Iran and the Nuclear Option

[I am resuming my blog, but intermittently rather than daily.]

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog departed London after his state visit. He came on a high-level mission to the U.K. to strengthen Israel-UK ties, reinforce the image of Israel’s commitment to tackling climate change, honour Jewish Olympians murdered in the Munich Olympic Games as well as a Holocaust survivor, Sir Ben Helfgott, who became a world weightlifting champion. But his most important reason was to send a clear and unequivocal message. Herzog declared, “I shall make clear that Israel cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons capability and it expects its allies to be tough and assertive toward the Iranians, including in their dialogue with them. Israel makes this position clear to all its friends and, of course, makes clear that it reserves all options to defend itself.” Finally, he claimed that Iran was simply stalling and had no intention of reigning in its nuclear program. Iran is simply playing for time. Dalia Dassa Kaye, a senior fellow at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Studies, concurred in the view that the new Iranian government was more hardline than the old one. Iran was simply wasting time as it sought a shorter time gap for a breakthrough to becoming a nuclear power.

This past Sunday, the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and Haaretz jointly sponsored a conference on Israeli national security. The conference with a star line-up of academic and political speakers focused largely on the nuclear threat of Iran to Israel. What was surprising to me is that, as I periodically glanced at the numbers watching, the peak audience was 270. When Senator Ben Menendez, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, spoke at the end, there were only 27 tuned in. Shocking! For such a high level and politically and militarily critical conference that was well publicized? Fortunately, it is available on the websites of both Haaretz and the UCLA Center for Israeli studies.

My impression was that the politicians and speakers shared an overwhelming consensus about Iran and its nuclear program. Benny Gantz, Israel’s Defence Minister, in his opening remarks, zeroed in on Iran’s quest to become a regional hegemon. But Iran presented a global as well as regional threat. However, the nuclear threat provided the umbrella for its conventional disruptive activities on the ground, whether with respect to maritime shipping, the democratic process in Iraq or the effort to make the regimes in Syria and Lebanon satraps of Iran. In addition to Assad and Hezbollah, all the satraps are controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran’s expeditionary Qods Force, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS or ‘Etelaat’). The satraps include the Popular Mobilization Units/Shia militias in Iraq, the Ansar Allah/Houthis movement in Yemen, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and, to some extent, Hamas in Gaza. In contrast, and in opposition, Israel seeks to forge alliances rather than develop proxies in the Middle East.

However, the nuclear threat posed the most significant existential threat to Israel. In contrast, for the U.S., Iran was a threat to international peace but not an existential one. Only Israel had been singled out by Iran for elimination. The U.S. could afford to allow Iran to become an almost-nuclear power. Israel could not. Thus, Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, reiterated America’s longstanding insistence that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons while Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned against Iran being allowed to become a nuclear threshold country. The difficulties focused on forging a united front that would be both effective as well as furthering both the security interests of Israel and the peace policies of the U.S. in the Gulf. There was a shadow of darkness between the Israeli policy committed to Iran never becoming a power capable of producing a nuclear bomb within a short time frame and the American determination that Iran never become an actual nuclear power. A goal of “no daylight between the U.S. and Israel is a chimera. Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, emphasized this difference but insisted that the Bennett government would strenuously avoid a public confrontation with the Biden government even though Israel could not tolerate Iran even becoming a potential nuclear power.

The facts are ominous. Iran has now acquired nuclear material purified to 60%, well beyond the 3.67% permitted under JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action negotiated by the Obama regime. Further, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has accumulated 17.7 kg (39 pounds) of the material enriched to 60% fissile purity and eighty-four times the limit set under the JCPOA. When the isotope U-235 is enriched to 90% (now needing only a short time), with more efficient bombs, Iran will have sufficient to make almost 2 bombs and more than double the amount it had only three months previously. (“Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima contained 64 kg of highly enriched uranium.)

Further, Iran already has a stockpile of over 210 KG of 20% enriched uranium. More ominous, Iran is now using its advanced much faster centrifuges to purify instead of the older models. In addition, Iran is now building centrifuges capable of operating at six times the speed of even its existing new array of advanced centrifuges. Iran will soon be able to make a breakthrough to nuclear weapons in a matter of weeks rather than a year. Iran continues to deny IAEA inspectors access to its centrifuge workshop and the TESA Karaj workshop which manufactures parts for the centrifuges and nuclear enrichment machines.

The IAEA has had no access to Iranian nuclear sites or enrichment processes since February according to the agency’s chief, Rafael Mariano Grossi. Yossi Cohen, former head of Mossad, stressed that Israel could not afford to allow Iran to become a power with the capacity to make nuclear weapons let alone just prevent Iran from actually acquiring such weapons. The core issue was nuclear capability not just a nuclear breakthrough. Cohen insisted that Israel was still capable of crippling Iran’s nuclear program by military means. Israel recently launched its public relations campaign to emphasize that the military option is on the table, that it is developing military scenarios, making contingency plans and providing a budget. Is this smoke and mirrors or the promise of real action?

But how could such an Iranian capability be eliminated once the knowledge and technology are mastered? Only if its high-speed centrifuges are destroyed. Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons had to be eliminated, preferably through diplomacy but, if necessary, by the use of military force according to these specialists.  If negotiations provide the route, the sunset clauses of the JCPOA have to be greatly extended.  In its current form, the JCPOA was a sanctions relief deal not an agreement to end Iran’s capability of producing nuclear weapons. Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri-Kani of Iran heading the Iranian negotiating team in fact insisted that the imminent resumption of talks would not be about the nuclear issue but about the lifting of sanctions.

The original Mark Kirk (Rep.) and Robert Menendez (Dem.) amendment to the 2011 annual defence budget imposing sanctions on the economic lifeline of Iran received unanimous Senate support and was the catalyst for the 2015 agreement. But the JCPOA is just an agreement that allows subsequent presidents to change course and even abrogate the deal; it is not a treaty requiring two-thirds support in the Senate. And it is almost certain that Iran would not be able to secure a treaty that would prevent a Trump from abrogating the agreement.

In addition, the weaponization and militarization of its program also had to end as well. Iran has developed intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit central Europe and eventually North America. The evidence suggests that Iran did not even want to go back to the flawed JCPOA even as Sima Shine, the head of the Iran program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, stressed Israel’s great fear that this would be the outcome of renewed negotiations. Iran is demanding not only the removal of ALL sanctions, including the sanctions for Iran’s human rights violations and its support of terrorism, but the payment of compensation for the past losses that Iran suffered as a result of those sanctions.  These claims were not just a bluff but an attempt at sneaking towards nuclear weapons with salami slicing tactics. First jump to 5%. Then 20%. Then 60% enrichment. The U.S. may not wish to join Israel in a military attack, but would it provide the logistic and diplomatic clout and legal right to defend Israel’s right to do so?

Doesn’t the position of the new Israeli Bennett government sound remarkably akin to the position of the Netanyahu regime? Yes, but with one major difference. Bibi made a fateful alliance with Trump and made the Democrats his enemy. The Bennett government through a diplomatic offensive is seeking to rebuild joint support across the aisle for its position. Bennett is committed to dialogue and engagement rather than confrontation. The Israeli intelligence and military establishment, in contrast to Netanyahu generally, agreed with Likud former defence minister, Moshe Yalon, that, “The Iran deal was a mistake; withdrawing from it was even worse” [my own position in retrospect]. The Israelis do not support a renewed JCPOA. They want a preventive program. They want to ensure that Iran no longer has the capacity to acquire nuclear weapons even as the political climate in the U.S. in the Democratic Party has shifted further away from support for Israel, particularly in the views of young people even within the Jewish community. But it is a shift of a minority within the Democratic Party. However, the shift is also taking place among young evangelicals as well according to Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland.

The black cloud that hangs over closer cooperation on Iranian policy between Israel and the U.S. is the lack of progress towards a two-state solution and the successive failures of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Micah Goodman may advise shrinking the conflict, but the number of voices advocating alternative solutions, such as the one-state proposal of people like Peter Beinart or the confederation push of Ameer Fakhoury, director of the research center at Neve Shalom (Wahat al Salam), has increased.

At the same time, Iran has been attempting to paper over its differences with the Saudis and the other Gulf states, particularly over Yemen. It has already forged an agreement with the UAE that led to that country’s withdrawal from Yemen in return for immunity from Houthi attacks on its ports and shipping. But political movements in the Middle East have also undermined the Iranian position. In Lebanon, Hezbollah now confronts resistance in the streets. Hamas is openly negotiating for improved relations between Israel and Gaza. In the recent elections in Iraq, Iran’s influence considerably diminished.

On the other hand, Iran has significantly improved its connections with China and China has become increasingly dependent on Iranian oil as it flouts the sanctions openly. Last month, half of Iran’s exported 1.1 million barrels per day of crude oil went to China. After the UAE, China has become Iran’s largest trading partner. China entered into an economic agreement with Iran to invest over $400 billion over 25 years. Further, as the U.S. continues to pivot to the Far East and disengage increasingly from the Middle East through military withdrawals and drawdowns, its leverage on Iran has diminished as well as any impression that the U.S. is willing to resort to military force to advance its position in that area of the world.

Iran also feels that North Korea has provided a lesson on how to resist America as it slices its way forward with its nuclear program.  After all, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya under pressure both gave up their nuclear program. They are both dead. In contrast Kim Jung-un remains alive and seemingly untouchable.

Take Biden’s resolve to prevent the militarization of Iran’s nuclear program and the reluctance of the American regime to threaten the use of military force let alone use it is consistent with his failure to enforce many of the economic sanctions on the books.  The regime of “maximal sanctions” is over. Further, unlike Obama, Biden no longer insists that “all options” are on the table. Further, Biden’s freedom to act is far more limited than Trump’s. However, Trump’s Iranian strategy, developed as a result of pressure from Netanyahu, had been an abject failure. If Obama withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and failed to live up to its “red lines” with respect to Assad’s use of chemical weapons in August 2013, Trump twice announced withdrawals from Syria, failed to take any action when Iran openly advanced its nuclear program and ignored the terms of the JCPOA, and failed to do anything when Iran attacked the Abqaiq and Khurais Saudi oil-processing facilities on 14 September 2019. In the 12 May 2019 Fujayrah Iranian attack on an Emirati registered vessel, two Saudi registered oil tankers and a Norwegian registered oil tanker, the U.S., as the maritime police of the Gulf region, failed to respond. Trump was only willing to support a maximum economic sanctions program but without the backing of a credible military threat. However, he did order the assassination of Qasem Suleimani.

The U.S. Navy jointly with six other countries in the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) through its operational arm, the Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel, and the larger Combined Maritime Forces, is charged with ensuring freedom of navigation in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility where the Iranians have been involved in tanker hijackings. In June, Iran seized the tanker Winsome and the Oman Pride in Sohar. Last July (2020), Iran seized the tanker Gulf Sky in Emirati waters. However, in August, the U.S. Navy responded and seized more than 1 million barrels of Iranian gasoline bound for Venezuela aboard four tankers. Iran responded in turn by attempting to seize other tankers.

Iran may not actually become a nuclear power. However, it may be sufficient to develop the capacity to be a nuclear power within a short timeframe.

In the meanwhile, Iran has tremendously advanced its conventional military capabilities. Its anti-aircraft defences have greatly improved, and its nuclear production facilities have become even more protected from an aerial attack as they have been buried even deeper. Its maritime military capabilities have certainly advanced. At the same time, it is not clear that any military action could significantly set back its nuclear program. Certainly, many U.S. strategic military experts have warned Israel that any military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be counterproductive leading Iran to speed up its nuclear program even more.

