Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Night Reminiscence: Vanessa Redgrave's 'Zionist Hoodlums' Speech

For me, her words can never be forgiven: "Thank you for refusing to be intimidated by a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums -- whose behaviour is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world, and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression, and I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism forever." Unfortunately history has caught up with old Vanessa and her sentiments are no longer shocking as they were in 1977 but, as we know, actually de rigueur in 'artistic' circles. Separating out good Jews from bad Jews is now rather banal and goes without saying, as if there were no relation between the moral aspirations of the Zionist enterprise and the fight against fascism and racism. Feh.

Abbas to Palestinians: Rage On. Just Not Against Me

Abbas fearful that pro-Egyptian and Tunisian revolt
demonstrations would turn against the PA.
Just earlier this month the Palestinian Authority banned all West Bank demonstrations in support of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts. So did Hamas in Gaza. Both regimes were fearful of having their authority challenged by the protests. But last week, ironically, Abbas etal, decided to harness all that people power energy in calling for Day of Rage against the US for vetoing that preposterously inappropriate UN Security Council Resolution against Israeli settlements. Why preposterous, why inappropriate? Because the UN is not the right venue for overcoming obstables that should be dealt with through negotiation. And since the ME is in the midst of revolutionary upheavals and the Security Council was urgently needed to respond especially to the Libyan regime's brutality against its own people, this was a serious waste of time and focus.

Sol Stern  in his article, Misdirected Palestinian Rage, believes the logic behind Abbas' move has more to do with obstructing peace negotiations because these will finally put an end the Right of Return fantasy. If, as the Palestinian Paper Leaks and recent reports, of how close Olmert and Abbas came to agreeing on land swaps and other end of claims issues, are true:

"The Palestinian leadership pushed hard for passage of a UN Security Council resolution declaring that the Israeli West Bank settlements were illegal. With the Middle East in an uproar from Tunis to Tripoli, President Obama was forced to call Abbas and plead with the Palestinian leader to accept a milder, nonbinding resolution that would retain the condemnation of Israel’s continued settlement activity. But Abbas nevertheless pushed ahead, knowing that the stronger resolution would put Obama between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In doing so, the Palestinian leader made it almost impossible for the American administration to serve as an honest broker and bring the parties together around the parameters of the stalled Olmert-Abbas negotiations.

"This is exactly what Abbas intended when he forced the Security Council to vote on the resolution calling the Israeli settlements illegal. The Palestinians would rather rage against the settlements than negotiate a land swap that would give them a state and make the settlement issue irrelevant. The reason for that intransigence is now clearer than ever. There is yet no Palestinian leader with the courage and vision to declare to the residents of the refugee camps that their 60-year-old dream of returning to their former homes in Israel is—and always was—a mirage. Until the Obama administration recognizes that truth and tells it to the Palestinians, its diplomatic approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict will remain as feckless as it is fruitless."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Asma al-Assad: The Acceptable Face of Despotism - Update*

Asma al-Assad in Paris

This Vogue article about Asma al-Assad the chic wife of Syria's absolute dictator, Bashar al- Assad, so strains credulity that all I can manage is to give you a few quotes and invite you to read it for yourself:

'"The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.” 

'"In December, Asma al-Assad was in Paris to discuss her alliance with the Louvre. She dazzled a tough French audience at the International Diplomatic Institute, speaking without notes. “I’m not trying to disguise culture as anything more than it is,” she said, “and if I sound like I’m talking politics, it’s because we live in a politicized region, a politicized time, and we are affected by that.”

'"The French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, was there: “She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region. ”

'"Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”

"'A grid is drawn on a blackboard, with ticks for each member of the family. “We were having trouble with politeness, so we made a chart: ticks for when they spoke as they should, and a cross if they didn’t.” There’s a cross next to Asma’s name. “I shouted,” she confesses. “I can’t talk about empowering young people, encouraging them to be creative and take responsibility, if I’m not like that with my own children.”'

You have to hand it to Assad, he chose well, just as King Hussein and his son did: educated, sophisticated Westernized women who present a beautiful surface masking their authoritarian regimes. Check out the website Arab First Ladies for more on this phenomenon. But during this revolutionary period, it seems the first ladies are becoming a focal point for discontent from their own people.

