed — which has still yet to be done.

The completion of the construction of a wall in 2013 effectively brought an end to the “infiltration.” Indeed, not one African asylum seeker arrived in 2017, and none since May 2016. But the notion that they are a security and demographic threat had been seriously embedded and still remains. Indeed, the political and public discourse characterizing them as infiltrators still remains as well, and with all its attending prejudice and predetermination. And most importantly, no fair, effective, and efficient refugee status determination process (RSD) has yet been established (I have some familiarity with such a process, as it was set up in Canada during the period where I served as Minister of Justice and attorney general, and where I then recommended it to Israel at the same time that the initial arrivals of Sudanese and Eritreans were taking place in Israel as they were in Canada.)

Regrettably, the refugee status determination system established in Israel made it unduly difficult to even make an application, took an inordinate amount of time to get an answer, and when the answer came it was invariably negative, as evidenced by the fact that only some 10 asylum seekers — nine Eritreans and 1 Darfurian – have received Refugee status. Accordingly, of the some 40,000 African asylum seekers, fewer than 15,000 have been able to submit claims since the RSD process began (since 2011-2012). Of the 15,000 claims presented, fewer than a third have actually been reviewed, and only 10 asylum seekers have been recognized as refugees — and that only after a long and protracted battle in Israel’s courts. In a word, this statistic represents the lowest number of asylum seekers recognized as refugees in the Western world. Again, to compare Israel with the same Western demographic: 97% of Eritrean asylum seekers who applied for a refugee status in Canada received it, and the European Union has recognized asylum claims from 90% of Eritreans who applied for refugee status. The Israeli acceptance rate is 0.056%.

In addition to the unjust and unfair refugee determination process, the Israeli government has taken a series of ever-increasing measures to make the lives of African Asylum seekers/migrants in Israel harsh and difficult. It is particularly alarming that in this context:

  • No rights (social, labour, health) accompany African visa holders in Israel;
  • Though African migrants are not officially forbidden from working, the mention on their visa that “this is not a work permit” makes their employment situation unstable and often precarious, even as many are working in restaurants, construction, and cleaning positions that are helpful for Israelis and the Israeli economy;
  • A deposit law that came into effect in May 19, 2017 makes the situation of the African Asylum seeker/migrant all the more challenging, because 20% of their already meager salaries are seized by the government — returnable to them only when they leave — while also obliging their Israeli employers to pay an extra 16% of taxes, even if they employ 2 A5 (humanitarian) visa holders;
  • As of 2012-2013, Israel had declared it had negotiated removal agreements with two African countries. Those who agreed to leave Israel voluntary for these countries (commonly known to be Uganda and Rwanda) were given $3,500, and Israel will reportedly pay $5,000 to the receiving government;
  • While Israeli authorities report that receiving governments have committed to providing African migrants arriving from Israel with protective status while facilitating their integration, researchers and witness testimony, my own examination has shown that the receiving countries have provided neither status nor protection for the African migrants arriving from Israel. Indeed, most of the Africans have had to leave, and many have suffered abuse and worse in their attempts to seek safety and security elsewhere.

This is what should — and can — be done:

  1. Suspend, if not repeal, the planned forced deportation/imprisonment protocol of the Israeli government as set forth in the amendment of the “Infiltration Law” adopted in December 2017 — embodied now in the deportation notices sent this week to African asylum seekers/migrants, and which 25 distinguished Israeli legal experts have now characterized as a violation of international law and basic human rights.
  2. Recognize the dangers involved in deporting refugees to a country like Rwanda, under conditions that are kept secret, where there is no official guarantee of safety and integration, and where manifold reports detail the danger and risks inherent in such deportations.
  3. Establish a just, fair, and effective refugee status determination process so that refugee claims can be made to begin with, processed in a timely and fair manner, and where just determination can be made in accordance with international standards.
  4. Provide asylum seekers awaiting the processing of their asylum requests a temporary protected status that ensures a minimal safety, stability and dignity (including the possibility to work legally and gainfully) and protection against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.
  5. Provide a protected status to some 6,000 non-Arab Darfurians as recommended in a legal opinion written by the refugee status determination unit itself three years ago, but never acted upon.
  6. Ensure minimal standards for children and youths — in terms of access to education, health and welfare — while ensuring protection against their deportation.
  7. Cease and desist from the ongoing campaign of incitement against, and defamation of, Africans in Israel. Simply put, end the discourse re “infiltrators,” end the incitement that scapegoats them as dangerous predators who are responsible for all that ails South Tel Aviv, and cease and desist from any political or electoral manipulation of both the vulnerable South Tel Aviv residents and this vulnerable African constituency.
  8. Respect the independent plight of South Tel Aviv neighbourhoods and seek to rehabilitate them. As African scholar Sheldon Gellar has put it, “money now used to finance prisons, detention centers, and deportation logistics and payoffs can be reallocated to fight crime, improve housing, infrastructure, and public services in south Tel Aviv. This policy would provide some compensation to south Tel Aviv residents for the burden caused by placing large numbers of African asylum-seekers in their neighborhoods without a plan and against their will.”
  9. Ensure proper access to services in cities outside of Tel Aviv, and in Israel’s periphery, and reinforce migrant communities all over Israel (through local involvement, community organizations, local volunteering opportunities on behalf of migrants), especially in cities like Eilat, Beersheva, Haifa, Petah Tikva, etc., where important refugee communities already reside.
  10. Engage constructively with the UNHCR, which has had a standing offer to work with Israel to resettle asylum seekers, and which is prepared to facilitate the resettlement of upwards of some 10,000 of them. If Israel engages in a policy of resettlement to third countries, it needs to ensure that such resettlement is to countries where asylum seekers will be treated with dignity and where they will be guaranteed status, stability, well-being, and dignity (for example, in a country like Canada, where the Jewish communities would play a role in sponsoring, welcoming and integrating refugee families).
  11. Appreciate the asset that the African Asylum seekers/migrants can be for the Israeli government and society in matters of diplomacy and the economy, as well as a bridgehead to Africa.
  12. Stop punishing employers who hire African asylum seekers. Indeed, the current policy exacerbates labour shortages and necessitates bringing in more foreign workers to fill the gap. The policy is especially harmful to hotels, restaurants, and the tourist industry.
  13. Develop an immigration policy, that is anchored in the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, protecting Israel’s security while respecting the values of respecting the stranger, which is referenced some 36 times in the Bible.

In short, what is so necessary now is for parliament and all of government to change the prejudicial discourse, to cease and desist from any incitement, and to put in place a proper refugee status determination system as befits a democracy like Israel, and even more so, as befits a country whose ethics and ethos effectively command us to respect the stranger, let alone not to persecute them.  There is no contradiction, as it has sometimes been suggested, between Zionism and human rights and between Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It is bad policy — and bad proclamations — which create false dichotomies. A Jewish and democratic state — which Israel is — can address and redress these problems, thereby reflecting and representing the best of Jewish tradition and Israeli democracy.

The Alt-Right in the Torah

A Prolegomena

I wrote the following blog on Sunday morning. But I did not send it out. Instead, I rewrote it on Monday. I still did not send it out. I set it aside on Tuesday and did other tasks in preparation for my leaving today. I read it over once again this morning, did a few edits and continued the debate with myself about whether to send it out. Spoiler alert! If you decide to read this tale of Israelite alt-right zealotry, you may find some current echoes, particularly a link between self-righteous religious pandering and wanton behaviour, and between defensive apologetics and inexcusable decadence.

In this case, I am not referring to Donald Trump and the alleged “treasonous” behaviour of Donald Trump Jr., but rather of Netanyahu’s pandering to the religious right and their imposition of shabat restrictive laws on the non-orthodox community while Netanyahu’s son, Yair, is recorded as engaging in whoring in Tel Aviv and of blackmailing wealthy friends for money to pay the prostitutes. “It was only fair given the $20 billion gas deal that “my father got you.” And there is another link – an emphasis on exclusion of the Other regarded as a danger to national identity. Donald Trump may inconsistently suddenly want to protect “dreamers,” Latin Americans brought to the U.S. at a very young age who grew up as Americans, but Netanyahu continues to move ahead to forcefully expel tens of thousands of African asylum seekers.

Why is corruption usually so intertwined with nationalist self-righteousness, whether in ancient Israel, contemporary Iran or the U.S.? Why are dodgy deals and sordid behaviour linked to a presentation of a wholesome image? When perpetrators are rewarded with an elevated status, is that elevation linked to a curse as well? Is hubris inevitable?

The Alt-Right in the Torah

by

Howard Adelman

If it is true, and, even further, if I endorsed Eric Ward‘s conclusion of his years of research, that the core of the alt-right is antisemitism, how can I suggest that the position of the alt-right is to be found in the Torah itself? I can because, although antisemitism is the central expression of the alt-Right of the twenty-first century, the core factors are universal. They characterize a certain type of personality and a certain type of political program. Those core values include the following:

Core Beliefs

  1. Supremacist beliefs, particularly male superiority
  2. Racism – defining that Other as inferior
  3. Placing blame on an Other
  4. Paranoia of that Other
  5. Nationalism rooted in racism to achieve security
  6. Ethnic cleansing or even genocide to get rid of the perceived threat
  7. Core Emotional Expressions
  8. Zealotry and evangelical fervour
  9. Cowardice or spinelessness – a lack of backbone
  10. Pornographic obsessions
  11. Authoritarianism
  12. A politics of resentment, of tactics and intrigue, rather than strategy aimed at achievable goals
  13. Utopian dreams of freedom from institutions and constraining rules
  14. Core Behaviour
  15. Spewing forth hatred
  16. Parading
  17. Property destruction
  18. Coercion versus assent; while projecting a utopian vision of social harmony, demonstrating a ready resort to non-state violence
  19. Attacks on Media
  20. Murder

The key part of the Torah where an alt-Right position is not only depicted, but seems to have been endorsed, takes place in the story of Pinchas or Phinehas in Numbers 25:10-30:1. Aaron’s grandson is called Pinchas. His most celebrated action is thrusting a spear or javelin through the bodies of a Simeonite prince, Zimri, son of Salu, and his paramour, Cozbi, a Midianite princess and daughter of Zur. It is an archetypal tale of a Jewish prince consorting with a shicksa (a gentile woman) that is perceived as threatening the genetic unity of the Israelites, completely ignoring that many, perhaps most, of the heroines in the Biblical tales are of non-Israelite background – whether Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh and refused to kill baby boys, the princess Bithiah who saved Moses, Zipporah whom Moses married, and, of course, Ruth.

The worst part of the story is not the lawless murder of the lovers, but that God forges a covenant of peace with Pinchas and makes Pinchas chief priest, inheritor of the mantle of Aaron. Not only Pinchas, but all his heirs and descendants. A divine priestly right of inheritance is created as Pinchas was credited for his “righteousness unto all generations forever.” (Psalm 106:28-31)

It is not as if this is a one-off story. It has a prominent place in the Torah. In fact, it is probably the most repeated narrative. The reward is discussed in Numbers 31:15-16 and the Ba’al Pe’or tale of sacrilegious behaviour is recounted in Deuteronomy 4:3-4, Joshua 22:16-18, Judges:20:28; 1 Samuel 1:3-4:11.

