That lousy US Congress

Here's the latest bill going around Congress:

Expressing support for the State of Israel's right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

Of course no such concern for the sovereign of Iran, or the protection of its civilians. The bill explicitly expresses support for an Israeli attack on Iran:

(4) expresses support for Israel's right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran, defend Israeli sovereignty, and protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within a reasonable time.

It was supported by 46 Congressmen, mostly Republicans I believe.

Meanwhile, there's also a bill supporting democracy in Egypt [link corrected], introduced by Russ Feingold and supported by John McCain. It makes general commitments to democracy and calls for greater democracy, free elections, repeal of the emergency law and other issues, but does not introduce any idea of conditionality in the relationship. In fact the only different thing it advocates from what is currently being practiced is:

(7) recalls that pursuant to the laws of the United States, organizations implementing United States assistance for democracy and governance activities, and the specific nature of that assistance, shall not be subject to the prior approval of the Government of Egypt.

NYT: Nostalgia for (Jewish) terrorism

The NYT's Deborah Solomon interviews Tzipi Livni and reveals her fondness for the Irgun:

Your parents were among the country’s founders. 
They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.

It was a more romantic era.

Now if the NYT has interviewed a Palestinian leader and the reporter had called, say, the 1970s era of plane hijackings or Abu Nidal's 1980s acts like the Achille Lauro hijacking, "romantic" do you think the editors would have let that fly?


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Cheer up, Israel

The international community has imposed an “emotional blockade” on Israel that has prevented the world from sympathizing with Israeli citizens, according to France’s Ambassador for Human Rights Francois Zimeray.

“World compassion has not gone to Israel,” said Zimeray, noting that both Israelis and Palestinian have suffered as a result of the conflict. “The world does not realize how intense this [Israeli] suffering can be.”
Quick, quick, let's have something that'll cheer up those Israelis. I can only think of the following as adequate to the task — its sophistication and elegance mirrors that of the arguments of Israel's apologists:
Incidentally, having listened obsessively to the above masterpiece for the past week and done quite a lot of digging into the careers of the incomparable Delfin, the sultry Tigresa Del Oriente and undeniable prodigy that is La Pequena Wendy, I must report that this video is not their work alone. If you're a Spanish speaker you will have noticed that the video starts with Delfin's lament that Israel is not accurately portrayed on television. (As any Delfin afficionado will tell you, every Delfin video starts with an ugly truth revealed by the tube, like in his first hit, the tasteful commentary on 9/11 that is Torres Gemelas.) But the production quality of this song — En Tus Tierras Bailares, or "In Your Land I Will Dance" — is actually far above their previous hits. Yes, yes, that includes La Tigresa's unforgettable Anaconda and Wendy's classic ode to beer, Cerveza Cerveza.
The simple reason for this is that it is produced by the quite talented Gaby Kerpel, a Jewish Argentinian folk musician. Why did he decide to recruit Ecuadorian and Peruvian Indians specializing in Andean trucker music for this piece of hasbara? Who knows. I don't even know whether it's exploitative or actually deeply subversive. But I think we are all deeply in his debt.

Defend Israel, defend the white man

Among the many reasons for staunch Western support for the Zionist project in Palestine — from the Balfour Declaration to today's contortions to defend the indefensible in Gaza and elsewhere — is a pretty basic racism. The Zionists, after all, were mostly Europeans, and even as second-class Europeans, they ranked a notch or two above the natives of Palestine. This has long been an implicit part of the Western posture towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Middle East in general.

In the last decade or two, this has become more explicit, with rallies to Israel's defense being made for the sake of Western civilization against the Mahommedan hordes and much talk about "Judeo-Christian" values among the conservative pro-Israel community, particularly in America. As in for instance in this latest project by a smattering of European right-wingers called the Friends of Israel Initiative, in which the first point is:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations. 

Normal Western countries don't have religious laws and don't restrict immigration to a single religion. Nor are they occupiers of other people's lands and conduct wars of collective punishment with their immediate neighbors. But they care about this point so much they basically repeat in point four:

4. Israel is on our side. With this in mind, we must be clear in recognizing that Israel’s fight is our fight. Western democracy will not prevail unless we recognize and assume the Judeo-Christian cultural and moral heritage which first gave rise to those institutions and the values which initially inspired them, and strengthen them. The assault on Israel is itself an assault on Judeo-Christian values. Israel stands on the front line, but we are next in line. If Israel’s right to self defense is questioned in the Middle East, our right to self-defense will be questioned when fighting similar terrorist enemies in Afghanistan, and at home. If principles of human rights and universal jurisdiction are to be turned into weapons against Israeli democracy, what makes us so sure they will not one day be used against European and North American democracy? Israel’s future is our fate. 

Being partly of European background, I have to say I don't see much that's Judeo-Christian in European values. Christian, yes, definitely, although today there are as much if not more secular and even anti-religious values. But the idea that the West has always cherished "Judeo-Christian" values is rather odd, considering it persistently practiced anti-Semitism in various forms for hundreds of years. There was no deep-rooted respect for Jews or their values in Europe aside from the Christian interest in the Old Testament — history since the Inquisition makes that pretty clear. This new trope of Western conservatism is a recent invention.

Today's Europe, despite the minaret-banning and some religious revival in the Eastern countries, has at its core values Enlightenment ideals and their postmodern extension in the Frankfurt School and elsewhere. It is an identity in which universal human rights is a core value (even if the reality in Europe is obviously still far from that). Ultimately — and we've seen this trend grow since the end of the Cold War — European values are at odds with a theologically grounded, ethnically-based colonial state. 

