John Stuart Mill highlighted the important influence of intellectuals on public policy well over a century ago. He noted that a statesman adopts a policy, not because of objective reality, but because of public opinion. In 1838 Mill wrote "that speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business of life and the outward interest of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the long run overbears any (other) influences..."
With regards to the perilous situation Israel finds itself in today, Hillel Halkin points out that "one can often know what an entire society will be thinking tomorrow by looking at what its intellectuals are thinking today. And it's here that, in 2007, one has the most reason for worry, because, as was the case with the Jews of Europe in 1928, Israel has few friends and the trend is running against it. This is especially true of Europe, where Israel has been voted, in country after country, one of the world's two or three least popular states. But in America, too, there has been a steady slippage in Israel's image, particularly in academic and intellectual circles — and these are the circles one needs to watch, because they almost always, in the long run, have a trickle-down effect on the rest of a population."
Universities all over the western world have indeed become hotbeds of anti-Israel rhetoric. Led by faculty like Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky in America, Ilan Pappe & Avi Shlaim (now in England) in Israel, the Roses and legions of others in Britian, more and more credence is given to the very discussion of whether Israel has the 'right' to exist at all. This is now deemed a far topic of debate.
With very real threats against the survivability of the Jewish State, these concerns are now far from academic. See Hillel Halkin's piece below, followed by
Daniel Pipes' "Op Eds Now More Central in War than Bullets"
& Mitch Bard's more recent "The Media's War on Israel"
The latter authors demonstrate how the media is used more and more as a weapon in war, and to devastating effect. See Marv Kalb's methodical study of how the press allowed itself to be manipulated by Hezbollah in "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media As A Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict."
Greatest Danger For Israel
BY HILLEL HALKIN
April 17, 2007
As militarily strong as it is, Israel will not necessarily remain forever stronger than the hostile Arab and Muslim world around it. Should it one day be deprived of its military superiority, its only way of assuring that it did not lose a conventional war would be by means of its nuclear deterrent.
In such a situation, a nuclear Iran, should it come to exist, could spell Israel's doom even if it did not choose to play with national suicide by attacking Israel with atomic weapons.
Merely by neutralizing Israel's own atomic arsenal, it could condemn it to a military defeat that might lead to its dismemberment. The result might not be a Holocaust in the sense of millions of deaths, but it could be a death blow to Jewish peoplehood.
Could this happen? It certainly could if other things won't be there to prevent it, among them a clear signal from America and Europe that they would not allow it as they allowed the Holocaust.
And it's here that, in 2007, one has the most reason for worry, because, as was the case with the Jews of Europe in 1928, Israel has few friends and the trend is running against it.
This is true especially of Europe, where Israel has been voted, in country after country, one of the world's two or three least popular states.
But in America, too, there has been a steady slippage in Israel's image, particularly in academic and intellectual circles — and these are the circles one needs to watch, because they almost always, in the long run, have a trickle-down effect on the rest of a population. One can often know what an entire society will be thinking tomorrow by looking at what its intellectuals are thinking today.
The greatest danger to Israel is that, should it ever grow weak enough to lure the sharks who would like nothing better than to tear it apart, it will look around and find no one to aid it, just as the Jews of Europe had no one to aid them. This is why, when it comes to Israel, the battle for public opinion is so important.
Original article available at: www.danielpipes.org/article/4059
Op Eds Now More Central in War than Bullets
by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun
October 17, 2006
[NY Sun title: The West Must Learn The Public Relations of War]
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen once determined the outcome of warfare, but no longer. Today, television producers, columnists, preachers, and politicians have the pivotal role in deciding how well the West fights. This shift has deep implications.
First, battling all-out for victory against conventional enemy forces has nearly disappeared, replaced by the more indirect challenge of guerrilla operations, insurgencies, intifadas, and terrorism. This new pattern currently holds for Israelis versus Palestinians, coalition forces in Iraq, and in the war on terror.
This change means that what the U.S. military calls "bean counting" – counting soldiers and weapons – is now nearly immaterial, as are diagnoses of the economy or control of territory. Lopsided wars resemble police operations more than combat in earlier eras. As in crime-fighting, the side enjoying a vast superiority in power operates under a dense array of constraints, while the weaker party freely breaks any law and taboo in its ruthless pursuit of power.
With loyalties now in play, wars are decided more on the Op Ed pages and less on the battlefield. Good arguments, eloquent rhetoric, subtle spin-doctoring, and strong poll numbers count more than taking a hill or crossing a river. Solidarity, morale, loyalty, and understanding are the new steel, rubber, oil, and ammunition. Opinion leaders are the new flag and general officers.
Therefore, as I wrote in August, Western governments "need to see public relations as part of their strategy." Even in a case like the Iranian regime's acquisition of atomic weaponry, Western public opinion is the key, not its arsenal. If united, Europeans and Americans will likely dissuade Iranians from going ahead with nuclear weapons. If disunited, Iranians will be emboldened to plunge ahead.
What Carl von Clausewitz called war's "center of gravity" has shifted from force of arms to the hearts and minds of citizens. Do Iranians accept the consequences of nuclear weapons? Do Palestinians willingly sacrifice their lives in suicide bombings? Do Europeans and Canadians want a credible military force? Do Americans see Islamism presenting a lethal danger?