The story simplified is as follows: Just before the Israelites are to enter the Promised Land, at Shittim (named after an Acacia tree used to make furniture) where they camp, Israelite men become involved with Moabite women. Involved is a euphemism. The men are described as “whoring” with the Moabite women. Further, the men are not only enamoured by these women, but are enticed into their “idolatrous” practices. The Israelites were allegedly being led into sin via assimilation and flouting of the Mosaic ethical code.

As a result of the Israelite men consorting with the Moabite women and in partaking of their worship of their god, Ba’al, the Lord of the Israelites became incensed. God ordered Moses to take the ringleaders and have them impaled before him.  Only in that way could God’s wrath be redirected away from the Israelites. Moses ordered his officials to each slay those of his men who attached themselves to Ba’al Pe’or. Just after issuing the order, an Israelite male brought a Midianite, not a Moabite, woman into the camp. Phinehas or Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron, left the assembly at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and stabbed the man and the woman in their bed chamber with a spear right through their private parts.

Did it matter that a Midianite rather than a Moabite woman was the consort of the Israelite? Does it matter that in this case there was no association with worshipping false gods? Does it matter that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses and a very important and influential political adviser, was a Midianite? Does it matter that this vigilante action was taken against people of wealth and status from both the Israelite and Midianite communities? Was the action motivated by resentment? Does it matter that the execution was carried out by Phinehas, whose name, like that of Moses, was of Egyptian origin and referred to a Nubian, perhaps from Sudan, like Sadat with a darker complexion? Had Aaron or his son, Eleazar, married a Nubian woman? Does it matter that the method of killing was not stoning – the usual means of dealing with those who followed false gods – but stabbing with a spear? Does it matter that they were stabbed through the belly? As Gunther Plaut notes (fn. 8), “into the chamber….through the belly” is a Hebrew word play better rendered “into the private chamber…through the private parts.”

When I was reading the latter, I immediately recalled a vivid scene. I was at the place of a mass murder outside of Butare in Rwanda of over 17,000 Tutsis who had been killed at the Murambi Technical School where they had sought refuge from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. They had been buried in a mass grave. The bodies, barely decomposed because they had been so packed together, had been laid out on school benches and we had the onerous task of sampling and confirming the numbers slaughtered. I was most appalled by the babies and young children killed. But some of the women who were killed still had the spears in them that had been thrust up through their private parts to kill them.

In the biblical tale, the murder by Pinchas of the Israelite man and the Midianite woman stops the plague that had already killed 24,000. God spoke to Moses and praised Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron. Because of his action, God’s wrath and desire to commit genocide against the Israelites was turned aside. As a reward, God gave Phinehas a pact of friendship granting to him and his descendants a hereditary right to the priesthood in Israel. God then ordered the genocide of the Midianites.

Does it matter that an apparent result of destroying contact between Israelite men and Moabite and Midianite women may have had the benefit of stopping the plague which may have been made worse because the form of worship of the Moabites and their allies, the Midianites, was a of a fertility cult? Does it not matter that the murder was NOT “merely a kind of battlefield execution,” as Plaut describes in his commentary, but a summary execution of unarmed civilians in their private chamber? Does it matter that the persons killed had both status and wealth? Does it matter that humans had assumed God’s responsibilities to determine who should live and who should die? Whatever the answer and significance of the answers to the many questions above, what is clear is that, to repair a breach of the covenant, civilian murder and genocide were being endorsed in the Torah.

The issue becomes even more problematic. For when the story of Pinchas is the assigned Torah portion to be read that week, the Haftorah portion from the prophets that is read is the story of 1 Kings 18, where Elijah, who also acted in defence of the Jewish God and Hebrew practices, was so esteemed and even associated with the miracle of the resurrection of the dead. Elijah is viewed as a Messiah-in-waiting and Elijah’s name is invoked at the reading of Havdalah marking the end of shabat as well as at a Passover seder and in the performance of a brit, the circumcision ceremony.

More appalling I find is all the apologetics attached to the actions, to the beliefs and to the attitudes of Pinchas. For example, Targum Jonathan (18) claims that because Pinchas held the spear with his arm, prayed with his mouth, and stabbed the couple through their innards, that explains why the tender parts of the shoulder (zeroa), cheekbone (lechayayim) and maw (kevaw) accrue to the priesthood. Hirsch in his commentary insists that Pinchas was given such great credit because he caught them in flagrante delicto, in the overt prohibited act, and by the way he assassinated them, he sent a sign to others, as do professional mafia assassins and the gangs involved in the drug cartel. Given that the couple were “royals,” Pinchas was given greater credit; Moses, in contrast, had only slain an overseer and was not credited, even though the act was carried out in defence of another Israelite.

I am clearly disturbed by the tale. I am more disturbed by those who regard the spontaneous eruption of emotion, passion and murder as worthy of merit. I am appalled that commentators are not outraged by the action and by the apologetics that explain the action away as following the norms of the time. If so, why is the action not denounced in the commentary? Perhaps the story had an ironic thread. Perhaps the death of the two sons of Pinchas was his punishment. Perhaps the reward of an hereditary priesthood was really a curse for a family who would encounter tragedy after tragedy.

I am most troubled because the scene depicted conforms so closely to that of a mass rally where one of the demonstrators is so enraged that he leaves the crowd and takes upon himself the responsibility of murdering those with whom he disagrees. He is a zealot. Hatred spews from his mouth and blood comes from the use of his arms. Coercion not persuasion is the answer. When royals engage in the practice, it is regarded as even more heinous because, just as now, socialites stand out because of their role in the media in communicating values. Sometimes the messengers are killed as well. Antisemitic zealots murdered the Jewish radio talk show host, Alan Berg, in Denver.

The defined problem is not just a difference in belief between the Israelites compared to the Midianites and the Moabites, but that intercourse with the latter was regarded as the source of the plague. The others were blamed. The Israelites were not just different, but regarded themselves as superior. And the allure of females was pointed to as a source of betrayal. The others were not only regarded as Other, as an inferior Other, as a dangerous Other, but, in the name of respect for the Covenant of the Israelites with God, genocide was endorsed. Israelite nationalism was wedded to fanaticism in defence of security and continuity of the group.

Go further. In the portrait of God, vanity and brand management seem to be the key components at stake. The Israelites, in their escape from slavery, seem to be riven with insecurity and a fear of disappointing their demanding God. For God, politics is personal. Only He could occupy the limelight. If this does not trouble you, I would like to hear why.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

 

Part V: An Assessment of Trump’s Disruptive Diplomacy using Jerusalem

Part V: An Assessment of Trump’s Disruptive Diplomacy using Jerusalem

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, leaving the borders to be defined through mutual negotiations, is likely neither to serve as a stimulus to put the negotiations back on track nor lead to widespread violence and the breakout of a Third Intifada. Why? Because there is no real peace process to disrupt. The recognition is symbolic and changes virtually nothing on the ground. It may bury the false idea that America has been neutral, but since the prospect for a two-state solution at this time has been highly unlikely, what had been squandered by Trump’s pronouncement?

Only noble purposes and noble intentions.

 

How do I explain and evaluate the Trump initiative? I believe rationalism, whether in a realist or a constructivist format, provides the foundation for the structure and wording of the initiative that was fundamentally irrational, founded on both the madness and stupidity of the individual making the announcement while being masked by sentiment and a patina of rationality.

Because of the lack of specificity, many ordinary Palestinians are sure to interpret the U.S. announcement as dismissing their historical, political, and cultural ties to Jerusalem and disputing their right to independence and self-determination. In their eyes, it condones Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and implies that the city is solely Israeli.

“Palestinians, especially of the younger generation, have been questioning the feasibility of a two-state solution for some time. This is a generation that came of age during the second intifada and watched its land swallowed up by settlements and the separation wall as the years slipped by. Young men and women witnessed their own policemen arrest fellow countrymen at the behest of their occupier, while leaders placated them with empty words and slogans. They’re done playing this game.” But will they rise up or become more resigned to their fate or respond with a mixture of both?

“If there is a silver lining to Trump’s announcement, it does provide clarity and a unifying objective for Palestinians. Last summer, a wave of civil disobedience by Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line forced Israel to give up on its unilateral measures regarding Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif compound (also known as the Temple Mount), which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque. The PA had no say in the matter; religious leaders took their cues from ordinary Palestinians when they rallied for support. These events showed ordinary Palestinians that they have some power to change what’s happening on the ground: they can rally, strategize, and mobilize. And with a vision for a one-state solution unimpeded by a sham peace process, that goal may finally gain traction to make a new reality seems possible.”

However, will that even be a greater illusion than fixating on the corpse of a dead peace process? One of the effects of disruptive diplomacy, whatever the interpretation of the underlying motives, is that it fosters other illusions. Anything seems possible – unification of the land of Israel under Israeli hegemony or driving the Jews into the sea and establishing a Palestinian state that excludes Jews.

Given the differences in explaining and justifying disruptive diplomacy, different and opposite outcomes are envisioned. I, on the other hand, am a terrible prophet. I sometimes slip into prognosticating about the future, but I am usually more wrong than I am right. Disruptive diplomacy makes prediction even more difficult. I do not know what the short term or eventual outcome will be. I have neither a crystal ball nor is my ear tuned to God’s will. I can only offer analysis that perhaps confuses as much as it clarifies.

Let me summarize that analysis. Supporters of realist diplomacy, constructivist diplomacy or some combination thereof have been mildly supportive or mildly critical and hoped to shape Trump’s disruptive diplomacy into a realistic form. This began with the creative nuancing of the announcement, but one which readily revealed its contradictions and inadequacies.

There are a number of givens:

  1. When Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiated the process of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, he severed seven decades of American policy.
  2. On the other hand, he recognized a reality – that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, a recognition of a capital denied no other country, a recognition that destroyed a long-held fiction that the city might not be Israel’s capital even though the Knesset, the Supreme Court, government ministries, including the foreign ministry, were all located in that capital.
  3. However, in refusing to define the borders of the city that Trump recognized as that capital, in the name of absolute clarity he left open the possibility that those borders were subject to negotiation just as he seemed to foreclose the possibility of the U.S. acting as a neutral mediator in such negotiations, signaled by omitting to reference any Palestinian claims to the city.
  4. While Trump claimed that the initiative reflected “the best interests of the United States of America,” this seemed to be part of the camouflage imposed by his realist sycophants but lacked any substance since there was no evident national interest served in giving that recognition at this time; at the same time, the move alienated virtually all of America’s allies and partners, and sent America’s enemies on a chest-pounding victory dance since the pronouncement demonstrably omitted any reference to Palestinian claims and revealed gross incompetence.