And by the way: one of the signatories, David Trimble, was appointed by Israel as one of the two foreigners in the commission to investigate the Freedom Flotilla massacre. Enough said.

Keeping focus and countering the spin

Amidst the rage about yesterday's flotilla murders, it's important to keep a sense of proportion and focus about what's really important. And, of course, to be prepared to poke holes in the way the pro-Israel-no-matter-what community is going to spin this.


✩ Yesterday's murders were an unwarranted attack on civilians by elite units of one of the most fearsome and best-equipped army in the world. It's not a "blunder" or poorly planned attack — the decision to raid the boat is itself illegal, immoral and is what needs condemning. 

✩ The fact that the boat was attacked in international waters adds to the legal case against Israel, but should not become the whole story as much as the "pirates of the Eastern Mediterranean" narrative is tempting. If the boat had been attacked in Israeli or Palestinian or Egyptian territorial waters, the murders would be just as offensive and the decision to raid just as reprehensible.

✩ The best way to honor the memory of the victims of the raid is, as well as defending them and ensuring their murders are punished, keep an eye on the big picture: Gaza. The flotilla was trying to break the blockade — a blockade that is illegal by any international standard, as UN Envoy Archibishop Desmond Tutu and other statesmen have stated:

Tutu said the blockade was "a siege" and a "gross violation to Human Rights", echoing rights groups which accuse Israel of collective punishment. Former President Jimmy Carter last month referred to the blockade as an atrocity.

It is not enough to call for action on the boat raid itself — the aim should be to pressure the Middle East Quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia) to stop giving political cover to Israel's blockade.

✩ There is no need to use hyperbole in referring to the attack on the boat — it is not the worst thing Israel has done by far. The attack on the boat and international indignation should be channeled towards accountability for the Gaza war (notably for the international process started by the Goldstone Report to continue at the UN), and ultimately an end to settlements leading to an end to the occupation. Israel, under the present government, may be pressure-proof, but its allies in the US and EU are not.

Countering the spin:

It's interesting to see that Israel's most establishment defenders, especially in the US, are generally keeping mum. The NYT has not commented on the crisis in its opinion page, the Obama administration has put out a weak non-committal statement, and AIPAC has not said anything. They had the handy excuse yesterday that it was a public holiday in the US, which gave them time to prepare their approach.

✩ First of all, the Obama administration cannot be allowed to get away with its weak statement or obstructionism at the UN on behalf of Israel. As Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment (hardly a radical person) puts it:

Condemnation of the Israeli action has been strong, not only in Turkey and Arab countries, but in most European countries as well. In comparison, the initial response from the White House is completely inadequate and President Obama will need to choose how forcefully to react. Obama must decide whether to sacrifice his credibility in the region in order to continue a well-established U.S. tradition of mild rebukes toward Israel, or break with “business-as-usual” policies and condemn the Israeli action. 

This is an opportunity to drive a major wedge between the Obama administration and its already nervous friends in the lobby. Let's use it.

✩ So far, major pro-Israel voices are obviously embarrassed and trying to find ways to spin it. Look no further than Jeffrey Goldberg for the model, which goes something like this:

I don't know yet exactly what happened at sea when a group of Israeli commandos boarded a ship packed with not-exactly-Gandhi-like anti-Israel protesters. I learned from the Second Intifada (specifically, the story of the non-massacre at Jenin) not to rush to judgment without a full set of facts (yes, I know what you are thinking: So why have a blog?). I'm trying to figure out this story for myself. But I will say this: What I know already makes me worried for the future of Israel, a worry I feel in a deeper way than I think I have ever felt before. The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today? Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal.

This approach says:

  1. Oh, it's too confusing and too soon to know what really happened. BULLSHIT: the basic fact is that Israel attacked a boatful of activists and killed 10-20 of them in order to defend its morally bankrupt blockade policy. You don't need to know much more.
  2. The activists on the boat were not non-violent. BULLSHIT: They were provoked by being raided from helicopters by elite commando units armed with guns. They acted in self-defense, not offensively.
  3.  Bad leadership is responsible. BULLSHIT: People like Goldberg may growing ever more uncomfortable with the PR disaster that is the Netanyahu administration, but its actions are consistent with those of other governments that carried out attacks against civilians to assert Israeli deterrence — see Lebanon, 2006, and Gaza, 2009.
  4. Oh, look, Iran! BULLSHIT: This is a lame attempt to change the topic of conversation. There is an international process underway to deal with the Iran nuclear issue, and it will continue. The flotilla issue is completely separate, and related instead to the humanitarian disaster caused by the blockade of Gaza.

✩ You are seeing another approach in conservative pro-Israel sites such as the National Review's The Corner, where Michael Rubin argues it's a question of proportionality:

A lot of the criticism surrounding Israel’s actions against the Free Gaza flotilla center on proportionality. Did Israel apply disproportionate force? The same charges form the basis of the criticism leveled by the Goldstone Report and, indeed, also were leveled against Israel following the 2006 Hezbollah War and, before that, Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.

But why should any democratic government empowered to defend its citizenry accept Europe’s idea of proportion? When attacked, why should not a stronger nation or its representatives try to both protects its own personnel at all costs and, in the wider scheme of things, defeat its adversaries?