Non-Western strategists recognize the primacy of politics and focus on it. Al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, codified this idea in a letter in July 2005, observing that more than half of the Islamists' battle "is taking place in the battlefield of the media."
The West is fortunate to predominate in the military and economic arenas, but these no longer suffice. Along with its enemies, it needs to give due attention to the public relations of war.
The Media's War on Israel
April 24, 2007
When Israel retaliated against Hezbollah during last summer’s war, it was forced to fight two battles: one against the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, and one against a hopelessly biased global media. The first serious study of the media’s behavior throughout the conflict has confirmed this impression.
The study, released in February and titled “The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media As A Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict" (pdf.), was written not by a partisan watchdog organization that would be expected to arrive at these conclusions; rather, it was produced by a respected journalist, Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
In meticulous fashion, Kalb details how the press allowed itself to be manipulated by Hezbollah. He also records the mistakes made by Israel in trying to manage coverage, points out several of the outright distortions that were widely reported, and analyzes the impact of the digital media and the fundamental disadvantage a democracy such as Israel faces in a public relations battle with a non-democratic state or terrorist organization.As Kalb observes, Israel is automatically at a disadvantage in any conflict because it is an open society. “During the war,” Kalb notes in the study, “no Hezbollah secrets were disclosed, but in Israel secrets were leaked, rumors spread like wildfire, leaders felt obliged to issue hortatory appeals often based on incomplete knowledge, and journalists were driven by the fire of competition to publish and broadcast unsubstantiated information.” He adds that Hezbollah was able to control how it was portrayed to the world and could therefore depict itself as “a selfless movement touched by God and blessed by a religious fervor and determination to resist the enemy, the infidel, and ultimately achieve a ‘divine victory,’ no matter the cost.” (Of course, no mention was made of Hezbollah’s dependence on Iran and Syria.)Perhaps the most serious charge made by the media throughout the war was that Israel was indiscriminately targeting civilians. Groups such as Human Rights Watch made the allegation, which was then publicized uncritically by reporters. Although Israel underscored that it was Hezbollah that was using civilians as shields, the media relied on the allegations of Kenneth Roth, the executive director of HRW, who charged, falsely, that Israel’s military showed “disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians.”
Kalb notes that reporters should have been aware that Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had said before the war that Hezbollah fighters “live in their [civilians’] houses, in their schools, in their churches, in their fields, in their farms and in their factories.” Early in the war, indeed, reporters did note that Hezbollah started the war and casualties were a consequence of the fighting, “but after the first week such references were either dropped or downplayed, leaving the widespread impression that Israel was a loose cannon shooting at anything that moved.”Kalb produces statistics that clearly show the anti-Israel bias of the Arab press. To be sure, it is not surprising that 78 percent of the stories on Al-Jazeera would label Israel as the “aggressor.” Western news services, however, would be expected to show some semblance of balance. Such was not the case. For example, the BBC ran 117 stories on the war, 38 percent of which depicted Israel as the aggressor. Only 4 percent of BBC reports placed the blame for the conflict on Hezbollah. Most media stories drew a disturbing moral equivalence between the warring sides, suggesting that Israel and Hezbollah were equally to blame.
In Kalb's assessment, American network coverage of the war was more intense than at any time since the 1991 attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Of these stories, however, more than half focused on Israeli attacks against Lebanon. With the exception of Fox News, Kalb writes, “negative-sounding judgments of Israel’s attacks and counter-attacks permeated most network coverage.” Similarly, he reports that Israel was depicted as the aggressor nearly twice as often in the headlines of the New York Times and Washington Post and three times as often in photos.Israel was repeatedly criticized for alleged attacks on UN troops in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Kalb notes that the “impartial” UNIFIL web site published information about Israeli troop movements while no such information was posted regarding Hezbollah’s military activities. Kalb also reiterates what media watchdogs knew all along, but journalists rarely admitted: that the media’s access to stories in Lebanon was strictly controlled by Hezbollah:
Foreign correspondents were warned, on entry to the tour [of a southern Beirut suburb], that they could not wander off on their own or ask questions of any residents. They could only take pictures of sites approved by their Hezbollah minders. Violations, they were told, would be treated harshly. Cameras would be confiscated, film or tape destroyed, and offending reporters never again allowed access to Hezbollah officials or Hezbollah-controlled areas. Kalb compared the terms to that of the Soviet era and said that only CNN’s Anderson Cooper described the ground rules that Hezbollah imposed to try to control the story. Kalb says “all of the other reporters followed the Hezbollah script: Israel, in a cruel, heartless display of power, bombed innocent civilians. Casualties were high. Devastation was everywhere. So spoke the Hezbollah spokesman; so wrote many in the foreign press corps.