“Populism thrives when politics become about symbols rather than substance.” Ivan Krastev

  1. When the domestic political interests were so apparent behind the initiative – offering a quid quo pro to wealthy Jewish supporters of a right persuasion, catering to his evangelical Christian base, fulfilling a promise, seeking an initiative with a built-in legacy, providing a distraction from the Mueller inquiry and counterbalancing Obama’s failure to veto a UN resolution which provided a new, retrograde and realistically irrelevant reference point for negotiations – the disconnect and incongruence between realism in international affairs and catering to a political domestic constituency has never been more apparent.
  2. Though Trump used the rhetoric that the initiative would “advance the peace process,” those were now empty words which simply drove a stake into an already dead or, at the very least, comatose peace effort while significantly widening the chasm between the initiative and the supposed goal of giving new momentum to the peace process.
  3. If the dispute was merely up to the parties involved, why was Trump acting as a pyromaniac at this time?
  4. The move was symbolic only, and this was both its great importance as well as revealing its inability to affect facts on the ground, except possibly to encourage Israel to create more facts on the ground given the gross disparity in power between the contending parties.

The potential impact of this disruptive diplomacy could portend radical change, but the change could add to the chaos, for disruptive diplomacy radically breaks with a tradition of predictability. Only one thing is clear to me – there is now a widespread recognition that the two-state solution needs to be buried while we wait, holding our breath, to watch what alternative will emerge from the ashes of that burnt offering, even while traditional realists continue to worship the conception as a living, viable option that for them is too important to cast aside though it no longer has any potency. Which is better – that idolatry or Trump’s smashing of idols?

Varieties of Disruptive Diplomacy – Part IV Responses to Trump

Varieties of Disruptive Diplomacy – Part IV Responses to Trump

by

Howard Adelman

I have considered both critical and defensive analytical reactions to Trump’s initiative in previous blogs. The gist of the latter was that the initiative was a realistic but disruptive move to shake up the peace process. Trump’s disposition, motivated by domestic reasons, had been shaped into a well-crafted and plausible move, with the possible scenario that it could free up the sclerotic process and remove the clots preventing any movement. Now I want to consider other explanatory accounts.

Did the initiative express a preference for disruption and thereby risk all as American diplomacy in the Middle East and the rest of the world – Iraq, Syria, Somalia and North Korea – may appear to indicate?

In the end, was the pronouncement an expression of irrationality, the mad impulsive move of a narcissistic and unthinking leader, or was it based simply on stupidity? A third irrational foundation might be sentiment, namely the 18th century belief that all beliefs, if they can be ascribed any moral value, serve to enhance a harmonious cosmic order even as they appear to be disruptive. Or the resort to disruptive diplomacy, perhaps an oxymoron, may be an amalgam of all three. Certainly, both the rational comprehensive constructivist as well as realist approaches to international relations have been questionable since George W. Bush instigated an absolutely dumb war in Iraq and Barack Obama began the American retreat from global involvement leaving vacuums in its wake.

However, constructivist realism, combining moral goals with realist policies, has been under stress everywhere in the world. Have the UN and UNESCO, as well as peace operations, such as UNIFIL, verified John Mearsheimer’s 1995 thesis on the “False Promise of International Institutions,” the bankruptcy of liberal institutionalism intended to deter destructiveness and protect victims? Has the inability of peacekeeping to deal with such complex conflicts as the Rwandan-Congo security impasse put a nail in the coffin of traditional methods? Has the rise of the internet and the prominent role of social movements totally altered the international landscape and introduced populism to international relations as well as domestic national politics? Has Robert D. Kaplan’s prognostications in his 1994 thesis on “The Coming Anarchy” reinforced a conviction that the continuing destruction of our environment, tribalism, the emergence of new diseases, the official endorsement of white crime and the theft by the rich of a grossly disproportionate share of surpluses produced by innovation, simply worked together to destroy the social and institutional fabric of the planet, creating room for disruptive efforts in the international arena? Have international power politics married to our contemporary political culture not only failed to prevent the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear power, but enhanced that outcome in defiance of conventional wisdom?

Before exploring disruptive diplomacy based on various types of irrationality, I want to reiterate the positive case for rational disruptive diplomacy in the context of a reduced respect for law and traditional rational diplomacy. According to that thesis, President Donald Trump’s declaration last week that the United States will officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is good news. Partially, this is because it recognizes the long-evident facts on the ground: Jerusalem, the ancient capital of the people of Israel for thousands of years, has finally been declared capital of the modern state of Israel, though this has been the actual case for seventy years. It is undeniable that some configuration of the city will remain so forever regardless of future negotiations concerning the city’s eastern side. There’s no serious question of that, except in the minds of fanatics who truly believe the population of a (putatively) nuclear-armed state will one day be driven into the sea.

Yet the world’s political and diplomatic elites have indulged in the delusion that Palestinian leaders mean to be equal partners in pursuit of a better, more peaceful life, and that a deal was always tantalizingly close at hand. Surely no one genuinely believes that any longer. But that fiction was, at least for mandarins and diplomats, for political scientists and philosophers, too polite and convenient to abandon. The illusion that there is some progressing peace process in the Middle East has itself ironically become the latest impediment to peace. Smashing that illusion carries risks. But, as the last five decades of violence between Palestinians and Israel make clear, so does indulging that belief.

According to this thesis, the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an inspired move; the Canadian government’s decision to respond judiciously is also considered to be very commendable. Nothing useful in the Middle East peace process has occurred since Rabin’s assassination, but the correlation of forces in the region and the ambitions of the Arab powers have evolved. For decades, Israel’s most fanatical enemies were Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The first two countries disintegrated. Not so secretly, Saudi Arabia is now an Israeli ally with Egypt against Iran.

Yet columnists, such as Doug Sanders in The Globe and Mail, echoed Tom Friedman and insisted that Trump threw away Israel’s last hope for peace when the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In contrast, Conrad Black in an 8 December op-ed in The National Post argued that the goal of reducing violence would be brought about by means of four other r’s of realistic rational international diplomacy:

  1. Reiteration
  2. Reassurance
  3. Responding Proportionately and in a Timely Fashion (sequencing)
  4. Restoring the Use of Quiet Diplomacy

Before I review that thesis, I want to examine three versions offering a non-rational basis for disruption as the new foundation for international diplomacy – madness, stupidity and sentiment.

The madness thesis seems to be the most prevalent one. It is certainly widespread. Elizabeth Drew made this point in an article entitled, “The Madness of King Donald” for the Project Syndicate (4 December 2017) where she opined that Trump’s increasingly bizarre behaviour in various spheres as well as the Israeli-Palestinian case had been evident, such as at the ceremony honouring the Native American heroes of World War II where he once again used the racist term “Pocahontas” to describe a Democratic Congresswoman, his re-tweets of a British neo-fascist’s anti-Muslim rant, his revival of the calumny re Barack Obama’s birthplace, and his sudden denial that the tape record of his grabbing women by their genitals was fake even though he had admitted making the remark and apologized for it. All those provided a portrait of Donald Trump as a president detached from reality and a great danger when it came to North Korea and the Middle East.

There is also the stupidity thesis. This was articulated by Leil Leibowitz in Tablet (“Trump’s Embassy Statement”). “Instead of his [Trump’s] statement the other day, he could’ve simply refused to sign the waiver that delays the embassy’s mandated move to Jerusalem, in accordance with the 1995 law. He didn’t do that. Nor did he gut Obama’s disastrous Iran deal, another one of his campaign’s promises. Instead, he left untouched a Middle East in which Teheran continues its march towards regional hegemony, gleefully threatening to wipe Israel off the map, failing to prevent Iran from establishing bases inside Syria and completing its takeover of Lebanon while shamefully continuing to fund the Lebanese army, which Iran and its proxies now control. He has also failed to take any significant action to protect the Kurds or to provide Israel with anything more substantial than loud proclamations.” In sum, Trump was all rhetorical excess with little policy depth.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reacted to Trump’s move on Israel and echoed the assessment of stupidity, but for very different reasons. “Their announcement of Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Occupied Palestine [Israel] proves the incompetence and failure [of the U.S.]. In regard to Palestine, they are helpless and unable to achieve their goals. Victory is for the Islamic nation. Palestine will be free, and the Palestinian people will be victorious.” Hannah Ashrawi echoed this sentiment, though with far less aggressive threats. “This decision will be interpreted by Palestinians, Arabs and the rest of the world as a major provocation. It will cause irreparable harm to Mr. Trump’s own plans to make peace in the Middle East, and to any future administration’s efforts as well. It will also undermine the United States’ own national security.” Why? Because the recognition was not just symbolic but sent a signal that the U.S. would no longer set up roadblocks over Israel’s efforts to cement its control over the whole city. Trump had legitimized Israeli actions and its policy of creeping annexation.

Then there is the sentimental thesis that has its modern roots in the Scottish leaders of the Enlightenment, David Hume, Adam Smith (the author of The Wealth of Nations), Francis Hutcheson and Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury). The sentimental thesis is based on a teleological belief that all events serve to enhance a harmonious cosmic order even as they appear to be disruptive. That is because, in the end, all human behaviour, if it is moral at all, is rooted in a universal moral sensibility. Human behaviour is not governed by self-interest, with the possible exception of the pursuit of material goods. Correct moral judgments are always based on sentiment.

Less concerned with either the motivation, the rationale or the geopolitical significance, Rabbi Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, is an example of someone who praised the Trump initiative and greeted the pronouncement as a song to Jewish hearts. He articulated what the historic recognition meant for Jews for whom Jerusalem had been at the centre of their prayers for two thousand years. He also believed that the message sent to the rest of the world was a message of peace, for Jerusalem was the city of peace, of shalom, even though it had been ravaged by wars over the centuries. The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a manifestation of divine design as well as of virtue.

While the madness and the stupidity theses accounts of disruption predict disaster and chaos, the rational and sentimental justifications envision an emerging harmony.

Tony Berman in the Toronto Star argued that the “unilateral decision by the Trump administration to favour Israel, defy the world and recognize the fiercely divided city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” sabotaged any lingering hope of peace and that the conflict can be resolved through negotiating a two-state solution setting a dangerous new stage for the conflict. Like the PA, Berman predicted that the result would be a one-state solution with Israel put at risk in the process. Whatever the possibility of that outcome, it was not based on the destruction of a peace process which has been in a state of rigor mortis for years.

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah called on the world to support a new Palestinian intifada, and stories of violence in response to the announcement seemed to initially verify the prognostication that this would be the result: riots in the West Bank and Gaza, a Molotov cocktail thrown at a synagogue in Goteborg, the demonstration in front of the American embassy in Lebanon breaking out into violence, an Israeli citizen killed in a stabbing attack, a 9-year-old girl slightly injured by a Palestinian rock thrower, two Palestinians killed as police attempt to control protesters. However, journalists had also been interviewed who had been called to witness staged events with “more journalists than protesters.”

 

Even in the protests at Rachel’s tomb, only 450 protesters appeared. Whether these were the exception, the general consensus was that the three days of rage were relatively mild and would not be a portent of a Third Intifada. The best clue was the speed with which the story had been relegated to the inside pages of newspapers. The violence and protests seemed far less than predicted, though, as could be expected, Turkey’s foreign ministry accused Israel of responding excessively at the Damascus Gate but has not, as yet, broken off relations with Israel as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had promised.