BULLSHIT: It's not about proportionality, it's about the use of force in the first place. Raising the question of proportionality not only sidetracks the issue, but it implicitly accepts that some use of force was warranted and makes it about the degree.

✩ Also at The Corner, the reprehensible Daniel Pipes writes:

Rachel Corrie has been an albatross around Israel’s neck since 2003; today’s dead on the seas off Gaza will prove an even worse source of anti-Zionism. Thus did the “armada of hate and violence” achieve its purpose. Thus did the Israelis fall into a trap.

BULLSHIT: This is the classic blame-the-victim approach. That Pipes stoops this low is no surprise, but shame of Der Spiegel (that "trap" link) for falling into the trap of using the same approach.

✩ If you need reminding, many are making the "Islamist flotilla of terror" argument by focusing on the IHH, the Turkish NGO that ran the main boat that was attacked. I've already highlighted that it's BS on a previous post.

Watch out for these arguments to crawl out of the cesspool of right-wing and Likudnik magazines and blogs and into the mainstream narrative, especially in the US where these people have made tremendous advances onto the pages of mainstream newspapers and television stations in the last two decades. And be ready to ignore them or counter them when necessary — they should not be allowed to dominate the conversation on this issue.

Update: Just saw Jackson Diehl's piece, which has strong words — the attack was "indefensible" and so on — but note how his main concern is to get back to his favorite pastime, bashing Obama from the neocon perspective (as he does unconvincingly on democracy in the Middle East). The bulk of his piece expresses his concern that Obama's tiff with Israel over settlement expansion means he has little wiggle room left to defend Israel on this issue. And so Diehl scrapes the bottom of the moral barrel.  

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Walt on Miller and "shared values"

I can't resist but post this great answer by Stephen Walt to Aaron David Miller's recent Foreign Policy piece on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on the specific point of "shared values" between Israel and the US:

Third, Miller invokes the familiar mantra of "shared values," but without asking whether the values we share are now diminishing. American values don't include confiscating land from Palestinians, throwing thousands of Palestinians in jail without trial, and carving up the occupied territories with separate roads, a wall, and hundreds of check-points.  America's values are "one person, one vote," but that's not the reality in Greater Israel today and that is certainly not what Bibi Netanyahu has in mind for the future. Miller doesn't think the peace process has any future -- and he may be right -- but he still believes the United States should give Israel several billion dollars each year in economic and military aid and provide it with consistent diplomatic protection, even in the face of events like the Gaza War or the pummeling of Lebanon in 2006. 
As always Max Blumenthal let us know about these values — just listen to these loonies:
On Tuesday, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, made the rounds at the State Department and the Pentagon, warmly welcomed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. At a White House meeting with the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones Jr., President Obama dropped by, lingering for 40 minutes.
The message was clear: “The special relationship between Israel and the United States is unbreakable,” Mr. Barak declared.
Across town, on Capitol Hill, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, was making his own rounds, unfurling maps that showed development in his city’s Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. His message was also clear: Jerusalem will not stop construction in East Jerusalem, either formally or informally, regardless of whether it hurts American efforts to restart peace negotiations.
“There is no freeze,” Mr. Barkat said. “We’re minding our own business, building the city for the residents.”
I don't buy the idea, pushed around by the Israelis and others, that Netanyahu has agreed to a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem but won't announce it. That may be true in the short-term that construction has ceased, but how long before the local government officials there decide, for electoral or other reasons, to go ahead with a new project and then we'll hear Bibi say he can't intervene in local government affairs or some-such nonsense. He cannot be trusted, and really neither can any other Israel official after 20 years of settlement expansion while agreeing to notional settlement freezes. This is why the public commitment to complete settlement freeze is essential: to immediately stop the creation of facts on the ground.


WINEP and the lobby

It was delightful to read Stephen Walt's rebuttal to WINEP's Robert Satloff on the issue of "dual loyalty" and where WINEP stands. Let us be clear about this, it may be the case that WINEP produces decent material on, say, counter-terrorism in Algeria or the domestic politics of Oman. But on anything that touches Israel, and issues of interest to Israel like Iran, it is one of several think tanks that serve to produce ideological justifications for policies supported by the likes of AIPAC. That is its main and most important purpose, and to pretend otherwise is beyond hypocritical.
I remember attending a WINEP luncheon in Washington a few years ago. It was the kind of thing targeted at fundraisers and supporters, with Dennis Ross as key speaker. The person sitting to my left was a very nice elderly lady, half of a wealthy couple of Jewish retirees from upstate New York. The person sitting on my right was a young Jewish campus activist for Israel. That seemed to represent the range of people in the crowd, and audience and speakers were trying to outdo each other in Iran-bashing and support for Israel. I don't think you see that at serious think tanks.
As M.J. Rosenberg, formerly of AIPAC and now of J Street, writes in his Talking Points Memo blog:

In my piece yesterday, I pointed out that I was in the room when the plan for WINEP was first drawn up. I was working at AIPAC and it was Steve Rosen who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would put forth the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.

There was no question that WINEP was to be AIPAC's cutout. It was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC Headquarters (no more. It has its own digs). It would also hire all kinds of people not identified with Israel as a cover and would encourage them to write whatever they liked on matters not related to Israel. "Say what you want on Morocco, kid." But on Israel, never deviate more than a degree or two.