There is one additional significant change. Though not yet a major player compared to Israel, Iran has developed its cyber military capabilities compared to when the Stuxnet Worm attack seriously set back Iran’s facilities twelve years ago. However, Israel has also advanced enormously, not only on the cyber front – note the cyberattack on Iran’s Mahan Air on 21 November. Mahan Air has been a target of the West ever since the U.S. blacklisted the airline in 2011 for allegedly “providing financial, material and technological support” to the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force and ferrying weapons and personnel to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Although the air carrier claimed that it had “thwarted” the attack and that its flight schedule was not affected, messages sent by hackers to its passengers told a different story.  

Cyberattacks on Iran have become more frequent. In October, its gas stations were struck resulting in drivers joining long lineups for hours to get gas for their cars. Trains have been delayed and even cancelled as a result of cyber attacks. As an Iran openly committed to supporting terror in the region and the destruction of Israel approaches the nuclear threshold, the threat of Israel using military force may just be a mask to hide its enormous increase in capacity to employ cyber warfare.  At the same time, Iran’s ability to defend its nuclear program against cyber attacks has also greatly improved. Officials in the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command have insisted that Tehran’s improved defences against cyberattacks means that Israel would not be able to cripple Iran’s centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site as it did a decade ago. Iran is now employing its advanced centrifuges at Fordow in open defiance of the JCPOA. However, when military action, however limited, is fronted by cyber warfare and sabotage, perhaps the Israeli threat could be credible.

Thus, as Iran resumes its negotiations with the West on 29 November, pessimism clouds the discussions. Coercive diplomacy does not seem to be part of the negotiations. Iran continues its efforts to widen the gap between the American policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a bomb and the Israeli policy of eliminating Iran’s capability of making a bomb. The latter goal seems like pie-in-the-sky to many American Iranian specialists. They seem willing to ease economic sanctions and simply freeze Iran’s nuclear program in place. On the other hand, some hope for a partial agreement, limited in both time and scope to get around the deadlock. Others call for a longer and stronger JCPOA. In that case, the Raisi government is likely to head for the exit and continue its efforts to obscure its clandestine nuclear program and prevent any meaningful inspections. The prospects for successful talks are very dim indeed. If so, the prospect of a military attack by Israel increases and cyber attacks will certainly escalate.

Defining Antisemitism: Part II – In Defence of IHRA

The right is reactionary. Its propensity is to adopt resurrected older positions in a slightly new package. Hence, the antisemitism of the right most resembles traditional antisemitism based on stereotypes of Jews and recognizable tropes. The left is “progressive” dedicated to reinvention and creating new frontiers. These include new frontiers not only of social justice and the advancement of peace, but also reconstructing old hatreds in new forms. That is why Thomas Friedman anticipates that “Anti-semitism will flourish under the guise of anti-Zionism.”

To be anti-Zionist is not to be antisemitic. But anti-Zionism can be a cover for and a new way of expressing antisemitism. How can we tell the difference? We do know that when the bundists and communists fought against the Zionists for supremacy in the ideology of Jews, that was not antisemitic. When the ultra-Orthodox and Reform Jewish congregations opposed Zionism, they did not do so because they were antisemitic. Why then paint current leftist anti-Zionists with the antisemitic brush?

Reasons offered include:

  • The internecine fights within the Jewish community were precisely that – debates among Jews themselves and not attacks “from the outside”;
  • The ideological debates within the Jewish community were about the heart and soul of how the history of Jews was to be understood and constructed, what the current priorities should be and what the future of Jews should look like; in contrast, current leftist anti-Zionism – and to repeat ad nauseum, this is not to be confused with criticism of Israel which is fully legitimate – is about linking the current behaviour of the realized product of Zionism, that is, the Jewish state, with its illegitimacy;
  • The narrative constructed by the alleged antisemites wearing a mask of anti-Zionism has the same intention at the extreme in both cases – extermination, in the case of this form of anti-Zionism, the elimination from the face of the earth of what has emerged as the heart and soul of Jewish community solidarity with Israel;
  • The proposed narrative is not simply critical of Zionist behaviour but, like antisemitism, insists that this criticism goes much deeper into the core of the very nature of Zionism, just as the old antisemitism depicted that which justified hatred as inherent in the Jewish character;
  • The proposed narrative not only offers a very different historical tale, but it is one that depends on fundamental distortions and misrepresentations of what actually took place in history; these include:
  • Zionism not only benefitted from the protection of imperial and colonial regimes but was and remains at heart a colonial enterprise;
  • Representing Zionism as a return of an indigenous people to their homeland – a proposition that is at the heart of Zionism – is the real misrepresentation since:
  • Jews according to their own history have always been invaders of Palestine;
  • There is a gap between being indigenous and return after about two millenia;
  • Arabs have never objected to those Jews who were and remained in Palestine over those two millenia from staying in Palestine;
  • The invasion of Palestine by modern Zionists was not only at the expense of the local population, but all along intended to displace and replace that local population;
  • The eventual state that resulted is an apartheid state, that is, one dedicated to ensuring that the Jewish community not only remains separate from the rest of the population, but subject to a different set of laws, and, further, laws that ensured that Jews retain their superior authority and power;
  • The state of Israel is inherently expansionist;
  • The above mischaracterization flies beyond criticism and entails demonization.

What does Derek Penslar fail to recognize in the above critique? Derek wrote: “I have found it difficult to invoke the IHRA definition [when giving expert testimony] because of its strong implication that highly critical but factually accurate statements about Israel are antisemitic. A clear distinction between conspiratorial fantasy and demonstrable reality, between unhinged and fact-based (even if intemperate) language about Israel, would make it easier for me to demonstrate the presence of the former, which is actionable, and to set aside the latter, which is not.”

But this is precisely the issue. The IHRA definition provides absolutely no obstacle to presenting highly critical but accurate information in any forum. Where is the strong implication that it does? In fact, the implication is the reverse. Criticism not based in fantasy but in fact should and must be respected and welcomed. Not one example in the illustrations offered suggest that they are cases of “fact-based” criticisms.

Since antisemitism entails animus against Jews, which Derek takes to be the core of antisemitism, anti-Zionism must as well. But there is no necessary connection between the two. In fact, when antisemitism morphed into the new form of anti-Zionism, it left animosity for Jews as individuals behind and replaced it with animosity towards Jewish nationalism and not even just Jewish statehood. That is why, “There are a great many people in the world who bear no animus against Jews but are troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” But they are not just troubled by the treatment of Palestinians – I am myself, as are a majority of Israelis – and that does not make them anti-Zionist antisemites. The latter emerges when Zionism is characterized as inherently demanding the mistreatment of Palestinians. In any case, even antisemitism does not entail ascribing malice to the anti-Semites, only a result that may sometimes be a product of malice.

Further, even fact-based accounts can be antisemitic in both the traditional sense and the metamorphosis variety of anti-Zionism. As experts in communication will tell you, placing a factual tale in juxtaposition to another story will colour the other story. Thus, a colleague of mine who was a refugee from Chile analyzed a leading Chilean newspaper and its stories before he was forced to flee. A leading newspaper was a strong apologist for the junta government. My colleague showed that stories of violent crime were always juxtaposed with efforts of the opposition to modify the criminal law. The stories of the violent crime and the stories of campaigning for justice reform were both true, but the effect of the juxtaposition was to associate efforts at legal and prison reform with being “soft on violent crime.” This is true of antisemitic anti-Zionism. If stories of children killed as collateral damage in a war initiated by Hamas are juxtaposed with Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank, then the two become first associated and then identified, even though the first may be legal but very regrettable while the second can be illegal and doubly so because they are intentional and not just inadvertent acts.

Advocating boycotts and disinvestment is perfectly legitimate. However, doing so to characterize Israel as an illegitimate state and a product of a deformed and evil nationalism is not. On the latter grounds, one can expect a fierce and bitter battle against BDS, which would be far more modest in the case of many who adopt a boycott and divestment strategy to reinforce a message critical of Israeli behaviour. If anything, IHRA should be criticized as insufficient because it does not attend to BDS and does not make the above distinction. In fact, IHRA does not indicate which positions should be vehemently opposed since it exists for purposes of identification but also, contrary to Penslar, for policy formulation.

David Hirsh in a parallel list of criticisms made an additional interesting point that the defenders of the JD position were akin to the defenders of BDS. BDS in its original intention intended to use the BDS campaign not only as a way of criticizing Israe,l but as a way of delegitimizing Israel. But when commentary is used just to express criticism and not to demonize, that is proof that one should not oppose BDS even if its original intent, and much of its effort, had the goal of delegitimization. Derek employs the same illogic in reverse re IHRA. When IHRA criticizes surface appearances of critics of Zionists, its real intent is to expose such forms of criticism as illegitimate.

Hirsh wrote a book in 2017, Contemporary Left Antisemitism, that takes up the issue of having double standards that the IHRA definition raises, that Michael Walzer also criticizes but with which Derek takes issue. However, the problem is not, as Darek characterizes it, one of concentrating on the heinous behaviour of one form of nationalism, Zionism, while ignoring all others, but also that Zionist nationalism deserves extraordinary treatment, namely its elimination. The Fathom book, In Defence of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, in the David Rich essay, shows that the definition does nothing whatsoever to do away with legitimate criticism of Israel but merely points out illegitimate criticisms that skate on the thin ice of antisemitism.  

Thus, explosive issues emerge in the practical world of politics. For example, in Canada, the Green Party MP from New Brunswick, the only member of Parliament for the Greens east of British Columbia, Jenica Atwin, crossed the floor to join the Liberals. Why? Because Atkin challenged the Green Party leader, Anamie Paul, on her position on, of all issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable airstrikes in Gaza. End Apartheid!” Atwin had written. On 11 May she tweeted that Ms. Paul’s statement on the battle between Israel and Hamas, which called for de-escalation and a return to dialogue, was “totally inadequate.” She added, “I stand with Palestine! There are no two sides to this conflict, only human-rights abuses! #EndApartheid.”

Given her views, why would she join the Liberals? Why would the Liberals accept her? That remains perplexing. As former Liberal MP Michael Levitt, current president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, commented, “I’m disappointed and concerned by the news that MP Jenica Atwin has crossed the floor to join the Liberal caucus, given her inflammatory one-sided and divisive rhetoric during the recent conflict between Israel and the terror group Hamas.”

But the consequences within the Green Party were not perplexing. Noah Zatzman, a senior advisor to Paul, responded three days after Atwin opined on the Gaza War expressing solidarity with Zionism. He accused Atwin of discrimination and antisemitism. For that position, Zatzman took a great deal of flak and had to back down from his position, especially following a petition from Quebec Green Party members. However, that is the crux of the matter. On the one side are those who would deny Jews the right of self-determination in Palestine. On the other side there are those who insist that such a position is not antisemitic, and could not be, since many Jews hold that position.

“Fatah spokesman and member of its Revolutionary Council Osama al-Qawasmi said that Israel should stop using the allegation of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism against the world criticism of the apartheid regime it imposes on the Palestinian people and its colonial occupation. He said in a statement that the majority of Jews in the US and other countries criticize and condemn the Israeli occupation and its apartheid regime. ‘Are those Jews also against Judaism and Semitism?’ he questioned.”