While civil war has raged in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, while the relations between Hezbollah and the Sunnis in Lebanon remain tense, while Hamas throws a few rockets at Israel and Israel responds with bombs, Joshua Sharf asked why, after recognizing a three thousand-year-old truth, was Trump going to set the region aflame?

 

Tomorrow in Part V My own summary and assessment.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Trump as a Disrupter: Part III Responses to his Jerusalem Pronouncement

Trump as a Disrupter: Part III Responses to the his Jerusalem Pronouncement

by

Howard Adelman

Obviously, if the “deep” international diplomatic strategy outlined in the last blog lay behind the move, the U.S. was signalling that the Israelis were being given the benefit of the doubt rather than the Palestinians. The Palestinians were being considered the more intransigent side with less ability to back up that intransigence with actual force and now with an obvious threat that their situation would deteriorate even further in the future. America was clearly signalling, even if only symbolically at the present, that it had greater confidence in Israel in protecting the accessibility of all three faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – than the Palestinian regime, especially given what had happened when Hamas came to power in Gaza.

The U.S. was, at the same time, signalling to the rest of the world that hypocrisy and the huge gulf between real power on the ground and policy would no longer prevail. The move had global ramifications, even though at this time it was largely symbolic. The Palestinians had been sent a clear message – come to the negotiation table, but without an intractable position that made progress impossible. Come with no preconditions.

Signals will bounce back to indicate whether a disruptive process might succeed where traditional methods failed. Will the demonstrations of the Palestinians stop short of becoming an all-out intifada? Will other countries travel the same path and reinforce the American signal? Though scotched by the Prime Minister, the President of the Czech Republic signalled a willingness to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Philippines may be ready to do so. In fulfillment of the King of Bahrain’s promise restrictions on his subjects traveling to Israel would be lifted, a Bahraini delegation of 25, though not consisting of government officials but representing all faiths, will still be visiting Israel to discuss peace and coexistence as a step in normalizing relations, despite the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Will the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, signal they are willing to take a new course by restricting any protests to rhetorical ones only? The signal had to be one that, while leaving the door wide open to negotiating anything and everything, also sends the message that if there was no movement, America would be prepared to up the ante to the disadvantage of the Palestinians.

If Trump’s pronouncement had been an expression of the ancient art of international diplomacy, it had to conform to certain general rules. Sun Tzu in The Art of War, published about 2,500 years ago in China, offered the first basic rational foundation for an art of international diplomacy and military strategy. The use of the military was to be a last resort. Before the military was deployed, a long period of military preparation was required based on a combination of deceit and diplomacy to forestall war if possible and seek a peaceful resolution of a conflict. Sun Tzu offered the prototype for “balance of power politics” that formed the foundation of international relations for the previous two centuries in our time. The goal: to minimize the disruption, economic and social costs of increasingly bloody wars. The issue was how to subdue an enemy without fighting at all. Using the manipulation of both allies and enemies, rational international policy was viewed as an effort to end the prospect of war, minimize its effects if avoidance was not possible, and create a stronger foundation for peace following a war.

However, as part of the theory of a balance of power, the formula insisted that it was best first to attack strategies, then alliances and finally armies. But what if the very strategy of a balance of power approach to international diplomacy was itself attacked by disruption as a new means of conducting international relations? After all, disruption of communications has always been a hallmark of authoritarian regimes domestically. Such regimes have extended its use to the international sphere. Putin proved its effectiveness in attacking America during the last election. This was complemented by Trump’s tweets used for domestic distraction.

Part of the context for the re-emergence of disruptive versus so-called rational international diplomacy has been the existence of irresolvable paradoxes in other international crisis areas. To cite one such paradox, after our studies of the Rwanda genocide and our attack on the complacency of bystanders, it became clear that the greater the righteousness with which the problem was approached, the greater the number of casualties. The loftier the rhetoric, the less likely there was to be any action. This was true of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). That Canadian initiative was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations, but the initiative only received that unanimity by gutting its central foundation, the limitation of national power and legislating the right to international intervention in cases of genocide. RtoP gained universal support only by requiring national consent for an intervention. The greater the support, the weaker the application of the principle! Hence the tension between humanitarian intervention and sovereignty re the ethnic cleansing in Darfur as it played itself out clearly in favour of the superior status of sovereignty. (Cf. Alan Seelinger (2009 Does the International Community Have a Legal Responsibility to Protect?  An Analysis of Norms Regarding Humanitarian Intervention in Africa since 1990)

Further, in traditional diplomacy, negotiations were conducted with the perpetrators of the crimes to mitigate the loss of life. When that door was increasingly closed, slaughters became more wanton in places such as Darfur, the DRC and Kenya. When Jan Egeland could not follow through in his negotiations with Joseph Kony for a deal to mitigate the slaughter; the murders continued. One could almost formulate a principle: the greater the degree that righteousness enters into international diplomacy, the less effective that diplomacy will be and the loftier the moral rhetoric will become, accompanied by reduced action rather than increased military intervention.

Thus, an alternative method of dealing with international diplomacy emerged in the face of the hypocrisy and impotence of traditional so-called rational diplomacy. The policy was one of disruption rather than a rational and systematic use of diplomacy to reduce the threat of war and the misuse of children. The gamble was introducing a controlled wildfire rather than continue the stalemate of a growing cold war between enemies, such as the Israelis and the Palestinians. For that was the source of the real danger, not the fulminations of Iran nor the resort to violence of Hamas.

Hamas was on the verge of being domesticated. The risk had to be taken to bring even Hamas under the auspices of the PA back to the negotiation table without Hamas retaining a veto. Advantage had to be taken of the new willingness of Saudi Arabia to use power and not just financial influence to gain traction in its competition with Iran. Advantage had to be taken of the new security needs of Egypt for Israeli support to stop the extremists in the Sinai. Advantage had to be taken of the declining power of Turkey in the region even as the Turkish voice had grown ever louder and shriller in its denunciations of Israel. Advantage had to be taken of the continuing decline of the status of a PA controlled by the PLO rather than the newly-born extremists.

World, get off your butts. The stalemate up to now only promised future disaster. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was indeed a keg waiting to explode. That was all the more reason to light a controlled fire to divert the path of the flames away from such a potential explosion. After an initial controlled fire, after a cooling off period, after secret support and actions now by key Arab countries, after America sent a clear message that the status quo and complacency were no longer tolerable, after the U.S. had once again assumed real leadership on the peace issue and gave up on the illusion that international cooperation was a prerequisite to a breakthrough, the latter stance favouring the Palestinians and disadvantaging the Israelis, and only after the 1947 UN partition resolution decisions had been buried as a reference point, only then could the problem of Jerusalem be settled.

America was indeed signalling that the problem would be resolved in favour of the Israelis even as it reiterated that all parties had to come to the table without preconditions. The context on the ground had changed. Tiny Israel had emerged as a world economic power and as a regional military power. More and more, Israel was being accepted for what it had become. The participation of the IDF in military cooperation in Cyprus was simply an indicator of this change. Traditional diplomatic ambiguity and equivocation, that had always been the order of the day internationally, had to be buried alongside Palestinian dreams that it could and would inherit the Old City. Israeli expansionism had to be stopped, but the international benediction of mythical reversibility had to be buried as well.

Did the Trump initiative offer clarity based on a deep strategy or was it a toss of the dice when rationality has proven to be impotent? In traditional diplomacy, equivocation rather than clarity is highly valued. But equivocation in this situation would mean a clear signal (that the Palestinians could not eventually win the day) could not be sent to the Palestinians, for such a message would likely trigger escalating initiatives in the same direction. However, the gamble also meant that if Palestinian intransigence was deemed counter-productive, this would just reinforce it and thereby create more of a long-term concern for Israel.

Rather than refocusing on the two-state solution, disruption might force the Palestinians, as Saeb Erekat prophesied, to give up on the two-state solution and now push for equal rights for all Palestinians in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By sending the sham of a peace process and the vision of a two-state solution to the ash heap of history, the one-state solution might gain real traction even if the U.S. finally formally adopted the two-state solution as the preferred outcome. Would the game then be worth it if that was a likely or even possible outcome?

However, if Donald Trump’s mode of acting was aberrant, was intentionally non-rational, was driven by instinct rather than a rational and deliberative approach, was a belief resting on years of experience in defying conventional wisdom, then disruption as a mode of diplomacy could become the order of the day. If the Trump administration has deliberately abandoned cautious regional and international diplomacy, is the above then the rationale for the employment of irrationality?

What I believe has occurred is that James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, all openly opposed Trump fulfilling his promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Jared Kushner himself had urged caution. Tillerson, Mattis and Pompeo privately urged Trump to reconsider recognition of Jerusalem’s capital while Kushner and even Jason Greenblatt asked to delay the embassy move.

But no one can stop Donald Trump when he is on a tear. The use of disruptive international diplomacy had the added advantage of serving as a distraction from the Mueller inquiry. Tillerson, the Director of the CIA, Trump’s Defence Secretary and even his son-in-law went to work to massage an irrational initiative and cover it with a patina of rationality. Hence the well-crafted and nuanced policy statement. Hence the reading from the monitors. The principles behind the rational approach to international diplomacy were married to disruptive methods. What an unholy marriage! How could the two methods work together on the operational level when the premises were so disparate?

Rational Diplomacy                           Disruptive Diplomacy

The Primacy of National Interests    Personal Preferences Prevail

Emphasis on Diplomacy                       Emphasis on Pronouncements from

on High

Foundation in Strategic Analysis         Ignorance and Thoughtlessness

Perceptive                                                 Blind

Equivocation to Disguise Differences Absolute Clarity

Circumspection                                        Indiscretion

The Importance of Credibility             Introduction of the Incredible

Comprehensiveness                               Piecemeal

Confidence-building                               Emphasizing the Unexpected

Caution and Indecision                           High Risk Diplomacy – Recklessness

Indecision                                                  Decisiveness

Predictability                                            Unpredictability

The new disruptive methodology has not been restricted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The international area offers a plethora of paradoxes that have not been resolved by rational diplomacy. No one knows how Trump will handle the consensus on dealing with other paradoxes in the international sphere: stopping nuclear proliferation while basing ultimate strategies on nuclear deterrence; an emphasis on economic sanctions that may run counter to national interests. The list goes on. The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear capability may have been the last great victory of rational diplomacy even as Trump pronounced it the worst deal in history. As much as I supported it, in one sense it was a weak deal. For it favoured nuclear deterrence, but allowed Iran to grow as a regional power and expand its use of proxies to engage in ideological warfare. Iran became a more dangerous state when denuded of its nuclear capabilities.

If diplomacy is the art and practice of negotiating to maintain peaceful relations between and among states while reducing animosity through the use of confidence-building measures, quiet diplomacy, and engendering goodwill and mutual trust, Trump has thrown all these practices into the fires raging in southern California and, instead of stressing communication between different parties to reach agreement on issues of fundamental disagreement, he has pronounced. He has announced, all the while paying lip service, but only lip service, to negotiations between the parties.