It's always been slightly painful to see Egyptian friends — journalists, analysts etc. — take up a job at WINEP, which actively tries to recruit Arabs for fellowships to deflect its lobbying role. I understand why being given a nice salary and a year in Washington is appealing, but it smarts that WINEP is the organization doing this. I tease more mercilessly my American friends who've worked there (not on directly peace-process related issues), but they've moved on now. WINEP has a lot money to throw around, some good researchers, and can afford to buttress its claim of neutrality by hiring former officials and analysts who do not necessarily share their views on Israel — as long as they don't work on the issue. Presumably the same people won't speak out against the house line while they work there, either. 
In any case, that so many are taking Satloff down on his ridiculous claim of WINEP not being part of the lobby is very satisfying personally. In 2005, when I edited Cairo magazine, we ran article tying WINEP to AIPAC. Satloff sent us an angry letter. It was true that WINEP is not funded by AIPAC in a legal sense, but they share donors. Rosenberg elucidates the motive behind separating AIPAC's research arm, then led by Martin Indyk (another person, alongside Dennis Ross, who has no business running US policy in the Middle East) with this tidbit from a reader:

WINEP was created initially at a time when AIPAC was in financial trouble and having a lot of problems raising money, so it was suggested, probably by Steve Rosen. (I was at the same meeting) that we split the AIPAC research department into two parts, a minor part to service the legislative lobbying, and the major part to become a 501(C)3 that could raise big bucks tax free unlike AIPAC itself which did not enjoy that tax status.

As you wrote, it was originally in AIPAC's building and on the same floor but we started getting a lot of pressure from some of the other Jewish organizations which were worried that AIPAC would cut into their (C)3 fundraising.

As for funding, the Weinbergs were key and even worked out a deal with some big money folks who didn't want to contribute to a political operation like AIPAC but would give to (C)3's. So one could give to the (C)3 and someone else would match it for AIPAC.

This became the ultimate in interlocking directorates.

As Helena Cobban points out, some of us have been saying this for a long time. Kudos to Foreign Policy, TPM and of course the invaluable Mondoweiss for bringing this discussion out in the open. But this discussion should not only involve American Jews, it affects all of us. Talking about the "dual loyalty" problem is necessary — not because, as Satloff argued rather heinously, because people who doubt Ross' neutrality on Israel are engaged in a McCarthyite and anti-Semitic campaign and believe Jews can't be trusted (that accusation is the real canard), but because these people and these organizations have a clear record as lobbying organizations for a foreign government that make them poor choices as policymakers.
Consider also that Dennis Ross disagrees with Obama's stated policy on both Iran and the peace process, and even his friend Aaron Miller thinks he's too biased to be a fair negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians. Is it really too much to ask that he be taken off Middle East policy?
On a related note, I've had some fun making fake AIPAC logos, you can take a look at them here. They're inspired by the commonsensical remarks made by Gen. David Petraeus about the peace process being important to American interests in the region, and how its undermining by the Netanyahu government (and previous Israeli administrations) is hurting those interests.

Get rid of Ross

Laura Rozen of Politico talks to US officials who see Dennis Ross continue being Israel's lawyer rather than America's troubleshooter. It's scathing:

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.” 

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations during Netanyahu’s visit and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the official said, Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi's coalition's red lines.” 

Ross, the U.S. official continued, “starts from the premise that U.S. and Israeli interests overlap by something close to 100 percent. And if we diverge, then, he says, the Arabs increase their demands unreasonably. Since we can't have demanding Arabs, therefore we must rush to close gaps with the Israelis, no matter what the cost to our broader credibility.” 

A second official confirmed the internal discussion and general outlines of the debate. 

Obviously at every stage of the process, the Obama Middle East team faces tactical decisions about what to push for, who to push, how hard to push, he said. Those are the questions. 

As to which argument best reflects the wishes of the President, the first official said, “As for POTUS, what happens in practice is that POTUS, rightly, gives broad direction. He doesn't, and shouldn't, get bogged down in minutiae. But Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?” 

Sounds like Ross is wasting everyone's time. Why keep him around?

Links on the Israel-US spat, 18 March 2010

 ✪ The U.S. quarrel with Israel - - WaPo editorial condemns Obama for having a fight with Israel, takes Israeli reports on administration demands at face value, uses stupid argument that US demands on Israel make Arabs ask for more. Basically, WaPo is simply not credible on Israel/Palestine: it asks that the Obama administration accept humiliation and step down from its goals, stated US policy for decades regarding settlements, and international law, and talks of "intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders." You mean the intransigence that caused them to propose a comprehensive peace on the basis of international law since 2003, and which was ignored by both Israel and the US? What a bunch of sellouts.

✪ Informed Comment: Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg, Guarding the Prison of the Nationalist Mind - Juan Cole really does a wonderful takedown of Jeffrey Goldberg.

✪ 'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: On the current tipping point | A bunch of good commentary from Cobban, esp. on the next steps the administration could take:

A. Announce the launching of an administration-wide review of all U.S. policies that have any relationship to the Israeli settlements including policies affecting economic links and trade preferences being extended to settlements as well as to Israel proper; the activities and tax status of U.S. entities, including non-profit entities, that have dealings with or in the settlements. The terms of reference of this review should explicitly spell out that its purview includes the settlements in Jerusalem as well as elsewhere (including Golan.)
B. Announcement of a similar review of policies and entities related in any way to Israel's illegal Wall.
C. Commit to a series of steps aimed at speedily ending the illegal and anti-humane siege that Israel maintains against Gaza and restoring all the rights of Gaza's 1.5 million people.
D. Sen. Mitchell should be empowered to talk to representatives of all those Palestinian parties that won seats in the 2006 PLC election which was, let us remember, certified by all international monitors as free and fair. Obama and Co. should also inform the Egyptians and all other parties that they want and expect them to be helpful rather than obstructive in the Palestinian parties' efforts to reach internal reconciliation.E. Move speedily toward giving the other four permanent members of the Security Council more real role in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. They all have a lot to offer and can help the U.S. get out of the very tight spot it currently finds itself in, in the Greater Middle East region.