In contrast to that position, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar had asked Secretary of State Blinken about how there could be accountability for war crimes, committed by Israel or the US or even Hamas for that matter, if justice was not available within Israel and if the US did not support the ICC as an alternative route to obtaining justice. “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

Nancy Pelosi rebuked Omar for equating the behaviour of Israel, Hamas and the Taliban. 12 House Democrats questioned Omar lumping Hamas in the same category as Israel and the US and put out a statement claiming that Omar was equating these groups. This behaviour was considered heinous. But they never went so far as to accuse her of antisemitism. Yet her director of communications tweeted, “If she mentions accountability for war crimes committed by Israel, she’s antisemitic.” The accusation of antisemitism, based on the evidence available, could not be supported. But the controversy did show that the term, antisemitism, could be weaponized not only by defenders of Israel, but inappropriately against those defenders.

These domestic conflicts that arise over Israel could be made clearer if we make a clear distinction between those who criticize Israel but support its legitimacy and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination versus those who seek to delegitimize Israel, demonize the country and, in the end, deny Jews the right to self-determination and right of Israel to exist.

The latter is the core of anti-Zionist antisemitism.

Defining Antisemitism: Part I – A Re-introduction

DYumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha Salman, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, right, were out for an evening walk when they were run over by a man who police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. The nine-year old son who was seriously injured is not in this picture.

Yesterday, I was in London Ontario. In that city, on Sunday evening at 8:40 p.m., a twenty-year-old in a black pickup truck, Nathaniel Veltman, ran down a family of Muslims out for an evening stroll waiting to cross the street at the intersection of Hyde Park Rd. and South Carriage Rd. in northwest London. A spontaneous memorial has popped up at the site around a lamp post. A vigil, in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Doug Ford and London mayor Ed Holder all attended, was held there last night to honour the victims. Others are welcome to send their condolences or sign a condolence book at the London Muslim Mosque at 151 Oxford Street, a five-minute drive away. The family attended that mosque and the father was an active member and attendee. The nine-year-old boy, who was not killed and who is in hospital in critical condition, attended Islamic school there.

The act was an unequivocal attack on the family because they were Muslims. This was Islamophobia plain and simple. Leaders of the Muslim community in Canada are calling not only for prosecuting the alleged killer to the fullest extent of the law, but to defining Islamophobia as a specific hate crime and launching a very pro-active program to combat Islamophobia. As Dr. Hassan Mostafa, a board member at the Islamic School, noted, the murder shattered the sense of safety and security of Muslims anywhere in Canada, particularly if they dress traditionally as Muslims. In a Quebec City mosque, six people were massacred in 2017.

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, expressed the widespread response that the killings were “absolutely horrifying.” It is people’s worst nightmare when people are attacked for the manner in which they pray to God, their dress or how they look. For example, the Toronto chapter of the Chinese National Council compiled a list of 1,150 acts of anti-Asian racism last year and this year, there have already been 891 reported incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes as of mid-day 17 March, an almost 700% increase over the previous year. There was a 717% increase in Vancouver last year compared to the previous year. In Georgia recently, a man was charged with killing 8 people at a massage parlour in an act of gratuitous anti-Asian hatred.

Evidently B’nai Brith, which tracks antisemitism in Canada, had to counteract rumours that the killer in London was Jewish, thereby indicating that antisemitism was already compounding the horrific Islamophobic act. “The Jewish community and B’nai Brith want our Muslim brothers and sisters to know that we are with you in this struggle, and we will not be silent.” However, there is almost always a political dimension to hate crimes. There is the politics of the pandemic with respect to anti-Asian hatred. In the case of antisemitism, the connection exists between hatred of Israel, not just criticism of Israel which is definitely in itself NOT a hate crime. In the words of the columnist, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, the connection between politics and ethnic or religious hatred, is now inseparable. The emerging prospect of a one-state solution in the Mideast conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not only blowing up the region, but “the Democratic Party and every synagogue n America.” “Unless we preserve at least the potential of a two-state solution, the one-state reality that would emerge in its place won’t just blow up Israel, the West Bank and Gaza; it could very well blow up the Democratic Party and every Jewish organization and synagogue in America.”

That is why Friedman argued, contrary to my blog yesterday, that more effort and energy should be put into reviving the two-state solution. “(W)ithout any viable hope of separating Israelis and Palestinians into two states for two peoples — the only outcome left will be one state in which the Israeli majority dominates and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank will be systematically deprived of equal rights so that Israel can preserve its Jewish character.” I, on the other hand, have argued that now is the time for beginning with ensuring equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in Israel rather than depending on a political solution to have that consequence.

What then should be the connection between the politics of Israel and the age-old hatred of antisemitism? This is the question that the controversies over the definition of antisemitism have circled. Friedman anticipated that unless progress is made on the political front, “Anti-semitism will flourish under the guise of anti-Zionism.” (26 May 2021) This is the question over which I wrestled in almost ten blogs in April and May before being distracted by the recent Gaza War. This is the question to which I want to return today and in tomorrow’s blog.

The controversy has largely centred on the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism which is very widely being adopted by states and organizations as a guide to collecting data and developing policies to counteract such efforts. 200 academics signed a counter definition, the Jerusalem Declaration, as a replacement for and/or development of the IHRA definition to which they levelled a number of criticisms. In today’s blog, I will try to offer a fair summary of the position of two of those academics, my colleagues Derek Penslar and Michael Walzer, before clarifying my own position on the question tomorrow. Fortunately, the debate has been carried forward in a series of contending positions by eminent spokespeople in the journal, Fathom.  

Derek Penslar. Michael Marrus and Janice Stein, all colleagues of mine from the University of Toronto, all also very highly esteemed academics covering Jewish intellectual history, the Holocaust and international politics respectively, edited and published a landmark volume focused on one of the world’s “most ancient and diffuse hatreds,” Contemporary Antisemitism: Canada and the World back in 2004. They then noted the reappearance of antisemitism “in disturbing new ways and in unexpected strength.” They inquired into the strength of the resurgence, its character and the appropriate response. Since then, the debate has grown both more widespread and more intense.

In April of 2021, Derek Penslar wrote an explanation of “Why I Signed the Jerusalem Declaration: A Response to Cary Nelson.” Derek acknowledged the resurgence of antisemitism and the link between hatred of Jews and hostility towards Israel. His arguments and criticisms of the IHRA definition can be summarized as follows:

  • The IHRA definition was developed for data collection, not policy formulation.
  • The IHRA definition has been invoked to “restrict the free and open exchange of ideas beyond the necessity to protect public safety and prohibit discrimination and harassment.”
  • IHRA sections on the nature of antisemitism lack clarity.
  • Judgments on critical discourse with respect to Israel “assumes guilt rather than innocence.”
  • The criticism of the application of double standards to Israel is misplaced.
  • IHRA carries a strong implication that highly critical but factually accurate statements about Israel are antisemitic.
  • An appropriate definition requires a distinction between conspiratorial fantasy and demonstrable reality, unhinged versus fac-based critiques.

Does the JDA more clearly distinguish between speech critical of Israel that is not antisemitic versus that which is? The definition must make clear that proponents of the boycott against Israel, of alternatives to the two-state solution and fact-based evidence of Israel’s past performance are not antisemitic. For Derek, “combating antisemitism should be part of a general commitment to protect civil liberties and act against racism.” Derek favoured “decentering, not replacing, the IHRA definition.”

Michael Walzer, a highly esteemed philosopher, has for many years also written on antisemitism. In October 2019, the wrote an essay published in Fathom on “Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism” in which he charged anti-Zionism with being very bad politics but was not in itself antisemitic. Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. Further, anti-Zionism was historically a position of many Jews. Their ideological rigidity and moral insensitivity should not be mistaken for antisemitism.

Walzer took the position that, “You cannot separate religion from politics; you cannot set up a ‘wall’ between church or synagogue and state, if you don’t have a state. Zionism was from its first days an effort to begin the process of disentanglement and to establish a state in which secularism could succeed.” He offered three versions of Jewish anti-Zionism:

  1. those who insist that Jews who are secular supporters of Israel are not Jewish;
  2. those who deny that there is a Jewish nation and claim that non-religious Jews are simply mistaken;
  3. Jews should not become nationalists because such nationalism deforms the soul.

However, Walzer in his wide-ranging attack on anti-Zionism, is not being antisemitic himself in declaring that Jews holding this position are also not antisemitic. Within that frame, he does argue that Jewish anti-nationalism, focused only on Jewish nationalism, is also not antisemitic as much as he considers such a position to be both politically flawed and hypocritical. Only then does he get to the heart of the matter – the declaration that amongst nationalist movements, Israel is a colonialist settler state that necessarily displaced over 700,000 Palestinians. In other words, Jewish nationalism is illegitimate because its success depended on both the cover of colonialism and the displacement and replacement of indigenous Palestinians. But is that position antisemitic?

Following his trenchant criticisms of anti-Zionist Jews and others, particularly on the left, Walzer then levels his own extensive critique of the behaviour of contemporary Israel much more than the founding of the Jewish state. For current state policies discriminate against Israeli-Palestinians in housing, education, infrastructure, and engage in lawless settlement activity in the West Bank, violence against individual Palestinians and, perhaps worst of all, the use of anti-Arab incitement to consolidate right-wing rule.

Finally, Walzer turns his intellectual guns on the critics of Israel and accuses them of engaging in the application of double standards, the very basis of criticism that Derek Penslar sees as illegitimate. What is clear is the even greater irony of it all, a historian (Derek Panslar) employing largely conceptual arguments and a philosopher (Walzer) largely relying on arguments rooted in actual history. Walzer, in criticizing the defenders of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, uses that frame to launch a wide-ranging attack on both theoretic and concrete critics of Zionism without declaring that they are antisemites. Pensler concentrates his barbs on the defenders of the IHRA definition.

In my defence of the IHRA definition, however imperfect, against these very different arguments and approaches, I will argue that, with all their bluntness, both the Penslar and the Walzer positions ignore analysis of the core central issue in the debate – whether the depiction of Israel as a colonial settler apartheid state engaged in ethnic cleansing is or is not antisemitic. And how is antisemitism akin to Islamophobia and anti-Asian racism, but also distinctly different?

Governing After War – The Case of Israel

Part II: The New Priorities

There is and ought to be a new emphasis on domestic Palestinian relations in Israel while the prospect of peace with the Palestinians not living in Israel is bracketed. This new emphasis should go along with two others:

1. new initiatives on secular-religious relations;

2. a renewed emphasis on Israeli Jewish-Diaspora relations (not dealt with in this blog).

But the most important switch entails taking advantage of the new opening in changing the relations between Jews and Palestinians in Israel.

It has been said that the support of Mansour Abbas, a 47-year-old dentist in private civilian life, and his four party members from the United Arab List for the Israeli government is not unprecedented. After all, in 1992 when Yitzhak Rabin’s Labour Party rule was about to collapse, Arab Party support for the government saved that government in 1993. However, while it is true that Rabin was the first Israeli government to rely on Arab Party support to remain in office, and while that situation has not been repeated since, the situation is not the same as the current support of Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List support for the imminent new government in Israel.

In 1992, Rabin took power with a majority of 9 seats:

Labour       46

Meretz        12

Hadash        3

Mada            2

Shas            6

Total           69

This was a substantial majority. The problem came in 1993 when Shas withdrew its support in September after Rabin signed the Oslo Agreement. The government survived because the joint coalition of Labour and Meretz had 58 seats, but a majority support in the Knesset because the two Arab parties, Hadash and Mada, would not support a no-confidence motion which meant that the most support for defeating the government could be 57 seats. Rabin had a de facto majority of one, though he did not have a majority of Knesset seats in his coalition.