 

Tomorrow in a subsequent blog I will examine other versions of the disruptive thesis than the unholy alliance between rational and disruptive international diplomacy over the endgame with respect to holy sites.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Moderate Plaudits for Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy: Part II

Moderate Plaudits for Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy: Part II

by

Howard Adelman

“Whether motivated by the importance of preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a concern for Israel’s and America’s relationships with key Arab partners, or a desire to cut ‘the ultimate deal,’ the new administration shows signs of investing heavily in Middle East peace negotiations. The president even assigned his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a potential peacemaker.” In such an interpretation, Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without predetermined borders had rational strategic goals: strengthening Israel, strengthening U.S.-Israeli ties and advancing the peace process towards an ultimate deal. Tomorrow I will consider the last goal and the technique seen as a method of achieving it – disruption. In this blog I want to analyze the positions of those who applaud the move as reasonable and strategic, and offer a rationale for its beneficence.

However, I begin this blog with other criticisms and caveats that, like the initiative, offered a more nuanced critical response, but without declaring the Trump initiative as stupid or rash or uncalled for or biased or as destroying the possibility of peace. American diplomats with a long history of engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, such as Dennis Ross, who served the Bush administration as Director of Policy Planning in the State Department and as a special Middle East coordinator for Bill Clinton’s government, offered a mixture of approval and reservations about the initiative.

The reference point was always the passage by Congress in 1995 of legislation obligating a transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, legislation with large bipartisan support, but with the inclusion of the waiver allowing the president to delay the move for six months at a time if needed to secure American interests. Up until Trump’s announcement, all presidents, including Trump six months ago, had signed the waiver. This time, however, Trump signed the waiver with two caveats: a) practical measures were now to be initiated to arrange the move; and b) Jerusalem was being recognized as Israel’s capital, but with the important caveat that this in no way preempted the determination of borders or the control over holy sites.

Previously, the waiver had been signed “to prevent damage to ongoing efforts to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Would such an initiative serve the pursuit of peace in the Middle East or undermine it? The signing of the waiver never meant that there was no recognition of “the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city.” The resolution of Congress sent a clear signal to those who wanted to delegitimize Jewish claims in Palestine more generally. However, there had also always existed practical administrative and security reasons for moving the embassy – convenience to American diplomats who must travel back and forth to Jerusalem all the time, the inadequate security in the existing Tel Aviv embassy, and the general perception that the U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The issue was when to take the initiative not whether, and under what qualifications. Would such an initiative be neutral or would it undermine America’s role as a useful arbitrator? Would it advance or impede the prospects for negotiations and peace? How would such a move fit in within this larger strategic goal? Would it enhance Israel’s willingness to make concessions or set back that possibility? Would it drive more Palestinians into a rejectionist corner or send a message that the U.S. tolerance for Palestinian procrastination was near its end? More specifically, would it give greater strength to Jared Kushner’s leadership on the question, propel it forward by signaling the possibility of further additional moves that would reinforce the Israeli government position, or drive the Palestinians and their supporters to distraction making them both unwilling to participate and/or accept America’s mediation efforts?

Supporters of the move asked for even more nuance and more statements of clarification. For supporters who approached the new position with qualms and qualifications, an embassy move must demonstrate that such an initiative would not prevent a Palestinian capital in the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem from emerging through negotiations. It must explicitly and repeatedly be linked with an insistence that the initiative does not change the status quo at the city’s holy sites. U.S. statements should make even more explicit that the policy decision to move the embassy is not an endorsement of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the entire city. These additional statements must make absolutely clear that the U.S. is committed to the status quo of the holy sites. Only when the initiative is followed by such reassurances can Muslim sensitivities about the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) be assuaged while Jewish sensitivities about the Western Wall are reassured.

Even if the prime message still lacked substance and was only symbolic, it had to state clearly and unequivocally that the negotiations could not have as a starting point the cease fire lines of 1967. Those were not borders. It had also to signal that a one state solution was not in the offing and that only a two-state solution was and would be on the table, but one which offered the prospect of a continuing diminution in that state, its power and geographical reach. At the same time, Israel had to be sent a message that it too could not envision a one state solution including all of historic Israel and Palestine and, thus, that there was no alternative to continuing to substitute facts on the ground as an alternative to negotiations in that direction. The direction being pushed in UNESCO, in the absence of an American veto on a core issue, had to be reversed and done so loudly, clearly and backed up by the will and might of the world’s most powerful nation.

Further, Trump must further clarify the character of recognition without defining borders. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949. That is a fact and not a matter of negotiation. Negotiations are needed to resolve all the respective claims that Israelis and Palestinians have, including questions related to Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues directly without outside interference. Does the new initiative reinforce this route or undermine it by expressing a bias in favour of the Israeli position and, thereby, ruling out the American role as a supposed “neutral” intervenor?

There is a logic to the duality of recognition, on the one hand, and declaring that this still left the borders undefined. Israel’s prime minister and parliament are located in the part of Jerusalem that is not contested. There is an honesty in ending the fiction that the city is not the Israeli capital, a fiction which has gone on for 70 years. At the same time, given the centrality and potentially explosive nature of Jerusalem, the ability of the parties to determine the boundaries of the city must be respected. The possibility even that Jerusalem will become the capital of two states must be left open.

Of course, those who are anti-Zionist and deny Israel’s legitimacy will never be satisfied by such nuances and elaborations. Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has already called for an uprising. In the violent riots thus far, several Palestinians have already been killed. The president’s declaration can be exploited further.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas never went as far as the Hamas leader. He merely declared that the U.S. could no longer assume the mediator’s role.

Jerusalem is an emotional issue. Any initiative will be misrepresented. That misrepresentation can help encourage violence or accompany the violence instigated by extremists. That, in turn, will strengthen the hand of the rejectionists and undermine the more moderate elements in both the PA and in Jordan. According to these modest plaudits, the initiative must be followed by a diplomatic offensive which repeats as a mantra that the two initiatives – moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – do not, repeat, do not preempt any final decision on borders. How this will be accomplished without diplomats in place in critical centres is, of course, a related question, especially when this failure was accompanied by the appointment of David Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, an individual who openly opposes a two-state solution. The Trump administration has not named an ambassador to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar or a replacement of Barbara Leaf as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; this has already been considered a sign of disrespect by the countries in the region.

Beinart in opposing the initiative, even with the nuances and proposed elaborations, never wanted “to detract from the primary moral responsibility of those ‎Palestinians who detonate bombs or shoot guns or stab with knives. Palestinian terrorism ‎is inexcusable. It always has been. It always will be.”‎ However, he drew an equivalence between those who commit acts of violence and those who trigger a violent response because of their insensitive and unrealistic politics, however much they did not intend to do so. In answer to the criticism that this gave Palestinians a veto over policy since they need merely hold out the threat of an uprising to get those who initiated policies not to their liking to back off, critics of Beinart and defenders of the initiative claimed that Beinart’s stance was akin to blaming the victim, such as a raped woman, for the violence of the man who assaults her.

Peter Breinart, however, made the following distinction. The violence of a male rapist is a product of male pathology. The cause of Palestinian violence, however pathological, is a response to a genuine grievance. This is the nub of his position. He accuses Israel of being the primary reason that the peace process has not advanced. Israel has been guilty of creeping annexation.

It is on this that we disagree. For I hold both parties responsible at the same time as I hold neither responsible for their key difference – the final disposition of Jerusalem. The bottom lines of both parties are incompatible so there is no possibility of peace unless one side or the other budges from its position. Beinart is not simply concerned with the optics of Trump’s announcement; he finds Palestinians to be the lesser responsible party, even though they resort to initiating violence. He takes that stance because he holds that the responsibility for the violence ultimately rests in the hands of the Israeli government and its supporters. I try to bracket my evaluations about responsibility, however, when I undertake an analysis to try as best I can to minimize the effect of my own value priorities and dispositions.

It should be clear that Beinart’s evaluation is not a product of detached analysis but of a moral framework which stimulates within Peter a Cassandra perspective, not simply a very pessimistic outlook concerning political outcomes, but an absolute conviction that he has the power to prophecy accurately even if many or most do not buy into his prognostications.  Hence his support for boycotting products produced in settlements in the West Bank.

Different critics of Beinart who support Trump’s initiative offer some of the following arguments; I put them forth as an amalgam:

  1. The Trump initiative was indeed lacking in substance, and this was its merit; the pronouncement simply recognized the reality on the ground but there was not any there, there, that changed anything;
  2. The move actually made the U.S. more of an honest broker, in Israeli eyes at least, providing more leverage over the Israelis, but without diminishing American neutrality as well as U.S. influence among Muslims and Arabs, quite aside from the current theatrics;
  3. In openly and formally endorsing a two-state solution, the U.S., in fact, had made a step forward;
  4. The absence of a clear strategic vision can be read as a failure, but it could be an intentional step in keeping a mediator’s cards close to one’s chest;
  5. Though the action failed to spell out either the needs or demands of either side, this again was better in reifying America’s role as a neutral party;
  6. In answer to the claim that the initiative had given a green light to Israel to expand its settlement efforts, those were already well underway;
  7. Other initiatives, such as a temporary stop to settlement building, had not been sufficient in the past to drive the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but combining that with the signal of an even possible greater initiative, might do the trick;
  8. In any case, what was there to lose since there was widespread agreement that the so-called peace process had reached a dead end;
  9. Though lacking in substance, though consisting of only a move with great symbolic significance, this initiative was the only one available when the differences over Jerusalem had remained so intractable for far too long;
  10. When such a move had been preceded by envoys from the business world rather than the traditional diplomatic core, it offered the Palestinians an opportunity to signal back under the cover of street demonstrations by keeping those demonstrations confined and also restricted largely to the symbolic level.
  11. Finally, it was urgent that the Obama non-veto in the dying days of that administration, that had given encouragement and a greater rationale for the Palestinians becoming even more intransigent, be reversed if any breakthrough could be expected.
  12. The above points indicate, not a missing U.S. strategy for the Middle East and for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, but may have also signalled a non-rational and radically new disruptive approach rather than being content with the so-called tried and true methods of international diplomacy [this will be the subject of my analysis in tomorrow’s blog].

As I will explore tomorrow, disruption rather than going-along-with-the-flow has emerged as the new mechanism to replace the old one of “trying harder,” of banging one’s head against an insurmountable wall of resistance whereby each side saw time on its side. At least one of the parties had to come to the realization that time was not on their side. That of necessity had to be the weaker party. Besides, hypocrisy had to come to an end, not only hypocrisy about the discrepancy between reality on the ground and the frozen postures of outside countries, but the hypocrisy whereby Arabs building on conquered land had never been branded illegal by the international community, but moves by Israel, including those in places such as French Hill and Gilo, were so branded in a way that ran completely contrary not only to the facts on the ground, but what could realistically be expected in the future given Israel’s real power and given Israel’s real control of the ground game.

