Friday, June 15, 2007

Shot by their own side, healed by the enemy

By Charles Levinson in Ashkelon, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:55am BST 10/06/2007

In the Gaza Strip's Jab aliya refugee camp, Aref Suleiman was raised on Palestinian struggle against the Jewish state. Today he lies in an Israeli hospital bed, his body riddled with Palestinian bullets, his wounds tended daily by Israeli nurses.

For the 22-year-old Mr Suleiman, who was shot five times point blank by Hamas militants last month during a renewed bout of Palestinian infighting, this is not the Arab-Israeli conflict he learnt about as a child growing up in Gaza's desperate, rubbish-strewn alleys.

"Palestinians shoot me and Jews treat me," he laughs bitterly. "It was supposed to be different."
Thomas Braun, Lima, Peru

The Economist magazine criticizes the British union's call for a boycott of Israel

The prestigious Economist magazine criticizes the British academics' union call for a boycott of Israel, as did Tony Blair during Question Time. Such a relief to hear a few sane voices amidst the hatred and ideological rhetoric. --Wendy Leibowitz

Boycotting universities
Slamming Israel, giving Palestinians a free pass
Jun 14th 2007
From The Economist print edition

A strangely one-sided boycott in Britain stirs global rage

ALMOST everybody loves a nice, neat stereotype, and Yair Lapid, an Israeli writer and talk-show host, is no exception. Adding his own voice to the international chorus of indignation over a threatened British boycott of Israeli academia, Mr Lapid imagines the learned gentlemen pondering their scurrilous decision.

"The blue-grey smoke wafts from their pipes, their foreheads wrinkle, a watch on their wrist sits underneath the sleeve of a Harris Tweed jacket, with its leather elbow patch," Mr Lapid muses in Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily newspaper, as he contrasts England's dreaming spires with his daily experience of rocket attacks and suicide bombs.

In reality, of course, British professors are a variegated species—as likely to be wearing soiled denims as well-cut tweed—and exactly the same goes for Israeli ones. Along with quite a few of his compatriots, Mr Lapid regards his country's campuses as "fortresses of the radical left"—though he clearly finds enough merit in them to consider them worth defending from the absent-minded academics of Albion.

No such spirit of subtlety or differentiation was evident in the vote taken on May 30th at the inaugural conference of a newly formed association of British academics, the University and College Union, which claims to speak for 120,000 teachers and other employees. A mere 257 of them took part in the "anti-Israel" ballot, with 158 voting in favour and 99 against. In favour of what, exactly? To be precise, what they endorsed was the circulation (to all the union's branches, for "information and discussion") of the full text of an appeal by Palestinian trade unions to boycott Israeli academic and cultural activities.

Things are not going to move very fast, at least in the dons' view of things. Local branches of the UCU will debate the text, probably during the autumn term; then there may be a ballot among all the members. Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, has said she doesn't believe a majority of her members either support the motion or regard the issue as a priority.

Tony Blair, at least, showed somewhat quicker political reflexes: the prime minister immediately telephoned his Israeli counterpart to voice his disapproval and despatched his universities minister, Bill Rammell, to Israel to try limiting the potential damage (amid warnings from Israeli trade unions that they may refuse to unload British goods).

If the British eggheads are taking things at a leisurely pace, the same cannot be said of their opponents, whose reaction was instantaneous and incandescent—especially in the United States. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor, has said he is rounding up a team of 100 lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic in order to "devastate and bankrupt" anyone acting against Israeli universities. He predicted that British academia would be "destroyed" if it went ahead with a boycott of Israel, because the countervailing reaction would be so powerful.

That reaction is already gathering pace: more than 2,000 American scholars, including several Nobel Prize winners, have pledge to stay away from any event from which Israelis are excluded. Anthony Julius, a British lawyer and writer on anti-Semitism, has pledged to work with Mr Dershowitz in exposing an initiative which regarded Israel as "uniquely evil" and was reminiscent of medieval bigotry.

That may be overstated. But in Israel many academics, on both left and right, are as mystified as they are enraged. Israel at present has a centre-left government that proposes a two-state solution for the Palestine conflict. The Palestinians have voted into office an Islamist government under the Hamas movement that says it aims to end the existence of the Jewish state by a policy of armed struggle. By general consent, moreover, Israel's universities enjoy far greater academic freedom than any in the Middle East. Why, in these circumstances, should Israeli academics be shunned while those from the other side are welcomed?

Because the vote is perceived as a generalised attack on all Israeli academia, it has also created some embarrassment for Israeli scholars on the political left. Gary Sussman, a social scientist at Tel Aviv University, said that in the new climate created by the vote, charges that the Israeli peace movement is a "fifth column" would have greater credibility. Among supporters of a boycott, there were probably some who wanted to change Israeli policy, and end the occupation of the West Bank, while others were simply against the existence of a Jewish state, Mr Sussman says. The British vote had lent credibility to those who put all external critics of Israel in the second camp.