✪ Obama says no crisis in US-Israeli relations | He should have said no crisis, but big problem.

✪ Israel crisis: Taking cue from US anger, Mahmoud Abbas digs in heels | This is the big AIPAC narrative, that US is enabling the PA to harden its position. It's bullshit, why would the PA take negotiations seriously while settlement expansion is ongoing? All Abbas is doing is sticking to international law, the Quartet guidelines and Obama's demands from last year.

✪ US-Israel crisis reshapes Quartet meet agenda | The basic point: if the US shows leadership as it did after the Biden visit, the Europeans and others will speak their mind more freely about Israel's sabotaging of peace.

✪ US may be seeking Israel 'regime change' This AFP story is mostly based on quotes from pro-Israel, Jewish Clinton administration sources — the very people who failed to act against settlement expansion back in the 1990s.

✪ Taking Sides « London Review Blog | John Mearsheimer: 

Siding with Israel against the United States was not a great problem a few years ago: one could pretend that the interests of the two countries were the same and there was little knowledge in the broader public about how the Israel lobby operated and how much it influenced the making of US Middle East policy. But those days are gone, probably for ever. It is now commonplace to talk about the lobby in the mainstream media and almost everyone who pays serious attention to American foreign policy understands – thanks mainly to the internet – that the lobby is an especially powerful interest group.

Therefore, it will be difficult to disguise the fact that most pro-Israel groups are siding with Israel against the US president, and defending policies that respected military leaders now openly question. This is an awful situation for the lobby to find itself in, because it raises legitimate questions about whether it has the best interests of the United States at heart or whether it cares more about Israel’s interests. Again, this matters more than ever, because key figures in the administration have let it be known that Israel is acting in ways that at best complicate US diplomacy, and at worst could get Americans killed.

He concludes with the $2.5 billion a year question:

There will be more crises ahead, because a two-state solution is probably impossible at this point and ‘greater Israel’ is going to end up an apartheid state. The United States cannot support that outcome, however, partly for the strategic reasons that have been exposed by the present crisis, but also because apartheid is a morally reprehensible system that no decent American could openly embrace. Given its core values, how could the United States sustain a special relationship with an apartheid state? In short, America’s remarkably close relationship with Israel is now in trouble and this situation will only get worse.

✪ The Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace: Two States for Two People: If Not Now, When? [PDF]

✪ This might be a good occasion to highlight's work on making data on lobbying more accessible. They cover all lobbies, and have the goods on pro-Israel campaign financing (Joe Lieberman and John McCain are on the top of the list) and the legislation the lobby supported. They also have listing for pro-Arab campaign contribution: over the last two years, while pro-Israel lobbies gave $6,288,215 pro-Arab lobbies gave... $56,050. So much for the great Arab lobby that Israel apologists always talk about. 

Update: Talking to IDF radio, Elliott Abrams says Obama wants to bring down the Netanyahu government, and makes other noises that suggest he'd make a better Israeli government official than an American one. [Thanks, Mandy.]

Biden in Jerusalem

 Joe "I am a Zionist" Biden goes to Israel, gets himself and his country humiliated (again), and everybody gets excited that he uses the word "condemns" about illegal settlements that are part of an ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign. 

Helena Cobban picks up on an anecdote from Pat Lang:

I'm assuming Biden decided on this course of action after consultation with Washington. (He took 90 minutes to decide what to do.) Do he and his boss the Prez have no idea how disgusted most of the people in the world are with the fact that, though from time to time Washington might say something critical of Israel-- meantime Washington never holds Israel to serious account, for anything, including "grave breaches of international humanitarian law" like implanting its settlers into occupied territories?
And the U.S. Congress continues to shovel money to Israel. U.S. diplomacy continues to get completely bent out of shape by defending Israel's actions in every international forum, at every turn, and by zealously pursuing Israel-driven agendas throughout the entire Middle East, including with regard to Iraq and Iran.
And these actions by the administration and Congress put the lives of U.S. service-members deployed around the world, often in pursuit of Israel-driven agendas, in significant additional risk.
Regarding Biden, Pat Lang has this intriguing little vignette in his latest post:
I was in Biden's senate office on one occasion when Biden's Zionism boiled over in a truly repulsive display of temper. I was there with my Arab employer to visit the senator... The Arab made some pro forma positive reference to the "peace process." Biden flew into a rage, grew red in the face and shouted that this was an insincere lie and that his guest knew that it was only Arab stubbornness that prevented "little Israel' from living in peace. His "guest" sat through this with what dignity he could manage. I would have walked out on him if I had been alone.
Assuming that the vignette's true-- and I tend to trust Lang on that-- it reveals quite a few disturbing things about Biden. Not just the guy's knee-jerk pro-Israelism, which is endemic just about everywhere in Congress, with a few notable exceptions. But also his evident lack of any diplomatic skills. I mean, why fly into a pro-Israeli rage like that if an Arab guest should happen to mention the "peace process"? What on earth good was he hoping to achieve by doing that? Nothing that I can think of-- except to vent his own feelings.
All this for "proximity talks" that set back the clock to 1992 if not 1949
Dump Israel. Stop financing its wars and expansionism. Block organizations from the Jewish Agency to countless smaller groups which resettle people in settlements, from operating in the West. Boycott, divest, sanction — no American should tolerate this behavior and American politicians' cowardice.
More links:

Fiasco in Jerusalem

Mideast talks hopes in tatters

Arab League chief says Mideast talks off 

Biden Israel Trip: Apology for Timing of Settlement News

Bibi's snub to Biden may backfire | Simon Tisdall | Comment is free |

Israel welcomes Joe Biden with 1600 slaps in the face

Biden Appeals to Restart Peace Talks -

Finkelstein, Finkelstein, Finkelstein

I pre-ordered my copy of This Time We Went Too Far at O/R Books.

I also highly recommend watching the documentary about Finkelstein, American Radical. Finkelstein is an incredibly courageous figure, he has payed dearly for his engagement on the Palestinian cause and against those who manipulate the Holocaust for political purposes. It's really heart-wrenching to see what this principled and stubborn man has endured at the hands of powerful academics and pro-Israel activists like Alan Dershowitz, who appears to have single-handedly orchestrated the campaign to get him fired from DePaul University.

Finkelstein also appears briefly in Defamation, an Israeli film about the ADL, at his best: intense, scathing about the likes of Abe Foxman, and almost self-destructively forthright. Defamation is excellent, by the way, at showing the manipulation Israeli children endure. One of my favorite lines was from a rabbi arguing that an unreasonable obsession with anti-Semitism was the secular Jews' way of being Jewish.

Courage after the fact

Baird and UN aid workers at the American School in Gaza.

Thanks, but it comes a little bit late:

The United States should break Israel's blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies by sea, a U.S. congressman told Gaza students. 

Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington state, also urged President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy to visit the Hamas-ruled territory to get a firsthand look at the destruction caused by Israeli's military offensive last year. 


Baird, who has announced his retirement from Congress, told a group of Gaza students Sunday evening that the U.S. should not condone the blockade. 

"We ought to bring roll-on, roll-off ships and roll them right to the beach and bring the relief supplies in, in our version of the Berlin airlift," he said, adding that the supplies could be delivered to UN aid agencies. 

Rep. Baird has been relatively courageous about Gaza in the past, but never proposed anything of the sort before. I'm guessing it was because he was afraid of the consequences and the pervasive atmosphere of intimidation AIPAC and others exercise over Congress. This is why fighting the Israel lobby is such an important issue — to make honest, reasonable politicians able to speak out in Congress where it counts, not when they are about to retire.

See Baird's letter about Gaza here.

When slander no longer works

I don't usually like to blog about personality clashes happening in the American blogosphere (the Egyptian already blogosphere and twittosphere provides plenty of amusing clashes) but put up with me on this one.

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the leftish but rabidly pro-Israel magazine The New Republic, has penned a 4,000+ word attack on the prominent blogger Andrew Sullivan (of the centrist but rabidly pro-Israel magazine The Atlantic Monthly) calling him an anti-Semite, apparently because he has lately become mildly critical of Israel, or at least of the Netanyahu government, even though he feels obliged to repeatedly profess his love of Israel. 

Only in America.

There's plenty to dislike about Sullivan — another prominent, pro-Israel leftish American blogger, Eric Alterman, once did a fine hatchet job on his schizophrenia as a liberal Republican in the age of George W. Bush — but he certainly is not an anti-Semite, as many have rushed to point out. I perhaps liked best prominent blogger Matthew Yglesias' (of the progressive ThinkProgress, which is reasonable on Israel) take:

If you call anti-semites anti-semites, then people who aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism will figure “hey, since my political opinions aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism, then I’m safe.” The idea is to put everyone on notice that mere innocence will be no defense. 

Yglesias goes on, rightly, to defend the likes of Walt & Mearsheimer from the anti-Semitic label that Wieseltier likes to use. I think this is one of those moments in American intellectual life where everyone, long after having realized it, can actually finally say that the emperor has no clothes, and that the bullying of the likes of Wieseltier, Krauthammer, Peretz and other will simply not be taken seriously at all. Now, let's get on with the business of criticizing Israel and its influence on American policy in the region (which has plenty of faults that have nothing to do with Israel) as we do so many other countries.

Walt & Mearsheimer vindicated

I can't help but share in Stephen Walt's self-satisfaction over Tony Blair's testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry, in which he recognized that Israeli officials were consulted about the decision to invade Iraq and were a major part of the run-up to the war:

In his testimony to the Iraq war commission in the U.K., former Prime Minister Tony Blair offered the following account of his discussions with Bush in Crawford, Texas in April 2002. Blair reveals that concerns about Israel were part of the equation and that Israel officials were involved in those discussions. 

Take it away, Tony:

As I recall that discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us, whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this."

Notice that Blair is not saying that Israel dreamed up the idea of attacking Iraq or that Bush was bent on war solely to benefit Israel or even to appease the Israel lobby here at home.  But Blair is acknowledging that concerns about Israel were part of the equation, and that the Israeli government was being actively consulted in the planning for the war.

