This is from the BBC:

I was very happy for all the prisoners and their families as they were reunited after years of unlawful separation and inhumane treatment, but especially for the al-Ghouls who live in Mughraga, central Gaza, close to the former Israeli settlement of Netzarim.

Omar al-Ghoul was a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He received a triple life sentence from an Israeli court 24 years ago for his role in attacks on Israeli targets in Gaza and for joining a secret cell of fighters.

OK so let’s get this straight: members of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed branch (meaning they sanctify the murder of Israeli Jews) are “unlawfully separated” from their families – that is, they were in prison for terrorism.

This is a bad thing to do, as they miss their grandchildren terribly.

This is followed by some sentimental nonsense about broken-up families and the pains of separation:

It has been difficult to grow up without getting to know his dad. “It’s like you are told you have a father but you have never seen him,” Ibrahim told me.

Suheir has always said that her husband Omar is not a murderer, but a hero. He was fighting for our freedom and our dignity. He never wanted to fight anyone but living under the Israeli occupation is very tough.

So Suheir was in an Israeli prison for killing people, which was a heroic duty. Once that is established – that killing isn’t murder if it can be called “freedom-fighting” – then one begins to comprehend the author’s mindset. (No mention here that Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, the year before Shalit was kidnapped.)

What one doesn’t comprehend is how a quick run-through of the Hamas Charter, disguised as a victim’s tale, makes it onto the BBC website as a “viewpoint.”

I also believe Gilad Shalit was a legitimate target for capture. As I remember, he was inside a tank while on patrol near the border with Gaza at the time. He was a soldier in the Israeli army, which has murdered Palestinian women and children. The world should not value an Israeli’s life more than a Palestinian’s.

Wait, Shalit was near the Gaza border? He wasn’t in Gaza, you see, but he was near enough to be considered game (translation: he was in Israel). And he may never have killed anyone, but other Israeli soldiers have, and that was enough to make Gilad Shalit guilty of murder.

Maybe we should turn this logic around, and make all Palestinians guilty because some Palestinians have murdered Israelis. This is the logic of Hatfields vs. McCoys. And it’s in the BBC. Shame, shame, London.

But hey, it’s just another viewpoint, right?

Take Gaza, please

Oy, Gaza. They thought they had gotten rid of it in 2005, but it came back at them in the form of rockets. They thought they had subdued it in 2009, and got some down time out of it, but it just keeps coming back to haunt them. The world is sympathetic to Gaza in the form one giant rainbow-striped peace flag stretching from Guatemala to Katmandu. I’m pretty sure if there are any extraterrestrials out there beyond our solar system (and there probably are somewhere) we can bet their intergalactic tweets are obsessing over the Free Gaza flotilla and its consequences for Israel in the arena of cosmic diplomacy.

Nevermind that the citizens of Sombrero Galaxy M-12 have long since done away with the practice of warfare, religion and nationalism and moved on to bigger things like bettering orgasms. They watch us from the comfort of their homes and sigh with pity. “Oy, Gaza,” they tell their children. “If they don’t settle this thing soon the entire cosmos will be sending them aid.” Is it possible that, of all the potential billions of inhabitants of the potentially life-infested universe, six million Israeli Jews are the only ones who just don’t get it?

Aluf Benn has a provocative solution in Haaretz:

The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents’ diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation. Every Israeli should be ashamed of the list of goods prepared by the Defense Ministry, which allows cinnamon and plastic buckets into Gaza, but not houseplants and coriander. It’s time to find more important things for our officers and bureaucrats to do than update lists.

How could a disengagement be done? Israel would inform the international community that it is abandoning all responsibility for Gaza residents and their welfare. The Israel-Gaza border would be completely sealed, and Gaza would have to obtain supplies and medical services via the Egyptian border, or by sea. A target date would be set for severing Gaza’s water and electricity systems from those of Israel. The customs union with Israel would end, and the shekel would cease to be Gaza’s legal tender. Let them print their own Palestinian currency, featuring portraits of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

[…] Instead of arguing with the international community, Israel should tell it: You want Gaza? Fine. Take it.

A letter from Bibi

This is a wishful-thinking letter from Bibi to Obama, courtesy of Yaacov Lozowick (it’s his wishful thinking):

Israel recognizes that the blockade of Gaza is causing human suffering, and wishes to end it as soon as possible. Since there are no Israeli forces or citizens in Gaza, and the border between it and Israel is undisputed, all that remains for Israel to fully desist from any sort of intervention in the lives of the Gazans is that they not interfere in the lives of Israelis. This means they must return the single Israeli still in Gaza, Gilad Shalit; they must desist from any form of aggression against Israel; and they must pay the bill for whatever services they receive from Israel such as electricity or medical bills of Gazan citizens. Should these terms be met, the blockade will be lifted completely and immediately.

Israel now turns to the United States, to Turkey, and to the United Nations. We hereby announce that it is our urgent wish to lift the blockade from Gaza so as to enable the Gazans to live their lives independently of us. We will take this measure as soon as you can assure us of the following:

1. There will be no attacks from Gaza on Israel.
2. Imports of aggressive weapons into Gaza will not happen.
3. Gilad Shalit has returned to his family.

Israel has decided that Gaza is the test for the continuation of the peace process. Should the international community in collaboration with the Palestinians be able to deliver the three simple conditions described above, Israel will be eager to move forward in negotiations regarding the West Bank. If these three simple conditions cannot be met by the Palestinians, or cannot be guaranteed by the US, Turkey and the United Nations, how can Israel lower its defensive abilities on the West Bank?

The onus is now on you: Gazans, the United States, Turkey, and the United Nations. Please hurry, since the populace of Gaza is suffering, and we wish to end our part of that suffering as soon as possible.

On Criticizing Israel

Here is my (somewhat lengthy) response to a reader who posed some thoughtful questions.

1. As far as alternatives to Israel’s current hawkish direction, I would recommend more recognition of the basic human rights of the Palestinians, a cessation of settlements in the West Bank, and a greater reluctance to engage in counter-productive wars. These are pretty common positions in the American left, and no one is suggesting that they would result in an immediate end to the conflict.

From what I’ve read, Arab-Israelis have pretty decent basic human rights in Israel. They make up about one-sixth of the population, vote and have representation in the Knesset. No doubt there are problems, but I wonder how bad they have it compared to the state of Palestinians in Lebanon, for instance. There is an uncommon article in the Guardian by Tom Gross, who writes about the thriving economy of the West Bank and – contrary to general opinion – even Gaza. As for the Palestinians who do not live in Israel, my opinion is that they should not have the right to vote in Israeli elections (see 2; was this what you meant?). Of course, they voted in Gaza and got Hamas. Hamas promptly threw out Fatah, turned Gaza into a gigantic missile launch-pad, and got a war with Israel. This could have been adroitly avoided by getting on with the business of bettering the lives of Gazans but, alas, this is not what Hamas is about. As Alan Dershowitz shrewdly suggested: If Israel’s enemies dropped their weapons, there would be peace; if Israel dropped its weapons, there would be genocide.

2. A basic tenant of liberal thought is that extremism is abated by the growth of a robust middle class (see Gross article above) and the resulting social liberalization (see Hamas charter above), and that the more direct approaches favored by a neo-con viewpoint only serve to aid the demagogues who run totalitarian states (i.e., Hamas airing anti-Semitic kids programs on TV). Hence the lefty hesitance to back pre-emptive military strikes against Iran. And that’s just arguing for these actions on their practical merits for the sake of the people of Israel proper, not taking on the moral dimension of why Palestinians should have the right to vote, basic water rights, etc.

I don’t think Hamas’ antagonistic (to put it lightly) kids’ shows are the result of Israeli sanctions. They are the result of Hamas’ politics, its propaganda, its absolute refusal to recognize Israel and the iron-fisted control it wields over the people of Gaza. Think Iran (that’s where a lot of the rockets come from). And to think that during quiet periods like this, they’re gearing up for another war. Just like Hizbollah to the north. Again, Iran. The sanctions on Gaza (even during the 2009 war Israel was making sure food and medicine got through on a daily basis, though Hamas was reported to have co-opted the lion’s share for its own men) are similar to the sanctions we speak about with regard to Iran. They are an alternative to military action. No one says they actually work, but we agree they beat bombs.

(By neocon, do you mean Netanyahu? They got a war with Olmert, widely considered the weakest leader in Israeli history. Or was that the reason they felt they could attack southern Israel with impunity? Anyway, I rooted for Livni. But let’s not forget about Barak, who offered Arafat nearly everything he wanted. The Israelis got the Al-aqsa intifada instead of a deal, which in turn got the Palestinians Sharon. One might argue that Hamas’ rocket fire got them Netanyahu instead of a more moderate Tzipi Livni.)

3. I don’t at all agree with your thesis that the Western media and Western liberals unfairly single out Israel. But suppose I accepted your premise and evidence. With that taken as a given, what do you think motivates them (the BBC, Sullivan, Human Rights Watch, etc.) to do it? What is animating their supposed bias? I know I can explain at length why I think about Israel’s human rights violations and military actions far more than say, the conflicts in Sri Lanka or the the human rights violations in North Korea, but that’s a bit off topic.

There are a few good websites who actually parse reportage on Israel for bias and inconsistencies. One is Just Journalism, which has written a lot about BBC. Another is Honest Reporting. Check out Tom Gross (same as above). Just scroll down for his analysis of BBC and even NYT. Jeningrad is an article well worth reading, about the supposed massacre of Jenin in 2002, which never actually happened..

Western liberals (I suppose we should grant them that) are even staging the sixth annual Israel Apartheid Week right now. If we travel back a bit in time, we have Durban I & II, the first of which was supposedly a  conference against racism, but which was taken over by anti-Israel activists. At Durban II, last year, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was allowed to voice his redundant opinion that Israel is a racist country and that it should be “wiped off the map.” Obama even pulled out of it. As for the UN, a list of its resolutions against Israel can be found here. Hence, UN Watch. And then the protests during the 2009 war in Gaza (scary photos here) by people I have a hard time thinking of as liberals. A liberal myself, I find the liberal worldview irreconcilable with the zealotry of Hamas, Hizbollah and the current Iranian regime. (While Israel is heavily targeted by the UN, Iran’s current president – who may be setting records for human rights abuses in real-time – is invited to speak time and again on behalf of “peace” and bettering the world. He should have been swiftly marginalized by the UN in my view. But, alas, that has not been the case.)

NGO Monitor is an organization which tracks the bias of NGOs working in Israel or openly taking political positions against it (they are supposed to be politically neutral, if I understand correctly). Here is a choice “boycott Israel” image. I don’t see quite the same tone when China is mentioned, or Iran, Sudan, Lybia, Syria or a host of other countries where human rights are nothing more than lip service paid to the Western media’s thirst for rhetoric. Not to mention political cartoons depicting Sharon feasting on Palestinian babies, Israelis obsessively compared to Nazis, blood libels like the one last year when a Swedish paper accused the IDF of trafficking in the organs of dead Palestinians, without a shred of evidence other than the “tesimony” of a few nameless residents of the West Bank.

Which is not to imply that Israel does no wrong, or that there aren’t legitimate issues on the table, or even that criticism of Israeli policy is to be silenced (I don’t know of anyone, no matter how hawkishly pro-Israel, who thinks this – though it has become something of a mantra in circles where Jimmy Carter is still taken seriously). I am a Zionist because I believe in a world that has room for one Jewish country. Inter-Muslim warfare is tearing apart the Middle East far worse than the presence of five million Jews in a country roughly the size of Sicily.

The grand matrix of hatred, snobbery and intolerance which is the anti-Israel crowd has morphed into an international movement capable of uniting extreme left with extreme right, Christian with Muslim bigotry, secular liberals with ultra-conservative authoritarians, terrorists with human rights advocates, Holocaust deniers with those who dedicate themselves to the prevention of future genocide on planet earth.

In Thomas Friedman’s oft-cited words, “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

4. Why do they do it (see 3)?

This is the toughest question of all. I do not doubt that many of Israel’s critics are sincere in their wish to see an Israel which is more respectful of its Arab citizens, and that lives alongside a peaceful Palestine in robust economic well-being. I would count Andrew Sullivan in this group. His excursions into mere rhetoric (what blogger hasn’t made them?) may well be just that. But that a thriving country like Israel, girded by enemies intent on its wholesale destruction, a country which makes serious global contributions to the betterment of human life for everyone (science, medicine, ethics), should be sniggeringly accused of committing “assisted suicide” baffles this blogger.

Steven Weinberg, physicist and Nobel laureate, when declining an invitation to speak in Great Britain due to a boycott of Israeli academics (!), said:

“I know that some will say that these boycotts are directed only against Israel, rather than generally against Jews. But given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicated a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than anti-semitism.”

Andrew Sullivan may or may not agree with Weinberg, one of many American liberals with a very different opinion of the Middle East muddle.

Making Friends, Making Enemies

Andrew Sullivan’s response to Wieseltier is here (It’s already old news; the world has moved on.) I haven’t read it all through, partially because I’m not getting paid by anyone to read and write, unlike the folks at the heart of this dispute. That I can find time to read or write anything amazes me to no end.

Andrew is punching with big fluffy gloves on this time. The vitriol is gone. It’s time to make amends, if they can be made. The rest is commentary. But, like I said, it’s yesterday’s news.

Their tiff reminds me so much of what happens whenever Israel is at the center of some public dispute. Like a global civil war, it tears friendships and families apart. There are people who no longer speak to me on account of my views on the Israeli-Arab conflict (perhaps they weren’t friends to begin with, one must conclude), and I’ve even been called a “Nazi”. Which is exactly what happened to Jeffrey Goldberg the other day, only he was called a “Goebbels” – but by a Zionist! Which goes to show you can’t please all the people all the time.

I wish only to point out that, for whatever reason, passions run amok when Israel is in the question. I don’t think even religion (the other half of the Sullivan-Wieseltier debate) comes close to being this volatile. It makes me wonder what stake most people have in this debate, myself included. Or is it just an overgrown meme gone crazy?

The Trouble with God

When I wrote my post on Wieseltier-Sullivan, I wasn’t cognizant that I had entered into battle in this year’s Dershowitz-Phillips debate. Silly me. In fact, I wasn’t even cognizant of the fact that the world was paying attention to Wieseltier-on-Sullivan-on-Wieseltier-on-Sullivan (-on-Kristal?).

This is a debate I’ve been trying to get away from, but which keeps following me. Blogging is for hotheads, which was pointed out at least twice by Leon Wieseltier and once by Andrew Sullivan himself. Somehow a debate over criticism of Israel has turned into a debate over religiosity, which I find a bit infantile.  When calling Catholicism “polytheistic crudity” compared to the Judaic concept of divine unity, Wieseltier opened the door wide to the new atheists. At that point my impulse is to kick it in and say, “But, Leon, don’t you realize even your Judaic conception of God is vulnerable to the scrutiny of reason and skepticism? I mean, can it really be defended from the likes of Sam Harris? Or even Julia Sweeney?”

No, Wieseltier holds on to his God as if it were the irrefutable result of a life of pure reason. Which makes me wonder what the subtle difference is between him and Andrew Sullivan, who apparently believes all sorts of stuff shared by a billion other people worldwide which to an atheist sounds much like hoodoo.

Or: can we have a serious political discussion while invoking arguments for God? Are the underlying tensions of Wieseltier-Sullivan just a rehash of good old medieval debates about the trinity? And, if so, who cares?

Some of the primary links in the above discussion have been gathered here. Go nuts.

Leon Wieseltier Blasts Andrew Sullivan

It was a long time coming. If you’re in the mood for a nice long article (well, not so nice), put your boxing mittens on:

Criticism of Israeli policy, and sympathy for the Palestinians, and support for a two-state solution, do not require, as their condition or their corollary, this intellectual shabbiness, this venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews. I have striven for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and territorial compromise, and two states, for many decades now, but Sullivan’s variety of such right thinking is completely repugnant to me. There are decent and indecent ways to advocate change. About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive? To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.

And don’t be put off by the initial discussion of Auden’s theology. My question for Wieseltier would be: if the Christian doctrine of the trinity is so ridiculous, “a retraction of the monotheistic revolution in thinking about God,” then isn’t “thinking about God” in itself equally a retraction of the more logical position of non-theism? After all, to hold up even an ethereal, invisible, incomprehensible God to the universe only complicates matters unnecessarily. It’s no wonder religious thinkers like Augustine, Auden and Sullivan make such a mess of things.

Or is Wieseltier just another de facto atheist begging to be let out of the closet?

The BBC Gets it Wrong, as Usual

In their report on the Crete synagogue arsonists, the BBC snuck in a tiny slap on the wrist to Israel. While rhapsodizing over the multi-culti worshippers – “Muslims, Christians, Catholics and Orthodox believers” (wait, aren’t Catholics Christians??) – at the Etz Chayyim synagogue, they stress that “many of the Jews who worship there are opposed to Israel’s settler program and frequent incursions into Gaza.”

What this has to do with arson is anyone’s guess, especially in light of the fact that in the next breath our BBC journalist claims, “according to police sources, the arson attacks have no connection to right-wing or Muslim political movements.”

So WTF, BBC?  Are we to suppose that, had all those worshipping Jews – which were no more than a dozen people at any time back in 2008 when I myself asked that question at the synagogue – been fervent supporters of Israeli settlers, they deserved to have their synagogue burned to the ground? That is the implication, after all. Otherwise, why bother mentioning it?

This is the latest in a seemingly endless campaign of British and European snobbery, which assumes hatred of Jews is somehow tied to Israel’s actions (or inactions) with regard to its neighbors. Even when this is explicitly not the case. But even if it were – anyway – somehow – they deserved it.

This is morally obtuse reportage, which insists on drawing parallels where there are none for the sake of  moralistic punditry.

Watching Israel

There was an op-ed in the New York Times a week ago by Robert L. Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, highlighting some of the differences between Israel and its neighbors. Why do they pick on Israel? First, because Israel lets them. This post is meant to be purely informative. Please do not reply.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

HRW replied here:

Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving scrutiny. If that were the case, we would not work on US abuses in Guantanamo Bay, police abuse in Brazil, the “untouchables” in India, or migrants in South Africa. “Open” societies and democracies commit human rights abuses, too, and Human Rights Watch has an important role to play in documenting those abuses and pressing for their end.

Finally, Bernstein stuck up for himself:

I believe that Israel should be judged by the highest possible standard and I have never argued anything else. What is more important than what I believe, or what Human Rights Watch believes, is that Israelis themselves believe they should be held to the highest standard.

That is why they have 80 Human Rights organizations challenging their government daily. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a vibrant free press. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a democratically elected government. That is why they have a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political societies, etc etc etc.