That is almost certainly true. The Anti-Defamation League, a movement which fights anti-Semitism, has placed some dramatic newspaper advertisements to underline its case that the singling out of Israel by British academia—at a time of terrible misdeeds in Darfur, Zimbabwe and Iran—can only reflect prejudice. Menachem Klein, a political scientist and veteran of Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, says academic boycotts are not always wrong—but Israel's misdeeds had not merited such a harsh response. The more venerable parts of the British academic establishment seem to agree: there have been condemnations of the UCU vote from the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and Universities UK, which groups all universities' vice-chancellors.

British supporters of a boycott cannot claim that they did not expect the swiftness of the reaction. In April Britain's National Union of Journalists voted in favour of a boycott of Israeli goods, by 66 to 54—as part of a protest against last year's war in Lebanon. Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate at the University of Texas, instantly dropped plans to visit London's Imperial College in July, saying it was "hard to find any explanation other than anti-Semitism" for the union's move.

In 2005 the College of Judea and Samaria—especially controversial because it occupies a hilltop in the West Bank settlement of Ariel—was one of the targets of a limited boycott move by Britain's Association of University Teachers, one of two unions which later merged to form the UCU. The Israeli authorities reacted by proposing to upgrade the status of the Ariel campus to a full university—and the British union reversed its decision.

But the British academics who have spearheaded the boycott campaign, citing a moral imperative to support their Palestinian colleagues on the hard-pressed campuses of the West Bank, are defiant. Hilary Rose, who with her husband Steven has been at the heart of the boycott movement for the past five years, sees positive results. One of these, she says, is the objections raised recently by some staff at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to the appointment of a former chief of Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence service, Carmi Gillon: the objectors argued that such appointments would harm the image of Israeli academia at a sensitive time. Also encouraging, from her viewpoint, was the fact a group of Israeli academics were now calling for Palestinian students to have freer access to their universities.

Perhaps the British campaigners and Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian president of Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem, who has opposed academic boycotts, should don their tweed jackets and have a talk. The rights and wrongs look a bit less simple from close up in Jerusalem than from distant British common rooms.

Hamas fighters and looters control Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas Islamist fighters and looters ransacked the blood-spattered Palestinian presidential compound in Gaza on Friday, rejoicing at the rout of their well-armed, secular rivals from the president's Fatah faction.

With Gaza effectively a new independent entity under Hamas control, Israel and the United States were preparing to ease an embargo on the Palestinian Authority to channel funds to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah-run West Bank administration.
Thomas Braun, Lima, Peru

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Abbas declares emergency

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas fighters hunted down key loyalists of the Western-backed Palestinian president in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after the Islamists seized most of the final strongholds of the secular Fatah movement in the enclave.

In the West Bank, Abbas, seen as a pragmatist committed to negotiation, signed decrees dismissing a three-month-old unity government formed with Hamas and declaring a state of emergency.

But legal moves seemed overtaken by the violence.
Thomas Braun, Lima, Peru

Hamas Seizes Control of Fatah-Run Gaza Security Headquarters

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- Hamas fighters stormed Gaza City's Fatah-controlled security headquarters after taking over Palestinian posts at the border with Egypt today as the Islamic group grew closer to gaining control of the Gaza Strip.

After hours of anti-tank missile and machinegun fire, Fatah fighters in the Preventive Security unit surrendered. Video of the takeover was provided by Hamas-run television and aired by international broadcasters. Fourteen people died and more than 80 were hurt at the compound, medics said. The border posts in Rafah were among many Gaza security sites seized, Hamas said.
Thomas Braun, Lima, Peru

Fatah activist going to his death: "We are not Jews"

Last words of a Fatah activist: "We are not Jews"
Conflict Blotter thinks that the fighting will remain mostly in Gaza and not spread to the West Bank. However, his account of the last broadcast words of the brother of Jamal Abu al-Jediyan is chilling:
Hamas has stormed the home of Jamal Abu Jideyan, general secretary of Fatah in Northern Gaza and an Al Aqsa Brigades commander, and assassinated him. About 20 minutes ago we were listening to Sawt Al Hurriya, a Palestinian radio station, as Jideyan's brother called into the station frantic. Hamas militants had surrouned the family's home in the Jabbaliya refugee camp and had fired 16 RPG rounds at the home, with 35 family members inside, he said. "They're firing at us, firing RPGs, firing mortars. We're not Jews," he screamed into the telephone live on air, gun fire bursting in the background.
The obsession of the Fatah with killing Jews is such, that they allowed themselves to be destroyed, not believing that Hamas would kill anyone other than Jews. The members of the Palestinian "resistance" movements and the PA police did not remain loyal to their government and their leaders, because killing Jews was a higher priority than buidling a Palestinian state.
Ami Isseroff

No Peace for Lebanon without International Deterrent Forces on Its Borders with Syria

No Peace for Lebanon without International Deterrent Forces on Its Borders with Syria

By: Elias Bejjani

LCCC Chairman

June 14/07


In my capacity as chairman for the Lebanese Canadian Coordinating Council, (LCCC expresses) and on behalf of its Board Directors and members we all express our profound condemnation of the terrorist, criminal and cowardly bombing that took the life of Lebanon's Parliament Member Walid Eido yesterday Wednesday, as well as the lives of his older son Khaled, two of his bodyguards and several innocent bystanders.