The difference between then and the current situation of the prospective coalition of eight parties is not only that the coalition includes left, centre and right-wing parties, but one Arab party as well, Ra’am. Most importantly, unlike 1993 when Arab support came from outside the government, Arab support from the United Arab List is an integral part of the government agreement. Arabs for the first time, as parties as distinct from Arab individuals, are part of the government. The other Arab Party, the Arab Joint List with six seats, is outside the government, but two of the six have informally agreed not to vote non-confidence in the government so the new Bennett government will be faced with only 57 non-confidence votes. Yamina MK, Amichai Chikli, announced that he will not support the incoming government, but it is not clear whether he would support a no-confidence motion. On the other hand, of the three parties that make up the Arab Joint List – Hadash, Balad and Taal – there is the possibility Ahmed Tibi would also lead his two seats to join the coalition.

The major and unprecedented breakthrough is that an Arab partly is part of the coalition. As a senior figure in Ra’am opined: “The responses to the move are positive and give us credit, but this is the first step in a long journey to changing the reality that excludes us from the circle of influence.” Fauzi Abu Toama, an activist non-party Arab Israeli from the town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, opined on the same line: “This is a historic moment since the founding of the state in the government’s relations with Arab citizens. The success of this move could be a significant turning point for the future and status of Arab citizens and their integration in the circle of decision-makers.” 

Mansour Abbas’s party did not, however, get any ministries as did the other parties. But in return for its participation, Ra’am did receive the following concessions:

  • Abbas was a signatory to the coalition agreement. (Contrast this with Benny Gantz’s secret deal on behalf of the Blue and White Party with the Joint List – there is no written documentation of that agreement available.)
  • Abbas will attend in the future, and he did attend the meeting of all eight parties in the new coalition on 6 June at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv.
  • Ra’am will chair the Knesset Interior Committee
  • Mansour Abbas will be a Deputy Interior Minister. (Naftali Bennett, in addition to being Prime Minister over the next two years, will also be Interior Minister.)
  • The status of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev region will be regularized.
  • There will be no home demolitions in the next four years and the 2019 Kaminitz law banning illegal construction will be annulled.
  • The budget would include $1.6 billion for infrastructure projects in Arab towns and cities and for crime prevention.

Most importantly, an Arab – from a village, no less, the mixed Druze, Muslim and Christian village of Maghar near the Sea of Galilee of Galilee – played a key role in putting an end to Netanyahu’s vigilante treatment of Arab citizens of Israel.  

All of the above are historic breakthroughs. The precedents set are of historic significance, a fact recognized by all. As Meretz Chairman, Nitzan Horowitz, tweeted, “Change is on the way.”  The the inclusion of Arab citizens of Israel in the decision-making and power centre of the country is unprecedented. These changes are important in giving a lie to the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. In South Africa, apartheid is an Afrikaans word that means “separateness”, or “the state of being apart”. There is a fundamental difference between legally being forced to live apart and choosing to live apart. These moves are of absolute historic significance for Israel because they demonstrate the intention of inclusion of Palestinian Israeli citizens who constitute 21% of the population as an integral part of governing the state. Even more significantly, it was the current Prime Minister and soon to be leader of the opposition who initiated the move to make Ra’am part of the government. The revolutionary step has broad-based support in spite of the loudness of some critical vocal critics.

These initiatives are very important in tackling the recent outburst of Arab-Jewish violence, particularly in mixed Israeli-Jewish towns and cities. Arab rioting within Israel is not unprecedented, in spite of propaganda to the contrary. When Rabin promised to break bones in the first intifada, he was referring to violent protests not only in the occupied territories, but in Israel proper where some Arab protests against the government turned violent. The difference in 2021 is that the rioting was not simply against government policies; there was civil society mob violence against civilians. They were pogroms rather than protests. Further, there were Jewish mobs persecuting Arabs as well as Arabs attacking Jews.

A number of Jews have been subsequently indicted for a violent mob attack on an Arab driver in Bat Yam and six others in the Said Moussa assault. In Nazareth, Israeli police allegedly beat Arab detainees after their arrest and then denied them medical treatment. The current government has focused its primary attention on Arab-against-Jew violence. The security cabinet authorized deploying border police to mixed cities and towns for the ensuing three months “for the good of safeguarding the public order”. Shin Bet in an extraordinary move announced that, in light of the escalation, the agency would deploy Shin Bet officers to serve alongside Israeli police inside the cities to stop the violence between Arabs and Jews.

The goal of the police campaign is “to restore deterrence and increase governance in designated places in the State of Israel, along with maintaining the personal security of Israeli citizens.” But why the almost exclusive focus on Arab areas? Palestinians are Israeli citizens as well. Protests by Palestinian citizens were met both with police violence and vigilante attacks by Jewish extremists. 2,248 have been arrested with the vast majority of them Palestinian Israelis. An estimated 200 have been Jewish. 

The reality is that in some cases, rioting was instigated by the arrival into an Arab area of Jewish fascists. Thus, in Hof Hagali (Upper Nazareth), Mayor Ronen ordered that barriers be erected at the entrance to the city to prevent entry of Jewish troublemakers from outside. Several busloads of Jewish extremists were turned back. There were no riots there. Systematic preventive action in advance in the deployment of police and municipal workers prevented any clashes. Similarly, after the fact, in Lod Abbas met with the family of Hassouna who had been killed. He then visited the site of one of the three synagogues that had been torched by rioters.

The other area in which revolutionary new initiatives can be expected is in the sphere of secular-religious relations. It has to be emphasized that secular and religious are not two different groups. The vast majority of Israelis, both Jewish and Muslim, are different admixtures of Western enlightenment values and traditional religious practices and beliefs, unlike North America where the numbers in each camp are developing in self-enclosed silos. Though the coalition agreement provides for no new initiatives in controversial secular-religious disputes, there are other areas in which innovation can be expected.

The easiest is perhaps the resurrection of the agreement on the Kotel, the Western Wall, in which different sections of the wall will be reserved for male-only worship while another section will allow for mixed groups of male and female to worship. On the other hand, there will be no introduction of civil marriage in Israel. Since Haredi parties are not part of the coalition agreement, why is this the case? It is because Ra’am is an Islamic party opposed to non-religious sanctioning of marriage and, in the coalition agreement, it was agreed that there would be no initiative taken to change the status quo.

However, the area where major changes can be expected is in Haredi education. Avigdor Liberman has perhaps been the most outspoken critic on the leniency towards the Haredi population with respect to an absence of any requirements for a core curriculum in secular subjects. There are some Haredi schools where no secular subjects are taught at all, at least in the Israeli schools, not the ones in America. There are others in which secular subjects are taught but the core secular curriculum is not supervised or legitimized by the government. Liberman if he were Education Minister vowed to change that. As Finance Minister, he perhaps has even more clout to ensure that Haredi education educates the children so that they can become economic contributing members of a modern society. In that effort, ironically, he will be supported by many young Haredi who have been critical of their own leadership for its failures in this area (as well as others).

There is a link between the issues of belief in religious-secular relations and the disbelief that burst out over the tension and violence between Palestinian and Jewish citizens. Both issues are ultimately more critical than what happened in Gaza even though those riots in Lod, Acre and Jaffa relatively involved minimal absolute numbers. For both issues are mainly about civil society. The primary emphasis of government must be the protection and development of civil society and not foreign affairs. At this time when progress on peace with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank offers virtually no openings, activist efforts can best focus energy on reinforcing the developments of a democratic society, most importantly, on expanding opportunities for full membership for those Palestinians and those ultra-Orthodox Jews who remain uncommitted to the Israeli project.

Governing After War – The Case of Israel

Part I: The Wrong Foundation

In this and the next blog, I want to discuss a new foundation for governing Israel to guide the new Israeli government on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In this first blog, I want to review the proposal of the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) for such a foundation as a foil for my own proposal found in Part II, tomorrow. IPF broadcast a webinar (it is accessible from a recording on their site – https://israelpolicyforum.org/live/) called “Realistic Reset” setting forth its foundation. The program began by expressing regret and compassion for those who died in the recent Israel-Gaza War and Susie Gelman, the host, insisted that we not resign ourselves to the inevitability of violence and the prospect of peace. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot, indeed, must not be ignored.”

But that is precisely what I am going to do in this blog – bracketing an emphasis with the pursuit of a two-state solution. I will review the immanent likelihood of the new government in Israel and the implications, first, for Israeli domestic policy, secondly, for foreign policy and only last and very sketchily, non-citizen Palestinian policy. This does not mean that I accept that violence is inevitable, that the conflict is never-ending and that nothing can be done to avert another round. Rather, I am convinced that the road to peace with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank runs first and foremost through Israeli domestic policy, primarily with Israel’s Arab population, and then through its foreign policy. Both of those directions of effort, if they succeed, I am convinced will have profound effects on the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

There was a second emphasis of the Israel Policy Forum webinar – the critical role of the U.S. After four years of one-sided pro-Israeli policies, it is undoubtedly true that the there will be a shift in emphasis coming from the U.S., especially given the development of a pro-Palestinian voice among “progressives” in the Democratic Party. However, I do not expect that shift to make a critical difference and expect the Biden administration to continue its deep and strong support for Israel and its efforts to ensure the security of Israel while continuing to relegate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a back burner. Rather, it will be the shift in domestic politics that will make the greatest difference.

IPF adopted the traditional liberal advocacy posture of more balanced support for both Israeli and Palestinian self-determination – in other words, a two-state solution – even if that objective is seemingly out of reach today. In contrast, I suggest that relegating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the back burner, a process well underway before the recent Gaza War, and which has received considerable blame for the outbreak in the Gaza violence, should be continued and reinforced. It is not that I am unappreciative of the experts, the thoughtful analyses and the educational resources the IPF brings to the table, but I do believe putting a continuing emphasis on peace is a mug’s game.

IPF admitted there would be no easy fix, especially after the troublesome policies of the Trump administration. The prospect and support of the US for annexation of large parts of the West Bank was found particularly troubling. However, my argument will be that the make-up of the likely new government of Israel will necessarily take annexation off the table. It is no longer immanent even if the creeping occupation of significant areas of the West Bank by 460,000 settlers makes the pressure for such a prospect greater, especially with the continuing decline of the Palestinian populations in those areas.

Trump cut off all aid to the Palestinians. Biden, as a stopgap measure, restored the aid the UNRWA. The Trump administration threw the Palestinian diplomatic delegation out of Washington and, with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the move of the U.S. embassy to Israel, it also eliminated its diplomatic presence for the Palestinians. The Biden administration is on its way to restoring a diplomatic presence for Palestinians either in Ramallah or, more likely, in East Jerusalem. IPF pushed a platform with four legs:

  • Strengthening America’s support for Israel’s security
  • Rebuilding ties with the Palestinians
  • Continuing the work of the Abraham Accords and promoting continuing Israeli integration into the region
  • Restoring a political horizon for a two-state solution.