Blair's comments fit neatly with the argument we make about the lobby and Iraq. Specifically, Professor Mearsheimer and I made it clear in our article and especially in our book that the idea of invading Iraq originated in the United States with the neoconservatives, and not with the Israeli government. But as the neoconservative pundit Max Boot once put it, steadfast support for Israel is "a key tenet of neoconservatism." Prominent neo-conservatives occupied important positions in the Bush administration, and in the aftermath of 9/11, they played a major role in persuading Bush and Cheney to back a war against Iraq, which they had been advocating since the late 1990s. We also pointed out that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials were initially skeptical of this scheme, because they wanted the U.S. to focus on Iran, not Iraq. However, they became enthusiastic supporters of the idea of invading Iraq once the Bush administration made it clear to them that Iraq was just the first step in a broader campaign of "regional transformation" that would eventually include Iran. 

Israelis themselves were divided about the war, from what I remember of the Israeli press in the 2002-2003 period, although Ariel Sharon wasn't. This is only natural since the last time Iraq had been invaded, Scud missiles rained on Tel Aviv. Even though the scare about the Scuds proved to be disproportionate to the reality of the damage they inflicted, people were scared of the possible consequences. 

The neoconservatives, though, had no such qualms. I've been ranting for a while that, as far as I can see, not only support for a territorially maximalist and aggressive Israel is a key tenet of neoconservatism, it may be its central tenet. I see little consistent in the ideology otherwise, apart perhaps for an spirited embrace of American imperialism — but even then, outside the Middle East, there is no consistency: the neocons were not so gung-ho about Russia, North Korea, China, or Latin America after all. 

Walt ventures to suggest that Israeli political leaders, left and right, unequivocally began to support the war as a reaction to the American neocons' push in Washington and all quickly lined up to active the formal lobby (AIPAC, etc.) to push for war. Do read his lengthly explanation of how that worked. So in other words, the most controversial argument in Walt and Mearsheimer's book — that the lobby played a significant, and perhaps decisive, role in driving US policy on Iraq — is pretty much unassailably correct

Links for Jan.10.10 to Jan.11.10

“Lorsque je commençais mon enquête sur le tourisme au Sahara marocain, je n’imaginais pas être prise à témoin d’échanges sexuels” « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée | On sexual tourism in Western Sahara. ✪ What the "Eurabia" Authors Get Wrong About Islam in Europe - By Justin Vaïsse | Foreign Policy | Critique of Eurabia theory. ✪ The Trials of Tony Judt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education | ✪ U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel - Haaretz | To keep in mind in context of Iran. ✪ Israel and Iran: The gathering storm | The Economist | Interesting story with background on Osirak bombing, Israeli prospects against Iran. ✪ Executive | Magazine has new books section. ✪ Strong reaction to warning of coup - The National Newspaper | Iraqis react to UK ambassador's testimony to Chilcot Enquiry that coup to purge Iran influence still possible in Iraq. ✪ the arabophile | New blog. ✪ Joe Sacco: Graphic History | Mother Jones | Interview with the cartoonist and author of "Footnotes from Gaza." ✪ High cost of living means more unmarried in Egypt | Bikya Masr | Stats on why Egyptians are marrying later. ✪ Arab Reform Initiative | Report on constitutional reforms in the Arab world. ✪ The architecture of apartheid | | On the bantustanization of Palestine. ✪ The Venture of Marty Peretz’s bigotry: Arabs, Muslims, Berbers and more « The Moor Next Door | Kal on the New Republic editor's Islamophobia. ✪ The Forgotten Recantation — jihadica | Interesting post on the recantation of Abbud al-Zommor. ✪ 'Bush sold Arab states arms in violation of deal with Israel' - Haaretz - Israel News | Obama, more pro-Israel than Bush: "The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF's qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel."
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Links for Dec.21.09 to Dec.23.09

Middle East Online | The End of Brotherly Love? | Tarek Kahlaoui on the Egyptian MB. * The Israel Lobby and the Prospects for Middle East Peace « P U L S E | Lectures by Stephen Walt. * Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine | Investigation by Washigton Report. * Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent | World news | The Guardian | Unbelievable. * Israel gives response to Hamas prisoner swap offer | "Israel relayed its response to the proposed swap and handed over a list of Palestinians it wants exile." * Jimmy Carter to U.S. Jews: Forgive me for stigmatizing Israel - Haaretz - Israel News | WTF? * The Fascination of Israel – | Review of three books on Israel. * «Il y a 40.000 Chinois en Algérie» | 40,000 Chinese in Algeria, 2000 Algerians in China. * Meedan | Moroccan and Jordanian forces join Saudi offensive against Houthis. | Handle with care, chief source appears to be Spanish press. * In Shift, Oren Calls J Street ‘A Unique Problem’ – | Israel ambassador ramps up the attack on new lobby. * IRIN Middle East | EGYPT-ISRAEL: Perilous journey to the promised land | Middle East | Egypt Israel | Migration Refugees/IDPs | Feature | On sub-Saharan migration to Israel via Egypt. * Palestinians shoot at Egypt | Response to the collapsing of tunnels that have claimed many Palestinian lives? * Egypt's ailing cotton industry needs shake-up | Reuters | Industry risks a "slow death." * Middle East Report Online: Broken Taboos in Post-Election Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini | On the Green Movement and gender issues. * Egypt rebukes Hamas over 'foot-dragging' in Palestinian reconciliation - Israel News, Ynetnews | Omar Suleiman:
Suleiman said Egypt had promised Hamas it would address the terror group's reservations vis-à-vis the reconciliation deal "after they sign and begin to implement it." He said Hamas' concerns "lacked substance," adding that the agreement would not be revised. "If it will (be changed), I'll resign," said Suleiman.
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Links for Dec.13.09 to Dec.16.09