We call on all the Lebanese political  factions and forces to unite under the banner of independence and sovereignty and to reach a peaceful political agreement, in accordance with international norms, the spirit of the Lebanese constitution and the principles of freedoms and democracy, that will resolve the long-standing problems of the tormented country that is Lebanon. This has become an imperative to prevent further deterioration to a fatal point of no-return in which the country will lose its constitutional, institutional and judicial foundations and will cease to exist.


Like all representatives of the Lebanese communities around the globe, we stand by our free people in Lebanon as they face the most difficult and harshest circumstances in their security, livelihood and existence. We reiterate our unwavering support to the legitimate government of Prime Minister Siniora in confronting the terrorism of the Syrian regime and the perfidy of the coup-minded Lebanese opposition which is serving as the poisoned spearhead for the plots by the two destructive countries of the Axis of Evil, Iran and Syria.


We urge the government of Prime Minister Siniora to immediately:


* Request the help of the international forces, through the Security Council and in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1701, for an effective deployment along the Lebanese-Syrian borders and the backing of the Lebanese army in ending the Fatah Al-Islam challenge in Nahr Al-Bared. All security enclaves that are outside the authority of the State must be permanently shut down, and all militias, beginning with the Hezbollah organization, must be disarmed.


* Collect all Palestinian weapons that are in military encampments outside the Palestinian twelve camps in Lebanon and which are fully operated by Syrian Intelligence.


* Appoint Shiite Ministers to the government in lieu of the Hezbollah Party and Amal Movement Ministers who had resigned in late 2006 under direct orders from the Syrian regime.


* Demand that the Arab League and the UN boycott the Syrian regime which is directly responsible for all the assassinations of free and honourable Lebanese MPs, Ministers and leaders who stood for sovereignty and patriotism.


* We extend our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wish the wounded speedy recovery. We hope that those behind this barbaric crime will soon be uncovered, prosecuted and made to serve their fair punishment.


*Elias Bejjani
Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)
Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)

LCCC Web Site
CLHRF Website




Anti-Syrian MP killed in Beirut blast
By United Press International. June 13/07
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Walid Eido, an anti-Syrian member of the Lebanese parliament, his son and two bodyguards died Wednesday in a car bombing in Beirut.
At least six others were killed in the blast outside a military sports club in the Manara neighborhood on the edge of the Mediterranean. Eleven people were reported injured by an explosion that shattered windows. Eido was an ally of Saad Hariri, son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a similar attack two years ago, CNN reported.  Walid Jumblatt, another critic of Syrian involvement in Lebanon, told CNN he believes the Damascus government wants to get rid of legislators who oppose it. "With this bunch of assassins in Damascus, they don't care about international justice," he said. A U.N. investigation determined that Syrian officials might be behind the Hariri assassination. Eido, like Saad Hariri, advocated a U.N. tribunal, which the Syrian government opposed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

DEBKAfile’s Military sources: Iran and Syria are the winners of Hamas’ military coup against Fatah in Gaza Strip

It was the second triumph in a week for a Palestinian force backed by Iran and Syria, after the Lebanese army failed in four weeks' combat to crush the pro-Syrian factions' barricaded in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp near Tripoli in four weeks of combat.

Tuesday, Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Palestinian Authority forces faced disaster. Their inevitable ejection from the Gaza Strip effectively severs Palestinian rule between Ramallah, where Fatah will have to fight to retain control of the West Bank and Gaza, dominated now by an Islamist Palestinian force manipulated from Tehran and Damascus.
Thomas Braun, Lima, Peru

DEBKAfile Exclusive: Thousands of Palestinian security officers loyal to Fatah are under Hamas siege at their last bastion – Gaza City’s presidential compound

They are running out of food, water and ammunition. Hamas and its Executive Force have overrun some 80 percent of the Gaza Strip, while loyalists of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah, including complete clans, are surrendering and turning in their weapons. Hamas has set up large prisoner camps, some in the rubble of the Gush Katif villages. Wednesday afternoon, a desperate Abbas appealed to Israel to permit arms and ammunition to be transferred from the West Bank. Israeli officers said it was too late. Fatah is a lost case and any arms crossing into Gaza will be seized at once by Hamas.

On the well poisoners and well poisoning

There are many techniques of poisoning the wells of friendship between Christians and Jews. Cyrus of Christian Hate? tells the story about two members of Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel and their amazingly one-sided conclusions.

Indeed these two idealistic people seem to have convinced themselves that presenting one-sided propaganda is a positive moral imperative for them - but more of that later.