The problem, of course, is that the first has always been a bipartisan US policy, the third is just the policy of normalization by another name and the fourth is simply rhetoric since restoring the political horizon for a two-state solution ranges anywhere from new initiatives in the peace process to all quiet of the Gaza and West Bank fronts with no significant initiatives in either direction. Only the second effort veers radically and dramatically away from the Trump administration of not only ignoring but undercutting US-Palestinian relations. Further, there is no indication that such efforts will make any great difference to the results of the pre-Trump administration policies. It is as if the Americans cannot and will not recognize that the US is now a side rather than central player in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

When IPF tried to understand the instigation, the push for what it called “the latest flare-up” in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship after seven years of relative calm, the focus remained on Gaza and not on the far more significant Arab-Jewish clashes in Israel’s mixed cities and the relative quiet in the West Bank, in spite of the war in Gaza. Further, the claimed previous calm on the Gaza front was truly relative since shooting off missiles had been a regular feature of the past Hamas activity and its militant allies. The big difference in the onset of this Gaza-Israel conflict was twofold: seven missiles were set off at the same time; second, they targeted Jerusalem. Israel had been waiting in full readiness when the opportunity was ripe to launch an all-out attack on the military build-up in Gaza. The Jerusalem missile attack simply provided the opportunity.

Nickolay Mladenov contended that there had been “a very long period of quiet in Gaza.” According to him, Hamas miscalculated the response of Israel, and Israel had made mistakes with the provocations at the al-Aqsa Mosque, in the eviction efforts at Sheikh Jarrah and in the security efforts at Damascus Gate at the Old City. However, Mladeno conceded that Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to cancel the Palestinian election was probably the most proximate cause, even though most interpreters insisted that this was simply Hamas’ excuse for instigating the war and directly challenging Israel; Hamas used the situation to advance its political position among the Palestinians and assume the leadership from Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The firing off of the missiles was clearly intended to escalate the conflict, but not nearly to the extent of the result.

Israel, on its part, had its own agenda:

  • stop security threats from Gaza for, at least, a number of years and reassert security control
  • establish zero tolerance for missiles
  • eliminate as many terror tunnels as possible
  • expose the fact that such tunnels ran 7.5 metres under UNRWA schools
  • end incendiary drones and balloons being sent from Gaza across into Israel
  • obtain the return of two Israeli civilians, one Bedouin and one Jewish, both mentally challenged, as well the bodies of two soldiers held in the 2014 war
  • stabilize the economic situation in Gaza, the most difficult of all, because that is not how the victimization card works for Hamas and there is no one in Israel that I know of politically, intellectually and morally brave enough to take up this challenge
  • to diminish the confidence of Hamas and its support from the Palestinian community, but the reverse happened since Hamas is much more confident and the PA weaker
  • one unintended consequence, but one that has emerged, was the emerging weariness of donors supporting Gaza once again saddled with the terrible costs of rebuilding Gaza
  • there was one intentional goal with respect to donors – ensuring that money for humanitarian aid does not go to Hamas; no longer would suitcases of cash from Qatar be allowed to be imported into Gaza

There was almost no possibility that the aftermath of the war would bring an end to Hamas’ corruption even if money donated by donors did not go to Hamas. Would it be possible for Hamas and the PA to form a technical government of national unity that could negotiate peace? This a possible outcome, intended by neither side, but nevertheless unlikely. The most likely consequence and the most undesirable one by far is that Hamas gained mastery of the political and economic narrative.

One other consequence, but not of the war itself, has been the strengthening of democratic politics in Israel. After four elections in two years, it looks like Israel will have a stable government going into the future, a least for a time. There is no parallel outcome on the Palestinian side. The democratic deficit with respect to no elections for 15 years does not seem to be on the verge of ending.

However, as long as the new dominant emerging narrative on the Palestinian side remains one of deliberate conquest and displacement, colonialism and repression, apartheid and discrimination, by Jews, and given Israel’s government of unity that runs from right to left, there can be neither any significant initiative on this front from either the Palestinians or the Israelis. Even if one for some strange reason appeared, there is no way to reconcile the newly emerging dominant narrative with a two-state solution. Why would the proponents of this narrative, including a strain of critical Jews and Israelis who have adopted it, celebrate and support normalization with the Arab states and its expansion when, in the new narrative, this simply makes room for increasing the spread and grasp of colonialization?

Yet the last is the major piece of good news emerging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, sometimes you have to make an existential choice – adoption of the new colonialist narrative or pushing normalization. You cannot do both. For normalization is, from the perspective of the new dominant narrative among Palestinians and critics, just a sign of victory for colonialism.

In other words, expect the impasse on the peace front to continue. That does not mean expanding settlements and undermining the eventual possibility of a two-state solution. That means that the US can at best have modest ambitions with respect to the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Shira Efron, however, believes there is an opportunity that has emerged as a result of the outcome of the recent Gaza War – the prospect of strengthening the Palestinian Authority which can be promoted. Martin Indyk, at least, recognizes that with Naftali Bennett as Prime Minister and the other hawkish Israeli politicians in the cabinet, with the strongest proponent of annexation and strongly opposed to a two-state solution as Prime Minister, the best prospect is a freeze not an advance on this front. Since the reform of the PA and restoring its leadership does not seem realistically to be in the works, what non-cynical option is available?

What then is the alternative? Michael Koplow also does not believe that Biden is willing to get bogged down in the ephemeral pursuit of a two-state solution, especially with the growth of the “progressive” critics of Israel within the Democratic Party. The Gaza War, irrespective of the consequences, has certainly not made a two-state solution more viable or urgent. I, however, do not think that, given the new Israeli government, that even small steps on this front will be possible. However, at least progress on human rights for Palestinians, particularly Israel’s own Arab citizens, is congruent with both the Biden administration and the new unity government.

This is the clue that there are other possibilities on the domestic policy front. I will expand on that and then try to reconcile this emphasis with new openings in dealing with the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza in my next blog.

Prophecy in the Twenty-First Century: Parsha Shelach

There is a controversy currently underway in the aftermath of the most recent Gaza War. On the one hand, there are Israelis who accuse Netanyahu and Gantz of cowardice, of holding back and of failing, once and for all, to go into Gaza, dislodging Hamas, disarming the Palestinians and eliminating Gaza as a threat to Israel. From the left wing, “progressives” are denouncing the military response altogether. The seven missiles sent against Jerusalem that triggered the war were just responses to the excess use of force by the Israeli police in the Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as to the other practices, such as in Sheikh Jarrah of evicting Palestinians from their homes.  Israelis did not use enough force. Israelis used far too much force. Which portrait is correct?

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg in his writings has stressed two very different roles for the prophet:

  1. As God’s spokesperson, to deliver God’s message to the Jewish community;
  2. To serve as spokesperson of his people and advocate on their behalf before God.

The two roles have the same standard of measurement – the Covenant God made with the people of Israel. When addressing the people, the prophet must remind them of their obligations under the Covenant and the consequences to them if they are not fulfilled. When addressing God as an advocate for his people, the prophet must remind God of His obligations to the people under the Covenant, however wayward the people have been, and the consequences, this time, both to God and His chosen people if God does not keep His side of the bargain.

As Yitz described it, the great crisis between these two roles came in the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident. And God’s decision – soon retracted – that He was going to abandon the Israelites to their own fate and begin to create a new nation from a core, the core of Moses and his family (Exodus 31:10-14) Moses rejected the offer unequivocally and insisted that God live up to His side of the deal He had made. Moses was sticking to the fate of his people.


י  וְעַתָּה הַנִּיחָה לִּי, וְיִחַר-אַפִּי בָהֶם וַאֲכַלֵּם; וְאֶעֱשֶׂה אוֹתְךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל.
10 Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation.’
יא  וַיְחַל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-פְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָה יְהוָה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, בְּכֹחַ גָּדוֹל וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה.11 And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said: ‘LORD, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, that Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
יב  לָמָּה יֹאמְרוּ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, בְּרָעָה הוֹצִיאָם לַהֲרֹג אֹתָם בֶּהָרִים, וּלְכַלֹּתָם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; שׁוּב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפֶּךָ, וְהִנָּחֵם עַל-הָרָעָה לְעַמֶּךָ.12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying: For evil did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people.
יג  זְכֹר לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לָהֶם בָּךְ, וַתְּדַבֵּר אֲלֵהֶם, אַרְבֶּה אֶת-זַרְעֲכֶם כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם; וְכָל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי, אֶתֵּן לְזַרְעֲכֶם, וְנָחֲלוּ, לְעֹלָם.13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou didst swear by Thine own self, and saidst unto them: I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.’
יד  וַיִּנָּחֶם, יְהוָה, עַל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לְעַמּוֹ.  {פ}14 And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people. {P}

It is not often that we see God repenting for what He had said. This happens again in this week’s parashah. When the spies return from Canaan with the warnings of ten of the twelve spies concerning the wrath and formidable force the Israelites would face if they crossed into Canaan, the people panicked. They trembled to their very toes. And they implored Moses to stop and turn around.

Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

There’s battle lines bein’ drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds
Gettin’ so much resistance from behind

(It’s time we)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singin’ songs and carryin’ signs
Mostly sayin’, “hooray for our side”

(It’s time we)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

(We better)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?
(We better)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?
(We better)
Stop, now, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?
(We better)
Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

The key verse is the following:

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

The fear was both of the enemies they faced and of God’s wrath if they hesitated from facing their enemies. That was real paranoia.

Moses had handled God’s wrath with diplomacy. But when he witnessed firsthand, not the people’s fear, but the joy with which they danced when they had turned their backs on God. Moses, in an absolute fury and fit, broke the tablets of the law that he had brought down from the mountain and rebuked the people. Previously, Moses had quietly but firmly stood up to God. This time, he lost it. Furious beyond measure, he gathered the Levites who went through the camp killing 3,000, .5% of the total population. It was a slaughter.

What does Rabbi Greenberg focus on when he came to the returning spies?

In this parashah (as at the Golden Calf), Moses holds up the banner of a religious role model and leader. The prophet is ready to give his life for the people. To be religious is to be ready to give one’s life for others—not to seek exemptions from danger on the grounds of being devoted to Torah. The prophet does not simply judge the people in God’s name. The religious leader brings the people’s needs and concerns to God and, sometimes, asks for different instructions. The prophet does not lay the blame on the people, and he will stand with them and even take punishment with them as he tries to sustain them through failure or loss of nerve.

Moses had learned patience. Moses had learned to understand the people’s fears and to turn them around. But then why did Moses take his wrath out against the spies? Why? After all, they had reported back accurately what they had seen – giants burying their own dead. But they also offered their interpretation that the Israelites were akin to inyenzi, to grasshoppers, compared to the giants. It was not like the extremist Hutu branding the Tutsi as inyenzi who need to be exterminated. The Israelites branded themselves.

They saw but they were blind. They suffered from mindblindness, not in what they saw but how they interpreted what they saw.

What about the present? What about the reports back if the IDF invades Gaza by land? This is a case where the authorities in charge of Gaza declare with their words that the Jews should be eliminated from Palestine, all of Palestine. This was not a case of projection of what they saw into how they were perceived by the giants. They merely took seriously the actual words of Hamas. Further, the Israelites were not afraid of the Palestinians in Gaza but calculated that if they went in with a land force, three consequences would inevitably follow:

  1. They would suffer a significant number of casualties.
  2. Afterwards, they would be burdened with the occupation of Gaza.
  3. The wrath of the world would increase rather than recede as the memory that the Israelis had killed far more Gazans than the Gazans had killed Israelis faded from memory.

The spies who returned from Canaan to advocate no invasion were wrong, not because they saw giants, but because they saw themselves as inyenzi, as grasshoppers. In contrast, the intelligence services that advocated no invasion of Gaza were correct because they acted like true giants and saw no need either to conquer the Palestinians in Gaza and certainly not of exterminating them. Limiting the capacity of Hamas and its allies to kill for another decade was sufficient.

What then is God’s message to the Jewish people in this moment of trial by fire? Hold your fire. Be moderate even when, in the name of human rights and progress, your enemies see you as extremists. Be modest in your goals. How do we know this is the true message of God? We do not. But we do know and can verify that the Israeli intelligence services were not reporting back inaccurately, not only what Hamas and its allies were saying and doing, but reporting accurately. More importantly, the estimate of their own capacities and abilities to respond were more or less accurate. And where they were not, there was a determination to make corrections. The Israelis are not suffering from mindblindnesss when it comes to Gaza.

By and large, Israel behaved appropriately.

Part II: Truth, Empathy, Justice and Peace –

Four dimensions for managing and possibly resolving violent conflict

As I have written, the debate has shifted for the critics of Israel – from two nations competing for the same land in which the division of the land arrived at was unfair and unjust to the Palestinians, to a different narrative of an oppressed group denied self-determination by an repressive colonial and apartheid regime that perpetuates injustice, both by denying Palestinians the right to self-determination and by the unequal and unjust treatment of even its own citizens who are Palestinian. The source of the violence in both cases is injustice, just differently characterized in the two accounts.

Justice then is the necessary condition to ensure a sustainable peace. On the other hand, peace is supposed to be a necessary condition for attaining true justice. Justice and peace, in this view, are symbiotically related, each dependent on the other, although they refer to different spheres. Justice, that is social rather than just legal justice, is concerned with minimizing inequality. Peace is concerned with minimizing violence. Inequalities foster violence and violence benefits those who have little interest in human rights.

The realistic but positive option is to increase the justice for both groups in the expectation that the prospect of violence will be reduced. However, the problem is not that simple. When Israel removed its settlements and its military from Gaza in 2005, the justice for Palestinians was purportedly increased in that self-determination was now in their own hands. As well, the Israelis left behind an economic infrastructure that could be used to improve the living standards of the Gazans. But Hamas won the election in Gaza, deposed the Palestinian Authority from any role and introduced a more repressive regime. Further, after the evacuation, instead of turning the greenhouses left behind by the settlers into thriving production centres, they were dismantled.

This, of course, does not prove that there is no correlation between improved justice and improved prospects of peace. But it does suggest that there is no necessary link between the two. They are independent elements of a society, sometimes working in cooperation for improvement, but at other times, as in the case above, injustice increased with the withdrawal of the military. Further, with increased independence and self-determination, Gaza became a centre for attacking Israel on a major scale on four different occasions – 2008-9, 2012, 2014 and 2021. Violence increased significantly with an increase in Gazan self-determination.

There was and remains a reason for that. There is a gap between the increased justice the Gazans gained and the increased sense of the injustices of the past when 720,000 refugees fled, and the Palestinians lost their lands and homes. Thus, the perceived and felt net sense of injustice rose even though, in any objective measure, the justice in terms of self-determination increased.

Is there a correlation between increased sense of injustice and an increased propensity to engage in violence?  Even in that sense, when repression sets in, there is often a decline in violence because the new regime may be so repressive that violence of all kinds declines except for that committed by the regime itself. In sum, there is no necessary connection between improvements in justice and a decline in violence. These are two independent variables. Look at it another way. Right wing commentators have suggested that the 2021 Gaza War broke out precisely because Iran was seeking a revived nuclear deal with the US. Iran unleashed its minions in Gaza to stir up trouble and offer a warning signal to America about what could happen if the US continues to reinforce a pariah status for Iran.

In parallel to the relationship believed to exist between the degree of injustice and the degree of violence, there is a general belief that an increased understanding of the perspective of the other will enhance the prospects of peace. But when commentators study the thought processes and beliefs of Hamas leaders and understand how powerful the antipathy to Israel is and that they truly intend, as their charter states, to work to dismantle and destroy Israel, Israel is prone to increase its ability to respond militarily to deter a resort to violence by Hamas. In some situations, enhanced empathetic understanding of the beliefs, emotions and thinking of the other can be correlated with enhanced violence.

If we examine the correlation between truth and the use of violence, the more acutely a nation understood the real nature and intentions of a regime like Stalin’s or Hitler’s, the more resolved the nation was to recognize that “peace in our time” was an unlikely prospect and that one had better prepare for war. They say that truth is the first casualty of war. But it may be truer to say in some cases that truth can be the first and primary cause of war and the resort to violence.

My point is simply that there is no necessary connection between truth, between empathy and between injustice and the prospect of peace and war. Further, there is no correlation between injustice and empathy. Even though one’s initial judgement is that there would be. After all, if one can get inside the head and heart of another and more acutely recognize the injustices that others suffer, one would think that increased empathy would be correlated with an increased desire to bring greater justice to that other.

It is possible, however, that if one gets to understand the injustices experienced by another, one may become more determined than ever not to get into the position of the other, and, even more dangerously, decide to reinforce the repression of the other in fear of what the freedom from repression might bring in a backlash from the other. All this does is attempt to destroy false correlations without providing any substitute.

That is because I cannot find regular correlations between and among these various values and individual cases. Instead, I suggest that conclusions not be drawn on the basis of expected correlations, nor on the basis of only one or two of the above dimensions. Instead, one should conduct a detailed case study to ascertain how degrees of violence, degrees of justice, degrees of empathy and degrees of truth all interact to result in the net possibility of increased or decreased violence. The case analysis should yield what can come out of different combinations and what cannot emerge.

Eliminate the can’t, the impossibilities from one’s consideration and focus on the realities. Then of the much more limited set of possibilities, analyze what the effects of different elements and their combination are likely to be. Taking into consideration the realistic alternative possibilities, choose the option you most prefer to promote and which levers are most susceptible to affecting the outcome and how your own position can help tip the balance one way or another.

If we use the Gaza-Israeli conflict as an example and one key element in the larger Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the factual analysis, it becomes clear that the closer one studies the case, the clearer it becomes that inconvenient facts are being ignored and that other facts are simplified beyond recognition. More often than not, the prescribed framing of the narrative even determines what is believed to be the case rather than what is the case.

Further, when empathetic reenactment enters into the equation, the prospect of Hamas doing anything besides possibly harassing and threatening Israel, no matter what degree Israel reduces the pressures on Gaza to prevent the import of military equipment, then one cannot help but arrive at a decision that a policy of enhanced controls, and, hence, enhanced injustices on the Gazan people, is the most likely path of reducing the prospect of violence. In fact, the clearer Israel communicates the message that it is ready to resort to the use of violence to deter Hamas, the less likely Hamas will be to resort to violence itself.

This is particularly true if there is no political gain to be expected from bystanders driven by sympathy rather than empathy, driven by a repugnance against violence, driven by a deep-seated sense of injustice that they are willing, indeed eager, to set aside inconvenient facts that may challenge such a position of naivete. Ironically, in the pursuit of peace and justice, such bystanders may be complicit in enhancing violence rather than diminishing its prospects.

I am not suggesting that realism is the answer, that an opposite simplification, such as all nations are determined in their policies by the protection of their own interests and that a hard-hearted approach is necessary. Hamas could change. The PLO did, perhaps insufficiently, but it did change. So did the attitudes of the countries that entered the Abraham process of normalization. Counties must be ready to adapt quickly to these changes which enhance the prospects of peace, the prospects of reducing injustices, the prospects of enhancing the understanding the other. The bottom line requires a detailed attention to the truth in any situation and the avoidance of eliding the truth, distorting it, underplaying it and otherwise not paying it the greatest respect – often the consequence of an overriding a priori picture that enhances mindblindness rather than insight.

Truth, Empathy, Justice and Peace –

Four dimensions for managing and even resolving violent conflict

In this blog I will illustrate how, implicitly and explicitly, evidence is piled up to show Israel fostering violence and how injustices and humanitarian mistreatment contribute to the perpetuation of violent conflict, particularly by Israel. But each of these specific claims, while usually not false in themselves, cumulatively create a false and highly selective narrative that presents, upon critical examination, a false portrait in the media war. In the next blog, rather than displaying the four concepts as complementary, I will further elaborate on the tensions between and among them that, in reality, undercut the prospect of peace. I will make an even stronger claim that it is only by addressing those tensions and conflicts among these basic moral conceptions that a path can be found that will, in the end, result in peace.

Look at the following stories published in various outlets and collected by the Foundation for Middle East:

VIOLENCE PERPETUATED BY JEWS

Four Jews charged with terrorism after allegedly stabbing Arab in Jerusalem, Times of Israel

“Prosecutors filed terrorism charges on Sunday against four Jewish men accused of stabbing an Arab man in a Jerusalem market two weeks ago, seriously wounding him. The victim, 25, was at his place of work — a burger restaurant in the Mahane Yehuda market — when he was stabbed ten times by his assailants. He was rushed to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the city, where doctors found that a knife wielded by one of his assailants had torn open his lung and liver.”

During the Gaza Flare-up, Israel Killed 27 Palestinians in the West Bank. He Was One of Them, Haaretz

“A resident of the Fawwar camp, Hussein Titi, went up to his roof to watch troops leave after they’d snatched his neighbor. Titi peeked out – and was shot dead.”

Hamas calls for ‘day of rage’ in West Bank over Al-Aqsa incursions, Al Anadolu

“Palestinian resistance group Hamas on Tuesday called for rallies in the occupied West Bank on Friday to protest settler incursions into the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Palestinians decry new West Bank restrictions on movement in wake of protests, Middle East Eye

“Residents of Palestinian villages say Israel’s army is besieging them in order to allow settlement expansion and deter protests.”

Settler crime and violence inside Palestinian communities, 2017-2020, Yesh Din

“Relations between settlers and Palestinians often echo Israel’s system of control over the Palestinians, with its hallmark hostility and sense of superiority. Attacks by Israeli civilians against Palestinians and their property are commonplace throughout the West Bank.

See also:

APPEALS TO INJUSTICE

The versions of the narrative in pictorial terms provided in the previous blog are complemented by conclusions about justice and injustice. The injustice in not about Hamas using its donations to build terror tunnels and rockets or to aim those rockets at Israel, but about the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza that is alleged to be the source of the injustices visited upon the Gazan Palestinians. As Zaha Hassan wrote in an essay called, “Can There be Freedom, Prosperity, and Democracy for Gaza?” “Securing the rights of Palestinians in Gaza is required now. The United States should prioritize ending the Israeli blockade and restrictions on Gaza. Israel’s isolation of the Strip and its approximately 2 million inhabitants prevent Palestinian national reconciliation, guarantees recurring episodes of high-intensity violence, and condemns Palestinians to inhumane conditions. It also indefinitely thwarts a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the PLO—a U.S. policy objective—buying Israel the time and political space to cement its sovereignty over the West Bank.” The injustices are all the fault of Israel and its prime international backer, America.

 

That injustice extends to the permanent residents of East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority (PA) may be unable to provide social security at all for the Palestinian residents of its territory, and certainly, Hamas cannot. But when Israel denies such benefits to Palestinians as well as their spouses, intent in their actions on the destruction of Israel, this is written up as an example of supreme injustice. “The National Insurance Institute has suspended the social and medical benefits of at least 11 political activists and former prisoners who live in East Jerusalem. These benefits are also being denied to their family members.”

 

Israel kills Palestinians with mental illness through impunity. My cousin-in-law was one of them, Middle East Eye

“Muhannad Tawfiq Abdelhadi, who lived with schizophrenia and was often found wandering in confusion through his Gaza neighbourhood, was shot dead by Israeli forces near the border fence.”