 

Tomorrow: Disruption as a Foundation for International Diplomacy

 

Responses to Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy – Part I

Responses to Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

I was proud to see that my analysis of Trump’s announcement to move the American embassy in the foreseeable future and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as distributed Wednesday afternoon, generally held up very well with other analyses, with one clear exception. Though I accepted that the policy statement was nuanced, that it was impelled by domestic realities, I was out of synch with some commentators who thought the move was reasonable and realistic internationally as well as domestically. I was on the side of those who believed that Trump’s initiative in setting in motion steps to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and, more importantly, immediately recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, would add to the difficulty of advancing progress on the peace front.

This blog will primarily focus upon commentators who agreed with me with respect to the lack of realism internationally regarding the announcement. Usually, they went further and made the judgement that the move was ill-advised or considered it a clear setback to negotiations. Subsequently, not even counting the leadership of all the major political parties in Israel, I will deal with analysts who viewed the initiative as a reasonable one and generally welcome at this time.

In beginning with critics, I will not include any analysis of those who saw the move as part of Zionist and colonialist efforts to deny Palestinians their rights to self-determination and their rightful ownership of Palestine or other more moderate stances of countries in the Middle East who were outraged but still supported a two-state solution.  In dealing with those who agreed with me on the international repercussions, I will say very little about those who were unequivocally apoplectic and loudly denounced and demonstrated against the new policy because they found it indecent and contrary to international law.

For example, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) organized a petition and a series of demonstrations declaring their shock and outrage. CJPME opposed any initiatives of countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem. They declared that, Trump ignored “all previous UN resolutions and an international consensus on Jerusalem.” Trump did not ignore previous resolutions. His statement was made in opposition to such resolutions, and specifically the one in December in the Security Council which President Obama did not veto which weighed in on the negotiations and declared ALL settlements on the other side of the old Green Line to be illegal. As I had analyzed the initiative, Trump’s move was intended to counter Barack Obama’s failure or refusal to use the veto.

Nor did I contend that Trump’s decision undermined all Middle East peace efforts calling for a negotiated settlement on the status of Jerusalem. Trump specifically qualified his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital by insisting that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the plan to move the embassy did not address the issue of Jerusalem’s borders but that such a decision must result from negotiations between the two parties. I was interested in critics on the left who were more analytical, though a few were also clearly very upset.

I distinguish between analyses and appraisals. For although I might have agreed with some critics’ analyses with respect to the international dimensions, I disagreed on their ultimate evaluation. For whether one agreed or disagreed with Trump, whether one has a very low regard for Trump as I do, I thought the policy statement was well crafted and nuanced.

Let me begin with some of the very bright lights among the critics. I start with Peter Beinart who is very sharp analytically but seemed to be almost as apoplectic and hysterical about Trump’s announcement when I watched him on CNN as anti-Zionists. He had expressed his extreme displeasure in the past with respect to Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to build 2,500 more new housing units in parts of Jerusalem that were once on the other side of the Green Line as well as with Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Beinart repeatedly insisted that these moves were incendiary and would cost Israeli lives.

In contrast, Alan Dershowitz, who has a liberal pedigree but in the last few years has sounded like he was more on the right, argued that, “Violence should not determine policy.” Any instigated violence should be met by counter-measures by the police and the military. “The reason violence  – whether rock-throwing or more lethal forms of terrorism  – is used because it works… as a way to extort concessions from the world. And it works because policy makers often make or refrain from making controversial decisions based on the fear of violent reactions.”

For Dershowitz, unlike Beinart, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was not unreasonable nor was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to Dershowitz, Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. It is a fact and not a matter for debate. When such moves explicitly insist that this in no way predetermines the boundaries of Jerusalem or who should have sovereignty over the Old City, for Dershowitz that is not only a reasonable move, but a prudent one.

For Dershowitz, it does not matter whether the threat of violence comes from Palestinians, from Islamic demonstrators in Malaysia or from settlers on the West Bank. Policy should not be determined by such threats. As an example, Dershowitz cites the threats and the actual violence that resulted when, in 2000-2001, President Bill Clinton and then Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, put forth what was for Israel an extremely generous set of concessions. The threat – and the response: the Second Intifada! Dershowitz was even critical of the Israeli government for backing down under the threat of violence to its initiative in installing security cameras on what Jews call the Temple Mount (Har HaBáyit) and Muslims call Haram esh-Sharif. Dershowitz is fond of quoting Yitzhak Rabin. “We will pursue the peace process as if there no terrorism, and respond to terrorism as if there were no peace process.”

Other commentators supporting the Dershowitz position cite opposite moves that were far more widespread than recognizing the central site as special to Muslims as well as Jews. The UN General Assembly went further in the other direction in October of last year when it recognized the central holy site in Jerusalem as Muslim, supported Muslim claims and ignored Jewish ones.

The Dershowitz position could be questioned because it did not go far enough but also because it went too far in declaring Trump’s rationale to be reasonable. Was the diplomatic initiative reasonable? The peace offer of Barak was reasonable – whether or not one agreed with it. The installation of cameras on the Temple Mount (Har Habayit), however, broke an agreement between the Israeli authorities and the Muslims who administered the plaza of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome. Israel had concurred that any changes with respect to the Temple Mount would take place as a product of consultations and joint initiatives. Unilateral actions on the part of Israelis, even those that on the surface seemed very reasonable, were read and interpreted as additional steps reducing Islamic authority on a site which they considered very holy.

Was the initiative to move the American embassy and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without prejudging the boundaries of that capital, unreasonable in breaking with previous agreements and seemingly both symbolically and on the ground advancing Israeli claims of sovereignty at the expense of Palestinian claims? That is the nub of the issue. America’s allies by and large took that position. At this time, such an initiative was “unhelpful”. The Czech Republic initially followed the Russian example of recognizing West Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital which, for many Israelis, seemed implicitly to deny Israeli claims on other parts of Jerusalem, even when qualified by assertions that the move did not signal any assessment on the ultimate boundaries of the capital of the Jewish state. In any case, the next day the Prime Minister rescinded the statement of the president of The Czech Republic.

Dershowitz’s argument in defence of the move and his rant against threats of violence, and Beinart’s apoplectic responses to the initiative and fears for “Jewish” lives, both depended on the assessment of a prior issue – was the initiative reasonable? More importantly, was it reasonable now? Canada was not agnostic on this question, even though the Canadian government refrained from criticizing the American initiative. Canada simply reiterated its position that any unilateral initiatives at this time would further complicate the difficulties in advancing the peace process and that our country would refrain from taking any unilateral steps.

The moderate and experienced negotiator on the Palestinian side, Saeb Erekat, backed up by Abbas, did not threaten violence and at least rhetorically called only for peaceful demonstrations. He did pronounce not only the peace process, but even the prospect of a two-state solution, dead. The only possibility, he insisted was now fostering a one state solution with equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians in the whole territory. However, he spoiled his threat by getting the facts wrong in asserting that Donald Trump had recognized a “united” Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Trump did no such thing.

Dershowitz asked all bystanders not to “be fooled by those who say that the two-state solution is dead or that it is time to adopt a one-state solution.” Why? Because under any resolution, “Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of Israel and its holiest places would remain under Israeli control.” That may be a realist prophecy. That may even be a realistic policy. But since it was at the heart of the dispute over Jerusalem, it would be all the more reason not to signal a pre-emptive outcome at this time. Even Donald Trump never went that far in putting forth his position. If Donald Trump had done so, if he had kept his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without qualifying that initiative as not preempting any outcome on the borders of Jerusalem that could result from an agreement, then a Palestinian rejection should be viewed as reasonable and not just “the latest excuse by Palestinian leaders to refuse to sit down, negotiate and make the painful compromises necessary for a complete resolution of the outstanding issues.”

However, Dershowitz offered another argument why an initiative, without the qualification of not predetermining the sovereignty over the holy sites, was the reasonable one. It goes back to the point I made at the beginning of this blog that Trump was indeed attentive to previous UN resolutions. “President Trump’s decision merely restores the balance that was undone by President Obama’s decision to engineer a one-sided Security Council Resolution that changed the status quo.” That is, of course, why I criticized the failure of the US, when Obama was already a lame-duck president, to veto the Security Council resolution that Israeli settlements were illegal. The motions of the Security Council, unlike those of the UN General Assembly, do have legal status. With the U.S. landmark decision not to join the other 14 votes in favour of declaring all settlements illegal but to abstain, an initiative was permitted to take place which did preempt declarations on the outcome of the negotiations.

The Obama White House had rationalized its abstention which had far more significance than Donald Trump’s moving the embassy or recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, again without predetermining the borders of Jerusalem. For one, it was accompanied by a press release explaining the American failure to veto the resolution was determined by “the absence of any meaningful peace process.” That meant that the US was declaring Israel to be the main culprit in sabotaging the peace process. But if one defended the Obama initiative and, thereby, its rationale that the peace process had reached a dead end, then Donald Trump’s initiative should have posed no problem since, unlike the UN resolution, there was no presumptions about a final outcome.

Of course there was a presumption in both moves. Both the Obama and the Trump initiatives signaled an understanding of who was to blame for the stalled peace process. The UN resolution went even further in weighing in, not only on the agent to blame, but on the substance of negotiations, for that resolution declared that areas of West Jerusalem, such as French Hill, illegal as well. The resolution stated that Israel’s settlements had been placed “on Palestinian territory,” that the area captured in the 1967 war and occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, was Palestinian, and the occupation had “no legal validity.” Though the resolution only demanded a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities” as “essential for salvaging the two-state solution,” and did not demand a roll-back of previous actions, it made the quest for a two-state solution even more difficult. For the process was now under an international determination that the settlements were illegal and Israel, whichever party formed the government, would resist participating in negotiations that, in advance, undermined the Israel position that the settlements were not illegal.

There was another voice on the left that criticized Trump’s initiative, not for its content, but for failing to demand any quid pro quo from the Israeli government for what is broadly considered to be a bold American move. Tom Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for The New York Times, seemed to criticize the initiative, not for its substantive content, but for the failure to link the American concession to a demand that Israel halt its settlement activities. For Friedman, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had been understood as a concession that would be offered in return for Israeli concessions on other issues, such as settlements. Trump had awarded Israel a prize a) at a time when Israel did not deserve it; b) without extracting balancing concessions; and c) while offering Palestinians nothing of consequence in exchange.

In fact, the Trump initiative had been accompanied by a number of prior moves in the opposite direction – the expansion of Israel building more housing units on territory on the other side of the Green Line, such as in Gilo, which, under any peace agreement, was expected by all parties to remain part of Israel. There were other moves – the downgrading of the PLO “embassy” in Washington, the withdrawal of financial support by Congress to the Palestinian Authority because of its implicit support for terrorism in awarding recognition and providing the families of these “martyrs” with pensions. This was seen as a move towards defining the PA as a supporter of terror. The ground was being laid for subjecting the PA to US sanctions.