* I should have been paying more attention these last couple of years because it seems that there has been a plethora (in this case more than one is too much) of puff pieces about Asma simply because she is very pretty and stylish. Check out this breathless fashion ode to her in HuffPo. For a media site that wastes no time bashing Israel HuffPo is certainly comfortable giving comfort to tyrants. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rashid Khalidi: The Guy Can't Help It

Why fix it if it ain't broken: Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi cannot depart
from the party line even in the midst of historic upheaval

Rashid Khalidi in Foreign Policy works his way into his Reflections on the Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt accurately:

"One of the worst things about this pan-Arab patchwork of authoritarian regimes was the contempt the rulers showed for their peoples. In their view, the people were too immature to make decisions, to choose their own representatives, or to allocate societal surpluses or foreign aid. These things and much else were done for them by their betters, their rulers. Anyone who challenged the lines drawn by those with power, whether by the ruler or by the policeman in the street, risked being subjected to unlimited brutality. This was the lesson of the fate of Khalid Said, the young Alexandrian blogger who videotaped police corruption in June 2010, and was beaten to death in broad daylight by the crooked cops he had reported on (ironically, the Facebook page "We are all Khaled Said" was one of the many triggers of the Egyptian Revolution). These incessant infringements on the common dignity of nearly every Arab citizen, and the constant affirmations of their worthlessness, were eventually internalized and produced a pervasive self-loathing and an ulcerous social malaise. This manifested itself, among other things, in sectarian tensions, frequent sexual harassment of women, criminality, drug use, and a corrosive incivility and lack of public spirit. All of these phenomena appeared to confirm the dim view held by those in power of their subjects."

But ends here:

"In any case, this new moment in the Middle East will make the old business as usual approach in Washington much harder. The dictators and absolute monarchs, even if they stay in power, have been placed on notice that they cannot any longer ignore their peoples, as they have done before in making policy. Whether this meant submissively following Washington's lead in its Cold War against Iran, or in protecting Israel from any pressure as it colonized Palestinian land and entrenched its occupation, these highly unpopular policies of most Arab governments are no longer tenable. Much remains to be decided in the Arab world, and a real input of public opinion into the making of foreign policy there is still in the future. But the day when a Sadat or a King Hussein could ignore domestic and Arab public opinion and make peace with Israel while it brutalized the Palestinians may well be past."

In between Khalidi pretzelizes his argument to show that 'The West will have alot to answer for.' Read it for yourself. There is no departing whatsoever from the predictable Saidist party line.

I think these analyses are far more convincing:
Martin Peretz in The New Republic: The Peace Process Fallacy
Ami Isseroff: The Message of the Arab Revolts for Progressives (H/T: Noga1)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

In 2010 Beyonce Performed for a Gaddafi and Nobody Really Cared

But that was then. This is now.
Hannibal Gaddafi put a ring on it.
To be fair, both the Guardian and Huffington Post and a few blogs ran stories about the 2010 New Year's Eve party held by Gaddafi's scion in St. Barts. Beyonce entertained for $2m and JayZ came along for the ride. Other stars were also mentioned. Russell Simmons tweeted about it. The year before Mariah Carey performed for $1m. The story never made it out of the gossip ghetto. Why? Did the entire MSM help Western governments conspire to rehabilitate Gaddafi as a kind of bulwark against Al Qaeda and Iran?

I don't recall any of the Left's serious organs of censure piping up at the time either. Now, of course, the cable news networks and national newspapers are falling all over themselves to point fingers at the oblivious, but very rich, stars. Suddenly it makes great copy.

Umberto Eco: Boycotting Israel is a Form of Racism

Speaking at a press conference during the Jerusalem International Book Fair yesterday, Umberto Eco lashed out against those advocating for a cultural boycott of Israel and stated that, "Censuring artists because of actions committed by their governments was akin to racism."

"I consider it absolutely crazy and fundamentally racist to identify a scholar, a private citizen, with the politics of his government."

Strangely, Eco said that unlike the fierce objections by British intellectual's to Ian McEwan's acceptance of the Jerusalem Prize, he himself wasn't pressured into staying away from the book fair.

That's a far cry from what happened last year year when Amos Oz won the Turin International Book Fair's Reader's Prize, despite ugly calls from some Italian intellectuals for and academic and cultural boycott of Israel. At that time Eco said, "I would understand,if the physics department at the University of Rome or at Oxford decided not to cooperate with their colleagues in the same departments at universities in Tehran or Pyongyang if it turned out that the latter were involved in developing a nuclear bomb. But I would still find it difficult to understand why these universities should also sever ties with the departments of Korean art history or classical Persian literature."

Italy's participation in boycotting Israel is somewhat spotty. However, last year BDS succeeded in convincing two of country's supermarket chains, the Coop and Nordiconad to take Israeli products off their shelves because, "... they could not differentiate whether they came from West Bank settlements or inside the Green Line."

