Sunday, December 25, 2011

Balancing Very Real External Threats with the Equally Real--and Destructive--Internal Threats: Daniel Gordis and the JPost on 'Gender Insanity' & Haredi Fanaticism

It's been said that the parts of the Arab/Persian world that wish for our destruction might do better to sip their tea and let us do the heavy lifting. Below, two pieces that point that to our own overly developed internecine tendencies.

Gender insanity


Discrimination and violence against women – purportedly motivated by religious sensibilities – have spiraled out of control.

In recent weeks, we have been witness to women attacked for refusing to move to the back of the bus to uphold a policy of gender segregation; women forced out of a venue where elections in a Jerusalem neighborhood were being held; women denied the right to come on stage to receive an official Health Ministry prize for research into the relationship between Halacha and medicine; women banned from a Jerusalem ad campaign to encourage organ donations; and women prevented from serving in key IDF positions due to the opposition of a growing, increasingly vocal group of religious male soldiers and officers. And this list is by no means exhaustive.

These incidents have generated a debate over what has been euphemistically referred to as the “banishing” of women from the public sphere. But chauvinism, discrimination or downright violence would more accurately describe this behavior.

On Saturday night, a young haredi man was arrested on suspicion of spitting at a woman helping girls onto a school bus at a religious-Zionist elementary school in Beit Shemesh.

The recent spate of incidents is so severe that it brought the issue of gender discrimination to the center of public discourse. Significantly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who opened Sunday’s cabinet meeting by denouncing discrimination against women, has called on haredi legislators to speak out publicly against the phenomenon and ask their spiritual leaders to do so as well.

In recent years, a rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox community has adopted more extremist positions, especially with regard to questions of female modesty, known as tzniut in Hebrew. Women’s physical proximity, no matter how perfunctory, has been transformed by radical haredi men into an insurmountable hurdle.

The inner dynamics of the ultra-Orthodox community allow these men to leverage their influence. Moderation is viewed with disdain as a weakness. The result has been an unrivaled push for the radical revamping of the public domain.

Much has changed since Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895- 1986), the most important halachic authority in America, permitted men to commute to work on subways and buses because “unavoidable and unintentional physical contact is devoid of sexual connotations.”

Today, in contrast, where the zealots have a say, women simply do not exist. You can search in vain for a female presence in the ultra-Orthodox press. Pictures of women are taboo, even when the subject is an infant. If there is a doubt regarding the gender of a baby – say in a diaper ad – sidelocks or a kippa are added. Female names are even abbreviated.

This hyper-puritanical world view is, furthermore, being accommodated outside strictly ultra-Orthodox circles. As The Jerusalem Post’s health reporter Judy Siegel reports in today’s paper, at least two state-funded health funds – Clalit and Meuhedet – have published special brochures in deference to ultra-Orthodox sensitivities.

Neither “breast” nor “cancer” is mentioned in these brochures. Instead, code words are used. And even the most innocent photos of women or young girls are vigilantly removed. Faced with the prospect that segments of the ultra-Orthodox community would refuse to read these “sexy” brochures – and thus endanger women’s lives by failing to detect breast cancer early – the heads of the health funds apparently felt compelled to make these modifications.

Similarly, public bus companies, apparently motivated by economic considerations, have allowed haredi activists to enforce gender segregation. By caving in to these unreasonable demands, the bus companies and health funds are giving them legitimacy. And the inevitable side effect is a feeling of entitlement and self-righteousness that emboldens some particularly extreme haredi men to aggressively confront women – whether on the bus, in the streets of Beit Shemesh or elsewhere.

According to a recently released CBS report, by the year 2059, haredim – who currently make up 10 percent of the population – will grow by 580% and represent a third of Israelis. As it grows, the need for haredim to integrate into mainstream Israeli society and transform themselves from a parochial enclave to a full-fledged partner in the flourishing of a healthy Jewish state will grow as well.

What is desperately needed today in the ultra-Orthodox community is the sort of reasonable, pragmatic spiritual leadership personified by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that would enable such integration. Otherwise, coexistence will inevitably become more and more difficult.

Before we preach to Israelis living abroad


Are we so desperately afraid of our external enemies that we’ll support at all costs a government that just watches as the country rots from within?

Kamal Subhi, formerly on the faculty of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University, recently joined other clerics in warning that if the Saudi ban on women driving is lifted, mixing of genders will increase and that, in turn, will encourage premarital relations. If women are allowed to drive, he said, in 10 years’ time the kingdom will have no virgins left. “The virgin dearth,” I guess we could call it. In Europe – and I’m not making this up – a Muslim cleric ruled that women should not touch or be proximate to bananas and cucumbers, in order to avoid “sexual thoughts.” Their fathers or husbands should chop them before they eat them, he suggested. Ouch.

It’s tempting to laugh, of course, to point to the absurdity that can result when a religious tradition develops thoroughly unfettered by any contact with or influence from the outside world, guided by clerics with the narrowest intellectual training imaginable. But before we point with derision to Saudi Arabia and some dark corners of Europe, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look around and remind ourselves of what’s unfolding right here at home.

Israel, our perky start-up nation, now has another credit of which to boast. We have our very own Rosa Parks. Her name is Tania Rosenblit; she’s the young woman who refused to move to the back of the bus when instructed to do so by haredi passengers on a bus from Ashdod to Jerusalem. It’s almost 2012 – practically 99 years since Rosa Parks was born. But parts of the Jewish state are still struggling to enter the 20th century, which, of course, ended over a decade ago.

Thankfully, and none too soon, Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, rushed to condemn the segregation of men and women on public buses. “We [the ultra-Orthodox] don’t have the authority to force our ideas on others,” he asserted. “This state does not belong to the haredi community.”

Ah, so there’s the problem. The issue is not that it’s wrong to relegate women to the back of the bus (why don’t the men go to the back of the bus and let the women sit up front if they’re so worried?) or that the segregation of men and women on buses is absurd (does insurmountable temptation really lurk at every stop?) but simply because the haredim don’t (yet?) have the political power they need to enforce this. Metzger’s concern was only tactical – the haredim were over-reaching. Not a word about the shamefulness of a society in which men and women cannot respectfully and properly occupy the same public space or how similar to Saudi Arabia we seem intent on becoming. Will there be a separate section on the bus for women carrying uncut fruit?

Buses are far from the full extent of it, of course. Now we learn that the Karmiel Employment Bureau has assigned different days for men and women seeking unemployment compensation. But lest we worry that this is fundamentalism-creep, rest assured, it’s only an administrative nicety. It is “more convenient” for men and women to use the office’s services on different days, the office explained to Ynet. “It prevents stress and chaos in the waiting room and is more aesthetic.” Aesthetic? How’s that, exactly?

And let’s not forget the still-simmering controversy over women singing at army ceremonies. Since halachic rulings are apparently immutable, Israel’s noble political leaders are resorting to – what else? – technology. That, after all, is where we Israelis shine. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has a brilliant solution: he simply puts his fingers in his ears when women sing at army events. (I would pay for a photograph of that.)

Not to be outdone, and perhaps in order not to offend those singing young women (who are actually in the army serving their country – yes, some people still do that, apparently) who might find the sight of the state’s chief rabbi with his fingers stuck in his ears somewhat disconcerting or even offensive, Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev has a much better idea: religious men should simply use earplugs when women sing. Brilliant. One only hopes that they remember to remove them before heading into battle. I’m told that being able to hear your commander can increase effectiveness in combat. Unless you had no intention of obeying his orders in the first place, I guess.

And we have, infinitely worse, the burning of mosques, vicious and violent attacks on Israeli soldiers by radicalized settlers and an emerging national debate as to whether (or when) the army is going to have to start shooting them. And our government? It’s tiptoeing around, doing nothing and saying little, its only genuine concern that the coalition not be weakened.

AH, the joys of Jewish sovereignty, the nobility of Jewish independence. A.D. Gordon, Ahad Ha’am, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion may have all disagreed in life, but now they have one thing in common – they are undoubtedly turning in their graves. That, by the way, was the real absurdity of those much-discussed ads begging Israelis abroad to come home. Those pot-shots at Jewish life in America (gratuitous and simplistic, a bit offensive and not entirely wrong) utterly missed the point – maybe those Israelis live in America because what’s unfolding in Israel is so thoroughly unappealing to them. Maybe they’ve noticed that back “home” in Israel the pockets of outrage against all of this violence and medievalism are tiny, virtually muted.

It’s Hanukka, our collective reminder that in an era of darkness, Jews struggle to create more light. Do those of us unafraid of cucumbers or mixed buses, those of us who believe that women serving their country ought to be able to sing, those of us who are ashamed of a country that takes only the feeblest action against Jews who do to mosques what anti- Semites did to our synagogues not that long ago, possess the courage of which this holiday is a reminder? Will we, like the Maccabees, take our country back before it’s too late?
It’s hard to know. So far, it seems we are so desperately afraid of our external enemies that we’ll support at all costs a government that just watches as the country rots from within.

At moments like this, it’s hard not to think about the Altalena affair. Tragic though it was, it was the defining moment at which Ben-Gurion made it clear to all that there would be one central authority in the Jewish state. Those who sought to subvert it would be treated in accordance with what they were – threats to the state’s very existence. One prays that some progress can be made here without the use of force. But if it cannot, it’s worth remembering that we once had a prime minister who knew what had to be done.

But then, of course, it’s been a very long time since we’ve had a leader with that character, that confidence, those deeply held commitments. These days, with Hanukka reminding us of the enormous power of convictions, it would be nice to have some leadership with any principles at all.

Daniel Gordis is president of the Shalem Foundation and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His latest book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End (Wiley), won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. His next book, The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength, will be published this August.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

The New York Times: All the News That's "Unfit" to Print about Israel: Why Bibi Declines to Pen an Op-Ed & Why Tom Friedman is Wrong: Again & Again & Again

A common refrain amongst New York Times cognoscenti (including a healthy smattering of liberal American Jewry): "Have you read Friedman's piece today in the Times?" The knowing smiles, cooing and then the tsk, tsking about how Israel is falling into the abyss of fascism, theocracy and how the settlements are the root of all evil. Followed by the obligatory Bibi-bashing. Except it turns out that Friedman is wrong in his presumptions, misreads Israel and the Middle East time and again, yet never tires of smugly "informing" Israelis about what's really best for them, and what they should do to achieve peace and save their soul.  Because that's what friends do for each other.
 He's been writing virtually the same article for several years now. Never mind that realities in the Middle East change on a dime. But for Friedman, time stands still. It's the settlements, Israeli intransigence, and of course, Bibi that is to blame for the ongoing impasse.
But Friedman reached a new low this week when he averred:

I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. 

This now puts him somewhere between Patrick Buchanan:
"Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory."  1990

and Walt and Mearsheimer: The Israel Lobby  2006

The plainer, more mundane truth is that the U.S. Congress and the American people, support Israel by overwhelming majorities because of shared values like democracy and religious sensibilities and shared experiences like victimization by jihadist movements, including terrorism. See Walter Russell Mead: Why AIPAC Is Good For The Jews — and For Everyone Else & The Israel Lobby and Gentile Power

I’ve shared my opinion that AIPAC is powerful less because of the money and energy that its (mostly Jewish) members bring to the table than because of the widespread sense in Washington that being pro-Israel is the popular position in the United States, and that if AIPAC blasts you as anti-Israel, the charge tends to stick.  If you think US Middle Eastern policy should be less pro-Israel, attacking and bemoaning AIPAC won’t get you anywhere.  There’s not even much point in trying to persuade the Jews; American Jews tend to be more liberal on US-Israel policy than most gentiles already.  It’s the 98 percent of Americans who aren’t Jewish that you need to persuade; if the broad American majority ever decides that backing Israel as much as we do is a bad thing, then policy will gradually but decisively change — no matter what AIPAC does or how much money it works.

Of course, Friedman isn't the only Times journalist with a major ax to grind when it comes to Israel. Roger Cohen continues to pen articles lambasting the Jewish state: Israel Isolates Itself
 Nicholas Kristof keeps blaming Israel for its predicament: Is Israel Its Own Worst Enemy?
and the editorial board has turned Bibi-bashing into a spectator sport, making it unsurprising that

Also, see Herb Keinon's piece below
david in Seattle

His misunderstanding of Israel is evident in his underlying assumption that appears in his columns repeatedly: that were Israel to just leave the settlements, peace would flow like a river.

For the past several years, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, that guru for American Jewish liberals, has shown that he doesn’t really understand Israel or the region.
His misunderstanding of Israel is evident in his underlying assumption that appears in his columns repeatedly: that were Israel to just leave the settlements, peace would flow like a river.

Well, Israel uprooted all 21 settlements from Gaza in 2005, but instead of peace, received an unending barrage of missiles in return.
The settlements are a consequence of the conflict, not its cause. The PLO, if anyone has forgotten, was established in 1964, three years before the Six Day War and any thought of a West Bank settlement.

As for Friedman’s failure to understand the region, readers need look no further than his breathless “Postcard from Cairo” columns at the outset of the Arab Spring last February. To have read Friedman then was to believe this was 1989 all over again, and that Hosni Mubarak would be deposed and replaced by the Egyptian version of Vaclav Havel.

In one piece, he castigated Israel for not being more supportive of the protesters in Tahrir Square. “The children of Egypt were having their liberation moment,” he wrote, “and the children of Israel decided to side with Pharaoh – right to the very end.”

Wrong. Israel wasn’t supporting Pharaoh, but rather deeply concerned that following the Egyptian revolution, Sinai would turn into a terrorist base, the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline would be a constant target of attack, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo would be ransacked, and the Muslim Brotherhood – and Salafists to their right – would win the country’s parliamentary election.

Now, in his latest piece on Israel that appeared Wednesday entitled “Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir,” Friedman demonstrated that he also doesn’t know America.

In a line that could have come straight from the pens of AIPAC-bashers Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, Friedman wrote that he hoped Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom he loathes, understood that the standing ovation he got in Congress earlier this year was not for his politics, but rather one that was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

That’s right – that wicked, despicable Israel lobby.

According to Friedman, anybody who supports Israel must be on the nefarious Jewish lobby’s payroll. Otherwise, how could they dare? Maybe Friedman should consider the possibility that the ovation was the result of America’s elected officials – in tune with the feelings of their constituents – seeing in Israel a plucky little country that shares their own basic values and is trying to survive in an awfully bad neighborhood.

Maybe Friedman should consider that the ovation was the result of politicians understanding that this conflict is not about one settlement, or one Jerusalem neighborhood, but rather over the Jewish people’s right to a homeland.

No, that can’t be. In fact, writes Friedman – always concerned about Israel’s soul – were Netanyahu to go to the University of Wisconsin, many students, including Jews, would stay away because they are confused by Israeli policies: the current spate of right-wing Knesset legislation, the segregation of women on buses, the settlements.

And then came the kicker. Friedman’s proof that Israel is merrily heading down the path toward the abyss is that radical left-wing Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy says so.
Dubbing Levy a “powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz,” Friedman quotes from a recent Levy column: “What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.”

Friedman’s use of an extremist such as Levy to prove his point is akin to taking the writings of America-bashing left-wing linguist Noam Chomsky as proof that America is bad.

The problem with Friedman and those sharing his sentiments about Israel is that they take an exception and make it the rule.

This school of thought takes a sex-segregated bus in Mea She’arim and turns the whole country into Iran; takes rocks thrown by bad, misguided youth at an IDF base and turns Israel into a country on the brink of civil war; and takes the government’s refusal to bail out a failing commercial television station as putting Israel on the fast track to Soviet Russia.

What is needed is some proportion. The burning of mosques by Jewish hooligans is deplorable, but it is no more representative of the country – or the direction it is going – than Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ burning of a Koran in May was a reflection of America. Friedman should know this.

Netanyahu to ‘New York Times’: Take a hike

Prime minister "respectfully declines" to pen an op-ed piece for 'NYT' citing newspapers negative spin on Netanyahu government.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is refusing to pen an op-ed piece for The New York Times, signaling the degree to which he is fed up with the influential newspaper’s editorial policy on Israel.

In a letter to the Times obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer – in response to the paper’s request that Netanyahu write an op-ed – wrote that the prime minister would “respectfully decline.”

Dermer made clear that this had much to do with the fact that 19 of the paper’s 20 op-ed pieces on Israel since September were negative.
Ironically, the one positive piece was written by Richard Goldstone – chairman of the UN’s Goldstone Commission Report – defending Israel against charges of apartheid.

“We wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Bibiwashing’ the op-ed page of The New York Times,” Dermer said, in reference to a piece called “Israel and Pinkwashing” from November. In that piece, a City University of New York humanities professor lambasted Israel for, as Dermer wrote, “having the temerity to champion its record on gay rights.”

That piece, he wrote, “set a new bar that will be hard for you to lower in the future.”

Dermer’s letter came a day after NYT columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that the resounding ovation Netanyahu received in Congress when he spoke there in May had been “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

With Friedman clearly – but not solely – among those in mind, Dermer wrote that “the opinions of some of your regular columnists regarding Israel are well known. They constantly distort the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace. They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and virtually every Israeli official, somehow reflect government policy or Israeli society as a whole.”

Dermer also took the paper to task for running an op-ed piece by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in May that asserted that shortly after the UN voted for the partition of Palestine in November 1947, “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.”
Those lines, Dermer wrote, “effectively turn on its head an event within living memory in which the Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan accepted by the Jews, and then joined five Arab states in launching a war to annihilate the embryonic Jewish state. It should not have made it past the most rudimentary fact-checking.”

That it did find its way into the op-ed pages of the “paper of record,” he wrote, showed the degree to which the paper had not internalized former senator Daniel Moynihan’s admonition that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but... no one is entitled to their own facts.”

Furthermore, Dermer wrote, the paper’s sole positive piece about Israel since September – the Goldstone piece rejecting the apartheid charges – “came a few months after your paper reportedly rejected Goldstone’s previous submission. In that earlier piece, which was ultimately published in The Washington Post, the man who was quoted the world over for alleging that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza fundamentally changed his position. According to The New York Times op-ed page, that was apparently news unfit to print.”

Dermer wrote that the paper’s refusal to run positive pieces about Israel was not because they were in short supply. In fact, he said he understood that in September the paper had turned down a piece cowritten by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), expressing bipartisan support for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and opposition to the PA’s statehood gambit at the UN.

“In an age of intense partisanship, one would have thought that strong bipartisan support for Israel on such a timely issue would have made your cut,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey) called on Friedman to apologize for saying the congressional ovation Netanyahu received in May was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
Rothman said he gave Netanyahu a standing ovation not because of “any nefarious lobby,” but because it is in the US’s vital strategic interest to support Israel.

“Thomas Friedman’s defamation against the vast majority of Americans who support the Jewish state of Israel is scurrilous, destructive and harmful to Israel and her advocates in the US,” Rothman said. “Friedman is not only wrong, but he’s aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the US-Israel relationship and its American supporters.”

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Robert Satloff's Astute Observations on the Implications of the Arab "Intifadat" (the more apt term than either 'Arab Spring' or 'Arab Awakening')

The Arab uprisings, one year on

Several dictators deposed in 2011, but much remains the same in the Arab world.

It is now commonplace to note that, like 1948, 1967 and 1979, the year that was – 2011 – will go down as a year of seismic change in the Middle East. But what sort of change will it leave in its wake?

The term most often associated with the events of the last year – the “Arab Spring” – provides virtually no clue. That phrase, borrowed from a hopeful moment in Prague that was crushed by Soviet tanks more than a generation ago, was first used in the Middle East context in 2005. That was when the assassination of Rafik Hariri triggered an outpouring of Lebanese “people power” that drove Syrian troops out of that country and raised hopes of a truly new dawn in Lebanon after its bloody 30-year war.

In retrospect, its usage was tragically apt, in that Hezbollah – like the Soviets – eventually triumphed, putting off until another day the potential for truly positive change. One doubts that the Facebookers and Twitterati who celebrate the Arab Spring of 2011 recall this unhappy history.

“Arab Awakening” is the second term whose use is increasing – not least because commentators have been told that many Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt, have only two real seasons, neither of which is spring. News outlets as disparate as The Economist and Al Jazeera have begun to use “Arab Awakening” to describe the volcanic eruptions across the region sparked by the iconic selfimmolation of a Tunisian street vendor last December.

This term, too, has an historical antecedent, one that is actually rooted in the Middle East, which is a plus. It harkens back to the landmark 1938 book of the same title by George Antonius, a Greek Orthodox Lebanese and onetime British mandatory official in Palestine who extolled the rising of a renewed pan-Arab political and cultural consciousness after decades of European, principally British, machination and domination. But setting aside the ahistorical elements of Antonius’ original work, “Arab awakening” conjures up precisely the wrong imagery for what has been happening in Arab countries over the past year.
First, Antonius’ book was designed, in large part, to rally Arabs to the Palestine cause. In contrast, the changes of 2011 were, at their core, a sharp riposte to ideologues who contend that Arabs only, principally or even mostly care about Palestine. And second, while Antonius’ Arab Awakening was a clarion call for pan-Arab nationalism – the idea that Arabs from the Atlantic to the Gulf share a linguistic, cultural, social and even political patrimony – the events of 2011 have been national, not pan-Arab, phenomena, with Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, Syrians and others celebrating their specific local nationalisms, not some abstract trans-regional ideology. So, like the romantic term “Arab Spring,” the equally romantic term “Arab Awakening” obscures more than it explains.

There is, in my view, a widely used Arabic term of recent vintage that comes closer than either of these more popular phrases to capturing the explosiveness, the challenge and the uncertainty of what has occurred across the region over the past year. While this term is most closely associated with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the fact that it is linked in political consciousness to a single national experience makes it appropriate to use, in its plural form, to apply to the variety of national experiences witnessed in 2011.

The word is “intifada,” whose Arabic original meaning is “shaking off” and has come to be used as the Arabic translation of “uprising.” What the world has seen over the past year is a series of “Arab uprisings,” i.e., popular efforts – some more peaceful than others – to shake off traditional authority. Like their Palestinian namesakes, these uprising reminded the world that mass action can sometimes play as important a role in Arab politics as elite behavior. And like those earlier “intifadat” – plural of intifada – the outcome of these uprisings is decidedly uncertain.

HAVING DECIDED the “what” (what to call the events of the past year) the next task is to determine the “so what” (what do these events really mean). This is even trickier. Identifying winners (Sunni Islamists) and losers (Israel and Iran) of these uprisings has become a favorite parlor game, but after just one year, it is far too early to judge if the events of 2011 will have truly lasting impact, where that lasting impact will be felt most, and how will it affect issues of strategic import, such as whether Iran will persist with slow-motion development of a nuclear weapon capability or jump to a breakout strategy.

Indeed, while leaders have been driven from power in four Arab countries – Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya – only in one of these (Libya) can one say conclusively that the regimes they led have been driven from power, too. In Tunisia and Egypt, the key institution that facilitated the original transfer of power – the army – remains intact; in Yemen, the deposed leader has not really even gone away.

One additional Arab republic, Syria, teeters on the brink of all-out civil war; while four-and-a-half others – Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority – have barely been touched by the “uprising” tsunami. Elsewhere, one monarchy fought back against its uprising and appears to have triumphed (Bahrain) while other monarchies employed a rope-adope strategy of reform to absorb the challenge of uprising and have, so far, avoided any significant unrest. The variety of national experience is itself the dominant motif.

Despite all this, the events of the past year – no matter how they ultimately turn out – have already had a profound impact, not so much in shaping a new Middle East but in demolishing several long-held assumptions about the old Middle East. Here are five.

FIRST, NO longer valid is the idea that competition among elites, rather than the influence of popular will, determines the rise and fall of Arab regimes. For four decades – from the mass outpouring of Egyptians who rejected Gamal Abdel Nasser’s resignation in the wake of the catastrophic 1967 war to the mass outpouring of Egyptians who demanded Mubarak’s resignation after 30 years of peace with Israel – the Arab street was largely irrelevant to assessments of the region’s politics. Tahrir Square brought that chapter to a close. This does not mean the mob will always determine the fate of Arab nations but it is an actor on the Arab stage once again.

SECOND, NO longer valid is the idea that authoritarian regimes can and will use the full power of the state to retain their control. For two generations, the spectre of the omnipotent state cast a dark shadow across the region’s politics, stifling the development of any real opposition worthy of the name. The might and power of these regimes grew meteorically in recent decades, as many leaders looked at the frightening collapse of the Shah of Iran and decided to pour every marginal dollar (or pound, lira or riyal) into their manifold security and intelligence apparatuses.
Over time, however, the rot of corruption and a preening sense of invincibility ate away at these regimes from within. The result was that the former commander of the Egyptian Air Force, a hero of the Suez crossing against mighty Israel, was forced to dispatch machete-armed camel riders in a last-ditch effort to salvage his rule. This decrepitude has not been the case everywhere, of course, as the brutality of the Libyan and Syrian sagas shows, but the rapid demise of authoritarianism in Tunisia and Egypt underscores the limits of presumed omnipotence.

THIRD, NO longer valid is the idea that the main threat to moderate, pro- West regimes across the Levant emanates from the emergence of an Iran-dominated “Shi’ite crescent.” In its place is the potentially greater fear that a “Sunni crescent” of regimes led or influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood – regimes that espouse Osama bin Ladin’s anti-American, anti-Western and anti-Israel objectives without his radically violent and urgent means – will stretch from Morocco to the Gulf.
Already, Ikhwan-related prime ministers are or are poised to be in office from Rabat to Gaza, with the exception of Algiers, and they are likely to be joined by colleagues in Damascus and perhaps Amman before 2012 is over.
Some will see in this an antidote to the destructive message of al-Qaida and welcome this as a more evolutionary and authentic trend, but their optimism is almost surely misplaced. (The canary in the Islamist coalmine will be the local Christian communities. The pace of Christian, especially Coptic, emigration, will be an especially useful bellwether. After two millennia, predictions that half of the current Arab Christian population will be gone within the next decade are not fantastical.)

FOURTH, NO longer valid is the idea that the Saudi gerontocracy lacks the energy and vision to do anything but pay off enemies or count on America for its preservation. To the contrary, the year of “Arab uprisings” – which has paralleled a year of unusual travails for the Saudi royal family – has witnessed an unusually bold and assertive Saudi penchant for self-preservation, exemplified by the deployment of Saudi and other Gulf forces in Bahrain. This even led to the enunciation of Riyadh’s version of the Monroe Doctrine, i.e., that no neighboring monarchy should be permitted to experiment with, let alone succumb to the allures of, liberal democracy. The Wahhabis of the Nejd, it seems, aren’t going down without a fight – and aren’t about to let their royalist neighbors go down either.

FIFTH, NO longer valid is the idea that the United States will always prioritize preservation of “the devil we know” over the uncertainty and inherent instability of “the devil we don’t.” To be sure, official Washington believed that the intercession of the Egyptian army to ease transition to a post-Mubarak future was a way to safeguard its diminishing equities, not a way to throw its lot in with the throngs of street protestors.

But in less than a year, an administration consumed with domestic woes and eager to shed foreign entanglements has already begun to reconcile itself to a new, Islamist-dominated Middle East. While neither unchangeable nor irretrievable, the speed with which America made a strategic pivot in the Middle East, in the process making peace with the idea that elections, not institutions, build democracy, is nothing short of astounding.

It is too early to define a new set of assumptions that will explain the ways of the Middle East in the next few decades with as much acuity and precision as the old assumptions helpfully guided us through the last half century. But we begin 2012 much as Middle Easterners began 1949, 1968 and 1980 – confident only that uncertainty is the new norm.

The writer is the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Two Perspectives on the West's Myopia when it Comes to All Things Israel: Gil Troy on Hilary's 'Iraneous/Erroneous POV and Mamet on Israel as the West's Modern Sacrifice

You'd think that the worldly, sophisticated U.S. Secretary of State would know better than to compare democratic Israel, for all its imperfections, to theocratic Iran. Apparently, you'd be wrong. Of course, you'd also expect that a Pulitzer Prize winning (twice) journalist for the Times, Nicholas Kristof, would dig a little deeper than sipping tea with some apparently moderate spokespeople for the Muslim Brotherhood before he blithely gives the Islamist group his hopeful seal of approval.
When it comes to the Middle East in general and Israel in particular, it seems all bets are off. The only surety is that when it comes to Israel, the West is ready to sacrifice Israel, under the illusion that if you feed the beast what it wants, you'll be spared. Of course, it only means you'll be eaten last.
david in Seattle

Hillary’s Iraneous/Erroneous View of Israel: Undiplomatic and Offensive

Last week, rather than mounting some constructive diplomatic offensive, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton simply was undiplomatic and offensive. In the Obama Administration’s latest insult to the Jewish State, Clinton compared democratic Israel to theocratic Iran and the segregated South. Secretary Clinton claimed the walkout of some Israeli male soldiers when some female soldiers started singing paralleled life in Iran. She also claimed the informal, illegal, gender segregation on some Jerusalem buses evoked Rosa Parks, who refused to sit in the back of the bus. Beyond confusing individual lapses with state practices, Clinton demonstrated Middle East discourse’s broken barometer. Somehow, when talking about Israel, too many people exaggerate wildly, caricaturing Israel crudely – and delighting the delegitimizers.

Even sophisticated players like Hillary Clinton only see Israel through hysterical headlines; they have no clue what really happens. When she visits, Clinton and other dignitaries should go beyond the usual Y2K package – Yad Vashem, the Knesset, and the Kotel, the Western Wall -- to experience the real Israel, a dynamic, chaotic, pluralistic, modern democracy which is no Iran.

Had Clinton visited Israel last week, she would have witnessed the intense debate surrounding the latest round of proposed Knesset laws. She would have heard Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein vow that, even if it passed, he would never defend the law limiting foreign government donations to NGOs before the Supreme Court. Golda Meir’s spirit lives: Israel’s incredibly activist Supreme Court is headed by a woman, as are the Kadima and Labor opposition parties. Hearing the din, Clinton could give Israeli democracy the highest grade in Natan Sharansky’s public square test – Israelis denounce the government publicly, shrilly, very regularly, without suffering government harassment.

Last week, Clinton also would have read about Israel’s former President Moshe Katsav going to jail. Beyond learning that in this democracy no one is above the law, she could compare the punishment Israel’s president received for imposing himself criminally on women, with the way a recent American president she knows well dodged punishment for similar crimes – although I doubt she would “go there,” as they say in shrink-speak. As a social reformer before she became an undiplomatic diplomat, she would be more likely to take interest in the “Torani” block where Israel’s most famous new convict now lives. Inmates wake up at 4:30 AM to study Jewish texts all day. These Jewish jailbirds are participating in a fascinating experiment to fight recidivism with Judaism. This is the kind of old-new, Jewish-modern synergy that characterizes life in the Jewish state.

Two nights later, Hillary Clinton could have heard the Israeli pop icon David Broza in concert. Even a casual listener could discern the symphony of sounds and influences – the echoes of bluegrass and salsa, of rock and folk – blended into his uniquely Israeli beat. Broza – who days later was in Dohar attending a UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum with 2500 other civil society activists – told me from Qatar that this Jewish cosmopolitan mix is what makes Israel so artistically exciting for him. “It’s like eating kabob with ketchup,” Broza exclaimed, “Israel is the most cosmopolitan young, vibrant, and open-minded society I have ever seen. We can dance the debka while [the American blues legend] John Lee Hooker is playing in the background.”

Broza believes that “because it’s bizarre it’s often misunderstood.” Israelis are “somebody.” They instinctively understand that “without an identity they are lost. Historically, in the Diaspora, we Jews always maintained our identity, our rituals, our tradition, our learning – that was our strength.” And now, “When you reinvent yourself you put all the elements in the pot and what you get is a new persona.”

“I don’t think Hillary Clinton sees this Israel,” Broza speculated. “All she meets is the political box, and the rhetoric. She misses the light side of people.”

The week ended with an Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman collecting his Nobel Prize for Chemistry in Stockholm. When Shechtman discovered quasicrystals in 1982, the famous scientist Linus Pauling scoffed: “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.” Those of us who know the rich, complex truth about Israel are equally isolated, often similarly mocked. We may not get Nobel Prizes for sticking to the truth, but we will enjoy other, sublime awards: the ability to delight in Israel’s cultural cosmopolitanism, as David Broza does; the opportunity to pioneer old-new expressions of Judaism, Zionism, democracy, as the Schechterites do, and the satisfaction of being right, even if it makes us unpopular.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections.

Israel, Isaac and the Return of Human Sacrifice

Why have liberal Westerners turned their backs on the Jewish state?.

As Iran races toward the bomb, many observers seem to think the greater threat is the possibility that Israel might act against its nuclear program. Which raises the question: What should it mean if, God forbid, militant Islam through force of arms, and with the supine permission of the West, succeeds in the destruction of the Jewish State?

1) That the Jewish People would no longer have their ancestral home;
2) That they should have no home.

At the Versailles Peace Conference, Woodrow Wilson stated as an evident moral proposition that each people should have the right to national self-determination. The West, thereafter, fought not for empire, nor national expansion, but in self-defense, or in defense of this proposition. But, for the Jewish State, the Liberal West puts the proposition aside.

Since its foundation Israel has turned the other cheek. Eric Hoffer wrote that Israel is the only country the world expects to act like Christians. Some Jews say that the Arabs have a better public relations apparatus. They do not need one. For the Liberal West does not need convincing. It is thrilled merely to accept an excuse to rescind what it regards as a colossal error.

The Liberal West has, for decades, indulged itself in an orgy of self-flagellation. We have enjoyed comfort and security, but these, in the absence of gratitude and patriotism, cause insecurity. This attempted cure for insecurity can be seen in protestations of our worthlessness, and the indictment of private property.

But no one in the affluent West and no one among the various protesters of various supposed injustices is prepared to act in accordance with his protestations. The opponent of "The Corporation" is still going to use the iPhone which permits him to mass with his like. The celebrities acting out at Occupy meetings will still invest their surplus capital, and the supposed champion of the dispossessed in the Levant will not only scoff at American Indian claims to land he has come to understand as his—he will lobby the City Council to have the homeless shelter built anywhere but on his block.
The brave preceptors who would like to end Poverty, War, Exploitation, Colonialism, Inequality and so on, stop at the proclamation. How may they synchronize their wise fervor with their inaction?

How may they still the resultant anxiety? The Left's answer is the oldest in the world: by appeal to The Gods. But how may The Gods be appeased? The immemorial answer is: By human sacrifice.

What is the essence of the Torah? It is not the Ten Commandments, these were known, and the practice of most aspired to by every civilization. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches they are merely a Calling Card; to wit: "remember me . . . ?"

The essence of the Torah is the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac. The God of Hosts spoke to Abraham, as the various desert gods had spoken to the nomads for thousands of years: "If you wish me to relieve your anxiety, give me the most precious thing you have."

So God's call to Abraham was neither unusual nor, perhaps, unexpected. God had told Abraham to leave his people and his home, and go to the place which God would point out to him. And God told Abraham to take his son up the mountain and kill him, as humans had done for tens of thousands of years.

Now, however, for the first time in history, the narrative changed. The sacrifice, Isaac, spoke back. He asked his father, "Where is the Goat we are to sacrifice?" This was the voice of conscience, and Abraham's hand, as it descended with the knife, was stayed. This was the Birth of the West, and the birth of the West's burden, which is conscience.

Previously the anxiety and fear attendant upon all human life was understood as Fear of the Gods, and dealt with by propitiation, which is to say by sacrifice. Now, however, the human burden was not to give The Gods what one imagined, in one's fear, that they might want, but do, in conscience, those things one understood God to require.

In abandonment of the state of Israel, the West reverts to pagan sacrifice, once again, making a burnt offering not of that which one possesses, but of that which is another's. As Realpolitik, the Liberal West's anti-Semitism can be understood as like Chamberlain's offering of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, a sop thrown to terrorism. On the level of conscience, it is a renewal of the debate on human sacrifice.
Mr. Mamet is a playwright and screenwriter.

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