 

To be continued – Those Who Applaud Trump’s Initiative

 

Tomorrow: to be continued – Plaudits for Trump’s Initiative

Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

by

Howard Adelman

How does one respond when an infamous fabulist makes a decision allegedly based on reality? Donald Trump is the most notorious fabulist of our time. He is not simply a serial liar, but a man who denies any basis for establishing the truth. For Donald, the only truth that exits is the one that you convince people to believe. “People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you.” These were Donald Trump’s words quoted by Bill Bush, the former host of “Access Hollywood” in The New York Times. As described in George Orwell’s 1984, the only truth in a totalitarian system is a lie. Telling the truth is the unforgivable sin in despotic systems of government.

Donald Trump announced his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in a press conference at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon in an 11-minute speech read on two monitors. He claimed that it was no longer possible “to ignore the reality on the ground.” He was recognizing the historical reality that Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish faith for thousands of years, and the reality today in which the government ministries, the Supreme Court and the central authorities are all located in the capital of Israel – Jerusalem. However, he was not pre-empting the conclusions of any peace negotiations. It was up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to decide together the respective borders in Jerusalem.

What about the Palestinians? What about their reality? There was no acknowledgement of Palestinian claims to sovereignty in Eastern Jerusalem or to the Old City.

Trump “recognizes reality.” As undisclosed sources in the White House had said yesterday: “He is not making a decision that will change the core issues that are to be discussed in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” Reality also determined that the move would not be immediate. Hence the puzzling and distracting headlines leading up to the announcement: “Trump delays decision on embassy move.” “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley last week, both when the actual announcement would be made and when the decision would be implemented. But the process would be set in motion and expected to be concluded about the time of the expiration of Trump’s first term in office.

Perhaps that was the greater reality – his legacy. Almost certainly the fulfillment of a promise he made in his campaign for the presidency was the major determinant. Certainly, the series of decisions the US Congress made in 1995 provided the legal and formal authority to make the move. But the foundation for the judgment was a claim on reality.

At the same time, President Trump announced that he would sign the waiver, as every president since 1995 has done. Only when the move was imminent would the waiver to delay the move for security concerns be set aside. Would that olive branch appease Palestinians, the Arab and the Muslim world more generally? Would marrying signing the waiver with the executive decision to move the embassy be considered a fake olive branch by both America’s allies in Europe and the many states of the Muslim world? Would the US formally endorsing the two-state solution for the first time be enough of a salve?

Though I have not yet heard the reaction of President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and understand that he is still in discussions with President Sisi of Egypt, allies and Muslim states alike unanimously declared that such a decision would be a disaster for the peace process and was bound to instigate rage and violence, not only in Palestine, but throughout the world, particularly in the Muslim world. That reality according to the critics should have kyboshed any such announcement.

Will such an announcement finally bury the peace process and, therefore the prospect of a two-state solution, or would it, as Trump declared, shake up that process and create more possibilities for a peace agreement to proceed from a new starting position? America remained committed to fostering peace between Israel and the Palestinians and he, Trump, would agree to a two-state solution if both parties agree. Further, and more significantly, America for the first time endorsed a two-state solution and committed itself to backing such a solution if both parties came to an agreement.

It is one thing to announce moving the US embassy in the immediately foreseeable future. It is another to make such a pronouncement in conjunction with recognizing Jerusalem – not West Jerusalem that Russia recognized (April 2017) – as the capital of Israel. And that was the most explosive part of this afternoon’s announcement however nuanced it was by insisting that such recognition made no presumptions about final borders or sovereignty. To repeat, it was just a recognition of reality according to the American president. Trump signed the waiver for an additional six-month delay in moving the embassy, but put in motion the process of moving the embassy.

Since he also declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, that announcement will almost certainly stir the Palestinians into a rage despite Trump labeling anyone who resorted to violence as a terrorist. Nabil Abu Rudeinehspokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, Chair of the Palestinian Authority, warned: “Eastern Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state, and any change in the status quo or international recognition legitimizing the Israeli occupation will negate any possible just [and peaceful] solution.” Yet the PLO, when it declared Palestinian independence in 1988 conjoined with recognition of the two-state solution, also declared Jerusalem, not East Jerusalem, to be its capital, a decision ratified into law in 2000 and confirmed by Yasser Arafat in 2002.

For critics, Trump was not just playing with fire; he was accused of being a pyromaniac. On the other hand, what change had been made in legitimizing Israeli occupation?

The problem, as has been very widely recognized, is that this has been the one insurmountable obstacle to concluding the peace process. All of the other matters on the table – sharing water, even refugee return and even the swap in territory to solve the problem of Israeli settlements in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) – are resolvable. But Jerusalem is not. As Rudeineh stated, “East Jerusalem, with its holy places, is the beginning and the end of any solution and any project that saves the region from destruction.” If the claim on the Old City is the PA bottom line, and if this Israeli government, or virtually any conceivable Israeli government, cannot be imagined as making such a concession, how can there be a prospect of peace? If there was no prospect of a solution in any case, why delay moving the embassy and recognizing the reality of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

Nor can one legitimately refer to any international authority to support either side. But an international consensus had been in place until now not to make such a move. As the EU ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, opined, “The connection between the Jews and Jerusalem cannot be denied.” However, virtually the embassies of all countries will remain in Tel Aviv because any move would upset “the diplomatic process.”  “There is a UN resolution on the issue – and the question of Jerusalem should come up in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It would not be good for us to take a new position, before the negotiations. Jerusalem is a sensitive issue that is important to all religions – and it is important that we make an effort so that each side understands the sensitivities of the other side.”

But the effort has been made for fifty years. The negotiations on Jerusalem have been at an impasse for decades. Delaying the decision is viewed by many Jews, particularly supporters of Netanyahu, as favouring the Palestinian position and surrendering to the views of the likes of Democratic National Committee deputy chief and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison who, in anticipation, dubbed such a move a “horrible tragedy”. (Ellison in the past had offered positive statements on behalf of Nation of Islam leader and anti-Israel advocate, Louis Farrakhan and has insisted that American foreign policy was dictated by the Jewish lobby.)

However, the debate is not over a two-state solution, but over who will have sovereignty over the Holy Places in the Old City. Given that Israel is now in control, any decision to formally recognize that control is considered unilateral and an obstacle to realizing a two-state solution. But refusal to recognize the legitimacy of that control as well as the reality is also a unilateral decision that favours the PA red line.

Does such a decision end the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution? I believe critics are correct. I believe that it certainly will for now, making the timing odd given Jared Kushner’s work on the problem. A decision favouring Israel, even though signaled to Arab leaders ahead of time, will, I believe, make any agreement harder to reach in the near future. America’s role as a broker will be undermined. And the prospect of violence, quite aside from new tensions in the region, will increase.

What about the rumours that Saudi Arabia is now on board favouring the Israeli side? There is no suggestion that Saudi Arabia would accept Israeli sovereignty over the Holy Places. Or has there been a deal? There have been rumours that Saudi Arabia, given its dispute with Iran and Shiite Islam more generally, under the new helm of Crown Prince and strongman Mohammed bin Salman who has had close business ties with the Jewish community and with Jared Kushner in particular, has shifted. In secret negotiations with Israel and quiet negotiations with Jared Kushner, it is rumoured that he agreed that Palestinians would not be given sovereignty over the Old City, and, in return, Israel would acknowledge Saudi Arabia rather than Jordan as having control over the Muslim holy sites, giving the Saudis control of all three of Islam’s most sacred places – Mecca, Medina and now the Great Mosque in Jerusalem. By mentioning it, I do not intend to give credence to such a rumour.

The announcement does shift the ground. That shift alone would destroy the belief of a virtual consensus among Muslim countries. As Ellison put it, is it logical or reasonable in an era of réal politique that a country of 7 million Jews should overrule the views of countries with a population of one billion and a region with a population of 350 million in opposition? The political equation will change, Ellison predicted, when there are more Muslims in America. Hence the link between the ban against Muslim immigrants to the U.S. and American foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. Hence the push for moving embassies to Jerusalem ever since Begin came to power in Israel in the late seventies. But the political equation would also change if Saudi Arabia undermines any consensus. Saudi Arabia has denied that such a proposal is in the works.

The Joe Clarke Conservative government in Canada in 1979 was the first Western country to be convinced to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a policy shift determined by control of the policy committee by a group of Christian Zionists. That initiative ended in a diplomatic storm and a fiasco with a retreat by Canada that made future policy contingent on Arab agreement. When in 1988, the PLO changed its charter to recognize the UN authority and legitimacy in establishing a two-state solution, the door was opened for the Oslo Accords. Though Israel promised to negotiate Jerusalem’s future as part of a peace agreement, Israel had also made clear that Jerusalem, including the Old City, would remain its capital.

But, as stated above, Palestinians also expected East Jerusalem, including the Old City, to become its capital. They did not simply expect to have access to Muslim holy sites, as the editorial in The New York Times this morning opined. For the reality is that, for the most part, Muslims have retained unfettered access to the Haram esh-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary of al-Quds as Jerusalem is better known among Arabs. Access is only denied for security reasons, access not only for Arabs, but to Jewish right-wing instigators when tensions have risen.

The issue is NOT making one-sided decisions before negotiations begin, but making one-sided decisions when negotiations have failed for almost thirty years to cut this Gordian knot. In 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommended a two-state solution with a special international status for Jerusalem, not just the Old City, under the sovereign authority of the United Nations Trusteeship Council. In the UNSCOP Committee, this sop of international status for Jerusalem was offered to the representative from Peru, Dr. Alberto Ulloa, a very religious Catholic, to ensure continuing Catholic influence in the city in return for his support for partition. It is noteworthy that even unto today, even with a most progressive pope in office in Rome, the Vatican opposed recognizing Israel’s de facto control over the Old City as legitimate and criticized Trump’s announcement.

The recommendation to put Jerusalem under international control was not a realistic possibility at the time. The attempt to implement the recommendation proved to be an absolute farce. Jews ignored that recommendation and the Palestinians ignored not only it, but the legitimacy of any Israeli state. When Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1948, they were annexed. The Jews were ethnically cleansed from the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and Jews were denied access to their Holy Places, the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the burial of their founding fathers in Hebron.

Force determined that outcome, though the international community refused in general to recognize both Jordanian authority over East Jerusalem and the Old City and Jewish control over West Jerusalem. Protests faded away in the face of the reality on the ground. Even though most embassies remained in Tel Aviv well before the imbroglio over East Jerusalem and the Old City, the situation remained unchanged after 1967, except that 16 countries that had embassies in West Jerusalem, moved those embassies to Tel Aviv with the de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980. It was not a formal annexation, as was the case with Jordan in 1950, but the borders of the municipality of Jerusalem were extended to include East Jerusalem and Israeli law and administration were then applied to the whole region now called Jerusalem. (The UN General Assembly unanimously condemned the move and declared it invalid, though the GA motion had no legally binding power under international law.)