I'll begin by dealing relatively briefly with three fairly predictable manifestations of propaganda, before going on to a more detailed examination of one which took me aback.
Part 1 of the post, linked above, takes apart some of the main points conveyed by the two.

Part2 delves into details of the ancient well poisoning technique based on... well poisoning.

A mandatory read.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Syrian and Iranian Generals in Intensive War Consultations

DEBKAfile's intelligence and Middle East sources take a look at the actions behind the words issuing from Damascus officials affirming Syria's willingness to go into peace talks with Israel.

During most of last week, two high-ranking Iranian delegations spent time in Damascus. One was composed of generals who held talks with Syrian leaders on coordinated preparations for a Middle East war in the coming months.

At the Iranian end, a similar high-ranking Syrian military delegation called in at Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards headquarters to tighten operational coordination between them at the command level, as well as inspecting the Iranian arsenal. The Syrian general staff will draw up a list of items it is short of for a possible military confrontation with Israel this summer.
Thomas Braun, Lima, Peru

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Heigh-ho, it's boycott time again"

A wonderful article in the Independent--long but worth reading, with a history of anti-Israel boycotts at the end. The article will sadly have no effect on the boycott people today, but I hope the boycotts will have no effect either. --Wendy in Washington

Howard Jacobson: It's time to end the vilification of Israel

Heigh-ho, it's boycott time again. Just as surely as young men's fancies turn seasonably to love, and folk long to go on pilgrimages, so do the Zionophobic zealots of our universities start on hearing the boiling of their blood and decide to have another go at ostracising their fellow academics in Israel. This year it's the turn of the newly merged Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) to pass a resolution to proceed to a boycott of Israeli scholars. Not yet a done deal but as good as. A boycott in waiting. The three think-alike monkeys of academe cover their faces in excited anticipation: see no dissent, hear no dissent, speak no dissent.

By its nature a boycott is not a precise instrument, so no distinction is drawn between Israeli academics who actively support their government, those who speak vociferously against it, or those who just go quietly about their biomedical researches. "Passivity or neutrality is unacceptable," the resolution says. All are guilty by association with the heinous ideology of their country, that is to say, guilty by simple virtue of being Israelis.

I do not say "by simple virtue of being Jews". The last thing today's boycotters want, having learnt from their last failed attempt, is to pass for anti-Semites, and the last thing I want, when they tell me they are not anti-Semitic, is to contradict them. There is almost an obligation on Jews to be reassuring. No, no, of course it is not anti-Semitic to be a critic of Israel. Please be as critical as you like. But it is a false syllogism which goes Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic; I am a critic of Israel; therefore I am not an anti-Semite. Zealotry acquaints us with strange bedfellows, and in their loathing of Israel some without a grain of anti-Semitism in their bodies lie down with others who are composed of almost nothing else.

It is, anyway, a red herring. I am tired, myself, of deciding who is and who isn't. Anti-Semitism, when all is said and done, is not the only crime on the block. You don't have to be an anti-Semite to be a blackguard. And you certainly don't have to be an anti-Semite to be a fool. Boycotters assure us of their innocence of anti-Semitism as though that settles once and for all the question of their intellectual and moral rectitude. Some have even stopped dressing like Palestinians (seen as marginally compromising of their impartiality the last time round) and started paying reverential visits to Auschwitz. Since we are demonstrably not Jew haters, these new recruits to Jewish anguish ask us to accept, since we are neither Nazi sympathisers nor Holocaust deniers, our credentials are in good order. But it isn't quite as simple as that.

Whether it's in the best of taste to like Jews better when they're in concentration camps than when they're in their own country I leave to less interested parties to decide. But this, I think, is obvious: you cannot proudly present one clean hand and not expect people to wonder what you're hiding in the other. A person cleared of anti-Semitism might still be guilty of something else. If anti-Semitism is repugnant to humanity, then it is no less repugnant to humanity to single out one country for your hatred, to hate it beyond reason and against evidence, to pluck it from the complex contextuality of history as though it authored its own misfortunes and misdeeds as the devil authored evil, to deny it any understanding (which is not the same as sympathy or succour), and - most odious of all - to seek to silence its voices.

For make no mistake, this is what an intellectual boycott means. We silence you. We will not let you speak. To rub it in - and this would be childish were it not villainous - the UCU resolution includes proposals to "organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academics/educational trade unionists". In other words, we will hear them, we will not hear you. Anyone familiar with the emotional politics of the campus will be able to imagine the rapturous applause awaiting these Palestinian educational trade unionists - given free rein to vent their grievances while the other side of the argument is gagged. Like the millions cheering Stalin while the gulags quietly filled. I am normally wary of such comparisons, but someone from one of our participating universities needs to explain how what is proposed differs in spirit from the practices of those all-censoring autocracies that made the last century an inferno.