â�© Egypt puts archives on Web to boost Arabic content | But what's the address? â�© Muslims in Europe: A Report on 11 EU Cities | Open Society Institute | Tons of interesting questions raised by this ground-breaking poll. â�© Abkhazia Is Recognized by Even Smaller Nauru - | Sharqeya next? â�© Pro-Israel Lobby Group’s Iran Petition Features Lots of Questionable Names « The Washington Independent | Such as "Porn Sex Video" and Comfylovely". â�© LedgerGermane: Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024 | Yikes. â�© Future of US-Egypt Relations: A View from the Next Generation | Notes on another POMED event. â�© POMED Event: U.S. Military Assistance: Obstacle or Opportunity for Reform? | Steven Cook, Emile Hokayem, etc. some discussion of Egypt-US military relations. â�© | Zaitout: reports about Algeria-US agreement over temporary military bases | Handle with care. â�© British court issued Gaza arrest warrant for former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni | The Guardian | More of this please. â�© Nights to remember - The National Newspaper | Arabian Nights conference in NYU Abu Dhabi. â�© Obama's Big Sellout : Rolling Stone | Must-read Matt Taibbi story on Obama's bailout of Wall Street. â�© Al-Masry Al-Youm | Police raid home of prominent blogger | Wael Abbas sentenced to six months of prison in absentia for stealing his neighbors' internet??!?! â�© We will not bow to this Moroccan king | Paul Laverty and Ken Loach | Comment is free | The Guardian | Strongly worded op-ed for Aminatou Haidar. â�© David Ignatius - Jordan's ex-spy chief wasn't too good to be true | On former GID chief Saad Kheir - a dubious tribute. â�© Orientalism in Reverse | Brian Whitaker critiques Joseph Massad's "Gsy International" theory.
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Links for Dec.10.09 to Dec.12.09

Daily News Egypt - Editorial: The Illusive Metal Barrier | On Egypt's denial that a wall is being built.

BBC News - Egypt starts building steel wall on Gaza Strip border | Video report has some more details, but the whole thing is rather hazy.

Israel National Survey | Survery of Israeli attitudes on various topics.

Libya still jailing dissenters: Human Rights Watch | New HRW report.

'Egypt is one of the freest states in the entire Arab world' - The Irish Times - Sat, Dec 12, 2009 | Ismail Serageldin engages in apologia.

Palestinian leader speaks from prison - | Interview with Marwan Barghouti.

Swiss Man Builds Minaret to Protest Ban - WaryaTV | Good for him.

Israel court: Deported Palestinian student can't return - | Everyday misery from Gaza blockade.

ENVIRONMENT: Darkness at Noon Clouds Cairo Skies - IPS | On the black cloud - which I thought was not as bad this year.

The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.

The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.

‘Sultan wants children to be God-fearing’ | The ridiculousness of the al-Sauds.

No real "freeze" on settlement: Israeli minister - Yahoo! News | No kidding: "JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The population of Jewish settlements in the West Bank could grow by 10,000 in the coming year despite a declared "freeze" on Israeli building in the occupied territory, an Israeli Cabinet minister has said."

On Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Lobby: A response to Peter Beinart | Walt on Obama's Afphan policy and the lobby.

Middle East Report 253 contents: Apartheid and Beyond | New issue.

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Links for Dec.08.09 to Dec.09.09

Les voix de la nation : chanson, arabité et caméléonisme linguistique | Culture et politique arabes | Very interesting post on Arab singers adopting accents and styles of different countries -- has great clip of Abdel Halim Hafez trying out a traditional Kuwaiti song.

✩ Comment l’Algérie a exporté sa « sale guerre » au Mali : Algérie-Maroc | How Algeria exported its dirty war to Mali: AQIM conspiracies.

Fatwa Shopping « London Review Blog | On Nakheel and Islamic finance.

The women who guard other women in conservative Egypt | On female bodyguards.

Yemen’s afternoon high - Le Monde diplomatique | On the drug Qat.

US Congress frets over anti-Americanism on TV in Mideast | The leading inciter of anti-Americanism in the ME is Congress itself, when it keeps voting for wars for Israel.

Baladna English | New newspaper launched in Syria, but nothing on its site yet.

EU Action Plan on combating terrorism | Document on EU CT strategy.

What the US Elite Really Thinks About Israel « P U L S E | Most Council of Foreign Relations members think US favors Israel too much - v. interesting analysis of foreign policy expert poll by Jeffrey Blankfort.

‘The Battle for Israel’s Soul’ – Channel 4 on Jewish fundamentalism « P U L S E | British documentary on Jewish fundamentalism.

BBC News - Dubai crisis sparks job fears for migrant workers | On South Asians in Dubai. / Comment / Opinion - Israel must unpick its ethnic myth | Tony Judt.

The Interview Ha’aretz Doesn’t Want You To See « P U L S E | Interview Ali Abunimah not published by Haaretz.

Attention Christmas Shoppers: Top Ten Brands to Boycott | Sabbah Report | Brands to boycott at Christmas. / Middle East / Politics & Society - Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics | On the campaign against ElBaradei.

✩ Flourishing Palestinian sex trade exposed in new report - Haaretz | Amira Hass: "Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem..."

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