In 2009, in a move reminiscent of Mussolini's fascist laws, "...the FLAICA-CUB union called in a statement for a boycott of businesses linked to the Roman Jewish Community. It suggested shoppers should focus the protest on clothing stores, many of which are traditionally owned by members of the capital's small Jewish community."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Israel Philharmonic v Philistine Solidarity

IPO concert for Gilad Shalit in July 5, 2010 conducted by Zubin Mehta to mark
the 4th anniversary of his captivity by Hamas.

The Israel Philharmonic is spending February and early March touring the US. Called by the NY Times a "powerful, indefatigable ensemble," it is marking the 75th anniversary of its founding and the 50th anniversary of the music director Zubin Mehta’s debut conducting the orchestra.

Naturally, PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for Cultural Boycott of Israel) is urging its supporters to, "Bring your pots and pans, kazoos, ukeleles, whistles, creativity and everything else needed for a cacaphonic protest" of the perfidious agent of propaganda.

Ironically, PACBI can't help but describe the orchestra in glowing terms while accusing it of complicity in Israel's crimes: "Often said to have more heart than other orchestras, the IPO is Israel’s finest cultural emissary and travels throughout the world, particularly to countries where there is little or no Israeli representation. In some cases, performances of the IPO are the only example of Israel’s existence. The goodwill created by these tours, which have included historic visits to Japan, Argentina, Poland, Hungary, Russia, China and India, is of enormous value to the State of Israel. As a result, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra maintains its position at the forefront of cultural diplomacy and the international music scene." 

So far, the boycott call has been ignored in Florida. In America's greatest city last night, all of 70 protested outside Carnegie Hall believing that, according to one of the organizers from Adalah-NY, “Tonight we sent a clear message to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli government’s “Brand Israel” campaign that their music cannot drown out Palestinians’ calls for justice.” Sure you did. They apparently didn't get the memo that to "get to Carnegie Hall you have to practice, practice, practice." 

The symphony will next go to the West Coast. We shall see how successful the smear campaign will be on that slightly more slavish side of the country.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi's History Lesson Update*

In yesterday's NY Times, David Kirkpatrick's report, After Long Exile, Sunni Cleric Takes Role in Egypt, claimed that in his speech Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi "... struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching." has published an extensive compilation of videos and translations of this speech and others and I invite you to look at their site. In the meantime, here is the Sheik's history lesson: how the Dhimmi Jews turned against their compassionate Moslem protectors, aspire to conquer the world and must now be punished. Pay special attention to his adoring audience.

*Jeffrey Goldberg quotes from a paper about Qaradawi by Dave Rich and Mark Gardner in Dissent should help to convince that his intentions towards Jews are not pure. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For the Anniversary of Richard Falk's "Trusting Khomeini"

On February 16, 1979*, Richard Falk published Trusting Khomeini, an op-ed in the New York Times. This was two weeks after the Ayatollah's hero's return to Iran. The money quote from that article which is cited in many places to illustrate aspects of Falk's critical faculty is:

"To suppose that Ayatollah Khomeini is dissembling [about his plans for a pluralistic society within an Islamic framework] seems almost beyond belief. His political style is to express his real views defiantly and without apology, regardless of consequences. He has little incentive suddenly to become devious for the sake of American public opinion. Thus the depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false."

More quotation and analysis is available in Richard Bostom's piece The 'Trusting Khomeini' Syndrome, Redux? in which he wonders if some Western commentators are falling into a similar trap for trusting Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's promises of moderation. Unfortunately Falk's entire Times article is no longer available online.

Falk revealed himself as something of a 9/11 Truther on his blog recently. All of which is to say that he has some problems with credulity and credibility for someone mandated to be unbiased in his reportage. Here is how Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, put it: "Mr. Falk's comments are despicable and deeply offensive, and I condemn them in the strongest terms. I have registered a strong protest with the UN on behalf of the United States. The United States has in the past been critical of Mr. Falk's one-sided and politicized approach to his work for the UN, including his failure to condemn deliberate human rights abuses by Hamas, but these blog comments are in another category altogether.

"In my view, Mr. Falk's latest commentary is so noxious that it should finally be plain to all that he should no longer continue in his position on behalf of the UN." The UN's Ban Ki-Moon didn't like it either.

So, pardon me for burying the lede, but what I wanted to get to is Falk, who didn't resign as UN Special 'Raconteur' on Palestine, and his new libel about Israel in a report to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. As reported by the Jerusalem Post, Falk has no trouble branding Israel as an Apartheid state, an ethnic cleanser, a colonial usurper. In the past he was also very comfortable claiming that Palestine was a "Holocaust in the making." Here is how finessed it in an interview given after becoming the UN's investigator:

HC: In 2007 you described the Israeli policies towards Palestine as a "holocaust-in-the-making". Given the tightening of the siege on Gaza, which has now lasted over 1000 days, Operation Cast Lead etc. would you now say that the situation has developed into a full blown holocaust?

RF: This is a delicate issue of language. Genocide is a word with a great emotional resonance, and special historic associations for the people of Israel. I wrote these words before I was appointed as Special Rapporteur, and although I would not retract them, I have refrained from using the word genocide since accepting the UN job. There is an ambiguity in the word genocide: it has legal, moral, and political connotations. It would be difficult to establish a genocidal intent on Israel's part, given the way in which the ICJ approached the issue in the Bosnia Case. At the same time, I lament the continuation of the siege of Gaza, consider it a crime against humanity, and feel that the UN and many states are complicit to varying degrees.

Clearly this is a man with a particular problem with Israel. Even the PA has trouble with him, consider him an Hamas partisan and asked him to quit his UN position. Luckily there are only three more years left on his six-year term.

*I'm posting this one day early to give you time to plan your celebration.

Monday, February 14, 2011

NY Times' Abbas Olmert Peace Plan: Who You Gonna Believe?

Abbas and Olmert. Lovebirds?
Forgive me, but when the NY Times publishes an ‘exclusive’ about the peace process that lays the blame for an impasse on Israel, I tend to be skeptical. In general, as good practice, it's important to read around a great big claim -- see what others have to say about it. This usually lets you in on what ideological framework produced the claim as well as who benefits most from it. The NY Times, through its commentators -- Roger Cohen, Thomas Friedman, Nicolas Kristof, Robert (The Lede) Mackay -- and editorials, consistently places the onus on Israel when things go wrong. The Times therefore jumped at the opportunity to publish a story that rewrites the story to suit that viewpoint.

As Sol Stern lays it out about how Bernard Avishai's purported scoop is actually old news reframed, the Times, "...put its weight behind pieces of copycat journalism that, by coincidence, happen to fortify its own editorial position on which party is most responsible for the Israel-Palestinian impasse and how best to resolve it.”

The gist of the Avishai's article is: Abbas and Olmert came so close to achieving a breakthrough that it would have required only some American intervention to close the tiny gap existing between the two sides. Furthermore, the reason nothing came of the talks is that Olmert was embroiled in his own legal problems, Israel was on the verge of starting the Gaza War and, finally, Netanyahu became Prime Minister upon Olmert's resignation. All those good feelings and understandings got dropped. By Israel. Heretofore, when the story was told, it was Abbas who said no.

Why the copycat claims? As one of the early journalists -- Petra Marquardt-Bigman -- reporting on the Abbas/Olmert talks put it in the comments section to Stern’s article:

“Indeed, as far as "news" are concerned, Avishai is in the recycling business, because major details about Olmert's offer (and the Palestinian rejection of it) have been published already in summer 2008. I wrote a related piece in the Guardian, based on (Aluf Benn's) Haaretz reports.

I think Haaretz eventually published all the details, including a map, and Olmert also gave several media interviews; the most detailed was one he gave to an Australian paper during a visit there.

“However, I would argue that there is one interesting aspect to Avishai's NYT magazine piece: while Abbas declared in spring 2009 to the WaPo's Jackson Diehl that the gaps had been much too wide, he now seems to be telling the opposite to Avishai. On the other hand, Abbas and Erekat just recently reacted to the publication of the so-called "Palestine Papers" by Al Jazeera and The Guardian by insisting that it would be totally wrong to accuse them of any willingness to compromise...”
So who stands to benefit from Avishai's scoop? 
Numero Uno: Abbas and the PA, who were assaulted recently by the Palestine Papers, are desperate to save face and, as we can see from current news reports, are scrambling to re-invent themselves as a democracy. 
NumberTwo: Olmert himself. As Stern puts it: "Thus, contrary to the Times' assertion that Olmert has revealed exclusive new information to Avishai, it is abundantly clear that the former Israeli prime minister, widely despised at home and desperate to remain relevant, started blabbing about his negotiations with Abbas over a year and a half ago to anybody who would listen."
Third: The Times, and other publications that adopted the 'Israel is the only thing standing in the way of peace.' And of course, Avishai himself who's frustration with Israel has led him to wish for an Obama imposed solution. I have written about him in the past. A big believer in economic and technological solutions he is not a delegitimzer, but is often blinded by, in my opinion, preposterous Palestinian propaganda.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Does The Rebirth of the Arab world = Death to Two-State Solution?

I have been refraining from posting my opinions about Egypt as well as the Palestine Papers leaks because, frankly, if I thought things were complicated before, now I feel they are beyond my ability to comprehend. I thought a few times of just posting links to articles I felt were useful. But those opinion pieces became very quickly obsolete.

One thread running through so much commentary has been particularly galling: that peace with Israel was the basis upon which Mubarak was able to rule with an iron fist for 30 years. And as our dear friend George Soros put it: Israel will be the main strumbling block in the US's ability to get Egypt right. When I pointed out that Syria's dictatorship -- without benefit of a peace treaty with Israel -- has been even more brutal than Egypt's, or that Iran, Israel's most vocal enemy, runs a regime seemingly without any accountability...well these points don't seem to gain traction in some circles.

So, let's talk about the future. In today's Washington Post, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley reprise much of what they have already written about the death of the Arab world as we know it. Although they have previously branded the Israel/Palestinian peace process bankrupt, the following passage articulates that view in an extremely troubling manner:

"Some policymakers in Western capitals have convinced themselves that seizing the moment to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will placate public opinion. This is to engage in both denial and wishful thinking. It ignores that Arabs have become estranged from current peace efforts; they believe that such endeavors reflect a foreign rather than a national agenda. And it presumes that a peace agreement acceptable to the West and to Arab leaders will be acceptable to the Arab public, when in truth, it is more likely to be seen as an unjust imposition and denounced as the liquidation of a cherished cause. A peace effort intended to salvage order will accelerate its demise."

What they are really saying is that in a new Arab world order there can be no peace that accepts Israel as a state in the region. The 'cherished cause' -- and what else can it be but the removal of Israel -- was subverted by the old order and must be revived. Will the two-state solution be seen as a vestige of that old order?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Syrian Opposition: "They oppressed it until they killed it."

Anywhere but here: Assad keeps a close
watch on potential dissent.

As I mentioned the other day, Assad insists that he is closer to his people than is Mubarak because his "...anti-American positions and confrontation with Israel have left him in better shape with the grassroots in his nation."

And, lo and behold, yesterday's planned "'Day of Rage' failed to materialize." As the NY Times reports today, "'Syria is the last country where regime change will occur,' said a political activist, speaking on the conditions of anonymity for fear of retribution, like others interviewed. 'The culture of protesting is not present here. They oppressed it until they killed it," added another activist.'"

How interesting that anti-Israel and realpolitik pundits have placed much of the blame of Egypt's political repression on it's peace treaty with Israel and the consequent American stranglehold placed upon it. Yet, it seems that Syrian repression is tolerated precisely because of the anti-Israel, anti-American position. From the AP: "An editorial this week in the Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of the ruling party, said the uprising in Egypt is proof that all the troubles of the Arab world stem from "'the complete acquiescence of some (Arab) regimes to the U.S. and their acceptance to take Zionist dictates.'" Preposterous. Syrian dissent is almost non-existent because it is ruled by a kleptocratic minority with a highly effective repression apparatus. Full stop.

My point: the Arab masses lose either way.

Imagining Egypt as a Democracy

What if?
Downtown Cairo demonstration calling for Hamas 
to free Gilad Shalit.

Now that's a parallel universe I could live with.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Iran Executed 83 in January

Iran fears that the 2009 post election protests will return.
From Barbara Slavin in Foreign Policy today: "While the world's attention has been riveted by Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt this month, Iran's government has taken the opportunity to execute a record number of prisoners in an apparent bid to head off the return of the dramatic street protests that pushed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government to the brink in June 2009.

"This is a reaction to the developments in Egypt and Tunisia," says Hadi Ghaemi, director of International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "The Iranian intelligence forces want to show their power by executing so many people including even someone of European nationality."

"According to Ghaemi, Iran executed almost as many people in January 2011 as it did in all of 2005. Since Ahmadinejad replaced Mohammad Khatami in August 2005, the number of executions has risen steadily and now is the highest in the world per capita and second only to China in absolute terms. At least 250 people were executed last year, Ghaemi said, with perhaps another 100 put to death more quietly. In the eastern city of Mashhad near the Afghan border, he said, about 600 people are currently on death row."

Read the rest here.