In sum, Trump’s announcement was clearly made for political purposes: to fulfill a campaign promise, to satisfy his evangelical base, to show gratitude for Sheldon Adelson’s $25 million contribution to the pro-Trump PAC during the election; to earn a legacy; and, last, but not least, to counter Barack Obama’s decision when he was a lame-duck president NOT to veto an anti-Israel resolution in the UN Security Council declaring the settlements illegal. The announcement was an unequivocal pro-Israel statement that was surprisingly nuanced for Trump.

Certainly, Netanyahu expressed his pleasure concerning the announcement. Did the initiative now give Trump extra leverage over the Netanyahu government? Or had Netanyahu been given a green light, for Trump had reiterated what he had said often enough before – it was up to the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their dispute themselves, though the US would be available to help. The statement certainly labelled opponents who resorted to violence as terrorists. But was a regional strategy missing, or left unsaid and secretly agreed to?

Was the decision based on realism? I suspect that it was based on domestic realism and a kind of legitimate international fabulism, not one that denies reality as its usual modus vivendi, but one based on a vision of Israel with Jerusalem, including the Old City, as its capital, as well as of a Palestinian state without the Old City, but with the Muslim Holy places reified under Muslim authority. The vision is married to action to reinforce change versus stasis tolerating the apparently unmovable status quo.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

by

Howard Adelman

In addition to her TV interview last Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also addressed the Knesset on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that recently passed a resolution declaring Hevron and the Cave of the patriarchs (Mearat Hamachpelah) as “endangered Palestinian heritage sites.” UNESCO is an esteemed international agency based in Paris. Its declared objectives are “to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights.” Was the resolution, widely considered in Israel to be so, an anti-Israel motion? If so, why is UNESCO engaged in such activities?

This was not the only resolution of this type passed by UNESCO. In the same week, in Kraków, Poland, of all places, where the scene of the Nazis ruthlessly clearing out the ghetto of Jews and shipping most residents to the gas chambers in Belzec, were portrayed in Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (remember the girl in the red coat), the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (UNESCO-WHC) voted to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Old City of Hevron inscribed as a Palestinian world heritage site. The Committee also determined that the site was also “in danger.” From what and why?

The latter motion establishing the tomb as an endangered heritage site was passed by the 21 countries [Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zimbabwe] 12-3 (those 12 are easily picked out of the list since they regularly support anti-Israel motions) with 6 countries abstaining. Though the vote usually takes place by a show of hands, Poland, Croatia and Jamaica requested a secret ballot. Israeli Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen stormed the chair, accusing the Polish diplomat in charge of failing to conduct a truly secret ballot. The vote was not held behind a curtain; ballots were placed in an envelope in full view of the delegates. The chair called in security.

The issue was NOT declaring Hevron, the Cave and the Tomb heritage sites. Hevron was declared to be an Islamic city. It was the third site recognized by UNESCO as located in the “State of Palestine.” Whatever the history being recognized or not recognized, the resolutions were clearly political rather than educational and cultural in nature. Israel was deliberately disassociated from a site widely recognized, certainly in the Torah, as the burial grounds of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel. Israeli diplomats called it “an ugly display of discrimination, and an act of aggression against the Jewish people.”

Upon passage of the resolution, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed a Palestinian diplomatic victory. “Despite the aggressive Israeli campaign, spreading lies, distorting and falsifying facts about the Palestinian right, the world recognized our right to register Hevron and the Ibrahimi Mosque under Palestinian sovereignty and on the World Heritage List.” For Maliki, the issue was about Palestinian sovereignty and NOT about the location of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.

The issue was also about sovereignty when the same committee earlier in the week explicitly denied Israel’s claim to the Old City of Jerusalem. In May, UNESCO’s executive board ratified a 2016 resolution denying Israel, not only legal, but also any historical link to Jerusalem. Israel was deemed an “occupying power,” a designation never applied to Jordan when that country overran the Old City in the 1948 war. UNESCO regularly criticizes Israel for its archaeological work and excavations in Jerusalem and Hevron.

However, the Committee did not explicitly deny the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. The Jerusalem resolution recognized the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” Further, the Temple Mount compound was not referred to solely as “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif” as in a 2016 resolution that called the Temple Mount “a Muslim holy site of worship.” Hevron, Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem were all defined that way.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry decried the decisions and insisted that Jerusalem remained the capital of the Jewish people. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and no decision by UNESCO can change that reality. It is sad, unnecessary and pathetic.” For Palestinians, UNESCO votes offered additional proof that in the minds of the international community, Jerusalem was “the capital of the occupation.”

Did it matter that Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, Yaakov and Leah, and even Adam and Eve, were allegedly buried in the cave, or that Avraham bought the Cave from Ephron the Hittite long before Islam existed? One has no sense from the debate that this belief and cultural identification was relevant let alone crucial to the decision. Recognition of Palestinian sovereignty was at stake.

However, whatever the myth or historical reality, the debate upped the ante in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Reuven Rivlin of Israel may have tweeted: “UNESCO seems intent on sprouting anti-Jewish lies, while it remains silent as the region’s heritage is destroyed by brutal extremists,” but Palestinians could boast of another significant political victory in an important international forum piled on top of winning membership in UNESCO in 2011. The cost, however, has been another repeated gesture politicizing a cultural and historical issue. When debates over memory, history and culture are brought into the centre of a conflict, the stakes are raised enormously. With regard to the sites mentioned above, unlike any other one recognized as a heritage site (Aztec sites in Mexico City are but one example; Cordoba in Spain is another), there was never any attempt to deny the historic connection to the site. In all three cases in Israel/Palestine, the Jewish connections to the sites were omitted. The Ibrahimi mosque in Hevron, known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, built in the 14th century, however, is identified.

In UNESCO commemorating sites, Battir, called Beitar in the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome and even in Arabic dubbed “Khurbel al-Yahud (the Jewish ruin), is recognized to be “representative of many centuries of culture and human interaction with the environment.” Cultural genocide is the systematic destruction of traditions, values, language, and other elements which make a one group of people distinct from other groups. It is both the height of irony that an organization like UNESCO, in order to advance a Palestinian political position, finds it fit to extinguish Jewish historical and cultural links to sites in Israel and Palestine. Why would even Jews who defend the right of Palestinians to have their own state be complicit in cultural genocide? There are also political repercussions. The more Israelis and other Jews alienated from around the world, the less likely they are to support a Palestinian state alongside Israel if cultural genocide is a consequence. Are any of these sites “culturally endangered” as Palmyra has been in Syria?

UNESCO does recognize many other sites in Israel as having a Jewish connection and as heritage sites – Tel Aviv as the White City and foremost representative of the Bauhaus or International style, Masada, the Necropolis of Beit Shean, and six others, but none on the other side of the Green Line. When the fight becomes a cultural and historical one and not simply political, the very purpose of UNESCO is threatened. But perhaps that is inherent in UNESCO. In its charter, culture, science and education are viewed as ways to advance political objectives, even as those objectives are spelled out in the lofty language of freedom, rights and the rule of law.  UNESCO memorialized Ernesto Che Guevera in the World International Documentary Collection even though he has been widely accused of committing massacres by the Cuban community in Miami. On the other hand, it was Israel which could be said to have instigated the process by designating the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hevron, Rachel’s Tomb and Bethlehem, as “national” heritage sites in 2010.

Ever since that date, UNESCO and Israel have been engaged in a cultural war, but one in which UNESCO has engaged in fostering cultural genocide. In January 2014, UNESCO escalated the conflict beyond Israel and swept all Jews into the maelstrom when Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, initially and indefinitely postponed a Paris exhibit promoted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the 3,500 year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. On the basis of this totally obvious bias, indeed official endorsement of cultural genocide, last month both Israel and the US announced that each would be withdrawing from UNESCO, the US for the second time – it had rejoined in 2002 after an absence of 18 years. Even Christians have become upset with UNESCO when it named the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a “Palestinian” heritage site, ignoring the fact that Jesus was a Jew.

It is against this background that the venom Tzipi Hotovely spewed against UNESCO should be viewed as well as Princeton University Hillel’s cancellation of Hotovely’s speech on the day it was to be given at Hillel’s Center for Jewish Life. The speech was cancelled under pressure from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP). Hotovely belongs to the Israeli hard-right. She is opposed to creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. She does not disregard any Palestinian sovereignty claims to the land as AJP stated; she strongly opposes such claims. She was in Princeton to explicitly make the case that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. (Even though I oppose the settlements, I would even insist that they are not the prime obstacle to peace.)

The effort to deny Hotovely the right to speak (she did speak, but under the auspices of Chabad) blackens the reputation of progressives at the same time as it deepens the chasm between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. AJP claimed that Hotovely’s stance damages the prospect of peace, something on which I would agree. Nevertheless, I defend her right to advance her position just as I defend the right of Palestinians to advocate their own One State solution. I do not have to attend, I do not have to participate in such occasions. But they do not foster violence or cultural genocide. Both sides offer fundamental differences over sovereignty.

However much I disagree with Hotovely, however much I oppose the government’s claims on behalf of the settlements, however much I declaim her contention that peace has not yet been achieved between Israelis and Palestinians because of incitement and a generation of young Palestinians who were not educated for hope, I have not read any evidence that she practices cultural genocide and denied any Islamic connection to the Haram al-Sharif in her address in the Knesset directly aimed at Palestinian MKs. Was it not enough to disagree with her over giving priority to Jewish claims to the site?  Even if one radically disagreed with her, she was not being uncivil as she claimed that Palestinians are “thieves of history” and accused them of attempting to Islamicize Jewish history. I go further than her. I claim that the Palestinian efforts are part of a campaign of cultural genocide. I strongly support a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Should I be silenced if I characterize the efforts in UNESCO as advancing a program of cultural genocide even it if is for what I regard as a worthy political purpose?

AJP in its open letter in The Princetonian expressed its shame that the Committee on Jewish Life (CJL) at Princeton misrepresented “our Jewish community’s politics and values. We will not sit by quietly as the Israeli government continues to entrench its control over Palestinians. We will not be silent as members of our Princeton community further these hateful and racist policies.” Subsequently, AJP claimed that it was not its intention either to censor MK Tzipi Hotovely or to cancel the event, but “to highlight the CJL’s systematic silencing of leftist voices on campus through uneven application of its ostensibly neutral Israel policy.” There was no evidence that I found that they supported Hotovely’s right to speak.

Further, no one said that AJP should be silent. No one said they should not oppose the Israeli government efforts to control Palestinian land or to even deny that it is Palestinian land. But that does not make the opposing position racist. Even more importantly, no group, absolutely no group, can claim to speak for the Jewish community as a whole, especially for its values.

Nothing so exacerbates the Israeli-Diaspora divide than the claim that Jews should speak with a singular voice, that Jews should be united. Hotovely to her credit, however disagreeable I find her views, has not insisted on a unified Jewish voice but a clearer opportunity to have the hard-right voice heard. In my view, nothing is more divisive among Jews than the argument about Jewish unity and who is most responsible for promoting that disunity and who is in the best position to defend that unity. The reality is that Jews have never been united.

Nor should nor need they be. The quest for unity is a chimera and itself a very divisive issue.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman