Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Palestinian Christians revoke 6th commandment

February 2010. Toronto. Just before Christmas, a ecumenical gathering of Palestinian Christians met in Bethlehem to launch the Kairos Palestine Document, which urges a boycott of Israel.

As option B, the document also approves “armed resistance” as carried out by “some political parties,” clearly meaning Hamas and other terrorist groups. However, the document rejects the charge of terrorism, labelling armed attacks on Israelis as “legal resistance.”

Such “resistance” has included a daily rain of rockets on the men, women and children of Sderot. It includes suicide bombings aboard buses and blowing up teenagers at a discotheque. It includes the assassination of parents and children in a pizza parlour and the mass murder of elderly Jews at a Passover Seder.

The gathering in Bethlehem took place under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, with representatives of Anglican and liberal Protestant churches attending from around the world. The United Church of Canada was there too, represented by Bruce Gregerson.

Anti-Israel activists are claiming the Kairos Document is a unified call for a boycott from the leaders of the Palestinian churches. But this is just the boycotters’ usual misrepresentation.

The leaders of the Jerusalem churches wrote a non-committal response to the Kairos Document, stating “We hear the cry of our children.” While their failure to condemn the document shows their moral bankruptcy, the church leaders have not sunk so low as to actively endorse mass murder.

The signatories do include two impressive sounding names: Michel Sabbah the former Patriarchate of the Catholic Church in Jerusalem and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. But these loose cannons represent only themselves.

I asked the Reverend Gregerson why the United Church of Canada attended this gathering. He was quick to point out that the UCC hasn’t actually signed the Kairos Document. He assured me the Church doesn’t support terrorism and said he went to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

When I asked about the document’s endorsement of terrorism as “legal resistance,” it appeared Gregerson hadn’t noticed this before and said he couldn’t comment on it.

He added that he thought the Palestinians were clear about the need for non-violence and said he “felt strongly that the document was built on principles of Christian love.”

To be sure, the Palestinian Christian approach to attacking Israel improves on the Islamist approach. The Christians don’t talk of Jews as the descendents of apes and pigs. Rather, we’re told the occupation: “distorts the image of God in the Israeli,” while descriptions of Israeli “evil” and “sin” salt the document.

There are also some choice Biblical quotes. One compares the Palestinians to the early Christians martyred for their faith, claiming: “For Your sake we are being killed all day long,” thus suggesting that, like the Romans, Israel persecutes and murders Christians.

In contrast to Islamists who proclaim their love of death, the churches speak of “a culture of life.” They even speak of “love and mutual respect.” But in a document that approves mass murder, such words ooze hypocrisy.

Otherwise, the document follows standard Palestinian propaganda.It denounces Israel’s “cruel war against Gaza,” with no mention of the eight years of Palestinian bombardment of Israeli civilians that prompted it.

The document denounces the “separation wall” with no mention of the suicide bombers it’s designed to keep out. It bemoans the thousands of “prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons” with no mention of the crimes they’re imprisoned for.

It calls the occupation a “sin,” ignoring that Israel occupied the West Bank in a defensive war against an Arab alliance determined to push the Jews into the sea.

And of course, the document ignores that Israel has repeatedly offered peace deals giving the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem to the Palestinians, but that President Abbas and Arafat before him will not take yes for an answer.

I’d like to report that in Bethlehem the Reverend Gregerson reminded his fellow Christians that thou shalt not murder, even if the victims are Jews. But actually he spoke on the supposed risk that churches might be called antisemitic when they merely attempt “to be critical of Israel’s policies.”

In our interview, though, Gregerson agreed that anti-Israel activism is indeed sometimes antisemitic. He draws the line at where criticism crosses into attempts to undermine Israel’s right to exist.

Moreover, Gregerson said antisemitism has been a problem within the United Church. He specifically referred to the “very troublesome” background material to the anti-Israel boycott motions presented (and rejected) at the church’s 2009 national conference.

The material included accusations of bribery and the suggestion that some Members of Parliament are “affiliated with Israel” and shouldn’t be trusted with sensitive government portfolios.

This was not the only time boycott supporters within the Church have made "troublesome" remarks. During a trip to An-Najah University in Nablus in 2006, Karin Brothers reportedly suggested that the “Jewish community” controls media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to the report published by An-Nujah University, Brothers also claimed that the Jewish community oversees Canadian politicians, stating: “Any politician would be targeted if he turned his back to Israel and would lose his job.”

Miriam Spies, another boycott supporter, wrote an article in the September 2009 United Church Observer which claimed that, at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers arbitrarily shoot and kill Palestinians. Her Palestinian guide explained that it just “depended on the mood of the soldiers.”

Accusations of Jews controlling politicians and the media have a long and dishonourable history, while the charge that Israelis murder Palestinians on a whim or for sport looks like nothing but a new version of the ancient blood libel.

I asked Gregerson if anti-Israel boycotts are themselves antisemitic. “I’m not prepared to answer that,” he replied. “I’m an officer of the church, and the Church hasn’t yet answered that question.” He added, though, that one “consideration in rejecting the boycott motions” was that the Church “didn’t want to undermine the existence of Israel.”

That’s good to hear. In the meanwhile, though, on terrorism, the United Church wants to have its cake and eat it too – to reject terrorism while standing in solidarity with Palestinians who endorse it.

Update as of January 2011, the United Church still continues to actively promote the Kairos Palestine Document, with its endorsement of terrorism and all.

This article previously appeared in the Feb 16, 2010 Faculty Forum, an electronic newsletter produced by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the Harry's Place blog in Britain.

Being a Nazi is no longer cool

January, 2010. I confess I’m still shocked when I see a university professor spitting out Israel-hatred. You’d think I would have learned that education doesn’t guard against fanaticism.

After all, this isn’t new. The people driving the new antisemitism are the same people who have driven it in the past.

They’re an elitist group who see themselves as more politically advanced than most people, more “progressive.” As such, they think it’s their job to define our political morality.

The new antisemites call themselves leftists. But when it comes to Israel, they happily team up with the right. There is, for example, nothing leftwing about Hamas or Hezbollah.

Yet in a conflict between a liberal democracy and these fascistic terrorist groups, the far left identifies with the fascists. Why? Because their movement isn’t about what they’re for; it’s about who they’re against.

Two heroes of the new antisemites are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby. They describe Israel as a shitty little country with no oil and claim the U.S. supports Israel only because a Zionist lobby controls America’s Middle East policy.

Mearsheimer and Walt call themselves foreign policy realists, in the same school as Kissinger and Nixon. They wouldn’t dream of describing themselves as “on the left.”

Indeed, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, pointed out that he’s been saying the same thing as Mearsheimer and Walt all along!

There’s nothing leftwing or rightwing about Israel-hatred. In our time, it’s emerged on the left because of historical accidents.

Back in the 1930s, being a Nazi was cool. They looked at themselves as a progressive movement that was going to wipe away Jew contamination and create a glorious 1,000-year Reich.

As everyone knows, the Nazis enlisted street thugs. But the Nazis also appealed to German intellectuals. At the Wannsee conference, called to discuss the logistics of murdering the Jewish population of Europe, eight of the fourteen participants held doctorate degrees.

Indeed, the Nazis took over the universities more easily than they took the streets. Martin Heidegger, rector of Freiberg University and the foremost German philosopher of his time declared: “The Fuhrer alone is the present and future German reality and its law.”

Some people argue that Heidegger’s Nazism merely reflected his ignorance of reality. But in that case, why did Heidegger attach his enthusiasm to the Nazis?

If it wasn’t because he understood the Nazis, then it was because it was the in thing. All the coolest professors were sporting swastikas in their lapels, and students were wearing their brown shirts to class to show their love of fascism, much as students today wear the Palestinian kefiyeh.

It’s no longer cool to be a Nazi. It’s difficult to even imagine a time when it was. That’s why David Duke gets no respect. But his ideas of a Zionist conspiracy aren’t out of fashion – they’ve just migrated to the other side of the political spectrum.

The other bits of history that put the new antisemitism on the Left are its roots in Soviet antisemitism and in the radical politics of the 60s and 70s.

What’s new about antisemitism is the focus on Israel, and the depiction of Israel as uniquely evil – a colonial project and a racist entity – and the claim that the Jews have become Nazis.

These slanders were the handiwork of Soviet propagandists, who spread them through Europe and the third world.

More than anything, though, our Israel-haters are the bastard children of the radicals of the 60s and 70s. But on top of the old quasi-left, anti-war, anti-American ethos, our new extremists have added a layer of antisemitism.

In an earlier age, they might have adopted the anti-clerical and antisemitic politics of Voltaire. Before that, the religious and antisemitic politics of Martin Luther. Before that, the Catholic and antisemitic politics of the Inquisition.

Antisemitism, it seems, has a special attraction for those who believe they’re entitled to define the political morality of their age.

This makes it different from other forms of bigotry. Racists hate blacks, but they don’t define them as the enemy of mankind. However, that’s exactly how antisemites define Jews.

They create a fantasy of good and evil. They modestly cast themselves in the role of upholding everything that is progressive and holy, and they portray Jews as representing all that is unenlightened and evil. And they try to impose their beliefs on society.

This conflict is again playing itself out. The new antisemites define Israel – and those who support it – as representing the worst political evils: imperialism, racism, apartheid and Nazism. And they’re trying to inflict their twisted vision on the rest of us.

So far, they’re failing. But they can’t be ignored. History shows that whole societies can come to embrace even the most extreme beliefs.

Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor and a refugee from the NDP – Canada’s social democratic party. This article previously appeared in the January 14, 2010, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B’nai Brith Canada and on Harry's Place blog in Britain.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Israeli settlements, a history

Unless you're a student of Israeli history, you probably know almost nothing about the Israeli settlements in Gaza (now all gone) and in the West Bank. Michael Weiss, the Director of Just Journalism, has written an article for Foreign Policy magazine on why the exclusive international focus on West Bank settlements is the wrong way forward for a two-state solution. Along the way, he provides a brief history of how the settlements came to be and how they're currently viewed in Israel ....

The Settlement Fixation
Michael Weiss

Of all the problems bedeviling Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank — thrown into the spotlight again this week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States — has surely attracted the most attention. But that does not make it the most important or the most pressing issue.

Contrary to what many believe, Israelis are largely in agreement over the terms and circumstances under which they would compromise over the settlements — a consensus that is surely larger than that which exists in Palestinian society over how to reconcile the feuding Islamist and secular nationalist factions in Gaza and the West Bank. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has used settlements as an excuse to disrupt the latest round of peace talks, the open secret in today’s Middle East is that the issue is one of the least problematic obstacles to a final-status agreement.

The settlement project was originally conceived as a response to Israel’s national security concerns and was bolstered through an awkward marriage with the ambitions of Messianic Judaism. But as Israeli realpolitik and demographic calculations have turned against the settlers, the settlements have been emptied of their original ideological justifications and reduced to the status of a mere bargaining chip by even the country’s most hawkish leaders.

The first settlements were built following Israel’s capture of Gaza and the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War, but expansionism did not begin in earnest until after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Although Israel prevailed in 1973, Israelis believed the war could easily have gone the other way. The Israeli security establishment reckoned that possessing the military buffer zone of the Israeli-occupied territories made the critical difference between victory and defeat. Territorial depth provided the Israel Defense Forces with the room to maneuver and time to recover from the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria. Jordan stayed out of the war, but Israelis worried that it would not have been so restrained if the Hashemite Kingdom still controlled the West Bank and was thus capable of launching an invasion from next door.

Shortly after the Six-Day War, Israel mooted a program for geographical deterrence which, in the wake of a far less confident victory in 1973, now seemed all the more compelling. Conceived by Yigal Allon, then the deputy prime minister, it suggested a plan for the strategic settlement of the West Bank. Although never formally adopted, the Allon Plan attained the level of de facto policy as it was fitfully implemented by successive left-wing Labor governments.

The mountainous rift above the Jordan River was to constitute the best bulwark against Arab invasion. A strip of 12 to 15 kilometers along the west bank of the river would therefore be annexed by Israel, and Israeli towns overlooking the predominantly Arab cities in the West Bank such as Jericho and Hebron would be developed.

The security motive for the Allon Plan was obvious, but there was also a second aspect of the plan’s logic that was equally important: to prevent Israel from permanently acquiring any part of the West Bank that was home to large Arab populations. Allon envisioned that the land falling outside the 12-to-15-kilometer fortified strip would be governed by some form of Arab “autonomy.” As Irish academic and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien observed in The Siege, his magisterial history of Zionism and the early decades of the state of Israel:

In those parts of it which were implemented, the Allon Plan was a document of annexationist tendency. But the questions it raised, or expressed, over the future of the densely populated Arab areas did have the effect, during most of the period between 1967 and 1977, of closing these areas to Jewish settlement. [Italics in the original.]

The goal, then, of the initial settlement project was minimal rather than maximal. The Israeli political class sought to forestall what veteran Israeli diplomat Abba Eban termed “superfluous domination” of Arab land.

However, the escalation of Palestinian terrorist attacks soon provoked an equally hard-edged Israeli response, which gave the settlement project a more ideological underpinning. In May 1974, Arab fedayeen kidnapped 90 schoolchildren and teachers in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot. The Israeli rescue operation was a calamity, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 children. In October of that year, the Arab League summit held in Rabat, Morocco, formally recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization, which included the faction responsible for the Ma’alot attack, as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people. A month later, PLO head Yasir Arafat, by then the public face of Arab terrorism, addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York and received a standing ovation.

Not by coincidence, 1974 was also the year that Gush Emunim — “Bloc of the Faithful” — was founded by young Israeli activists from the National Religious Party. The movement, which was dedicated to the expansion of Israeli settlements, preached that the Jewish nation and its land were holy and given to the Jews by God. Gush Emunim’s official policy with respect to the occupied territories was hitnahalut, which literally means “colonization” and, in practice, meant squatting on Arab territory regardless of state policy. By 1976, then Defense Minister Shimon Peres allowed Gush Emunim to “colonize” the Palestinian village of Sebastia, near Nablus. It was fast becoming clear that the interests of Messianic Judaism and Israeli security had merged.

The first and second intifadas — Palestinian uprisings — only reinforced this precarious dynamic. But following the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the settlements also acquired a role as a bargaining chip in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Israel accepts a “land for peace” arrangement premised on territorial concessions, while continuing to suggest that Jewish real estate in the West Bank knows no limits. It’s a paradox with a point, as historian Walter Russell Mead recently noted: “Without the threat of more settlements, it’s not clear what the incentives are for the Palestinians to accept a territorial compromise based on the 1967 frontiers.” Fueled by this logic, the settlement population has tripled since the Madrid conference.

But the continued growth of the settlements and the international attention directed toward them obscures the fact that their original rationale has eroded. The prospect of Israel fighting a conventional war against another Arab army is outmoded, as both its recent conflicts with Hezbollah and Hamas attest. Terrorists, unlike tanks, are not deterred from crossing over rocky terrain. Moreover, the security wall that now physically separates much of Israel from the West Bank acts as its own buffer and has so far managed to radically reduce the number of suicide bombings in cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Furthermore, the West Bank has largely been pacified since the Second Intifada due to the savvy partnership between Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s security establishment, the training of a professional Palestinian gendarmerie by the United States, and the internal policing methods of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

In Israel, settlements have also lost popular support. The 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, a Messianic rejectionist of the Oslo Accords, marked the beginning of the erosion of the settler movement’s credibility. As recently as this March, a poll conducted by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that 60 percent of Israelis support “dismantling most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, judging that an indefinite occupation was destructive to Israel’s long-term national interests, withdrew all settlements from Gaza. By Sharon’s reckoning, Israel stood to become an Arab-majority state if its expansionist project in the occupied territories reached a level of de facto annexation. He feared that this would allow Arab inhabitants to vote away Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland, or force Israel to deny this population equal democratic rights and to establish a system of apartheid.

Netanyahu epitomizes the Israeli establishment’s embrace of this hardheaded logic and the marginalization of Messianic Judaism in its mainstream political discourse. In his 2009 address at Bar-Ilan University, the current prime minister acknowledged the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. Although the speech was criticized as being insufficient by Netanyahu’s leftist critics, it in fact ended the Likud party dream of a state of Israel lying between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and encompassing all of Gaza and “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical terms for the West Bank).

This speech, which came just four years after Netanyahu quit his post as finance minister in Sharon’s cabinet to protest the Gaza withdrawal, certified a slow reorientation of Israeli politics away from a theological or security-based justification for the settlement enterprise. The prime minister’s latestoffer to extend the construction moratorium in exchange for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” has been roundly criticized as a diplomatic non-starter while the larger point — that a conservative hawk sees the settlements as leverage and not a divine mandate — is just as predictably elided.

So where does that leave the die-hard settlers? Perhaps bidding for renewed political relevance, the movement has itself begun to flirt with democratic integration — except that its preferred model is the so-called “one-state solution,” which envisions the Jewish and Arab polities in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank merging into a single democratic state. This concept, however, is even more fraught with obstacles and the possibility of bloodshed than the two-state solution. Ethnic power-sharing would, at best, transform Israel into another Lebanon and invite the same wardrobe of calamity, including civil war and tribal assassinations.

If this is God’s will then so be it, argues Uri Elitzur, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a leading intellectual of the Israeli religious right. Elitzur recently endorsed the one-state solution in Nekuda, the settler movement’s official magazine. Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament,said this year that he “would rather [have] Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up.”

Wondrous though it undoubtedly is to imagine the religious Jewish right nodding in agreement with theNew York Review of Books, the settlers’ rethink on Greater Israel’s political boundaries also demonstrates their divorce from mainstream Israeli thought and practical reality. It is all the more reason to see their movement for what it is: marginalized politically and curtailed in scope.

That is not to say that the existing West Bank settlements are destined to fall from Israeli control. Land swaps have long been part of the tool kit of final-status negotiations; in late 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas undertook a hypothetical map-drawing exercise that delineated the border between the two states. The end result allowed for large settlement blocs to be incorporated into the Jewish state, while according land currently inside Israel to the new Palestinian state. Ma’ale Adumim, for instance, which was a sticking point in the international debate preceding the construction moratorium, is home to some 36,500 Israelis who aren’t likely to go anywhere, as most Palestinians acknowledge. Building new bathrooms or balconies there is hardly the fatal blow to peace that it has been made to appear.

Settlements should not be the top Mideast priority for the Obama administration. More critical issues will have to be resolved first, such as reconciling feuding Palestinian political factions, guaranteeing that security can be maintained in the West Bank without an IDF presence, and ensuring that Palestinian institutions now being built are stable enough to sustain a functioning democratic government, regardless of which party is elected. The settlement fixation is a convenient distraction from these obstacles, which have no easy remedy and continue to block the way to a two-state solution.


Michael Weiss is the executive director of Just Journalism, a think tank based in London, England, that monitors how the British media cover Israel and the Middle East. This piece origianally appeared in Foreign Policy magazine, the most influential journal in the United Stated devoted to issues in American foreign policy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rhonda Spivak has another excellent article in the Winnipeg Jewish Review ...

Canda's minister Peter Kent protested to PA Foreign Minister about PA incitement against Israel

Exclusive: Kent tells Al-Malki PA can't send double messages

By Rhonda Spivak, October 19, 2010

Thornhill MP Peter Kent, Canadian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), who was recently in Israel on an eight-day mission, says when he met with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister al -Malki in Ramallah he raised the issue of official PA incitement and honouring of terrorists.

In a one on one interview when he was recently in Winnipeg on October 8, Kent told the Winnipeg Jewish Review he “made the point very strongly’ to Minister Al Malki that “Palestinian Authority official media continues to incite and encourage martyrdom and terrorism and deny the right of Israel to exist.”

Kent said “I made a protest to him [Foreign Minister al- Malki] about the naming of squares and streets in honour of martyrs ... more