The 40th anniversary of the Six Day War was always going to be a good time for pressing ahead with this boycott. The passing of those 40 years, which have, without doubt, been another hell on earth for many whom the war dispossessed, measures the exhaustion of our patience. If not now, when? No civilised person can bear to imagine another 40 years as bad as or maybe even worse than the last. But it is not the prerogative of boycotters to regret such a past or to dread such a future. You can be a friend of Israel and wish better for its neighbours as indeed you wish better for Israel itself. How to implement that better is a question determined by how you understand the situation as it is, and how you understand that situation is determined by how you read the Six Day War.


It is probably futile to imagine what would have happened had victory gone the other way. But it is not unreasonable to suppose that had the Arab countries won decisively Israel would not exist. Annihilation has, after all, been (as it continues to be) the declared aim of most of the states and organisations that surround it. Failing total destruction, what? A joint state of the sort optimists propose today - Jews and Arabs sharing power and getting on famously? There is little in the social history of the two peoples to support such optimism. It is true that Jews living in Arab countries once enjoyed better times than many living in eastern Europe, Arabs caring little whether Jews had or hadn't killed Christ. But they were not equal in the way we demand people to be equals now. I will not say they were subject to Apartheid - as the more hysterical Zionophobes, in their irresponsible carelessness with words, claim to be the case with Palestinians - but they were distinctly second-class citizens, tolerated only because they were thought too ineffective to be a threat. (An idea of Jews which partly explains why the existence of a militarily successful Israel remains so galling to Arabs whose daily lives are otherwise not incommoded by it.)

Whether the enlightened Universities of Birmingham and Brighton would have enforced an academic boycott of these conquering Arab countries, we can only guess. But since there are many Arab countries, in actual as opposed to imaginary existence, whose practices one might think deserving of a boycott but who have so far escaped one, I think we have to guess not.

My point, anyway, is simply this: few nations make a good job of winning even when the victory is, as one might say, clean. But when the war never finishes, when those with whom you thought you had made peace transmute into your enemies in another guise, and when they are more ruthless in their ideology and methods than any state dare ever be, it should surprise no one if terrible injustices ensue. We saw what happened in London when bombs went off in the underground; we saw our police force lose its nerve and an entirely innocent man shot dead. Now multiply that by a hundred and conceive it happening every day. And nobody is threatening to drive us into the sea.

Imagining how the Six Day War might have turned out had the Arabs not so quickly lost it might be futile now but it wasn't futile at the time. One cannot overestimate the sense of foreboding felt by Jews around the world, and indeed by Gentiles not yet poisoned by prejudice and propaganda, in the weeks before the war was fought. Relief is a word one hears again and again in documentaries about the war, relief felt by even the most battle-hardened soldiers that a war which might so easily and catastrophically have gone against them was won. If this relief was extreme and gave rise, in some instances, to extreme policies, that was because the fear had been extreme. No one offering to have an opinion about Israel dare discount this fear. You do not, if you are Jewish, have a short memory. And if you are Jewish and Israeli catastrophe exists in a continuum that encompasses both past and future. Yesterday's victory is only yesterday's victory. Tomorrow can easily bring defeat. Never mind the size of your armoury. Someone else will always get a bigger one. That this logic will not make you an easy or relaxed adversary hardly needs saying. Continuous war and fear of war must make wary and suspicious even the kindest of hearts. Considering this unceasing agitation and dread, it strikes me as miraculous how many of the civic arts of civilisation and culture have managed to flourish in modern Israel.

What, like the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank? Well, we are strange about walls. As walls go this one certainly isn't the prettiest. If it is still there in a thousand years time, as I sincerely hope it isn't, our offspring will not visit it on aesthetic grounds as we visit what is left of Hadrian's Wall or the Great Wall of China, but it serves an identically practical purpose, which is to keep out enemies. Never mind that Palestinians are not barbarous tribes from somewhere else, bent on invasion. As long as they come into Israel primed as human bombs, that is how they will be viewed.

They are, of course, in their own eyes, justified in blowing up any bus they can climb aboard. Violence does not come out of a clear blue sky; and, however complex the causes of their suffering, the Palestinians have as much reason to be bitter as any people on the planet. But to understand the motives of a suicide bomber and not the motives of those who seek to keep him out is to understand nothing. In the present climate, however, it is almost impossible to make the case that some of Israel's most detested actions (I do not say all) are themselves responses to provocations. At a certain stage the pieces are pushed from the table. Israel can make no legitimate response to a provocation because Israel is not itself legitimate. This, too, is a change from the Left's earlier position. Israel was not considered illegitimate when it fought the Six Day War. Nor is it held to be illegitimate in those UN resolutions it is frequently called upon to honour. The illegitimacy of Israel is a rabbit pulled out of the hat. A defeated, diminished or depleted Israel would have posed no problem of legitimacy. We could have visited its remains in sorrow, as we visit Auschwitz. Israel only became illegal when it did not go away.

If a fair and peaceful settlement, as opposed to the deligitimisation and ultimate dismantling of Israel, is what our universities really want, they would seek more subtly to exploit that fault-line in Israeli society between those who would go on building settlements on Palestinian land and those who would give it back, those who fear co-existence and those who aspire to it. To alienate that very section of Israeli society which is most amenable to reason and approach - teachers at universities which Arabs are already free to attend, academics who at this very moment are working to lift travel bans and extend those freedoms - is not only to close down future avenues of peace, it is to confirm Israel in the belief that it can count on the outside world for nothing, and drive it into an isolationism from which the Palestinians too will have little to gain.

But the gesture is clearly more important than the peace. With a terrible acuity, Primo Levi discerned one of the most diabolic of all Nazi ambitions - to reduce Jews in the camps to animals so that they should see the emptiness of their claims to be an ethical people. I accuse, as I have promised, no one of anti-Semitism, but in their assault upon Israel's teachers and scholars - by condemning, in the words of the UCU resolution, their "complicity in the occupation" - the boycotters mean to show the emptiness of the Jewish state's claim to be a learned and humane society. "Scientific research and its achievements," David Ben Gurion said in 1962, "are no longer merely an abstract intellectual pursuit... but a central factor in the life of every civilised people." If we dishonour your scientists, if we mire your historians and philosophers in the guilt of genocide or ethnic cleansing or Apartheid or Nazism or whatever crime we can concoct next, where is your civilisation?

The charge of being "complicit in the occupation" begs more questions than can be addressed here, but its chief assumption - the assumption on which the entire boycott is based - is breathtaking. An Israeli scholar dare not be in even the most partial agreement with his government. For an Israeli academic not to think exactly as they think on the campuses of Birmingham and Brighton is to be guilty of a crime for which the punishment is expulsion from the international community of thought.

Will someone, in the light of that, explain to me what universities are for? Is not scholarship meant to constitute a sacred bond, an implicit assurance that here at least, in the free academy of the mind, the conversation will always go on no matter how bitter the disagreement, no matter how unorthodox or incorrect or even offensive the views expressed? Can that person be fit to teach, I ask, who closes his intelligence to such an exchange, who seeks to silence opinions he does not share, and who believes the only truth is his?

Class action: academics against Israel

On 30 May, delegates at the annual conference of the University and College Union (UCU), the largest body representing academic staff in further education in the UK, voted in favour of a motion to discuss an academic boycott of Israel. Members were urged to consider the "moral implications" of links with Israeli universities, and to condemn Israel for its "denial of educational rights" to Palestinians. It is unclear what effect such a boycott would have, but Brighton University lecturer Tom Hickey, who proposed the motion, said it may result in the UCU urging its members not to attend conferences at Israeli universities or to submit articles to their journals. It is not thought that Israeli academics would be prevented from visiting UK campuses. The UCU's national executive is meeting today to draw up union policy; Sally Hunt, the UCU's new general secretary, has called on members to reject the motion.

Full text at:

The long history of boycotts


Long before the establishment of Israel in 1948, Arabs boycott Jewish-owned businesses operating in the British Mandate of Palestine, which now comprises modern-day Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.


The newly formed Arab League Council declares a formal boycott designed to economically isolate the Jewish community. Arabs are called upon "to refuse to deal in, distribute, or consume Zionist products or manufactured goods". Each state opens a bureau under the direction of the Central Boycott Office in Damascus.


New legislation in the US forbids American participation in foreign boycotts that are not sanctioned by the White House, including the Arab League boycott of Israel. But, anxious to protect business with the Arab world, many companies choose to break the law rather than the boycott.


Under international pressure, Egypt becomes the first Arab nation to abandon the boycott in 1980. Jordan and the Palestine Authority follow suit in 1995. A year later, the Gulf States drop the boycott as well, and other states elect to relax it, leading many foreign companies to enter the Israeli market. It is thought that many states that still claim to support the boycott, including Syria and Lebanon, continue quietly to trade with Israel.


As students at more than 40 US campuses demand a review of university investment in Israeli companies, Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls on the international community to treat Israel as it treated apartheid South Africa. He calls for a grassroots campaign to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.


Britain's Association of University Teachers votes to boycott two Israeli universities alleged to be complicit in a system of "apartheid" towards Palestinians. A month later, academics vote to overturn the boycott.


The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe) votes in favour of a boycott of Israeli academics and universities that do not publicly disassociate themselves from Israel's "apartheid policies". The ban expires four days later when Natfhe merges into the University and College Union (UCU).

Norway's Finance Minister backs a consumer boycott of Israeli goods as part of a campaign of solidarity with Palestinians. The country's foreign ministry says the boycott is not government policy.

In the same month, Klaus Schwab (pictured below), the founder and director of the World Economic Forum, apologises after an article in an in-house magazine calls for a boycott of Israel.


At its annual meeting in April, the National Union of Journalists votes to boycott Israeli goods as part of a protest against Israel's 2006 Lebanon bombing campaign.

In May, the UCU votes for a motion to debate an academic boycott of Israel.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Syrian 'hate' aimed not at Jews but at the Israeli government

Syria and its difficult relationship with the Jews
In the article below about the history of the Jewish community in Syria and the little that is left of it, it is unjustly suggested that Syria has nothing against Jews, and the hostility is only towards Israel. The distinction that some of the interviewed make between Jews and Israel is not typical for Syrian politics or media:
"Israel is one thing, and Jews are something else," Mahmoud Sharif, an English-speaking tour guide, told JTA in Aleppo. "We respect the Jewish religion and consider it one of God's religions, but we don't accept Israel."
For instance former minister of defence Mustapha Tlass wrote a book a few years ago in which the Jews are accused of using the blood of a priest for making matzes, the infamous Damascus blood libel of 1840. In Syrian media and also in Islamic prayer services such anti-Semitic accusations are frequent. It should not surprise that a guide showing an American journalist around in the old Jewish Quarter does not entertain such language, and claims to respect the Jewish religion. But even this remark meant for Western ears is a far cry from acknowledging the Jews as a people with national rights.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, Syria's few Jews lived in fear, chafing under constant police surveillance and severe restrictions on business dealings, property ownership and overseas travel.
Those limits mostly ended in the mid-1990s, when then-President Hafez Assad – under heavy U.S. pressure – allowed more than 1,200 Jews to leave for new lives in the United States, Europe and, indirectly, Israel.

"There used to be a Jewish quarter in Damascus and maybe 20 synagogues," Kaplan said. "Today there's only one functioning synagogue, and they struggled to get a minyan the Shabbat morning I was there. We actually didn't make it. We got to eight."

JTA's attempts to interview Syrian Jews proved fruitless – no one seemed to know how to contact them. Jews here keep such a low profile that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus won't comment on the subject.
Why did the Jews live in constant fear and did they need police protection? Because the Syrians all loved the Jews?? And why did they all want to leave when they were allowed to? Why is it impossible to talk to the few Jews remaining in Syria? Apparently they have something to fear. The Syrians seem less tolerant than the writer of the article wants to make us believe when he writes:
Despite Syria's official anti-Zionist policy -- and the state of war that has existed between Israel and Syria since 1948 -- a JTA reporter heard not a comment against Jews during his five-day visit to Aleppo last month.

Residents of Aleppo, asked for directions to the Harat al-Yahud, the former Jewish quarter, pointed the way without a hint of hostility. In fact, a sign in Arabic at the entrance to the abandoned Joab Ben Zeruiah synagogue warns against dumping trash "in front of this holy place of worship."

Wow, you are shown the way to the former Jewish Quarter without being called a 'Jewish dog'. That's a relief. Would they have pointed the way as friendly to a thriving Jewish Quarter?
Even in Germany in 1936 most people would probably have kindly shown you the way to a Jewish neighbourhood. It is a pity that the people this JTA journalist spoke with did not tread the Jews better when they were still in Syria.

Syrian 'hate' aimed not at Jews but at the Israeli government
ALEPPO, Syria (JTA) – From the roof of a nondescript, four-story apartment building in downtown Aleppo -- amid a jumble of water tanks, power lines and satellite dishes -- one can gaze down at the last remnant of one of the world's oldest Jewish communities.

Hebrew gravestones, partially obscured by weeds and garbage, occupy a plot of land adjacent to the historic Joab Ben Zeruiah Synagogue, whose stone archways and grand interior walls hint of a prosperous and lively Jewish past.

The shul, in continuous use for more than 1,600 years, sits deserted. The families living in nearby apartments have no clue that this ancient building once housed the most influential center of Torah learning in the Middle East.

This rooftop perch offers the only view of the synagogue's restored interior because its front door is always locked. A sign at the entrance provides a phone number in Damascus for tourists, but the man who answers says military police must arrange all visits.

Syria is home to probably no more than 50 Jews among a total population of 18.5 million. Nearly all live in Damascus, except for perhaps two or three Jews in Aleppo.

"The Jewish community is quite elderly at this point. Nobody bothers them," said Seth Kaplan, a New York-based researcher who visited Syria recently for three weeks. "In fact, many Syrians told me they miss the Jews on some level."

Despite Syria's official anti-Zionist policy -- and the state of war that has existed between Israel and Syria since 1948 -- a JTA reporter heard not a comment against Jews during his five-day visit to Aleppo last month.

Residents of Aleppo, asked for directions to the Harat al-Yahud, the former Jewish quarter, pointed the way without a hint of hostility. In fact, a sign in Arabic at the entrance to the abandoned Joab Ben Zeruiah synagogue warns against dumping trash "in front of this holy place of worship."

But the attitude changes on Israel.

"Israel is one thing, and Jews are something else," Mahmoud Sharif, an English-speaking tour guide, told JTA in Aleppo. "We respect the Jewish religion and consider it one of God's religions, but we don't accept Israel."

Aleppo, an ancient metropolis of 1.5 million, is Syria's second-largest city and is renowned for its walled Citadel, which stands on a hilltop in the middle of town. From a Jewish point of view it's also famous for the Aleppo Codex – the earliest known manuscript containing the entire text of the Bible.

The Jewish presence in this city dates back some 2,500 years, to the time of King David. It peaked in the late 19th century, with Aleppo's 10,000 Jews representing 20 percent of the Jewish population in Syria, but started to decline before World War I as young Jewish men fled to avoid serving in the Ottoman army. Thousands of Syrian Jews ended up in Mexico City, Buenos Aires and New York City.

Massive emigration continued after the war, and intensified in 1947 as Syria, having gained independence from France a year earlier, encouraged pogroms against Jewish-owned shops and synagogues. Rioters in Aleppo that year burned the city's Jewish quarter and killed 75 people.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Syria's few Jews lived in fear, chafing under constant police surveillance and severe restrictions on business dealings, property ownership and overseas travel.

Those limits mostly ended in the mid-1990s, when then-President Hafez Assad – under heavy U.S. pressure – allowed more than 1,200 Jews to leave for new lives in the United States, Europe and, indirectly, Israel.

"There used to be a Jewish quarter in Damascus and maybe 20 synagogues," Kaplan said. "Today there's only one functioning synagogue, and they struggled to get a minyan the Shabbat morning I was there. We actually didn't make it. We got to eight."

JTA's attempts to interview Syrian Jews proved fruitless – no one seemed to know how to contact them. Jews here keep such a low profile that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus won't comment on the subject.

A Syrian-born rabbi who left in 1960 and now leads a prominent congregation in New Jersey said the community is nearly nonexistent. The rabbi returned in 1977.

"It was a memorable trip," the rabbi said, "but it's not a free country so we had to be careful."

Waddah Tabshow, owner of the Jafra House Oriental Souvenir Shop in the Souq al-Madinah marketplace here, told JTA he knew a number of Jews growing up, though he had lost contact with them over the years.

"Jewish people here had friendships with many people, but the families we know left in the early '90s because they got permission from the Syrian government to leave," he said.

Sharif suggested that the Jews left "because Syria wasn't a good country to live in, and because there were more opportunities in other countries."

As to Israel, the 31-year-old college graduate said the problem is not with its people but its government.

"Israel uses heavy weapons against children," said Sharif, who did his army service on Syria's border with the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the Six-Day War of 1967. "They've forced Palestinians from their land. The Palestinians have a miserable life, and many [refugee] families in Syria still think of their villages. If you ask them about Palestine, they will cry."

Assad has signaled that he wants to hold peace talks with Israel, but at the same time Syria has been engaged in an unprecedented upgrading of weapons' systems and large-scale troop maneuvers. Also, the Syrians are said to be transferring long-range rockets to Hezbollah with the ability to strike targets in central Israel.

Talking about politics – even when criticizing Israel – is risky in Syria, where police seem to be nearly as numerous as the ubiquitous posters of President Bashar Assad and his late father.

For example, a 20-foot-high statue of Hafez Assad towers over the main highway from Damascus to Aleppo, while an enormous billboard of Bashar Assad guards the entrance to the al-Hamadiyya market in Damascus, with the Arabic text "God Protects Syria."

At the Omar Khawatmi Elementary School in a poor neighborhood here, more than 1,000 boys and girls in blue uniforms assemble on the outdoor basketball court every morning to sing patriotic songs and shout slogans in Arabic.

Asked what they are shouting, the headmaster carefully replies: "They are praising our president."

Even so, things apparently have lightened up a bit since the younger Assad took over in 2000 upon the death of his father.

"We feel we can talk more freely now and criticize things that are wrong," Sharif said. "For example, three days ago on a television program called 'Let's Talk,' people were speaking frankly about Parliament, saying that politicians are only for themselves and that we want them to do something for the people. I never heard such words on TV before."

One thing Syrians talk quite a lot about is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ongoing violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dominates TV shows, coffee-shop conversation and headlines in the newspapers – all of which are state-controlled, including the English-language Syria Times.

"People here don't like Israel," Sharif said. "They think about this situation every day. It's our daily problem. They think Israel won't last forever."

Asked what it would take to change people's attitudes, Sharif thought for a moment.

"If Israel gave us back the Golan, it would be a good sign they really want peace," he suggested. "[But] whether the government makes peace with Israel or not, the people will not agree. And if they agree, it's because they'll be forced to agree. They hate Israel."

In the meantime, Aleppo shopkeeper Salaheddin Abbas has his own take on the situation.

"It's obvious that America and Russia are making trouble in the region, so that Russia can sell weapons to Syria and Iran, and the U.S. can sell weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia," said Abbas, 36, who sells antique brassware and carpets. "I believe poor people in Israel want peace, not rich people. It's all about business."

You'll never guess who is Jewish