Sunday, December 30, 2007

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's "Rabbinic Guide to 40 Years of Occupation": Methadone for the Masses?

Sam Bahour sent around Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's booklet, curiously titled, "Rabbinic Guide to 40 Years of Occupation" (What they meant was "A Guide for Rabbis"). The booklet is "aimed at encouraging hundreds of rabbis across the United States to use the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War to lead their congregations in reflecting on the implications of Israeli occupation."

I read quickly through the Guide, and, as usual, came away with mixed feelings. On the one hand, one finds the usual liberal Zionist credo that Israel's fall from grace began in 1967, or more accurately, with the beginning of the settlement movement, the Original Sin. The nostalgia for the "paradise" that existed before 1967 is palpable in the booklet.

The Guide has poems, memoirs, and statements from sixteen Jews and two Palestinians. Not surprisingly, the only two mentions of 1948 are by the Palestinians, one of whom points out, correctly, that the tragedy of 1967 grew out of the tragedy of 1948. Well, those numbers aren't exactly correct: one of the Jews mentions 1948 when he writes "The period from 1948-1967 established Israel is a fact." So much for the Nakba, and the eradication of Palestine by the Jewish state within the armistic lines.

And yet...there is much in the pamphlet to commend. Brit Tzedek ve-Shalom is tuned into a lot of the activism that is going on in Israel, and uses their knowledge to fine effect. The raison d'etre of the booklet is the list provided of Israeli organizations that sponsor tours to the Occupied Territories. (The organization "Encounter" is not listed. Why not?) Yes, the narrative is entirely liberal Zionist (Prof. Irwin Wall's short history occasionally cites the Palestinian viewpoint, but in its selectivity and choice of language, it is clearly a partisan document.) Still, given that the organized Jewish community is so far to the right, anything to its left is commendable.

Frankly, I look at documents like these -- and other positions taken by liberal Zionists in the US -- as akin to methodone. They are useful for weaning American Jews from the truly dangerous Israeli spin and mythology. But they are also dangerous and addictive in their own right. If the authors say to themselves, "Well, we have to sound 'balanced' in order to be heard," I can clench my mouth shut and support the effort. Ever the wimpy liberal (I have decided to support Obama rather than Hilary, so you can see how "left" I am), I can still hope that, despite their repeated failures of forty years, the liberal Zionists will make a dent in the Occupation.

But if the authors actually believe that 1967 is the root of all evils, and that 1947, or 1917, or even 1897, had nothing to do with 1967 -- well, then they are part of the problem and not the solution. And, like so many times, in the past, the next Intifada will knock them off-balance, disappoint them (remember the "disappointed left" last time?), and send them back to the tribal tent -- only to reemerge after the next quiet spell.

For remember -- you can be against the Occupation, think it a disaster for Israel, feel sorry for the Palestinians -- and still be a liberal hawk, or a neocon. Some of my worst enemies oppose the Occupation.

Are you, liberal Zionists, going to stand with them when the going gets tough, as you have done for the last sixty years (mirroring the ever-recurring collapse of the Israeli "left" in support of the short-sighted and disastrous policies of Israel's "chauvinist center (ha-merkaz ha-leumani)" to use Hayim Baram's well-chosen phrase)?

Or are you going to stand with the Palestinians and Israelis who put everything, including Zionism, on the table, who want a historical reconciliation based on 1897, not 1967?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Israeli Joke That Sounds Better in Hebrew

Two Israeli Jews meet each other on the street:

-Oy, Shimon, this business in Sderot is awful. How come we can't stop those Kassam rockets?

-Nu, we are afraid of the Americans. Now here's what we should do. We should drop leaflets over Gaza saying that we will give them five days to stop the Kassams. We wait five days, and then if the Kassams don't stop, we bomb the hell out of them.

--Why wait five days? Why not bomb them now?

--Nu, there's no need to exaggerate.

I was reminded of this joke when I read one of the Letters to the Editor in Haaretz today, which seriously proposed "Shimon's" solution. From the style and tenor of the letter, it seems to have been written by an older gentlemen. He may have sent it by email, but I like to think that he typed the letter, put in an envelope, went to the post office, and sent it Haaretz to do his little bit for the security of the Jewish state.

I hope I don't exaggerate if I suggest that this sums up the moral reasoning of many Israelis.

I don't mean to say that most Israelis advocate "bombing the hell out of Gaza". Many would approve of less drastic measures, such as cutting off their electricity and fuel supply. But the reasoning goes like this: "We could, if we wanted to, flatten Gaza. The reason that we don't is that we are Jews, and therefore generous, and exceedingly moral, and while we would be justified in taking such drastic measures -- such is the world we live in -- that is not what Jews do."

That is probably the self-image of most people claiming to be moral. But as a Jew among Jews, I am most familiar with the Jewish version.

For much of their history, the Jews have suffered from what I call "moral chauvinism", the belief that they are morally superior to others. It is an affliction that affects all civilizations -- it certainly affected Christianity and Islam -- but I am most familiar with the Jewish version, which may be particularly intense, primarily because the Jews lacked other ways to assert their superiority. As the Talmud says, the Gentiles may have Wisdom, but only the Jews have Torah, which is the moral and spiritual code par excellence.

Without power, moral chauvinism is relatively harmless. But combine it with power, and a religious or a nationalist ideology, and you have a recipe for disaster.

One of the most fascinating aspects of David Ben-Gurion's personality was his deeply-held moral convictions, and his belief in Judaism's fundamental morality. Unlike some of his Israeli contemporaries, he did not chafe at what he considered to be the moral requirements of Judaism, or of humanity as a whole. This is, I believe, what brought him close to Judah Magnes, whom he admired, and who admired him. But, like so many other Jews, he refused to be held account morally by the goyim, and he was always able to justify his actions (though not always the actions of his close associates); his regret, when shown, was always too little and late (His disciple, President Shimon Peres, has followed him closely in this; witness his expressions of regret this past weekend for the massacre of the Kfar Kassem villagers by the IDF a half-century ago.)

The difficulty with the appeals to morality is that in wartime, what seems "reasonable", or "morally justifiable," or "a moderate response" is tremendously skewed. That is why we have international laws and conventions on war. One can hardly think of an aggressor state in modern times that did not have a battery of judges, lawyers, and philosophers, who would patiently and convincingly attempt to justify the aggressions of their clients. International law and conventions on war attempt to provide a neutral space in which arguments can be heard and decided.

Of course, even with international law, the offending states have lawyers, and the system of justice and sanctions is often ineffective. Look at the case of Israel's security/land grab fence/wall that was condemned roundly by the International Criminal Court but still stands today. But as bad as the situation is, the alternative is to return to the utter lawlessness of the twentieth century, and who wants to go back there?

There may come a day when a state is restrained by acting immorally because such action is recognized as illegal, and sanctions will ensue. Until then, I recommend that we be highly skeptical of moral and legal arguments that are offered by the attorneys for the defense. Some of the most brilliant minds are prone to self-serving legal theories -- Haaretz had an item yesterday which showed how Israeli professor of law, Ruth Gavison, had wondered aloud before the Winograd Commission about "modifying" international human rights restraints in order to shorten conflicts, even if that meant greater civilian deaths and property damage. (The full article in English will appear here, God willing, in a few days.)

I see no essential difference between Shimon of our joke and Prof. Gavison, the former head of the Israeli Association of Civil Rights, and a potential Supreme Court Justice. Both use self-serving justifications for doing what is evil and illegal. This is what happens to the moral judgment of people when states are at war. Look at what has happened to the US during the Bush presidency.

The problem is that Israel has been at war for over sixty years. Imagine what the US would be like in such a situation.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

IDF Brigadier General: IDF Shares Responsibility for the Second Intifada

Haaretz published today a long interview with Brigadier General (res.) Zvika Fogel, the chief of staff of the Southern Command of the IDF during the Second Intifada. According to Fogel, Israel's military prepared for an outbreak of Palestinian violence well before the Camp David summit, and those preparations signalled to the Palestinians that serious fighting was imminent. In fact, Fogel argues that the IDF actions initiated a self-fulfilling prophecy that war was inevitable.

This flies in the face of the theory that Arafat came back from Camp David and started an intifada, a theory for which a single scrap of evidence has never been produced. Arafat may not have done enough to stop the intifada, and no doubt he, like the Israelis, sensed that it was coming, but the actual outbreak took him by surprise, and there was little he could do about it and retain his authority. The Palestinians in Gaza had simply suffered too much.

Among the other important points in the interview is Fogel's testimony that IDF rules of engagement were not enforced, that there were "death zones" where anybody entering them, man, woman, or child, would be killed. The military justification was that the Palestinians used civilians as terrorists; the IDF spokesman (quoted in the Hebrew version of the interview) denies any such policy. Somebody is lying, and, judging from the past statements of IDF spokespeople, it is not Fogel.

The interview has already been dismissed by some as typical Israeli "Shoot first, cry over it later" (yorim u-vokhim), or maybe one should say, "Bomb first, cry over it later." But this misses the point. Fogel does not seem to be bothered by what he did from a moral standpoint. He simply thinks that Israel has no long-term strategy when it comes to the Palestinians, and that its reactions are counter-productive.

"The primary characteristic of all our behavior is that we are unable to see the interests of both sides and find the common denominator."

"I think that throughout all the years and all the wars, we have pushed ourselves into a situation of no choice, because that is what we know how to get out of best. Maybe we are waiting for a Qassam [rocket] to hit a kindergarten and kill 10children so the operation will be enabled - the neighborhood bully who tells everyone to stop him, so he can beat people up. So we are telling the whole world, 'Restrain us,' and looking for a reason to beat up others."
By Yotam Feldman

From his home on the Upper Galilee road between Safed and Rosh Pina, as Brigadier General (res.) Zvika Fogel looks out over Lake Kinneret, the Gaza Strip seems a distant memory. But four years after Fogel retired from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Gaza continues to preoccupy him. He became chief of staff of Southern Command headquarters in February 2000, and in the past few years he has reflected a great deal on the actions he and his fellow officers carried out in the months that preceded the eruption of the second intifada, at the end of September 2000. His conclusion: the IDF created an irreversible situation that led to a confrontation with the Palestinians.

"The constellation of preparations we made actually led to the confrontation - there was no other choice," says Fogel, who is still called up for reserve service in Southern Command. At the end of 2004, a year after he left the IDF, Fogel ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Be'er Sheva. Currently he manages a process analysis and project management company, and is starting work on his doctoral dissertation, which will deal with leadership and decision-making.

The massive preparations undertaken by Southern Command were in fact based on an intelligence assessment that the Palestinians were bent on a confrontation, but that assessment was the subject of controversy even within the IDF, and in any event did not maintain that a confrontation was the only possible outcome or was inevitable. Fogel, who refers briefly to this in Moish Goldberg's film "A Million Bullets in October," which was broadcast earlier this month on Channel 8, now says that the assessment was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In contrast to other critics of the IDF, who emphasize the army's role in the escalation of the confrontation in its first few days, Fogel focuses on the decisive impact that Israeli activity in the Gaza Strip at the beginning of 2000, and more particularly that summer, had on the Palestinian inhabitants and the Palestinian Authority. That activity occurred even before the Palestinians fired a bullet.

Five months after Fogel took up his duties in Southern Command, then-prime minister, Ehud Barak, went with a high-ranking Israeli delegation to Camp David to discuss with the Palestinians the possibilities of a permanent end to the conflict. After the meeting, political contacts between Israel and the Palestinians continued, and Barak made even more generous offers than those he had proposed at the summit. At the same time, the preparations by both sides for a confrontation accelerated.

Fogel analyzes - in military present tense - the developments in the months that preceded the eruption of the second intifada. "The conceptual sequence is that we are creating the conditions for a confrontation by the very fact of our preparations," Fogel says. "It is clear to everyone that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We want to decide which event would foment the explosion. All we have to do is say what will launch it and then behave as we have planned."

Even if that was not the Palestinians' intention?


Was the course the IDF embarked on a one-way street?

"I am afraid that I have to say yes. I don't see a situation in which, in July-August, someone says, 'Dismantle the forward posts, we are going back to joint patrols.' People would have looked at you like you were tipsy."

Did anyone warn about this? Did anyone say "We are doing things that are irreversible"?

"No one said that. When you are busy making a network of preparations that are supposed to provide a response to the outbreak of the confrontation, and have thereby taken the initiative, you don't spend time checking whether it's a dead end. You try to find elements that can strengthen this approach."

And did you find what you were looking for?

"We did. You see Palestinian police exceeding their behavior, [sic] you see more and more organizing and processions on the outskirts of the settlements, you see more and more attempts to prevent people who work in Gush Katif [the settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip] from getting there, you see internal power struggles."

Do you also look for things that might refute the accepted assessment?

"No way, that is never done."

Circles of resentment

Fogel, 51, started his military career in a pilots' course, but did not complete it, instead becoming an officer in the Artillery Corps. He reached the rank of company commander at the time of his discharge, in 1979, and returned to the IDF two years later, having studied law in the interim. Fogel rose through the ranks in the Artillery Corps. In July 1995 he was the commander of Operation Accountability - the concentrated attack on Hezbollah villages in southern Lebanon - and in April 1996 commanded the eastern sector in Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon. He then commanded a unit in the Artillery Corps and afterward was appointed chief of staff of Southern Command.

Fogel is well aware of the aberrant nature of his observations. The GOC Southern Command at the time, Yom Tov Samia, and other senior figures responded angrily to his comments, but declined to address them substantively. Nevertheless, Fogel speaks with deep conviction. He notes that he reached his conclusions in retrospect and not as events unfolded, and the picture he paints seems to sharpen for him even as the interview proceeds.

"When I get to Southern Command, the atmosphere is one of continuing the normalization process with the Palestinian security authorities," Fogel says. "But a picture emerges in which normalization will not be enough for the Palestinians and that there is a chance of an uprising very similar to what we saw at the end of 1987 and the beginning of 1988. We focus on that period, and not on Oslo. The assumption is that the Palestinians will launch popular resistance in order to exploit our weaknesses - the fact that we do not shoot at and do not attack unarmed civilians - and afterward they might move to firearms."

Fogel maintains that the IDF's preparations, above all the building of a series of forward outposts, adversely affected the Palestinians' living conditions and influenced the Palestinian security forces' interpretation of Israel's behavior.

"A situation that is intolerable for the Palestinian inhabitants of the Gaza Strip develops," he says. "Even though we are still in a mode of joint patrols [with the Palestinians], we reinforce the outposts. That has an impact on the Palestinians, because when you build a new outpost you block roads and you set up a checkpoint to keep them from approaching the outpost. These are outposts that have implications on the ground - more than 10 of them."

What was the effect on the Palestinians?

"Someone who lives in Khan Yunis or Rafah and wants to enter Israel to work has to go through all the circles of hell in order to reach the Erez crossing point. He has to leave home at six-seven in the evening, after supper, in order to get to Erez at two-three the next morning and stand in line to wait for the foreman."

Did this affect only the workers?

"I don't think there was a Palestinian who wanted to use the roads who was not harmed by the building of the outposts. Everyone who wanted to use the roads, especially north-south and south-north, was affected. Each outpost took between one month and four months to build."

Fogel thinks that the hardships encountered by the 27,000 Palestinians who worked in Israel had an indirect effect on about half a million Palestinians, about a third of the Gaza Strip's population. "There is a feeling that gathers strength: 'You are talking to us about normalization, but you are making life harder for us.' After the first one is affected, and the fourth, and the tenth, each one of them creates circles of understanding that the Israelis are shits. This happens close to September."

Was there another possibility?

"To open Sufa crossing for workers. We did that occasionally, but not continuously. That gives all the inhabitants of the south - Khan Yunis and Rafah - the possibility of leaving from a different place."

Why wasn't it continuous?

"I was one of the central proponents of the idea. I raised it in Southern Command forums and also in work with the General Staff. It requires the allocation of additional resources. The argument was that there was no way to make Sufa 100 percent secure, like Erez, that there is no money."

Did anyone view this in strategic terms?

"No, absolutely not. I fought for it, because I thought of it from military aspects, thought it would facilitate things at the checkpoints. If fewer people would need to go from north-south, there would be fewer people at the checkpoints. Also, when you maintain two crossings, you can play them off as pressures change: if you're good we will give you both of them, if not we will open only one."

According to Fogel, the Israeli preparations also sent a clear and aggressive message to the Palestinian security services.

"They see us building this thing, tons and tons of concrete, there is no way to ignore it, it's an outpost that is meant to house a company, a monstrosity that is built next to the officers' quarters, which are a symbol for the Palestinians. What is supposed to be the Palestinian's lawn and playing field turns into an [Israeli] outpost."

Is that a humiliation?

"It's a different language. The humiliation comes in later stages. The whole mass of activity gives them the feeling that we are talking A and maybe doing A and B, or doing only B. We were not alone in feeling mistrust - they felt it, too."

Was there dialogue with the Palestinians? Did you hear this from them?

"Yom Tov [Samia] talks to the Palestinians every day. Before the events they say they cannot control their people."

Did they warn about the implications of the Israeli activity?

"They say, 'We cannot ignore everything you are doing in the Gaza Strip, in the outposts, which show that you are preparing for war."

What the politicians knew

Another element that brought about a deterioration in relations between Israel and the Palestinians was the termination of the joint patrols in the Gaza Strip. The directive to that effect arrived without any prior preparation or explanation, Fogel says.

Was that a dramatic move?

"We view it less dramatically. In the run-up to the decision, the feeling grows that they too have had their fill of [the patrols]. A few days earlier they start faking timetables and the number of people they have to allot. They complain that we are giving preference to Jews traveling on the roads, even though we prove to them that the timetable favors the Palestinians."

Was this part of the irreversible process?

"We do not stop the patrols in order to launch a war; we stop them based on an understanding that the [Palestinians'] whole pattern of behavior is leading to a confrontation. We do not dismantle the positions of the joint patrols, but we stop using them."

How did all these developments affect the settlers?

"There is no doubt that they had an effect. We are bound to give expression to their pressure when we meet with our superiors. We give expression to the pressure of the Jewish Israeli inhabitants. And they also bring pressure to bear on the higher levels. Their activity, which is aimed at the government, is in part provocative, to attract attention."

Did the operational activity the army chose reassure them?

"It was not meant to reassure them, but that was the result. The fact that they saw we were adding outposts made them feel that the IDF was not just treading water."

To what extent was the political echelon aware of the situation in Southern Command, of its thrust toward an unavoidable confrontation?

"One hundred percent. Nothing was kept hidden from them. There were presentations, on-site tours, full details at the level of how many people cross checkpoints, how long a Palestinian waits, how long an Israeli waits. Everything is known - the reinforcement of the outposts, the method of operation we chose."

Did they encourage this approach?

"No one should feign innocence. There was no one who said 'Why do we have to be so unequivocal?' Not one. On the contrary: the politicians went to talk with soldiers; there is no politician who does not talk to soldiers. They ask them, 'Do you feel prepared [for the confrontation]?' 'Do you feel you have everything you need?' I can tell you that in all the meetings I had with politicians, in their visits and in the discussions, no feeling of urgency for some other approach was created."

Death zones

In the Gaza Strip, the second intifada began on September 27, 2000, the day before Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. A Fatah man initiated a roadside bomb attack on soldiers who were escorting a convoy of settlers from Karni checkpoint to Netzarim [a settlement]. That night, Haaretz correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in their book "The Seventh War," the commander of the Gaza Strip, Yair Naveh, convened his officers and said: "This is the way it is supposed to start."

At the end of six weeks of confrontation in the Gaza Strip, 60 Palestinians had been killed, but not one Israeli. "We all saw this as the full achievement of the mission," Fogel says, "at least in terms of casualties. Moreover, we noted to ourselves that the 60 who were killed bore arms. Even if there were deviations. The feeling was that we hit the right people and succeeded in defending ourselves exceptionally well."

One of the means Southern Command adopted in order to avert attacks on Israelis was to declare death zones in the Gaza Strip - areas in which IDF soldiers were authorized to open fire at anyone who entered them. "Their use of women, children, infants and innocent farmers increased," Fogel explains. "We understood that in order to reduce the margin of error, we had to create areas in which anyone who entered was considered a terrorist."

And was marked for death?


The Military Advocate General's Office denies the existence of any such order.

"I have my truth."

Was there machine gun fire into populated areas?

"Not in the first six weeks. Use of that was permitted gradually, including at suspicious places, and that definitely loosened the trigger finger."

Fogel relates that soldiers also fired flechette antipersonnel shells into populated areas. These shells, usually fired from tanks, contain thousands of metal darts which disperse over a wide area; they are intended to kill and maim. "It came and went," Fogel says about the use of flechettes. "We banned it when we understood that it had a huge deterrent effect and that it also caused casualties among noncombatants. At first we used it a great deal, particularly in areas that we did not want to evacuate with D9 bulldozers."

Were they fired even into clearly populated areas?

"If not clearly, then yes, into populated places. There are houses in an orchard and we fired into it."

How was it done from the legal standpoint? Is firing flechettes a matter of black-and-white?

"When you want to use something, you have no problem finding the justification, especially when we hit those we wanted to hit when we used them at the start of the events. If at the beginning we could justify it operationally, then even if there were personnel from the Advocate General's Office or from the prosecution, it was easy to bend them in the face of the results."

No natural death

In March 2001, the new GOC Southern Command, Doron Almog, drew up a plan for a broad Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip. In the wake of criticism by the chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, and his deputy, Moshe Ya'alon, Southern Command modified the plan to make it far more massive and offensive in character.

Fogel complains that Southern Command received contradictory directives: "They tell us 'Make contact, get to the places of friction and take out whoever you have to.' The moment you switch to a plan in which you are the initiator, you increase the chance of harming the population."

When did you see the effect that the harm done to the civilian population was having on the Palestinians?

"The other side exploited our response to justify its operations, and from that moment there was a snowball effect. We reached a situation in which no one died a natural death in the Gaza Strip - they were all killed by us. From the moment the other side leveraged this, we were all dragged into the process. That is the reason I argued that they [Hamas] would win the elections."

Did you discern legitimization for attacking Palestinian civilians directly?

"I think I can say that from the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 we look at the population differently. There was a deterioration in the restrictions we imposed on ourselves in regard to striking at the population, and not necessarily with weapons. In this period we started to treat the population homogeneously. There was an atmosphere that it was permissible to make things hard for the population, to hound them."

Were the measures that are being taken and considered today - restricting fuel and cutting off the power supply - also considered then?

Do you think that such measures prevent attacks on Israel?

"They prevent nothing; on the contrary."

An explosion aimed at Israel

According to Fogel, the situation Israel now faces in the Gaza Strip is due to fundamental flaws in the disengagement process. "I think the disengagement was a peak point at which the intifada could have been stopped and we could have moved to true parameters of neighborly relations," Fogel says. "It was the point in time to create a different mode. Hamas then had the best possibility of winning in the elections - if they had shot at us, they would have said that the disengagement was done because of that. Hamas understood that it could achieve this even without shooting. Instead of seizing this lever and providing the economic tools and the necessary aid to lead to the right path, we opened a dialogue of weapons, not a dialogue of economic aid.

"The whole disengagement operation was implemented without thinking. One thing led to it - the desire to set a process in motion, to create a new reality. I remember that in the first discussions I said unequivocally that we are disengaging, but are not guaranteeing three things: full Egyptian control of the Philadelphi route; an air, sea and land opening for the Palestinians - the possibility to complete the building of the port, and also land passages to Sinai; and employment instead of what they had in Israel."

Fogel warns that the situation that has been created - the imprisonment of the Gaza Strip's inhabitants without the possibility of transit - creates "a focal point of explosion that is aimed completely at Israel ... There is no other place it can erupt into. The Egyptians are a lot less gentle than we are. If tomorrow morning 2,000 people will try to enter Egyptian territory via the Rafah crossing, it's clear that there will be 2,000 bodies, because they will prevent it."

Did Israel not recognize its responsibility in the Gaza Strip?

"That is exactly the point: Israel did not understand that the moment it disengages and does not allow the Palestinians these things, we continue to be responsible for their fate. I am not talking about fuel and electricity; I am talking about everything, bringing in merchandise - we are still the custodian."

How does that sit with the kind of operation in Gaza that the IDF now wants to carry out?

"I say that the operation in Gaza is a necessity that has to be carried out in conjunction with other actions. Everyone is asking how we will leave, and the answer is that we will leave when the Palestinians have a future. At the moment they do not have a future. A future means a port. What are they going to bring in there, tanks? After all, after an equation is created, when it will be clear that you are not afraid of entering the Gaza Strip and striking at them, the majority - who are rational - will understand that it is worthwhile to live."

So why isn't it happening?

"The primary characteristic of all our behavior is that we are unable to see the interests of both sides and find the common denominator."

Are the present operations the result of helplessness?

"I think that throughout all the years and all the wars, we have pushed ourselves into a situation of no choice, because that is what we know how to get out of best. Maybe we are waiting for a Qassam [rocket] to hit a kindergarten and kill 10 children so the operation will be enabled - the neighborhood bully who tells everyone to stop him, so he can beat people up. So we are telling the whole world, 'Restrain us,' and looking for a reason to beat up others."

Major General Yom Tov Samia, who was GOC Southern Command at the start of the 2000 intifada, declined to respond to Fogel's comments. Another senior officer, who was involved in the confrontation with the Gaza Strip at th e time, rejects outright Fogel's description of the process that began in the IDF when the intifada erupted. "The process that leads to the confrontation is a political decision by Arafat," says this officer. "Even earlier, there was a string of bad events that showed loss of control. If the other side had decided not to do it, we would have gone through the period of crisis and carried on."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fiddling While Gaza Suffocates -- the Inside Story of the Madrid Fiasco

A few days I wrote a very long post on the fiasco at the Forum for a Just Peace in Madrid. This was a much anticipated gathering of Palestinian, Arab, Israeli, and European NGO's, civil society, and human rights organizations, that saw itself as an alternative to the Oslo/Annapolis "peace process". The forum never took place, and attempts to enter the forum building were blocked by Spanish police. Mutual recriminations continue to fly.

In my post I placed the blame for the failure of the Forum on the Spanish Foreign Ministry, which invited more mainstream Israeli groups like Peace Now, over the objections of the organizers.

I have now learned from a variety of Israeli sources that the situation on the ground was a bit more complex.

It seems that one of the representatives of ICAHD, the Israel Committee Aganst House Demolitions, which was on the organizing committee, was involved with the Spanish Foreign Ministry's initiative to invite thirty-seven more delegates from Israel. These included people from Peace Now, and from moderate human rights groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights. There were already twenty Israeli delegates who had signed the organizer's framework statement; the new delegates apparently did not sign

As far as I can see, this is what set off the chain reaction that led to the Palestinian and Arab delegations' no-show, which was followed by the Israeli delegations' no-show, out of solidarity.

In addition to the above irregularity, ICAHD was later accused by the Alternative Israeli Center of failure to show solidarity with the Arab delegations.

ICAHD, for its part, did not see view the organizers' framework statement as binding upon the delegates.

The brouhaha in Madrid exposed the typical strains and fissures in protest movements. On one extreme of the End-the-Occupation movement you have Palestinian and Arab groups (which may include expatriate Israelis) who refuse to engage with any Jew who lives in Israel, even anti-Zionists activists like the Anarchists, on the grounds that this constitutes "normalization" with the Zionist entity. Then there are those who will not engage with Israelis who do reservist duty, even though they are members of groups like Breaking the Silence or Peace Now. Then there are the Israeli and Palestinian anti-Zionists who look for the replacement of Israel with a secular Palestinian state. Then there are Palestinian and Israeli anti-Zionist two-statists, and then Zionist two-statists. And, finally, there are those Israelis who claim to favor a two-state solution, but who really want an Israeli state and a Palestinian "mini-state", but who are nevertheless concerned with human rights violations.

The Forum's statement clearly allowed for some Zionist two-statists to participate (even though the sentiment in Madrid was overwhelmingly anti-Zionist). But because it called for Israeli recognition of the Palestinian Right to Return, it just as clearly excluded not only Peace Now, but also those who support the Geneva Initiative or the Clinton Plan. That was the intention of most of the organizers, I suspect.

The failure of the Madrid Forum also exposed the difficulty of building an effective coalition between two groups with somewhat different agendas: the Israeli human rights NGOs and the Palestinian resistance movement. Although the activists belong overwhelmingly to the so-called extreme left, i.e., the non-Zionist left, at least some of them would be happy living in a Jewish state that treated its minorities better. (That last group may be small; I don't know; in any event, these positions are not part of the official platforms of the organizations, from what I have read on their websites.) And, of course, the European Union, which funds many of these NGOs, has its own agenda.

The big losers of the Madrid fiasco are, of course, the Palestinians and Israelis who want to see the end of a long and brutal Occupation and, at least, a modicum of justice for the Palestinians. In the last week we have seen political assassinations, press revelations concerning plans for new Jewish building in Arab Jerusalem, the tightening of the grip on Gaza, not to mention the ongoing work on the Wall, and the thousand of human rights violation that occur daily.

The Forum in Madrid should have been pulled off, not apart. Somebody screwed up, but the screwup was not inevitable. I hope that after a period of stock-taking and letting off steam, the organizations can take a deep breath, and get their act together. Some will argue that it is best for the groups to go their separate ways; I disagree. It is impossible to look for a truly United Front To End the Occupation, but at least the organizations can meet in a large forum and argue with each other. Even if you think that Peace Now in the long run serves the Occupation, you can still the usefulness and necessity of some of their settlement-watch activities.

As for the doctrinnaire loonies: well, I am old enough to remember Gus Hall handing out leaflets outside of Columbia U for some protest organized by the Communist Party USA. Hall is now a footnote of a footnote in history.

The Palestinians deserve a lot better.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Refugees for the Second Time: The Forced Eviction of Palestinian Villagers from Khirbet Qassa

I quote in full the piece written by Ahmad Jaradat and Anahi Ayala Iacucci, of the Alternative Information Center (AIC) here

"Beit Jibrin was a small village with a long history, located in the territory allotted to the Arab state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Despite this, it was captured on 27 October 1948, by Israel’s Givati Brigade during the last stage of Operation Yoav, an Israeli offensive of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

"Beit Jibrin, which was already hosting many Palestinian refugees from neighboring villages that had been caught in earlier fighting, was attacked by Israeli forces from both the land and air. In order to escape the fighting, the villagers sought shelter in the surrounding hills. Some families found protection in caves five kilometers to the east of the village, leaving everything in their homes and hoping to return after a few days when the attack would be over.

"The Israelis, however, did not allow them to return. Several men of Beit Jibrin were killed when they tried to go back. In one incident, two men were killed when they attempted to come back to the village to gather wheat, food, clothing and other necessary items. The Israeli military had mined the village paths, and the two men stepped on a mine planted directly in front of their house, causing the walls of the house to collapse on top of them.

"After a series of these incidents, the families of Beit Jibrin lost hope of returning home. A portion of them joined a refugee camp located eight kilometres to the south of Hebron, and some of them relocated to the village of Khirbet Qassa.

"Khirbet Qassa is located inside the occupied West Bank near the Green Line, to the northwest of Idna village on the western end of the Hebron District. The village encompasses 500 dunam and has a population of 267, including 120 children less than 16 years of age. At present, almost half of Khirbet Qassa’s population are registered as refugees holding UNRWA cards. The villagers live in tents and caves and make a living from raising sheep and goat.

"Israeli construction of the Separation Wall in the area of the village has disconnected it from the rest of the West Bank. According to the Israeli government’s plans for the Separation Wall, this village will remain isolated, on the Israeli side of the Wall. The new Tarkumiya Israeli military checkpoint is being built adjacent to the village.

"Since the beginning of the Wall’s construction, the Israeli military has harassed the residents of Khirbet Qassa and denied them access to grazing grounds and other facilities that lie on the other side of the barrier.

"Yet, this is not the sum total of troubles for the residents of Khirbet Qassa. For them, the Nakba is an ongoing process, and, once more, 50 years after they lost their homes in Beit Jibrin, they have once again become refugees in their own land.

"About a year and a half ago, the Israeli military sent warnings to the residents of Khirbet Qassa that they intended to demolish their homes, on the grounds that they were built without a permit. Half a year later, many soldiers and a high officer of the Israeli Army paid a visit to the families, handing some of them military orders that stated their houses were built without proper licensing and they must legalize their situation.

"On 25 October 2007, the military placed demolition orders under stones at the entrance of the village. On 29 October, at eight in the morning, Israeli soldiers entered the village in jeeps and bulldozers began to demolish tents and caves without giving the residents time to remove their possessions.[i] According to testimonies, the soldiers beat a villager who tried to protect his flock, which he kept in one of the caves. Only after one officer intervened was the villager allowed to evacuate his livestock. The military then loaded the village’s water containers and feeding troughs onto a truck and deposited them beyond the Wall.

"Sixty-two-year-old resident of the village and refugee of 1948, ‘Abd al-Halim ‘Abd al-Qadr Muhammad a-Natah, who is married and the father of eleven children, said, “The soldiers destroyed the tents, the shelters, and all the food and drink of the sheep and goats, 142 feeding troughs and 72 water containers. The soldiers threw all the things onto a truck and took them far from the village. They did not give us time to take our things. They destroyed everything, including our clothes and our kitchen utensils.”

"Tens of farmers and villagers, who spent most of their life looking after their trees, their animals and their land, were made to stand aside and watch it be carted away or demolished. Every tree uprooted was the uprooting of history—of all the time spent in the field, of all the work and the hopes that were contained in their branches, leaves and roots. In just a few hours, everything was gone—the past, present, and future of each village resident was ravaged.

"The soldiers and bulldozers departed around three in the afternoon, leaving the villagers alone with their desperation: women crying; men standing, perplexed, not knowing what to do. All the villagers were in shock.

"Twenty-three-year-old Tamer Taleb Ahmad a-Natah, a local farmer, stated, “We waited for the media and human rights organizations. Palestinian TV crews and a crew from al-Jazeera came, but the Israeli military didn't let them go to the village. People from the Red Cross came and inspected the ruins. At night, we slept out in the open.”

"The following morning, the children of the village didn’t go to school. Everyone in the village thought that they should remain and repair what the bulldozers had destroyed. Around noon, however, about fifteen jeeps from the Israeli Nature Reserves Authority pulled up, threatening to arrest the residents and confiscate their flocks if they didn’t leave immediately. Villagers attempted to reason with the authorities, arguing that they had lived in Khirbet Qassa for decades and had no other place to go. In the end, however, the villagers were forced into military vehicles and Israeli authorities were stationed around the village until the last of the residents had been removed.

"Almost 300 residents are now without a place where to live. An old man sadly said, “In 1948 they committed massacres to force us to leave our villages, walking and running away. This time they brought cars. Next time I think they will take us by using planes. This occupation started deporting us and continues doing it.”

"Some of the families who were transferred have now moved into the village of Idna and the nearby town of Dahriyya, but they say that this is only temporary, until they find a more permanent residence. The citizens of Khirbet Qassa have already presented their case to the Israeli legal advisor at Beit El through the office of the Palestinian Land Defense Committees in Hebron. Yet, up to the present, no tangible results have been achieved.

"The real question at this point is, however: Will there be any place they can stay? It seems there is no place in all the West Bank where Palestinians are permitted to live their life in dignity. If it isn’t the Wall, it’s a settlement; if it isn’t a settlement, it’s a military base; if it isn’t a military base, it’s a checkpoint. For Israel, it appears that the only solution to this conflict is the total eviction of the Palestinian population from the land, and all the while, the international community remains, as always, blind to the ongoing Israeli crimes."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Write on the Land Grab Wall for 30 Euros -- and Help Palestinians

All right, I know this is a liberal-guilt gimmick. But a Dutch organization called Palo Dutch Concept Factory came up with the idea of paying Palestinians to spray paint text on the Apartheid Wall/Security Fence/Land Grab Wall. You come up with the text you want, and provided that it is not violent, racist, sexist, pornographic, etc., Palestinians will put it up on the wall.

The clever website is here.

The Palestinians doing this can't believe that anybody would be dumb enough to pay them that much money for writing a text of a 100 words or less. And there is more than an element of radical chic here. But we are not talking of sponsoring cocktail parties for Black Panthers. This is a clever way of publicizing the plight of those whose lives are being destroyed by the Wall.

Amazingly, gentlemen are proposing to their lady friends this way. Now I ask you: would you like to be given a picture of the following graffiti on the Wall: "Ilse, will you marry me? Peter." I mean, come on, gang, it's not Facebook.

I gave in my text and paid via Paypal, When I get the picture, I will post it here. I would urge all Jewish readers to put a Jewish message of support on the Wall.

Now that would be a kiddush ha-shem be-farhesia, a public sanctification of God's name.

When I paid via PayPal, I was told that the payment didn't go through and to wait and try again later. BUT THE PAYMENT DID GO THROUGH -- at least I got an email shortly thereafter. So don't pay twice and don't give up either.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Israel and Spain Derail the Madrid Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East

An article in Haaretz caught my eye this morning, a report on the collapse of the Forum for a Just Peace, the "anti-Annapolis" conference, that had been scheduled to take place from Dec. 14-18. The article, which you can read here, presented a predictably-biased account of the collapse. Those held responsible for the collapse were the extremist Palestinians and Israelis who did not want to talk with the Zionist left:
In Israeli political terms, representatives of the Zionist center and left faced off against radical leftist activists, who were horrified at the prospect of having to talk to those they view as "representatives of the occupation." Yael Lerer, founder of Andalus Publishing and an activist in the Balad party, who was invited to address the forum, told Haaretz that she views the people from Peace Now and the Labor Party as another arm of the occupation, and therefore unacceptable for dialog.
The operative phrase here is "in Israeli political terms". The problem is that this is a distortion of what happened in Madrid.

The Forum for a Just Peace, from its inception, was to bring together activist groups from Israel, Palestinian, and European civil society. These groups had a common and coherent message, although they differed in other ways. It was decided, wisely, that any individual or group that wanted to participate in the Forum agree to the principles of the Reference Document. Otherwise, it was feared that the Forum would be hijacked by other interests and other players.

Here are excerpts from the reference document of the Forum.

We, the networks, organisations, research and academic centres, movements and social actors, have decided to call for a FORUM FOR A JUST PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. Doing so, we positively respond to the initiative of the Madrid Social Forum and other social networks, organisations and actors in Spain, the Middle East and Europe. Peace can only be achieved with an organised civil society and on the basis of the international law, the respect of human rights and the full sovereignty of the peoples. With this Reference document, we call for a genuine mobilisation of the society in favour of Peace....

The basic requirements for justice are only possible with an end to the Israeli occupation and colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem; the recognition and facilitation of the rights of Palestinian refugees, including their right to return to their lands (in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III)); and end to the system of racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. This way, security will be ensured for all people living in the region.

Since the beginning of the second Intifada, the situation of the Palestinian people has continued to worsen, culminating mid of last year into a severe humanitarian crisis. In parallel, the plundering of its natural resources, the closing of its territories and the repeated destruction of its civil infrastructures continue. In 2006 the Palestinian people suffered from the effects of an economic blockade and financial boycott of the donors to the Palestinian Authority as well as the Israeli embargo on their taxes.

The massive Israeli attacks which destroyed Lebanon and the Gaza strip, intentionally violating the international and humanitarian law as well as the Geneva Convention, Hezbollah’s resistance against Israel in the summer 2006, and the inability of the international community to put an end to these crimes motivated the Spanish and the European civil society to double their efforts for peace, as illustrated by the demonstrations organised in several Spanish cities, most particularly in Madrid.....

At the institutional level, it has also been deemed necessary to re-launch the Peace Process in the Middle East on several occasions, notably:

• The resolution adopted by the Deputies Congress which states that the European Union should endorse a Peace Conference for the Middle-East;

• The joint declaration by the parliamentary Intergroup for Palestine and the Solidarity network against the occupation of Palestine, the 26th of April 2007.

Giving voice to the movements and different social actors, in short, to the civil society, which has fought for years to give dialogue a chance in the region, is a duty of all those organisations and citizens who believe another world is possible and are working towards it. Such dialogue must be solidly based on:

a) Mutual acceptance of international law;

b) Mutual agreement on the equality of all humans, regardless of religious, ethnic or other identity, and therefore to the equal entitlement of all human rights;

c) Mutual commitment to ending oppression (colonial and racist policies and their products).

Note that there is no call for the end of the State of Israel, or for a One State solution in the above or in the entire framework document. But it is clearly not a framework that the Zionist left and center could live with, as it proposes an alternative to Oslo/Annapolis.

A coalition of centrist and Zionist left peace groups in Israel including Peace Now, published the following reaction to the reference document on October 29th.

We welcome any and all intervention and initiatives with the goal of advancing dialogue, the relief of suffering and the recognition of self determination which can bring about the end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

In order to encourage the peace supporters in the civil societies of all peoples and communities in the region we should strive towards acceptance and implementation of initiatives already tabled such as the Saudi Proposal (the Arab League initiative), the Geneva Accords, The Ayalon Nusseibeh initiative and The Taba principals.

Any initiative that disregards or opposes these former agreements or initiatives might reinforce those factions that oppose peace, thus perpetuate the suffering of the peoples of the region, mainly the suffering of the Palestinians.

Out of the support of the principal of self determination, we support the principal of a two state solution and the right of return of Palestinians according to agreed upon decisions

Based on the regional and international experience we oppose the one state solution which will negate the right of self determination of both peoples. We call upon the committee to embrace these principals in order to expand the influence of the civil society in the Middle East.

A massive and urgent economic assistance to the Palestinian peoples and to the PA leaded by president Mahmoud Abbas is needed.

The well being of Palestinian peoples is a must, creating a reality which wills booster dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation among the parties.

It is urgent to assist and encourage civil society organization from Palestine Israel Spain and Europe, for the implementation of projects in the field of, economy, media, education, culture, environment, human rights, medicine, science, for the creation of a wild public opinion support for peace .

We believe that political courage, generosity, humility and forgiveness are needed to achieve the goal of a just and lasting peace in the region.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that while there are points of agreement between the two documents, the Israeli Zionist peace groups would not sign on to the framework document. It made no sense for the Annapolis crowd to be invited to Madrid, when the Madrid crowd was not invited to Annapolis. The point was not to initiate a dialogue between left and center. The point of the Forum was to continue an activist agenda of those who were opposed to Annapolis, who wanted to offer an alternative to Annapolis.


So what happened? I don't have the full details, but it seems that Israelis groups, such as the Peres Peace Center exerted pressure/convinced the Spanish Foreign Ministry hosts to allow groups in that did not sign on to the Reference Document. Or to put it bluntly, they attempted to crash the party. When this happened, Palestinians and Israelis pulled out.

Here is Michael Warschawski's, Alternative Information Center (AIC) statement (I can't block indent it, so I have italicized it):

Why I Will Not Participate in the Madrid Social Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East

I have no problem in taking part in a conference where Zionist spokespersons are invited too, for debates are part and parcel of a healthy political arena. As well, I have no problem being invited to official public meetings, initiated by government agencies, including Israeli ones. I need, however, to know exactly what kind of gathering I am supposed to participate.

By its own definition, the Madrid Social Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East belongs to the family of "social forums," as defined in the Porto Allegre Charter, i.e. a forum of grassroots and popular organizations, without any involvement of State's agencies, political parties (or armed-organizations). The Alternative Information Center (AIC), together with PNGO (Palestinian NGOs coordination), Ittijah, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the Israeli Women Coalition for a Just Peace were much involved in the International Committee that was established in order to assist the local committee in shaping the forum and fixing the list of the invited organizations. Whoever has been involved in Middle East progressive politics is aware that the list is a major political issue: most Arab organizations, including Palestinian ones, do not participate in political gatherings with Israeli organizations that don't support Palestinian rights, as defined by the United Nations and international law, including, obviously, the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees. This excludes most of the Israeli Zionist organizations.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, the Madrid organizing committee and the international committee issued, at an early stage, a Declaration of Principles that defined the political framework of the Madrid Social Forum. On the basis of that Declaration of Principles, the Israeli delegation was designed and the speakers for the various plenaries were selected. In a nutshell, Madrid is the first big international Anti-Annapolis conference, and this is why it is so important.

The composition of the delegations, however, especially the Israeli one, didn't satisfy the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs… or the Peres Peace Center. Obviously, the Spanish government has the right to sympathize more with Zionist organizations, and it can organize its own conference. Nevertheless, it cannot interfere in the Social Forum. Two months ago, I wrote on the AIC website:

The involvement of a government ministry in a social forum is, in and of itself, a serious violation of the Porto Alegre charter, which established the absolute independence of the social forums from the government. Yet the problem is not only statutory but absolutely political: what are bodies that openly support neoliberalism and the war doing with a conference that is entirely in opposition to neoliberalism and the war??!!! This is not the first time that this quasi-governmental entity attempts to sneak into a conference of non-governmental organizations, and we have reviewed other attempts in the past […]. However, this time the matter is more serious, as a majority of the participants perceive the forum in Madrid as being anti-Annapolis, and it is unacceptable that blatant supporters of Annapolis will be present to seek converts for their plan of war, a plan being created right before our eyes (" Anti-Annapolis in Madrid ," 29 November 2007).

In an unacceptable procedure, the Spanish Foreign Ministry established a parallel Israeli delegation, bigger than the official one, aimed to change the agenda of the Madrid Social Forum from an Anti-Annapolis conference to an "all inclusive" gathering, discussing the pro and against of the war plans shaped in Annapolis by George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. The procedure is unacceptable, the content is outrageous.

As a result, the Palestinian delegation decided, at the last moment, to boycott the Forum, as did participants from other parts of the Arab world. One can object that the protest should have done in Madrid itself, at the site of the Forum, including boycotting it. This was, however, the decision of PNGO, and, while driving to the airport on my way to Madrid, I got the information and took the decision to return to Jerusalem, in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society organizations.

One should not underestimate what is at stake. It is not a matter of this or that person or organization being present at the Madrid Social Forum; it is not even the question of the heavy involvement of the Spanish government in a Social Forum. It is the question of War and Peace in the Middle East, what George W. Bush calls World War III, the core political issue of the moment!

In Annapolis, the United States and their allies have finalized the plans of the next war, not hesitating even to speak about nuclear strikes. It is a war against Iran, against Lebanon and Hezbollah, against Hamas and the Palestinian people, part of the global war planned by the neoconservatives of Washington and Tel Aviv.

The world today is divided between the supporters of such a war and those who oppose it: the line that divides them should be hermetic, because it is the line separating freedom from oppression, peaceful coexistence from aggression, life from death.

Some of the newly-invited Israeli organizations to Madrid are, to say the least, not fully opposed to the war plans of their government or their US godfather. To mention only two: Shimon Peres (founder of the Peres Peace Center) is calling for a preemptive war against Iran after having supported the last aggression against Lebanon; Peace Now supported the war in Lebanon in summer 2006—that is, until it became a military fiasco. It is a matter of private ethics: I do not want, today, to be in the same forum with such people. The blood of the martyrs of Tyre and Bint Jbail is not dry yet, and the noises of the next war, a war that they will undoubtedly support, are already in our ears.

Post Scriptum: We must emphasize how unacceptable the role played by some of our Israeli colleagues has been in this. They have crossed the lines, back and forth, between the civil society organizations and the Spanish Foreign Ministry, creating the whole mess and provoking the decision of the Palestinian organizations to boycott the Forum. I have no problem in taking part in a conference where Zionist spokespersons are invited too, for debates are part and parcel of a healthy political arena. As well, I have no problem being invited to official public meetings, initiated by government agencies, including Israeli ones. I need, however, to know exactly what kind of gathering I am supposed to participate.

I don't agree with everything that Warschawski says above, but I agree with most of it. It is clear that the conference was hijacked. I am not sure how the Spanish ministry got involved, or how the organizers were able to pulled in the wrong direction. Frankly, the organizing committee bears responsibility. If you go establishment, then what do you expect? If the Forum took money from the European Union, then they should have known that they would lose control. How was Miguel Moratinos, Spanish Foreign Minister, involved? I would appreciate further comments from activists involved.

Still, shame on Peace Now for crashing the party -- if indeed they did. If they continue to force themselves on the other crowd, I will begin to take back the nice things I said about them in my previous post.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Giving "Peace" a Rest II -- Michael Sfard vs. Yair Sheleg

Once again I was unable to find an English version of a Hebrew op-ed in Haaretz. Either I am visually challenged (considering the typos in my posts, that is a reasonable assumption) or Haaretz did not bother to translate it.

The op-ed was by one of my heroes, Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli Jewish lawyer who represents Palestinians in suits against the settlers. It was a response to another op-ed by Haaretz journalist, Yair Sheleg, who represents the views of the moderate religious right. Sheleg asserted that he was willing to concede territory for the sake of a peace agreement, and he even conceded that ruling over a people against their will was morally defective. What concerned Sheleg was that instead of focusing on peace, and on the benefits it would bring Israeli society, the Israeli leftwing concentrates on the damage wrought by the settlers. Sheleg finds this incomprehensible; as a group, the settlers are no more violent or break the law than other sectors of Israeli society. The example that Sheleg gives is of the secularists who sell merchandise at busy intersections on Shabbat.

Sfard, in the subsequent paragraphs of his op-ed, rips Yair Sheleg's arguments and comparison to shreds. Talk of peace but leave the settlers out? Not when a necessary condition of peace is stopping the organized and ideological crimes of the settlers, often under the protection of the army, against the Palestinians. Sfard lists crime after crime of the settlers, crimes that are familiar to any reader of Haaretz, certainly to Sheleg. How one can talk of peace and not talk about the illegality and immorality of the settlers? From land theft, to physical brutality, to the simple attitudes of lordship over the Palestinian population -- all these are much more important to discuss than peace.

"One serious and forthright discussion about the crimes of the violent sector of the settlers is preferable to countless speeches about "peace". The Israeli public does not need more slogans about how wonderful it will be here if peace would only come. What it needs is a public, penetrating internal examination that will deal with the fascist and racist ideology that guides most of the ideological settlers (and not just the loonies of the outposts), the creation of an organized crime that undermines the sovereignty of the Israeli government, and, of course, a discussion about the moral depths to which the settlers are leading all of us."

Sfard goes on to classify the crimes of the settlers as "hate crimes". Their perpetrators are not thinking of ways how to circumvent the law, as are those who sell merchandise on the Sabbath, which is illegal in Israel. The settlers violate the law with pride.

The criminality of the settlers is different from the criminality of those who sell at crowded intersections on the Sabbath (if one can call that criminality.) Whoever believes in the defense of human rights and making progress towards coexistence between peoples, cannot be satisfied with phantasies of peace. He first has to stop the madness of the settlers.
Many of my readers will think that the above is self-evident. It is a pity that you don't read the "talk-backs" to Sfard. It is not self-evident to many Israelis. It is not self-evident to Yair Sheleg, who is not a Kahanist or a blatant racist. It is not self-evident to AIPAC and the Israeli lobby.

What I believe Sfard is saying is "ENOUGH OF THE TALK ABOUT PEACE." Peace is not the main issue; it is, or should be, the sideshow.

Not Peace Now, but Justice Now, Morality Now, Dignity Now.

One of the first songs I learned as part of my Zionist indoctrination was "Ba-Shanah ha-ba'ah, Neshev al ha-Mirpeset." "Next year, when peace comes, we will sit on the porch counting birds...oh, how good it will be when peace comes....."

The belief in the peace that will come "next year" is a secular Israeli substitution for the traditional Jewish belief in the future Coming of the Messiah -- a point emphasized by the right wing, who likes to talk about the false messianism of Peace Now. And they are correct -- it is a false messianism, because it allows us to postpone dealing with the present state of injustice as long as we concentrate on the future state of peace.

The dirty truth about messianism is that all messianism is false messianism. As Yeshayahu Leibowitz used to say, the traditional Jew believes with all his heart that the Messiah WILL come, but the traditional Jew almost never believes that he actually comes -- and when he does, it ends disastrously for Judaism.

Where was Peace Now -- where was I -- during the Oslo years, when thousands of dunams of land were confiscated and expropriated from the Palestinians for the building of "temporary bypass roads" -- the first step in the horrible and immoral unilateral separation (again, much worse that S. African apartheid) that has been taking place, and is taking place? All this was justified by the "exigencies of peace." How many times have we heard the claim that only when peace comes will we be able to remove the walls, normalize relations? How many times have we heard that we can hardly expect us Israelis to behave decently to the Palestinians when we are war with them?

But we are always at war with them. We have been war with them for sixty years. Our national existence is defined by that war.

I don't believe that doing the right thing can be postponed indefinitely. War is hell, and by its very nature immoral. Sometimes it is necessary, I know; I am not a pacifist. The internment of Japanese Americans in WWII was a horrible stain on the United States, and cannot be eliminated. But the crime lasted for five years. We are now talking about a sixty year war, a sixty year occupation, the last forty of which has not even a scrap of legitimacy.

It is time that people stop promising to put away the bullets one day and start biting them now. And the bullet that I am prepared to bite now is this:

If I thought for a minute that there was no alternative for the State of Israel than to preserve the status quo until peace came, then the State of Israel would OBVIOUSLY be illegitimate. A no-brainer. For no state, no people, has the right to self-determination in the form of a state, at the expense of another people with at least equal claims. It certainly does not have the right to rule over another people by force. If the alternative is packing it up, and closing the shop on the regime founded in 1948,then I cannot understand how any moral person would not choose that alternative.

No Zionist leader, from Herzl to Jabotinsky, ever envisioned a situation in which the Jews, in order to have a safe and secure state, would need to keep millions of Palestinians without human and citizen rights. No British government would have proclaimed a Balfour Declaration; no UN would have agreed to a Jewish State. Nobody would have considered it legitimate. Why, then, now?

Fortunately for me, since I love Israel, I don't believe that there is no alternative to the status quo. There are many alternatives, some more risky than others. But there is no worse alternative than the status quo. Better be a victim than a perpetrator. That is part of the essence of Judaism. And better be neither.

As for my critical comments about Peace Now -- I know that the peaceniks are good, moral people, and I don't want to cast aspersions on their morality or their dedication. I know that they want to end the Occupation and that they work hard to do so, harder than I do.

But Justice Now, Dignity Now, Morality Now -- these are the "nows" that are in my blood. I can live without peace. I cannot live knowing that my right to self-determination must come with such a cost.

Sorry for the emotional tone. I haven't written for close to a week, and all that stuff exploded on the screen....

Monday, December 10, 2007

Home for the Holidays

I have been away from home for a long time now, but the semester is over and my flight is today. I am going home to Jerusalem, to Baka.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will be about "Baka Leftists". I am sure the reference will be understood by some of my readers, but for those who don't: Baka is a neighborhood in South Jerusalem which was overwhelmingly Arab (upper middle class) until 47-8; then it was occupied by Israel, and the homes were made available, for the most part, to immigrants from North Africa. Like other places in Jerusalem, it has been undergoing gentrification, and there is a high percentage of professional (and academic) Israelis who live there now, alongside the residents from the "oriental" communities. Many of the new residents are politically liberal, even leftwing.

Baka is the original Arabic name for the neighborhood; Israeli official attempts to Hebraize it with "Geulim" have failed, except at the Baka -- oops, Geulim -- postoffice on Derekh Bet Lechem.

My home is on top of a Palestinian's former home, and my next post will be, inter alia, about that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

ACRI: Israeli Racism at Record Highs

The Association of Citizen Rights in Israel published its annual report, in which it claims that Israeli racism is at an all-time high. You can read about in Haaretz here. The report is available in Hebrew here; I couldn't find an English translation of it yet.

The report focuses on various discriminated sectors in the Israeli population, but leading them all, is, of course, the Israeli Palestinians. The report "notes a 26-percent rise in the number of racist incidents against Arabs and twice as many Jews reporting a feeling of hate towards Arabs."

Among Jewish respondents, 55 percent support the idea that the state should encourage Arab emigration from Israel and 78 percent oppose the inclusion of Arab political parties in the government. According to a Haifa University study, 74 percent of Jewish youths in Israel think that Arabs are "unclean."

Actually, I checked that last statistic, because I wanted to see what Hebrew word for "unclean" was used. The Haifa study is from 2004 and covered 1600 high school students in Israel. 69% of the Jewish students think that Arabs are not smart, 75% that they are not educated, 75% that they are not cultured, and 74% that they are not clean (nekiyim). 75% of the students think that they are violent.

According to the ACRI report, studies of Israel media show that Arab citizens are portrayed negatively, as threats, and in a stereotypical fashion.

Apologists for Israel will cite as mitigating factors the ongoing conflict, security concerns, the second intifada and the rocket attacks on Sderot, etc., etc, thus displaying their own racist tendencies to lump together all Arabs (citizens, terrorists, Hamasniks, etc.) in the same category.

The truth is that much of this racism is independent of the security situation, but follows inevitably and inexorably from how most Jews in Israel conceive of the Jewish state. I would like to make this point clear. Not all varieties of Zionism are racist, some are not racist at all; some are blatantly racist, and some are implicitly racist. The political Zionism enshrined in the State of Israel founding dogmas is at best implicitly racist, at worse explicitly and unabashedly racist.

By "racism" here I mean bigotry against a certain ethnic group/people, though not necessarily on purely racial ground.

If you define Israel as a state of the Jewish people, you have excluded non-Jews from the nation belonging to the state, be they "citizens" or not. So it doesn't take a leap of logic to contemplate excluding non-Jewish political parties from the parliament of the Jewish state, especially if they are not willing to mind their place but wish to assert their rights. Liberal talk of a "demographic threat," where the threat is from the citizens of the state, is likewise racist. It is thus not surprising that most of the country suppots the idea that the state should encourage Arab emigration from Israel. I am not saying that this is necessary; if the Arabs knew their place and kept to it, allowing their rights to be trampled upon, then the Israeli Jews would have no difficulty. Israeli racism is not eliminative racism; it allows Palestinians to live and to flourish provided that they know their place and don't get too uppity.

Of course, many Israelis I know really don't mind being called racist, since they see nothing wrong with being racist with respect to Arabs. To ACRI's poll, they will reply, "Big deal." Still, I am told that in Israel and elsewhere there are still Jewish liberals who are troubled by these surveys.

Perhaps they will say that increased racism, like massive violations of human rights, is the troubling, but necessary price to pay for a Jewish ethnic state.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mazel Tov, Activists and Anarchists -- the Latter-Day Maccabees (But with a Better Sense of Humor)

Move over Peace Now. Put away your signs and water bottles,you aging hippies who have been rallying ineffectually to "give a peace a chance" for the last forty years. Now that the Annapolis photo-op is over, get ready for the face of the future

Meet your children -- the one who are still left in Israel -- the Activists!.

In a clever and well-coordinated move (what happened to the Shabak?), seventy activists panned out through Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, and plastered 10,000 electricity cut-off notices to the residents. Of course, the cut-off notices were bogus, but they served to literally bring home to the Israelis that Gaza has been threatened by Israel with a general electricity and fuel shut-off in reprisal for shelling Sderot.

Now, the average Israeli will point out how justified Israel's actions are. I mean, let's face it, if the Israelis wanted to, they could just wipe Gaza off the face of the earth. The fact that they only hold a million human beings hostage and pressure them collectively whenever they want to (and their High Court lets them) shows how moral they are. Hell, they are the most moral country in the world. What other country would let the little b-stards lob shells into the city. I mean, Israel pulled out of their overcrowded hell-hole, didn't it? ("The better to squeeze them, my dear....")

That's what the average Israeli says, considering the responses on the websites.

Pity the average Israeli.

Read about it in Hebrew here and here and here and here and here (this has a video clip; you have to wait through a dumb commercial before you get to it, but it's worth it). And in English here

This protest action was sponsored by a coalition of lefties calling themselves, the Front for the Liberation of Gaza. They include some of the "Anarchists" who have been protesting the systematic expropriation of the lands of Bil'in every week. Lately they have also been involved in protesting the Israelis-only road 443, the most notorious of the roads of hafradah (Hebrew for "separation"; I wouldn't dignify the ideology behind it with the term "apartheid") And many other groups were involved.

Remember when Israelis justified checkpoints and closures by saying that they were "inconveniences" at worst? Well, apparently, the inconvenience of removing posters on their doors has been driving some of them nuts. Imagine what they would do if some of them had to stand in line for hours to get past a checkpoint? Of if their wives died in labor, or their children were stillborn because they did not have the right permit? Some of them would be fighting each other to sign up for the Masada suicide terrorist brigade.

Ah, ain't nothing like creative non-violent protest....And it's on the rise in Israel. From Hebron, from the Olive Harvest, from ICAHD's rebuilding demolished houses, Taayush, Mahsom Watch, Breaking the Silence, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Palestinians who protest the hafradah fence (sorry: the land grab wall) weekly....the list goes on, never enough to cover the war crimes.

My favorite response to the action, was, "Nu, higzamtem", roughly translated as "Come on guys, you exaggerated this time." They exaggerated? Israel is about to increase the pressure on an entire civilian population, and the Anarchists are the ones being accused of going overboard! Such is the moral rot in Israeli society today.

These young Israeli Gandhis can't bring peace. They can't stop the Occupation. But they can be moral witnesses. They won't have to explain themselves to their grandchildren as will we.

How appropriate that at a time when Jews are celebrating the deeds of a band of religious zealots, who fought a foreign occupying force that dimmed the lights of the Temple, a group of latter-day Maccabbees have arisen to oppose non-violently a foreign occupying force that threatens to dim the lights of Gaza.

Happy Hannukah, Activists and "Anarchists"! And Yasher Koah!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Further Thoughts on the Hannah Diskin Affair, AICE, and Israel Studies

Richard Silverstein published recently a post on the American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, and the Schusterman Foundations' funding of Visiting Israeli scholars to teach Israel Studies in this country. I have no desire, certainly not at this busy time of the semester, to repeat some of the things he wrote.

I also do not want to give the impression that the scholars brought by AICE are all on the right. On the contrary, they span a range from Zionist left to Zionist right, with some of them doing important revisionist history of the sort associated with people like Benny Morris. Some, of course, do not deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict at all in their research. (That is part of the not-so-hidden agenda of ideologues in Israel Studies -- to steer the conversation away from the conflict.)

Given the ideological mix of the scholars, and giving Bard's group the benefit of the doubt (I am in a charitable mood on the eve of Hannukah), the less ideologically-driven may well ask,

So what's the big deal?

I mean, so what if prominent Israel scholars are brought to this country and paid (not a whole lot, by the way) to teach about Israel in the classroom. Is this such a sin? After all, there does not appear to be any overarching ideological litmus test, to judge from the current scholars. The Hannah Diskin affair was unfortunate, true; but there may have been special circumstances (spousal adjunct hires have their own sets of circumstances), and need not reflect on the program as a whole. There is an ideological agenda behind AICE, true, but this is America; it is a free country, and it is up to administrators and faculty to vet their hires.

Let me tell you what I find worrisome. When Berkeley's Center for Middle East Studies brought Oren Yiftachel to campus as a Visiting Professor, the Jewish donor and others were upset, but the community and Israel Studies were enriched. Will AICE bring scholars like him? I doubt it; one of the points of the establishment of AICE was to be able to vet Israeli scholars to make sure that they are not publicly outside of the Zionist consensus. Post-zionists, anti-zionists, one-staters, though they may be Israeli scholars of a high calibre, need not apply -- judging from the current crop of scholars, anyway.

If that will be the face of Israel Studies in this country, then it will be the intellectual ghetto that its supporters claim it shouldn't be. Who will take it seriously if everybody in Israel Studies is part of a Zionist consensus, albeit one broadly conceived? The Oren Yiftachels will still come to the United States as parts of Middle Eastern Studies programs, but they will be branded as ideological traitors because there will be no place for them in the ghetto.

Israel Studies should be part of Middle Eastern Studies -- that much Brandeis understands, although time will tell whether MES at Brandeis is ideologically pluralistic. Israel Studies, like other area studies, or, for that matter, Jewish Studies, should have no ideological agenda beyond the importance of learning about that area -- for its own sake.

I don't mind if donors give money in order to foster support of Israel. In my neck of the woods, donors give money to Jewish Studies in order to foster Jewish identity. What I mind is faculty and administrators being influenced by the agendas of the donors.

The real heroes of the Diskin affair are the students who stood up and complained about the ideological biases of their professor. Students have every right to complain -- whether about Joseph Massad at Columbia or Hannah Diskin at GW -- and it is up to chairs and administrators to see whether the complaints are justifiable.

But all the Birthright trips, Israel Advocacy sessions, Jerusalem Fellowships, and trips to Masada, will not be able to stop information of human rights violations and injustices from getting to the younger generation. And that generation is going to be a lot more critical of Israel than its parents were -- you can't stop the music, and truth will out. There are seeds of change in the air -- forget about Israel studies, look at the growth of Arabic language study in the US over the last five years -- and you won't be able to keep feeding the younger generation lukshin, or latkes, for that matter.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


For close to thirty-five years I have owned albums by the incomparable Israeli composer-singer, Chava Alberstein. Tonight I heard her live for the first time. It was a tremendously moving experience, not just for her singing, which has only improved with the years -- great singers never fade away; they merely grow old -- but also because it transported me in time to a different Israel, and to a different me.

In those days Chava – or Chavaleh – was a strange bird on the Israeli pop music scene. Her songs in Yiddish, which endeared her to her parents’ generation, but which puzzled her own; her renditions of classic songs by great Israeli songwriters (all ashkenazi, most Tel-Avivi), which made her a classic middle-of-the-road folk singer, set her apart even from other ashkenazi figures like Arik Einstein. In subsequent years she became a bit more jazzy, even folk-rocky, and even occasionally “Mediterranean.” But her popularity waned; she rarely appeared in Israel, and one could hear her songs on radio only on erev Shabbat, if at all. (There was a time when mizrahi songs were barely heard on the mainstream radio; now, it is difficult to hear ashkenazi songs.)

Of course, if you live long enough, the wheel of mazal turns, and it has turned with Alberstein. Her place in the pantheon of great Israeli artists is assured; she continues to record, and she even appeared for a round of performances recently in Israel. (She also picked up an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.) Her songs, especially the love ballads and lullabies, because they are so intimate and poignant, are timeless and universal.

Tonight her program consisted mostly of those songs, with only one recent social commentary song about a foreign worker from Bucharest. Appearing with her guitar, and two backup players, she was letter-perfect in her delivery (perhaps a bit too perfect; her professionalism and depth made up for a certain lack of spontaneity). She certainly was a crowd-pleaser.

For me, there was only one sour note, and that was her singing of her signature songs, Naomi Shemer’s Lu Yehi (“If it would be”). Like many others I heard Chava sing that song for the first time on the television after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war. It is a song that manages to express the deep longings of the Israelis for peace and for normality, without quite understanding why things are as the way they are. It is a beautiful song, but tragic in its sheer cluelessness, and speaks volumes about the Israeli feelings of helplessness and passivity.

Like other liberal zionists Alberstein had a period of active protest that started with the first intifada and ended, more or less, with the suicide bombings (although she regularly appears with Palestinian artists.) Her peace activism was important in its day, as was that of Oz, Yehoshua, Brinker, Reshef, and others, as well as that of organizations like Peace Now, etc. I have a great deal of admiration and nostalgia for that crew. I certainly marched in my share of Shalom Akhshav marches and attended their rallies. But the Old Left in Israel has long outlived their usefulness (except for their money-raising potential), and it is no wonder that Dror Etkes packed his bags and left working for Peace Now’s settlement watch.

The younger generation of activists are not to be found in Peace Now, or Noar Meretz, but rather in the activist organizations that work together with Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. These are the organizations described by David Shulman in his book, Bitter Hope, reviewed (and significantly misunderstood) in the NYRB by the “Old Left” Zionist, Avishai Margalit.

Of course, Alberstein’s program this evening could be seen as one big protest, since it focused on the personal rather than on the national or the political.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Jewish Media Mistranslates Hamas Statement on Anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution

There are many reasons to dislike Hamas. But it annoys me when people who should know better distort their position by mistranslating Arabic.

Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam blog reprinted an item from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which claimed that Hamas had issued the following statement last Thursday, on the 60th anniversary of the UN Partition vote

"Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem... there is no room in it for the Jews."

Richard was skeptical of the accuracy of the translation, and, as we shall see, he had good reason to be. The source may have been an article in Maariv by Itamar Inbar. (Here is the NRG website.) He translated the passage from the Arabic as follows (my English translation):

"Palestine is Arabic Islamic land, from the River to the Sea, including Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Churches, the Mosques, the Mountains, and the Beaches." In Hamas they said, "The Jews have no place in it (Palestine- I.I), and it is a single unity that is indivisbile."
So, there you have it -- doesn't it seem that Hamas is calling for the elimination of the Jews from Palestine?

Except that this is not what the Arabic plainly says.

What Hamas said is as follows: and this is about as literal as I can make it:

Palestine is an Arabic Islamic country from time immemorial, from its River to its Sea, with its Jerusalem, its Al-Aksa, its churches and its mosques, the Jews not having a presence in it. It is a single unity and is indivisible."

In other words, historically, Palestine was an Arab country with no Jewish presence; hence, the Jews have no national claims to it. The phrase laysa li-l-yahud fiha wujud, literally means "the Jews having no presence/existence in it" -- but as Juan Cole pointed out to me in a private communication, the phrase "mundhu al-azal" (lit.: since eternity), apparently puts the phrase in the past tense.

There is a difference between saying, "There is no room for the Jews in Palestine" and "The Jews have never been a presence in Palestine." By mistranslating wujud and by leaving out the mundhu al-azal, and by breaking up the quotation, Inbar (deliberately?) distorted the translation.

A more accurate portrayal of the sense of the Arabic in English (thought not a direct translation) comes from Hamas' website:

“Hamas affirmed that Palestine is an Arab, Islamic country since time immemorial and Jews have no right whatsoever in the land of Palestine,”

I.e., no national rights -- since they had no presence.

Look, I am a Zionist, and I think that it is false to say that the Jews had no presence in Eretz Yisrael. But it is not false to say that for much of the middle ages and early modern period their physical presence was minimal. It certainly is not the same as saying that there will be no room for the Jews in an Islamic state. That statement goes against the Hamas Charter, antisemitic as it is, that allows for Jews and Christians to live under in an Islamic state (not something I look forward to....)

Ribono shel olam, doesn't truth count anymore? Or is distortion ok when fighting the wars of the Lord?

Whose name, by the way, is Truth.

The Arabic text is reported here, by the way. (Thanks to Amir for providing the links.)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Haaretz Expose of Financial Corruption at Israeli Neocon Thinktank, “Shalem Center”

In a long article in Haaretz’s Shabbat Supplement today, Daphna Berman and Naama Lansky exposes financial corruption, and even sexual improprieties, at the well-funded (and hitherto well-respected) Israeli rightwing think tank, the Shalem Center, whose donors include the usual rightwing suspects (Ron Lauder, Sheldon Adelson, Zalman Bernstein, and the russian oligarch, Leonid Nevzlin) Natan Sharansky is the director of Adelson Center for Strategy. Of course, the real directors are the former Princetonians and Daniel Polisar (the current president) and Yoram Hazony (the former president.)

Hebrew readers can read the dirt here. The English link is here Because I did not have the English link, I actually summarized it below. Then Richard Silverstein had told me that Sol Salbe had tipped him off to the article, and he "scooped" me here. Serves me right for not getting Tikun Olam delivered automatically to my inbox, which I will now rectify.

For the moment, here is the gist of Lansky’s investigative reporting. Some of it is significant; some of it is just gossip and sour grapes from fired employees. You know, the usual stuff of exposes.

Several weeks ago, there was a break-in at the Shalem Center’s Jerusalem headquarters, in which nothing was taken, but computers were vandalized and cables broken. A report was filed with the police which omitted all mention of the vandalism, and when the police investigated, they found no signs of a break-in. Two weeks ago the state’s attorney filed an indictment against the Center’s chief financial officer, the accountant Shaul Golan, for fraud and embezzlement of over a hundred thousand shekels (less than $25000.)

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Apparently, two years ago Golan tried to take financial control over the Shalem Center, which he thought was being run wastefully and corruptly. An internal investigation was conducted which raised the suspicion that spyware had been installed in the computers, and that private email correspondence had been collected and leaked. Golan was arrested and released; many workers were questioned by the police, and armed guards protected the premises for several weeks thereafter.

I suppose the alleged theft of $25,000 is small potatoes when you realize that the annual operating budget of the Shalem Center is over ten million dollars. When the average annual salary of a Israel university professor is something like $40,000, Polisar and Hazony pull in over $200,000 each. According to the article, the two use the funds of the Shalem Center as personal slush funds for family outings, employing family members, using employees as gofers, personal shoppers, and babysitters.

I will skip over the personal eccentricities of Yoram Hazony reported by Lansky – his requirement that the employees use the same font for all their typing, that staples have to be at a 45 degree angle, etc; that they provide him with a particular sort of yogurt, and a certain amount of cream cheese for his bagel. Not surprisingly, there is a huge turnover of personnel. Employees of the Center are often sent out on personal errands, like bringing pizzas to his children, picking up his laundry, moving personal effects to new quarters – all of which is considered part of their regular duties. OK, here’s one funny story. An employee was once told to drop everything and to run to the pharmacy and get a prescription for Yoram as fast as she could. She ran to the pharmacy and breathless asked, “What are the directions?” The pharmacist said, “Just tell me, what sort of cat is this for? Because the directions are different for different sorts of cats.”

When it comes to the Shalem Center, apparently, money is no object. When Hazony didn’t like a design element for the journal Azure after it had been printed, he had all 5,000 copies reprinted. “Whatever it costs, just do it,” he is quoted as saying. Not bad for a center that defines itself as a non-profit organization.

Another employee tells of the decision to hold a brain-storming session not in the Center’s building but in the main ballroom of the King David Hotel, complete with the hotel’s catering, The vast majority of the participants, regulars at the Center, just walked out of the Center and went to the King David.

Of course, there is the usual nepotism associated with family businesses. Yoram’s brother, David, worked there for twelve years in an executive position, and as editor of the periodical Azure – until he was forced to leave because of an affair he conducted with one of his subordinates. (At the time he was working on a book on the Ten Commandments – or maybe, for him, the Nine) As part of the agreement, he committed himself to move out of the villa in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot (over the green line, of course) that had been purchased for him, or to buy it himself.

Yoram’s wife, Yael, is the chief editor of the publication series of the Center, which has an annual budget of a million dollars to put out 4 or 5 books yearly. Yael is listed as the editor of the Hebrew translation of the Federalist Papers. This is not to the liking of the real editor of the book, Dr. Shlomo Yotbat, an expert in US history, who spent a year editing and annotating the book, for which he was paid, only to see that he appeared listed in one of the book’s pages merely as an “academic consultant” to Hazony’s wife – who apparently wrote none of the notes. Yotbat couldn’t afford to sue, he says, but as a result of the threat to sue and the negative publicity, the Shalem Center agreed to list his contribution as “scientific editor,” and to give him – what else? – some more financial compensation to shut him up. (Reaction of the Shalem Center – “The omission of Yotbat’s name was an error rectified in later editions.”)

Golan emerges towards the end of the article as somewhat of a good guy, because he tried to save the Shalem Center from the wasteful and corrupt management of Hazony and Polisar by attempting to hire a former employee, Sarah Kramer, who had begun to institute procedures and reforms before she was fired. A year after she was fired, Kramer met with other employees to see if they could wrest the control of the Shalem Center from its founders. Hazony found out, declared the situation “a nuclear war,” and went into action, which was to seize the computers used by the employees, fired other employees (though often keeping them on payroll provided that they not show up) Any employee who had been associated with Golan was summarily dismissed. Remember, we are talking about a research institute, not a biotech company. Yoram Hazony, who is apparently at work on a 1200 page treatise on human nature, which aims to present a new model of the human brain, with a Jewish accent, that will replace models by thinkers such as Noam Chomsky (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! -- JH), has been angling to be a rector or president of a new Jewish university that he wishes to establish. He recently confided to a friend, interviewed by Lansky, that if his new university is not established, “there will be no future for Zionism, no future for the Jewish people, and I daresay, no future for the West.”

At the end of the article, Haaretz published a response from the Shalem Center, which defended all its actions, and blamed disgruntled employees associated with Golan for all the dirt.

And now it’s Jerry’s turn to make a comment.

I have read many of these exposes in Israeli papers before, and the pattern is predictable: A Jewish organization has a charismatic but quirky guru at its head, who charms the pants off of rich Jews, who then bankroll him. He treats the organization as a private slush fund for his megalomania, and, if he is halfway intelligent, he can actually do a lot of good with the money. But there is no effective oversight; the employees are treated like dirt, and most important, the guru is usually there for life, without control and peer review.

The problem is not the ideological orientation of the Shalem Center. OK, I am obviously not in their ball park. But it is a pity that the Center has fallen the victim of its own success. I would suggest to the Shalem Center’s Board of Directors that they start looking for a replacement for Hazony, or kick him upstairs (making him “President” or “Rector,” since he likes the title).There are decent, hardworking, and intelligent neocons who work at the Shalem Center – Michael Oren comes to mind. And ribono shel olam, get a CFO who knows how to keep the rapacious intellectuals in their place.

Isn’t it about time that the quirky gurus from Princeton are replaced? For the sake of the future of Zionism, the future of the Jewish people, and the future of the West?

Shabbat Shalom.