Cameramen didn’t need permission to film devastation, but they were warned against taking pictures of Hezbollah terrorists. “The rarest picture of all,” Kalb observes, “was that of a Hezbollah guerilla. It was as if the war on the Hezbollah side was being fought by ghosts.” The Herald Sun of Australia also published equally rare photos showing Hezbollah preparing to fire rockets from civilian neighborhoods, the type of visual evidence that, if widely disseminated, could have quickly discredited the inaccurate reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.Reporters always want more access to the war and the decision makers involved, so it is not surprising that many complained about restrictions placed on them by Israel. Kalb reports, however, that reports were filled with interviews with Israeli troops, generals and officials and that “the depth and breadth of the coverage seemed to belie the common complaints about access.” By contrast, he notes, “Hezbollah provided only limited access to the battle field, full access to an occasional guided tour, and encouraged visiting journalists to check its own television network, Al-Manar, for reports and information about the war.” Kalb adds, “Al-Manar was to Hezbollah what Pravda was to the Soviet Union.”The discovery of doctored photos used by major media during the war was a major embarrassment and Kalb skewers the press for its misuse of photographs. In addition to several frequently cited examples, he mentions a photo of a southern suburb of Beirut that appeared in the New York Times that the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Erlanger later admitted was out of context. The Times used a satellite photo showing the destruction of a Beirut neighborhood that gave the impression of massive devastation throughout the city, but a larger photo of Beirut would have shown that the rest of Beirut was undamaged. Nothing in Kalb’s report will come as any surprise to media critics or Israel’s supporters. What is shocking is that these well-documented abuses have continued for so long without the media itself taking corrective measures. The report should be required reading for journalism schools, not to mention working reporters. The serious maladies Kalb describes must be fixed if the media is to expect the public to have any confidence in its reporting.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
John Stuart Mill highlighted the important influence of intellectuals on public policy well over a century ago. He noted that a statesman adopts a policy, not because of objective reality, but because of public opinion. In 1838 Mill wrote "that speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business of life and the outward interest of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the long run overbears any (other) influences..."
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Through intimidation, threats of violence, and all too often the actual use of horrific violence, radical Islamists, though a minority in the Muslim world, have managed to effectively shut down moderate and liberal Muslim voices throughout the world. Below are some important ways that the West, led by the United States, can help support and energize those key Muslim voices.
Only Muslims themselves can effect the profound changes necessary for a healthy metamorphosis of that faith. But they cannot do it without major support and backing from us.
Building Moderate Muslim Networks
Angel Rabasa, Cheryl Benard, Lowell H. Schwartz, and Peter Sickle (RAND Corporation)
Through the threat of violence, radical Islamists have intimidated or silenced moderate and liberal Muslims who espouse the key principles of democratic culture, including recognition of human rights, respect for diversity, acceptance of nonreligious sources of law, and opposition to terrorism.
During the Cold War, the U.S. provided money and organization to foster the creation of democratic institutions that could contest Communist efforts to dominate European civil society. The U.S. government and its allies should make a clear decision to help build moderate Muslim networks and to create an explicit link between this goal and overall U.S. strategy.
Five groups should be targeted as potential building blocks for networks: liberal and secular Muslim academics and intellectuals; young, moderate religious scholars; community activists; women's groups engaged in gender equality campaigns; and moderate journalists and writers.
RAND proposes a shift of focus to regions of the Muslim world where greater freedom of action is possible, the environment is more open to activism and influence, and there is a greater likelihood of success, such as the Muslim diasporas in Europe, Muslims in Southeast Asia and Turkey, and some of the relatively more open societies in the Middle East.
RAND recommends opening channels of communication that will encourage the dissemination of modern and mainstream interpretations of Islam back into the Middle East from moderate Muslims elsewhere.
Recognizing that radical ideas from the Middle East are being disseminated to the rest of the Muslim world, RAND recommends opening channels of communication that will encourage the dissemination of modern and mainstream interpretations of Islam back into the Middle East from moderate Muslims elsewhere.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Some media coverage misrepresented the findings of the report which concluded that the Holocaust is, in fact, well-presented in schools. The report noted one school where administrators had dropped the study of the Holocaust.
Karen Pollack, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust in London was quoted in the Jerusalem Post on this matter
"It is our understanding that this is not representative of the majority of schools in the UK and that the case in question was just one example brought to light by the Historical Association. However, this does not detract from the seriousness of the situation and highlights that more sufficient monitoring of how Holocaust education is taught in schools is needed."
And it in no way changes the reality that there has been a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents, most conspicuously in Britain, where the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents reached its highest level in 2006 in the past 20 years, as more than 100 Jews were assaulted.
Reports by the British government's Dept for Education and Skills that secondary schools in England are dropping the Holocaust from history courses to avoid offending Muslim students should be alarming to all of us. This assault on history and memory is especially disturbing at a time when Holocaust denial is increasing, when the President of Iran hosts conferences to 'discuss' the veracity of the Holocaust, and when anti-semitic incidents in 2006 such as harassment at schools and Jewish community centers have doubled from 2005.
The countries with the greatest rise in anti-Semitism were Great Britain, Australia, France and Canada. In Great Britain, the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents was highest in the past 20 years, as more than 100 Jews were assaulted.
At a time when governments and institutions should be the first to stand up to such assaults, they are conspicuously silent, for fear of offending sensibilities. Apparently, British teachers don't want to deal with the subject of the Holocaust because, as press reports put it, "Fears Muslim pupils might express anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reactions in class."
The longer the West waits to confront these issues, the more difficult the battle will be.
Good-bye to Western Civilization
April 13, 2007
As a Middle East expert, I daily see material from Arab and Islamic sources containing hair-raising threats against America, Israel and the West, as well as media reports on the details of horrendous terrorist attacks. But this item in a British newspaper may be the scariest sentence I ever read. It's so frightening because the story reveals how the institution most entrusted with preserving democratic society and Western civilization--the school system--is betraying that trust. According to a report by the British government's Department for Education and Skills, schools in England are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils.
And here's the really scary sentence in the press reports: "Some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial." Get it? They are told at home or by Muslim preachers that the Holocaust never happened, and rather than challenge this misinformation, teachers are shutting up so as not to disturb a world view based on lies. By the same token, the Crusades are being dropped not even--though this is also not a good excuse--because that might stir social conflict but since "lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques." Moreover, teachers are dropping such material due to, as press reports put it, "Fears Muslim pupils might express anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reactions in class."
Similar reports have already appeared in France, where the rot has gone even further. Thus, 500 years of progress in open intellectual inquiry through the use of logic and evidence are abandoned. Rather than confront or challenge students, they will be left safe in their prejudices. Aside from the broader implications, such behavior constitutes a reinforcement of racism, intolerance, and hatred in the name of a philosophy--political correctness--which is supposed to combat these things. And to make things even worse, note that there have been no riots, no mass protests to demand the preservation of ignorance. This is not only surrender but one being offered voluntarily, without even being pressed or threatened.
Up until now, democratic, modern societies have successfully absorbed large numbers of immigrants because of the process of assimilation or, in milder form, acculturation. The idea, so successful in the United States, has been that immigrants must accept the society's rules. And why not, since it has been so successful? Indeed, the stability, freedom, and material benefits offered are the reasons why people came to the West in the first place. In addition, immigrants were free to keep most of their own culture and all of their religion. But now, it is the successful society that must adapt to less democratic ones. Where does it end? Can schools teach democracy to those told this is heresy because laws can only be made by God? Can evolution, or even intelligent design, if it contradicts what is said in mosques or might provoke complaints in class?
And what about the value of tolerance itself, since it might upset those who have been taught intolerance toward others? This new approach also condemns Muslim immigrants to be slaves of the radical Islamists among them. Rather than challenge extremism, the school would reinforce it. Students hungry for knowledge and freedom would be told to shut up and believe what their mullahs say. Any Muslim female student who did not want to wear concealing clothes or wanted personal freedom cannot depend on help or validation from French or British society. Instead, she is sentenced to imprisonment in a behavioral and intellectual ghetto. Finally, there is one more horrifying element--perhaps the worst of all--in what is happening in Europe: the passivity with which people are excusing or ignoring this revolution against freedom.
Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center university. His co-authored book, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, (Oxford University Press) is now available in paperback and in Hebrew. His latest book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, was published by Wiley in November 2005. Prof. Rubin's columns can be read online at: http://gloria.idc.ac.il/columns/column.html.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Last night, Nevet Basker and I presented the moderate Israeli viewpoint in relation to My Name is Rachel Corrie, a post-play panel of sorts at the Repertory Theater in Seattle. The event was sponsored by the World Affairs Council. The ground rules (see at bottom) were such that we were limited in our presentations to four minute narratives of personal stories. While this can be an effective mechanism for opening up the possibilities for dialogue, we were hampered by time constraints and no opportunity to challenge conflicting narratives. Nonetheless, the panel was a good start at dialogue and listening. Below are Nevet and my unexpurgated introductions.
I grew up in Israel with liberal values and left-leaning politics. In school, we sang songs about peace, like “I promise you, my little girl, that this will be the last war” and “A Song for Peace,” Shir LaShalom, which urged us to not only say that “the day will come” but to actually bring it about. I really believed this, and sincerely wanted to bring about peace, human rights and political freedom for people everywhere. If I had grown up in Seattle I might have had a ‘free Tibet’ bumper sticker on my VW. In Israel, I was active in Peace Now, vehemently opposed to the ‘occupation,’ and supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
My wake-up call was the failure of the Clinton peace plan in 2000. Despite huge Israeli concessions on every major issue—borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem—the Palestinian leadership refused an agreement that would have ended the conflict and given their people their long-awaited state. Instead, they launched a bloody war of terror that has claimed the lives of over a thousand Israeli men, women and children and maimed and mutilated thousands more. In the relative magnitude of casualties and the collective trauma, it was the equivalent of a 9-11 tragedy every month. It got to a point where going to a movie, eating at a restaurant, taking a bus in Israel became a game of Russian roulette. Parents made their children promise not to ride a bus together and would wonder every morning whether they’d see them again in the evening. You never knew where the terrorists would hit next. Suddenly, everybody’s cell phones would be ringing with “Are you okay?” and “I’m okay, I wasn’t there” to preempt the news. I was living in Seattle, but spoke often with my family in Israel and could feel the tension. Even here, my phone would ring in the middle of the night; it was my sister, calling from a city south of Tel Aviv, saying, “We’re okay, it wasn’t us.” Not this time, anyway.
We were asked to speak tonight about our emotional experience, so here’s how I feel.
I feel betrayed to learn that what I thought was a territorial dispute, where the challenge is how to draw a reasonable border between two states, is in fact an existential one, in which the Palestinian leadership will settle for nothing less than the complete annihilation of Israel.
I’m furious that legitimate grievances are being used to promote an illegitimate goal, the destruction of a sovereign state, through immoral means, terrorism and murder.
I’m offended that liberals like me are being misled and used.
I feel moral outrage that people compare the unintentional deaths of Palestinian civilians with the intentional targeting of Israeli ones, as though the former justifies the latter.
I’m disturbed that well-informed and well-intentioned people would consider check points or the security fence—purely defensive measures—to be acts of aggression, while excusing the murder of teenagers at a party or babies on a bus as understandable responses to some perceived injustice.
I’m afraid of latent anti-Semitism when people who would never agree that American presence in Saudi Arabia justifies ramming airlines into skyscrapers or blowing up trains in Madrid and in London accept that logic when the targets and victims are Jews.
But mostly, I’m profoundly disappointed that my dream of peace was shattered.
David Brumer is a geriatric social worker and psychotherapist. He is also a media analyst, writer and consultant on Middle Eastern affairs. In 2005 he was awarded “Congressional Recognition for Excellence in Public Diplomacy in Support of Israel” on behalf of his work with The Israel Project (TIP), an international non-profit organization devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel.
David’s background in film (he is an honors graduate of Binghamton University’s School of Cinema, 1977) also informs his advocacy work. His blog, BRUMSPEAK, http://bromspeak.blogspot.com/ , “Advancing the Prospects for Peace and Security for Israel & the Middle East,” includes film reviews pertaining to Israel and the Middle East. David is married to an Israeli of Sephardic background and visits Israel regularly, where he has a large extended family. He also has ongoing contacts with Israeli professionals in journalism, government, and other walks of life.
Passions normally run high when Israel is being discussed within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and all the more so when a heated and controversial play like ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’ is produced in the backyard of the young woman whose life was so tragically cut short. Let me extend my condolences to the Corrie family on the untimely death of their loved one. I’m sure I am joined by all in this room in wishing that she were alive today. Since so much has already been written and said about the play, let me just briefly add that I firmly support the freedom of artistic expression that is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. But as the old saw goes, with freedoms also come responsibilities.
As a student of the cinema and other dramatic art forms, I am under no illusions that art or drama is under any obligation to provide balance or even-handedness. Dramatic expression is often the highly personalized and subjective reflection of the dramatist, and that is how it should be. However, when we enter into the realm of the docudrama, the generally accepted parameters change. Then, the audience rightfully expects to be provided with some context that offers perspective to the larger historical reality being presented. Sadly, this play does not provide any such context, which in such a controversial subject only serves to obfuscate rather than clarify the larger backdrop to this agonizing conflict. The last third of the play is such a one-sided polemic against the state of Israel that it would be hard for someone who dropped down from another planet to not view Israel and Israelis as heartless militarists who randomly destroy life, limb and property of defenseless, innocent and peace-loving Palestinians.
I would like to present another perspective and share personal stories that will hopefully shed some light on a very different Israel than the one portrayed here. I will start with my own story, the story of a social worker and psychotherapist, no stranger to fighting for the social and political rights of the downtrodden and dispossessed. I have quite naturally leaned to the left my entire adult life, believing in the empowerment of the individual, the universal rights of all people to self-determination, and to live in freedom and dignity. I still believe in those values, but they have been tempered by harsh realities that I have seen since the beginning of the 2nd Intifada. Those realities have moved me, and I might add, many other Israeli and American Jews, more to the center, where I now find myself more comfortably understanding the intricacies of this very complex conflict. I realize this will come as something of a shock to my co-panelists who come from a more fringe worldview, but I consider myself a moderate and see that the only solutions that will ultimately be effective are those that reject the extremist positions of either the far-right or the far-left.
So what changed? The turning point for me was the Netanya Park Hotel Passover suicide bombing in late March 2002 that left 30 completely innocent men, women and children, among them grandmothers and grandfathers, obliterated in one cold-blooded and calculated moment. And let us not forget the 140 wounded, some maimed for life, and of course, the emotional scarring the all the survivors and their families will bear for life. My brother-in-law, Ofer, told me how his best friend Dani, a captain in the Israeli police force, was called away from his family’s Passover Seder to rush to the scene, and he related the unspeakable horror of seeing people’s skin and bones and flesh being scraped from the ceilings and walls. Shaken and jolted, I returned to my peaceful existence here in Seattle, and began to observe the reactions of the Jewish elders at the nursing home where I work, as the terror war continued unabated well into 2003. Many of these Jewish elders are survivors, from war-torn Europe, the Pogroms of Russia,and some, of the concentration camps themselves. As they watched the nightly news and saw buses and pizzerias, malls and discos, cafes and restaurants blown up by suicide bombers, they began wondering if it all wasn’t happening again. Some, at various stages of dementia, could not articulate their terror, but it was written all across their faces. Others, more cognitively intact, asked me if Jews were again at risk of extermination. Was it indeed all happening again, perversely, ironically, in the one place that Jews thought they could now call home? With a new resolve, I determined to do all I could to ensure that they would feel secure and to know that Israel was strong and would not succumb to the inhumane tactics of those that would harm us. I reassured them that Israel remained intact and that the morality of her cause would ultimately help sustain her. And so I began to speak out and challenge those who would denigrate, demonize and de-legitimize our very right to exist.
As a social worker, I intuitively understood that one of the first casualties of this new war was truth. Moral equivalency became the new order of the day, with the arsonist being confused with the firefighter. Media reports continued to vividly depict the unmitigated suffering and punishment that the Palestinian population was subjected to, but often with little or no context within which to understand the state of affairs. A collective amnesia seemed to permeate the West, and long forgotten was the offer of a Palestinian state, with a contiguous West Bank, all of Gaza, Palestinian control of the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, with the Palestinian capital to be established there, and $30 billion in compensation for those Palestinians who chose not to exercise their right to return to the new Palestinian homeland. I bring this up because we must de-mythologize the romantic vision of what did and didn’t happen in order to be able to move forward. While we must not stay mired in the past, the only way to make progress is to understand why and how things came to be as they are. There is plenty of responsibility to go around, and yes, Israel is far from perfect, but the fact remains that despite all the terror, all the renunciations of Israel’s very right to exist, Israelis, by a strong majority, still wish to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbors, in two states for the two peoples.
My Israeli wife, an avid peacenik, and her friends of a similar ilk, all former members of Shalom Achshav or Peace Now, want nothing more than to be able to live in peace with all Israel’s neighbors. Our nephew Amir, now an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces in his third year of service at the young age of 21, is as fine a young man as I have ever met, and I can tell you, he and his comrades do not relish serving at checkpoints, imposing curfews, and seeing Palestinians suffer in their day to day lives. He has told me that he wishes he could be studying at college, perhaps at Hebrew University, side by side with Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs. That he does not get his jollies from seeing the hardships endured by too many Palestinians.
But he asks me, “what should we do?” Qassam missiles continue to rain down into southern Israel, Hamas, the ruling power of the Palestinian government, vows to liberate every inch of Palestine, by which they mean all of Israel proper. Arms continue to be smuggled into Gaza from Egypt at an alarming rate, through the very same kind of tunnels the IDF was attempting to uncover and destroy back in the spring of 2003. A culture of hate and incitement continues to permeate Palestinian society, with over 300 schools named after suicide bombers and textbooks with no mention of the state of Israel. Amir tells me that terror has been largely eliminated because of the construction of the separation barrier, a non-violent intervention, and that the checkpoints and other restrictions continue to keep Israelis safer. He goes on to say that when the Qassams stop, when the incitement and culture of hate ends, when the refusal to accept Israel’s very existence ceases, when Palestinian leadership re-embraces the two state solution, all the suffering can come to an end for the Palestinians. That the ball is in their court, and Israel remains ever ready and willing to make painful sacrifices in the name of real peace.
And I will end with this thought. Perhaps if Israel were not so embattled by an Iran threatening to destroy it, by a worldwide movement that is already trying to get the international community used to the idea of a world without Israel, and by a United Nations, which, while ignoring genocide and human rights abuses in places like Darfur, China and much of the Arab world, spends most of its time denouncing Israel, we would not feel so up in arms about this play.
This evening’s post-play program is dedicated to learning through listening – to a move towards deepened understanding of many sides and perspectives. We acknowledge that there are disputed facts and varying narratives about this situation. We want to surface some of those differences in a new way, in a way that does not break into arguing or get stuck in a blame game, but tills the soil for something new to arise.
It is well known among historians that there have been four key players in the creation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Israelis and the Palestinians and the Western and the Arab powers. Tonight we are not here to debate who is more to blame (there are many venues and listserves where that occurs)...we are here to see if we can broaden our understanding, in human terms, by hearing stories of the impact of the conflict on the lives of the individuals who will speak tonight. We honor the courage and deep commitment it takes for each speaker to participate.
In order to do that, we want to create a space for deep listening and understanding, with no expectation for agreement.... We believe it is vital to understand the view and suffering of each side.
We will ask the speakers to “Tell us a personal story that will help us understand the source of your passion and deep motivation and connection to these issues.” A group of listeners trained in Compassionate Listening™ will reflect back the feelings, deep values, and essential qualities they hear underlying the speaker’s story.
We will do this by asking the speakers and the audience to honor the following guidelines...
w Speak and listen with an intention of understanding (this does not imply agreement or approval)
w Be open to hearing other perspectives
w Speak to be understood, not to persuade
w Tell your personal story: Speak for yourself, from your own story and personal experience, using I statements
w This means we will strive to avoid…
o judgment and blame (such as ascribing motives; name calling or mud slinging)
o polemics or political agenda of trying to prove/disprove
o recitation of historical facts
Sometimes waiting only prolongs the inevitable and makes it more difficult to act effectively when provocations force one's hand. Hezbollah's arms buildup for the six years in southern Lebanon following Israel's summer 2000 withdrawal suggests that Israel cannot afford to wait too much longer while Hamas continues to smuggle arms into Gaza at an alarming rate. They are simulating Hezbollah's massive buildup with sophisticated weaponry, tunnel systems and fortifications.
Once again, the international community sits idly by.
There should have been a preventive strike
By Ze'ev Schiff
In the coming days the Winograd Committee's interim report on the Second Lebanon War will be published. The report will deal, among other things, with the six-year period preceding the war, 2000 to 2006. The year 2000 is important as a kind of watershed. Hafez Assad died and his son Bashar came to power. Bashar brought Hassan Nasrallah closer and considered Hezbollah a part of his military deployment. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon unilaterally, but in coordination with the United Nations over the determination of the border. The second intifada broke out. Hezbollah kidnapped three Israel Defense Forces soldiers on Mount Hermon. During this time Iran helped Hezbollah to assemble a huge battery of missiles in Lebanon. Many assume that the Winograd Committee will focus on these six years, on issues such as how the reserve units had almost no training exercises, why the reserve units' emergency warehouses had emptied out, and why Israel assumed that Hezbollah's missiles would rust.
These are important questions, but there is a more important question: Didn't Israel make a serious mistake when it refrained from responding with force to the build-up of the Hezbollah-Iran-Syria military system next to the border? Over the years a threatening system was established there, which required an early preventive strike. Israeli avoidance of a preventive strike finally led to the war in 2006.
Israel even avoided signaling to its enemies that it would not return to business as usual in the face of the threatening system. It did not try to stop the transfer of Iranian weapons to Damascus, a move the Americans implied they would accept with understanding. Israel never once struck at the convoys transferring the missiles to Lebanon, and never struck even one Hezbollah missile warehouse, or even the short-range rockets near the border. Although Israel prepared itself adequately for long-range missiles and carried out several painful localized operations, these did not affect the construction of the threatening system. The result was that during this period Israeli deterrence against Hezbollah and Iran increasingly eroded. On March 7, 2000, even before the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon, the head of Military Intelligence, Major General Amos Malka, submitted a personal assessment to his superiors, in which he wrote, among other things: "Those in favor of a unilateral withdrawal are relying on the assumption that it is possible to create a sufficiently powerful Israeli deterrence. It is doubtful whether we will be able to create a deterrence. The Revolutionary Guards are helping Hezbollah to set up a long-range weapons system to reach areas in Israel where there is no protection for the population. The result will be that a mutual counter-deterrence will arise against Israel." Unlike Israel, Hezbollah did act. Its actions included the firing of anti-aircraft artillery, which in effect harmed Israeli communities, and it crossed the border and killed six Israelis in an incident. About a month after the intifada broke out, Hezbollah kidnapped three soldiers on Mount Hermon, and it did the same in July 2006, three weeks after a military operation began in the wake of the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. In six years Israel responded twice against the Syrians, but not against the array of rockets, whose number had already reached 10,000. Israel hit a Syrian radar station in Dar el Beidar in Lebanon, and a Palestinian training camp in Ein el Saheb in Syria. The prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, rejected the suggestion by chief of staff Shaul Mofaz to take strong action against Hezbollah after the kidnapping of the three soldiers. The main reason was to not open a second front. Israel wanted to focus on the Palestinian front. This was later also the opinion of Ariel Sharon as prime minister. Sharon certainly did not want to open a second, broader front against Iran, which had built the threatening system in Lebanon. Hezbollah and Iran read things differently. They understood that Israel was incapable of properly handling combat on two fronts at the same time. Hezbollah acted on this assumption when it embarked on the kidnapping on July 12, 2006. A few weeks earlier it had not refrained from attacking the air force base on Mount Meron with rockets. It is a serious mistake to think that refraining from a reaction to the kidnapping of the soldiers in July would have spared us a war. The war would have arrived later, after greater incitement on the part of Hezbollah and Iran.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Dennis Ross points to why a deeper understanding of existing-and historical-realities must be a pre-requisite to any hopes of changing the political horizon in the Middle East. The fact that the Saudis deemed it a priority to broker an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, essentially accommodating Hamas, has profound implications for Israeli-Palestinian relations and movement on the political level. The Saudis may have good reason to try and push Hamas away from their current Iranian Shia supporters, but by accommodating them, the Saudis have made it more difficult for the Israelis to enter into more substantive negotiations. With Hamas now more firmly entrenched in power, realities on the ground may preclude any forward movement between the Palestinians and Israelis. For Israel, continued terror attacks (just yesterday, the Shin Bet revealed that it broke up a Hamas cell in the West Bank city of Kalkilya that had planned to detonate a car bomb in Tel Aviv during the Passover holiday), Qassam missile attacks, and continued arms build-ups in Gaza-a la Hezbollah in southern Lebanon-must cease. There is only a short window of time before Israel finds its hand forced and stops the arms build-up itself with a major incursion into Gaza. Needless to say, that would end for the foreseeable future any hopes of diplomatic breakthroughs.
Sometimes, larger goals of more comprehensive agreements must remain subservient to smaller, incremental steps, that are grounded in current realities and can build trust and momentum. Shooting for the stars is not only unrealistic in this instance, it can set progress back. There is a lesson in this for all of us who are striving towards a peaceful solution to the conflict: fanciful notions of comprehensive agreements at the current moment do not match realistic possibilities. We must pay scrupulous attention to recent history and work within a framework of the possible.
Statecraft Requires a Reality Check
Secretary of State Rice says a strategic realignment in the region creates an opportunity for peace-making. She sees the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians, and other "moderate" Arabs sharing with Israel a common fear of Iran. However, while the Saudis and Israelis may both see Iran as a threat, they have different ideas about how to deal with it.
Effective statecraft should have led Rice to explore how far Arab leaders were prepared to go. She would have quickly found that the Saudis (and others) are very hesitant. Good statecraft also would have revealed that any "political horizon" disconnected from the realities on the ground would not have been sustainable. For Israelis, continuing terrorist attacks, rocket salvos, and Hamas build-ups in Gaza (patterned after Hizbullah's in southern Lebanon) must end before they trigger a major Israeli incursion into Gaza, Nablus, or Jenin - any of which would sink whatever diplomacy still exists.
Priority number one should be a comprehensive ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians (as opposed to complete resolution of the conflict).
A second priority should be to foster a dialogue between Israelis, Palestinians, and the larger Arab world about the responsibilities of a Palestinian state once it is finally created. How will it interact with Israel and the outside world? The dialogue could hammer out specifics about how normalized Israel-Palestine relations could evolve in stages.
A third priority should be to ensure that Fatah gains strength against Hamas. Fatah must clean up its act, and the U.S. should help. Make no mistake about it, if Hamas wins the next elections in two years (for president and legislative council), the conflict will be transformed from a national conflict into a religious conflict. If that happens, we'll be out of the peace-making business for a long time, and Islamists will be able to dominate the most evocative issue in the region.
The writer is counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
New York Times columnist David Brooks puts his finger on the growing gap between civilizations that has now superseded the prior contentious thesis that there was a clash of civilizations, specifically a clash between the largely Christian West and the Muslim East. Brooks points to the growing movement in the Arab world to eschew self-reflection and to disclaim any problems with modernity. The problem, according to the Arab 'moderates' he cites, lies with Israel, and moreover, with their insidious takeover of the American government. And who are their favorite sources for this Jewish coup? Walt & Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter!
Never mind the sloppy scholarship, their 'reliable' sources who include Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein (the Walt/Mearsheimer paper cites their work in several instances), and our ex-President's playing fast and loose with facts.
In the post-modern world, the old notion of a consensus, objective reality has gone by the wayside, replaced by a "pick your narrative of choice." There is no grounded reality; no absolutes that are not subject to interpretation. Maybe the Holocaust didn't happen; after all, many conferences are held to dispute its actual occurrence.
It's all about one's point of view. And even if some of these things did happen, there's always moral equivalency to fall back on. The 'Nakba' or 'Catastrophe' of '48 is of a comparable level of devastation, according to far too many in the Arab world. Which conveniently brings us back to Israel, and by extension, the Jews, as the root of all malevolence and evil in the world.
Let's not kid ourselves. There is an assault on truth going on out there. Language matters. Ideas matter. Reality matters!
A War of Narratives
April 8, 2007
A War of Narratives
By DAVID BROOKS
On the Dead Sea, Jordan
I just attended a conference that was both illuminating and depressing. It was co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan and the American Enterprise Institute, and the idea was to get Americans and moderate Arab reformers together to talk about Iraq, Iran, and any remaining prospects for democracy in the Middle East.
As it happened, though, the Arab speakers mainly wanted to talk about the Israel lobby. One described a book edited in the mid-1990s by the Jewish policy analyst David Wurmser as the secret blueprint for American foreign policy over the past decade. A pollster showed that large majorities in Arab countries believe that the Israel lobby has more influence over American policy than the Bush administration. Speaker after speaker triumphantly cited the work of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter as proof that even Americans were coming to admit that the Israel lobby controls their government.
The problems between America and the Arab world have nothing to do with religious fundamentalism or ideological extremism, several Arab speakers argued. They have to do with American policies toward Israel, and the forces controlling those policies.
As for problems in the Middle East itself, these speakers added, they have a common source, Israel. One elderly statesman noted that the four most pressing issues in the Middle East are the Arab-Israeli dispute, instability in Lebanon, chaos in Iraq and the confrontation with Iran. They are all interconnected, he said, and Israel is at the root of each of them.
We Americans tried to press our Arab friends to talk more about the Sunni-Shiite split, the Iraqi civil war and the rise of Iran, but they seemed uninterested. They mimicked a speech King Abdullah of Jordan recently delivered before Congress, in which he scarcely mentioned the Iraqi chaos on his border. It was all Israel, all the time.
The Americans, needless to say, had a different narrative. We tended to argue that problems like Muslim fundamentalism, extremism and autocracy could not be blamed on Israel or Paul Wolfowitz but had deeper historical roots. We tended to see the Israeli-Palestinian issue not as the root of all fundamentalism, but as a problem made intractable by fundamentalism.
In other words, they had their narrative and we had ours, and the two passed each other without touching. But the striking thing about this meeting was the emotional tone. There seemed to be a time, after 9/11, when it was generally accepted that terror and extremism were symptoms of a deeper Arab malaise. There seemed to be a general recognition that the Arab world had fallen behind, and that it needed economic, political and religious modernization.
But there was nothing defensive or introspective about the Arab speakers here. In response to Bernard Lewis’s question, “What Went Wrong?” their answer seemed to be: Nothing’s wrong with us. What’s wrong with you?
The events of the past three years have shifted their diagnosis of where the cancer is — from dysfunction in the Arab world to malevolence in Jerusalem and in Aipac. Furthermore, the Walt and Mearsheimer paper on the Israel lobby has had a profound effect on Arab elites. It has encouraged them not to be introspective, not to think about their own problems, but to blame everything on the villainous Israeli network.
And so we enter a more intractable phase in the conflict, which will not be a war over land or oil or even democratic institutions, but a war over narratives. The Arabs will nurture this Zionist-centric mythology, which is as self-flattering as it is self-destructive. They will demand that the U.S. and Israel adopt their narrative and admit historical guilt. Failing politically, militarily and economically, they will fight a battle for moral superiority, the kind of battle that does not allow for compromises or truces.
Americans, meanwhile, will simply want to get out. After 9/11, George Bush called on the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Middle East. But now, most Americans have given up on their ability to transform the Middle East and on Arab willingness to change. Faced with an arc of conspiracy-mongering, most Americans will get sick of the whole cesspool, and will support any energy policy or anything else that will enable them to cut ties with the region.
What we have is not a clash of civilizations, but a gap between civilizations, increasingly without common narratives, common goals or means of communication.