Killing with impunity: Israel’s undercover units in Palestine, Al Jazeera

“…These undercover units have also been involved in the sweeping arrest campaign of Palestinians currently being carried out in northern Israel, following protests there against the deaths in Gaza and the violence in occupied East Jerusalem over Palestinians being expelled from their homes.”

Occupation forces attack protesters in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, WAFA

“Israeli occupation forces on Saturday evening assaulted dozens of Palestinian protesters and solidarity activists as they were demonstrating in the occupied Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in support of its citizens who are facing an Israeli threat of eviction from their homes. Witnesses said dozens of Israeli police officers physically assaulted the protesters and attacked them with teargas and pushed them away from the entrance of the neighborhood, which has been sealed by the occupation authorities for more than two weeks.”

APPEALS TO SYMPATHY

Thus, claims of injustice are used to insist that peace is undermined through these alleged injustices. The same happens with empathy, but that empathy is more in the version of sympathy which is used to argue that peace is undermined by a lack of sympathy for the greatest victims and the converse arguments is made that greater sympathy must be encouraged for victims to foster peace.

International Scene

Israel losing US perception battle as Palestinian sympathy grows, Al Jazeera

“Last month, as Israel carried out an 11-day bombing campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Strip, fired rockets back, something important was shifting halfway around the world. For the first time in a long time, Israel seemed to be losing ground in the battle of perception in the United States as lawmakers questioned their government’s pro-Israel policies.”

Statement of the Special Rapporteur – OPT – Michael Lynk – UN Human Rights Council Special Session (May 27), UN/Office of the Human Rights Commissioner

“…What we have witnessed in Gaza these past few weeks haunts the conscience of the world. Approximately 240 Palestinians killed, the majority of whom were civilians and at least 63 who were children. Almost 2,000 were injured. There has been massive property destruction. All of this at the hands of one of the best equipped militaries in the modern world. Rockets from Palestinian armed groups have killed 12 civilians in Israel. Many Israeli civilians have lived through a state of fear and suffered damage to their properties. Along the way, the strict prohibitions of international humanitarian law which bind all of these combatants have almost certainly been breached.”

Palestinians say 19 families massacred by Israel in Gaza, Al Anadolu

“Israel has committed massacres against 19 Palestinian families during its 11-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Health Ministry said on Sunday. A ministry statement said that 91 Palestinians were killed in these massacres, including 41 children and 25 women. According to the ministry, 21 members of the Al-Kawlak family were killed in an Israeli onslaught on Gaza City, including eight children and six women. ‘The Abu Auf family lost nine members, including a child and five women in an Israeli bombardment of their house in Gaza City,’ the ministry said. The ministry added that six members of al-Tanani family, including four children and a woman, were also killed in an Israeli airstrike on their home in the northern Gaza Strip.”

Jerusalem

Israeli police run over child in Jerusalem for flying Palestinian flag, Al Anadolu

“A 12-year-old Palestinian child was run over by Israeli police in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood for placing the Palestinian flag on his bicycle while riding to a nearby grocery to buy bread. ‘I was on my bike to buy bread when three Israeli policemen chased me because I put the [Palestinian] flag on the bike,’ Jawad al-Abbasi said in a report he provided to the Hadassah Hospital where he has been receiving treatment.” (Video)

 

Israel detains more Palestinian citizens as arrest campaign enters second week, Middle East Eye

“On Monday, Israeli police arrested more than six Palestinian citizens of Israel, the latest round up in a campaign that has seen 1,700 Palestinians picked up since early May, according to a committee monitoring the situation…The arrests are part of the Israeli police’s mass arrest campaign, called ‘Law and Order’, which began on 24 May after two weeks of protests in mixed cities against Israeli settlement policies in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The Arab Emergency Committee, which was formed in the wake of the protests in early May, said it has documented that, in addition to the arrest of 1,700 Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, there have been 300 related cases of assault. Around 100 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested daily since the campaign began, the committee said, and some of them were released later.”

Also see:

Facebook’s AI treats Palestinian activists like it treats American Black activists. It blocks them. (Washington Post)Jewish and Palestinian Mobs Dueled in Israeli Towns — but the Crackdown Came for One Side (The Intercept)

The result of all of the above is that Palestinians win the media war and, further, the reinforcement of the belief that it is in and through the media that the outcome of the war will be decided.

THE MEDIA WAR

Netanyahu attempted to block social media, says Israeli press, Middle East Monitor

“The Israeli prime minister attempted to shut down social media after Israeli-national Palestinians held protests against Israel’s attacks on East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip under blockade

Israel-Palestine: The double standard in American newsrooms, Al Jazeera/Listening Post

“News coverage in the US of the Palestine-Israel conflict has always favoured Israel but that is beginning to shift. The question is – to what extent and will it last?” (video report)

Israel’s Brutal Month With the Democratic Party – and Its Impact on Public Opinion, Haaretz

“The past several weeks has seen an unprecedented focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the Democratic Party, with rival blocs increasingly unafraid to nail their colors to the mast.”

Agence France Presse fires Palestinian journalist in West Bank, Middle East Monitor

Agence France Presse (AFP) has sacked its Palestinian correspondent in the West Bank, the journalist’s union said yesterday. Nasser Abu Baker lost his job apparently after the agency came under ‘Israeli diktats’, said the Syndicate of Palestinian Journalists, “mainly due to his involvement in the issue of seeking to bring occupation leaders before international courts for their crimes against his fellow Palestinian journalists.’”

Israel extends detention of 2 Palestinian journalists, Al Anadolu

“An Israeli court on Friday extended the detention of two Palestinian journalists detained by police in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem. Solicitor of Palestinian journalists Jad Qadmani noted the Israeli magistrate court in West Jerusalem extended the detention of Al-Qafiyah television reporter Ziynet al-Halawani and cameraman Wahbi Mekkiye at the request of the prosecutor’s office. He told Anadolu Agency that Israeli police brutally attacked the journalists and footage of the attack was presented to the court. ‘However, the court decided to extend the detention period of the two journalists for a few more days,’ he said. The journalists were detained while on duty late Thursday. Mekkiye was beaten and sustained injuries while police tried to detain him.”

Also see:

In tomorrow’s blog, I will offer an analysis of the tensions between and among the four conceptions and how they may be resolved to foster peace.

Truth and Falsehood

In addition to peace and justice, which most observers assumed were lost in the battle in the recent Gaza War, not only empathy but truth as a fourth dimension must be introduced to measure and assess the Gaza-Israel story for a “balanced” report. In the new predominant narrative of Palestinian loss and exploitation and of Jewish usurpation, oppression, displacement, replacement and apartheid, a map circulated and was published in The New York Times supposedly showing how “Historic Palestine” had been taken over by Israel. “As a technical matter, the map is a confusing mélange of images: it includes something that did not exist (Palestinian control over all the territory), something that did not happen (the proposed United Nations partition) and something odd (pre-1967 occupations by Jordan and Egypt are depicted as Palestinian-controlled).” (Glenn Kessler “The dueling histories in the debate over ‘historic Palestine’,” The Washington Post 28.05.2021)

Images are supposedly far more powerful than words. Another example of misleading and false imagery also was provided by The New York Times. In its 26 May 2021 edition on the front page appeared a story headlined, “They Were Only Children” with thumbnail photos of 69 youths under 18 years of age – 67 Palestinians and two Israelis, one Arab and one Jewish – killed in the 11 days of conflict of Israel versus Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The representation, other than intended to touch our sympathetic heart strings, was misleading in the following respects:

Mischaracterization:

  • Child soldiers of 16 and 17 are not innocent children and some were definitively killed as militant participants; the Israeli actions were depicted as an offensive operation when they were a defensive response to militant provocation;

Causation of Death:

  • All 67 Gazan children were not killed by Israeli bombs since a number of Gazan rockets fell short and landed in densely populated Gaza;

Immediate Causation of War:

  • The immediate proximate causes of the war were the instability in the Israeli government that seemed to be on the verge of being resolved with the installation of a right, centre and left anti-Netanyahu coalition, at the same time as Abbas cancelled the Palestinian elections on the pretext of Israel’s failure to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority in providing voting opportunities in East Jerusalem post offices for East Jerusalemites, giving Hamas an opportunity to rain rockets down on Jerusalem in ostensible response to the troubles at al-Aqsa Mosque but, more immediately, the opportunity for Hamas to leap ahead as the leader of the Palestinian cause;

Intermediate Cause of the War

  • Netanyahu’s policies of supporting Palestinian displacement in Jerusalem, his undermining of Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority in favour of Hamas, and his alliance with evangelicals and the American right while allowing a rift in the Democratic Party between Progressives and Liberals to deepen and widen, limiting Biden’s leverage to short-circuit the war and take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the back burner of simmering animosity where he preferred to leave it to the front burner of explosive violence;

Longer Term Cause of the War

  • Netanyahu’s neglect of the peace process in favour of peace with Arab states that bypassed Palestinians. Presumably to leave them in the dustbin of history while Israel pursued creeping annexation;

Distorted Consequentialist Analysis:

  • Though two Israeli children were killed by Gazan missiles, the article did not discuss the psychological trauma on Israeli children hiding in safe rooms for 11 days as over 4,400 missiles were fired from Gaza but only the “post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fear and anxiety” of the Palestinian children;

Distorted Analysis of Accountability:

  • The role of Hamas in initiating the rockets sent to Jerusalem while attributing the deaths of Gazan children to Israeli airstrikes;

Absence of Reference to Expected Defensive Actions

  • These include the failure to build bomb shelters for civilians in Gaza, to ensure children were collected in facilities clearly identified as such for the Israeli military, the failure to ensure children were not near possible military targets and, the biggest failure of all, the failure to make sure missile launching sites were not near civilians;

Authentication and Verification Procedures:

  • These were not included if they were carried out at all;

Absence of Context:

  • Did the children die as a result of proximity to militant targets, as in the case of the death of fifteen-year-old Muhammad Saber Ibrahim Suleiman, whose father, who was targeted, was a commander in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, or children inadvertently killed as a result of shrapnel or of the collapse of buildings when terror tunnels were exploded;

Absence of Reference to Israeli Warnings:

  • As was its practice, in an example offered, were warnings issued by Israel about the attack on the building that went unheeded?

The misuse of evaluative terminology

  • IDF firepower was represented as indiscriminate when, by all accounts, in this war they were marked by very accurate targeting, deaths were referred to as disproportionate, which they were if one uses the ratio of Palestinian children killed compared to Israelis or of British deaths from the blitz (only 40,000) compared to the half million Germans killed by allied bombs, whereas in just war assessments, proportionality refers to the amount of lethal force used relative to the military target and the risk to civilians;

Citing sources without evaluating the claims:

  • As in the above illustration.

The enormous asymmetries (not disproportion) in death and destruction to the two sides as well as in armaments and wealth are matched by other asymmetries which are often omitted from stories:

·        Hamas intends to wipe Israel off the map; Israel has no equivalent intentions re Gaza;

·        Hamas considers Israel totally illegitimate; Israel does not consider Gaza in that way;

·        Hamas engages in antisemitic tropes; though some Israelis do, Israel itself does not apply Islamophobic stereotypes to Gazans;

·        Hamas is an anti-liberal, anti-modern and undemocratic theocracy whereas Israel is a democratic relatively liberal state that embraces modernism, even though a portion of its own society is also anti-liberal, anti-modern and prefers an undemocratic theocracy;

·        Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, are characterized as a terrorist organization by most western states, but Israel is characterized as a state under constant threat of terrorism.

There is a greater overarching set of factors in weakening truth as a dimension for dealing with and understanding violent conflict, the questioning by postmodernist methodology of enlightenment rationality, objective neutrality to be balanced with the quest for legal equality of justice. Instead of a constellation of forces peculiar to a specific conflict being understood and managed, the operation of the world is characterized in terms of power struggles – white over black, colonists over the colonized – and the effort to perpetuate that power. All violence is rooted in this fundamental conflict and through this frame, all analysis must be filtered through the lens of power rivalry, thereby undercutting pluralism in the quest for objective knowledge. Claims to truth are merely claims to power and must entail competing narratives rather than the effort to establish an overarching single narrative.

The enlightenment is a fraud. Liberalism is a lie. The quest for objective truth is a chimera. We live in a world of oppression in which the oppressed are duty bound to use their energies to overthrow the oppressors. Thus, by definition, Israel as the much stronger party must be an oppressor. Oppression is the essence of Zionism. Liberal epistemology is an even bigger lie than liberalism, as are procedural rules and demands for consistency and coherence, but most of all, the principle of falsifiability. Liberals respond by declaring that the governing norm – all group relations are about power – is to be ruled out simply because there is no test that could falsify this. The response – the rule of falsifiability is but a tool for retaining power. In that effort, Israel is the junior colonizer  to America in the senior lead.

These assertions are a priori and not subject to refutation for they are ones in terms of which a proper analysis must be carried out. Any other rival overarching frame is but an effort in camouflage and deceit. Thus, not only must Israel be relegated to the ash heap of history, so also must be the epistemology of the enlightenment. Postmodernism does not accomplish this by winning the debate but by ending the debate altogether and discarding the practices that have been established over the last four centuries. Instead, subjective lived experience and emotional identification trump facts, trump empiricism and trump the search for objectivity.

Next: Connecting Truth and Empathy with Justice and Peace as Competing Categories for Depicting and Understanding Violent Conflict

Sympathy versus Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and thoughts of others. A good historian is one who can get inside the head and heart of an agent in history and intellectually and emotionally reenact what that agent is going through and the decisions made. Sympathy, by contrast, is an attachment to and identification with the feelings and thoughts of the other such that any critical discernment is set aside in favour of emotional identification. What we find now in a great deal of reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a great deal of sympathy for the Palestinian position in the guise of empathy.

Not a day goes by now when I do not open my computer to multiple stories which provide blatant examples of journalist’s total sympathy with the Palestinian cause and almost exclusive blaming of Israel. That is, of course, Honest Reporting’s (HR) mandate. I expect bulletins from HR along these lines:

“On CBC News and CBC The National, Margaret Evans’ reporting was highly skewed against Israel, to the point that Israel was blamed almost exclusively for Gaza’s destruction, despair and deaths.”

“In The Toronto Star, Michael Lynk, the so-called “UN Special Rapporteur for the situation for human rights in the Palestinian territory,” created a false narrative of Israel as a pariah state, constantly breaking international law, in need of immediate opprobrium and an “occupier” of Gaza. Lynk’s narrative relied almost entirely on factual errors and extremely misleading statements.”

When you check up on HR, the statements are largely true.

S. Michael Lynk happens to be a Canadian now serving as the independent expert and Special Rapporteur for OHCHR (Commission on Human Rights) dealing with the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. His mandate is to investigate Israel’s violation of human rights, not those of Hamas. That is the first built-in bias. Second, his mandate applies to “Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967,” yet Gaza is included even though Israel withdrew from occupying Gaza in 2006 and the Gazan government indicated its independence in initiating wars against Israel in 2009, 2012, 2014 and most recently in 2021. Further, Lynk, as did Richard Falk before him, indicated his lack of independence and objectivity by joining in a petition, before he investigated, pointing to the “forced evictions of Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah in “Occupied” East Jerusalem “as the spark that set off a full-blown war.”

It certainly was one element, but how can one draw such a definitive conclusion without an investigation. My own previous articles summarizing the conflict over housing in Sheikh Jarrah as simply a matter of “forced evictions” is a travesty, at the very least, even if I and many others sympathize with the situation of those Palestinian families and disagree with efforts to evict them.

The collective letter went on to charge Israel with causing untold destruction to Gaza without any consideration of the role of Hamas, without an investigation as required, and when, in the case of Gaza, the territory is outside his mandate. Instead, the reference is to “indiscriminate” or “deliberate” bombing of civilians. The judgement is made about the disproportionality only by reference to the ratio of destruction, deaths and injured, not to the legal definition of proportionality relative to the military objective. Instead, without an investigation, without hearing a defence of the claims, without any analysis of the actions of the instigator of the war, the actions are asserted without qualification to be war crimes. In effect, Richard Lynk provided ample evidence that he was not independent, was not objective, was not operating within his jurisdiction and had allowed his understandable sympathy with the plight of the Palestinian civilian population of Gaza to undermine whatever discernment and objectivity he might have possibly brought to the issue.

Margaret Evans, a CBC correspondent based in the London bureau, reported on the scene from Gaza Al-Wehda Street, lined with destroyed apartments and stores. She showed two apartments hit on the worst night of the bombing campaign. “a representation of the human toll” Dr. Ayman Abu abu-Alouf, the head of internal medicine at al-Shifa Hospital, died along with two of his children and his wife. The al-Kolak family lost 22 members. It is a bleeding-heart story deliberately intended to pull at the heart strings of anyone watching. The vast destruction in Gaza is captured in miniature. However, the conflict is not put within any context of Hamas policies and initiatives or even the facts that an estimated at least 25% of the destruction was a result of rockets fired off from Gaza but which fell short and landed in Gaza.

These are two examples, one of abstract principled appeal and the other of a direct sensory appeal to sympathy offsetting any responsibility for empathetically understanding the policies of Hamas or why a significant part of the population supports Hamas. These are unequivocal examples of sympathy trumping the responsibility for engaging in empathy. Of course, the responsibility for objectivity and truth are also sacrificed, but that is the focus of the next blog.

There are many other dimensions to the way in which sympathy trumped empathy as the reining methodology of dealing with the events that took place. Sympathy can be indifferent to truth, but empathy can also be at war with truth. Arno Rosenfeld wrote a story for The Forward headlined: “A spate of antisemitism reveals Jewish community fissures.” As I foresaw in my last blog, when empathy is at war with truth, the losers are members of the Jewish community brought to profuse tears by the stories and pictures to which they are exposed. This is the case even though incidents of antisemitism are rapidly increasing in frequency. A Jewish history and Holocaust scholar is murdered in the Ukraine. A Jewish man is punched on a Berlin street, one of 3 antisemitic incidents that day in the German capital.

Ben Samuels wrote a story in The Washington Post (26.05.2021) headlined: “These Young Jewish Staffers Are Bringing Their Disillusionment With Israel to Capitol Hill.” His stories and others bring up these repeated themes:

  • They went to Jewish day schools, attended Jewish camps and often went on birthright trips.
  • They were raised to be cheerleaders of Israel.
  • They grew skeptical as they learned more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • As they launched their careers, they either bracketed their concern for Israel or even became critics.
  • Whatever position they now take, they resent being raised on heroic and mythical histories and leave out evidence that most Palestinians did not leave voluntarily; rather, a great many were forced to depart.
  • There was a narrative, but no interrogation of how Israel came to be, yet they were taught to interrogate every word of Torah.
  • Each Gaza War created a “cognitive dissonance between what they’re seeing and what they’ve learned regarding how Israel can do no wrong.”
  • Killing Palestinian civilians seemed cruel, very disproportionate and did nothing to protect Israelis.
  • Education on human rights further compounded the emerging despair about Israel.
  • Misplaced charges of antisemitism against critics of Israel fueled the direction of disillusionment.
  • Creeping annexation in the West Bank (the expansion of settlements), Netanyahu’s support for Donald Trump, the affirmation of Jewish supremacy in the nation-state law, all added to the new “truth” that Israel deserved to be a pariah state.
  • The United Nations Human Rights and the International Criminal Court, all international institutions dedicated to the universal protection of human rights, indict Israel diplomatically and legally for being an abuser of rights.
  • The fundamental sin is that “Everyone deserves basic dignity and self-determination” and Palestinians are denied both and Jews are the cause of that denial.

Therefore, Jews join Palestinians and human rights activists in demanding that Israel be held accountable for human rights violations and demanding that Palestinians have the rights to peace and justice and that means self-determination.  The divisions within the Democratic Party over support for Israel grow wider and deeper. These Jews no longer accept the claim that Israel no longer occupies Gaza but left Gaza to its own devices and withdrew its settlements in August 2005, but through a blockade, effectively continued the occupation de facto. Even though it is difficult to reconcile Israel occupying Gaza and Gaza being able to shoot well over 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians, in spite of labour leader, Merav Michaeli insisting that Israel is not in occupation of Gaza, these newborn or evolving critics of Israel point out that:

  • Israel controls access (even though Egypt controls one access from the south).
  • Israeli blockades Gaza on land, sea and from the air.
  • Israel controls the registry of names lest any unregistered person seek to cross into Israel.
  • Israel controls the electricity supplied to Gaza, the entry of humanitarian and development aid.

This is asserted even though the United States controls all land crossings into Canada and has an economic stranglehold over Canadian economic development but no one, at least no one I know, would claim that the U.S. occupies Canada. The claim that Israel continues to occupy Gaza is accepted as truth and its denial is characterized as a lie.

However, the main issue is really the human rights of Palestinians. As Jeffrey D. Sachs wrote, “Human rights are human rights, and they are part of international law under the UN Charter. Whether the case is Xinjiang and the Uighurs, Myanmar and the Rohingya, or Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, the correct way to defend international law is through the United Nations, starting with an independent investigation under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.” (25.05.2021)

The defence of human rights comes at the cost of truth. The threats to expel Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem along with the Israeli-provoked violence at the al-Aqsa Mosque, compounded by right-wing Israelis marching and chanting, “Death to Arabs,” offer abundant evidence that Israel is a systemic human rights abuser. The fact that Jews owned the land on which the homes were built, the fact that the court offered a compromise to the residents – stay on for life, but pay rent and acknowledge the ownership, is left out.

The violence on the al-Aqsa Mosque is purportedly all one-sided, at least in its instigation, even though a small but significant percentage of the “worshippers” were present to instigate trouble. Arabs marching and chanting “Death to the Jews” is omitted from any part of the story. There is not even a superficial effort at objectivity, only one-sided advocacy in the place of a reflective and thoughtful op-ed. Sack’s screed went so far as to suggest that Netanyahu “may have” instigated the rocket attack from Hamas on Jerusalem in order to cling to power.

Israel’s behaviour is characterized as lawless, ruthless and “reckless anti-Arab violence” contrary to Jewish ethics “causing mass suffering and killing innocent people.” All references to military targeting are omitted. And what are the sources of that authority: Rashid Khalidi’s recent book, The Hundred Years War on Palestine which effectively trashes the tale of two nations in search of a nation-state in the same territory for a narrative of an invasive colonial enterprise determined from the beginning to repress and replace Palestinians in the land. And Human Rights Watch, which declared Israel an apartheid state, has now, effectively, endorsed this version of history. As one headline in Haaretz put it, “The Left Feels Palestinian Pain. It Must Also Recognize Jewish Fears.”

In my next blog I will take up the topic of truth as the last element to formulate a framework that includes peace and justice, empathy and truth to indicate the tensions between and among them and why all have to be brought into consideration to get a balanced and relatively accurate portrait of what is taking place.