Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama's Durban gambit


By Caroline B. Glick

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Some might argue that no Israeli interest is served by openly condemning the White House. But when the White House is participating in a process that legitimizes and so advances the war against the Jewish state, such condemnation is not only richly deserved but required
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Israel is no longer "a people dwelling alone

Podeh argues that Israeli actions must take into account the reactions of Arab states, who now have some relations with Israel. That is true, but Arab state actions must equally take into account the needs of Israel, otherwise it is pointless. For example, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund Hamas. Did they consider that they are not "a people dwelling along?"
  Elie Podeh

The image associated with Israel's society and leaders since its founding in 1948 is the biblical "a people dwelling alone". The siege mentality has been internalized through a variety of socializing agents.

The sense of alone-ness has of course not been a fiction; it is grounded to a considerable extent in historic precedents and a reality of Arab hostility that at times has deteriorated into war. The siege was formally broken when Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. Jordan too signed a peace agreement in 1994, while the PLO and Israel signed a series of agreements during the 1990s. During this period, Israel also developed ties with the countries of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (particularly Morocco, Oman and Qatar), even though formal agreements were not signed.

While the emergence of peace agreements did not constitute acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, it did signal a change in the rules of the game and recognition of Israel as a player in the Middle East system. No longer was Israel a negative unifying force in the Arab world; now it was also a factor inducing divisions.

Still, at times of war or tension between Israel and any Arab actor, Israel has reverted to the familiar pose of "a people dwelling alone". The existence of a collective Arab identity and of an Arab commitment, however vague, to the Palestinian issue, has usually generated rhetorical if not operative Arab unity. This was the case in the First Lebanon War (1982) and the outbreak of both intifadas (1987 and 2000). Egypt and Jordan recalled their ambassadors, reduced their ties to the bare minimum and publicly expressed a clear anti-Israel stand.

The Second Lebanon War and the recent war in Gaza represent a change in Arab state behavior toward Israel. In fact, early signs of this change were evident following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and additional Arab states took the side of the West--and indirectly Israel's side--in the resultant first Gulf war (1991).

A more significant change took place when Israel launched a war against Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006: Egypt and Saudi Arabia did not hesitate to openly criticize that organization's irresponsible behavior and blame it for the damage inflicted on Lebanon in the course of the war. Like Israel, they too recognized in Hizballah a dangerous actor that sought to strengthen the status of Iran and the Shi'ites in the region at the expense of the Sunni states. A tacit alliance was created between Israel and certain Arab states, dubbed "moderate", that reflected shared interests. Yet the longer the war dragged on and the more evidence of damage in Lebanon accumulated, the more the "moderate" leaders were obliged to square their position with that of the Arab consensus--as expressed in the clear anti-Israel language of Arab League resolutions and in other international fora.

In the recent Gaza war, Israel found itself in an even more comfortable situation: on the same side as Egypt. Hamas was perceived as a threat to both countries: if Israel was threatened by Palestinian terrorism, Egypt was threatened by the possible aggrandizement of radical Islamic actors who challenge its regime stability. Then too, Egypt and Israel--like additional Sunni states in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan--view Hamas as a tool to strengthen Tehran's position and that of the Shi'ites in the Arab world. Precisely because Hamas, unlike Hizballah, is Sunni, it draws even greater Arab anger for "collaborating" with Shi'ite Iran. Moreover, both the Egyptians and the Saudis resent Hamas having embarrassed the two leading Arab states in the course of long and fruitless negotiations they shepherded between it and Fateh (the Mecca agreement of 2007; the Cairo talks of 2008).

Israeli-Egyptian cooperation in the course of the war in Gaza testifies to the two countries' overlapping interests when it comes to Hamas. This phenomenon, while reflecting to some extent the Arab world's weakness, demonstrates to an even greater extent that the Arab world is behaving like a more "normal" system, in accordance more with interests than with ideologies and identity politics. That this behavior was repeated in both Lebanon and Gaza indicates that this is no chance occurrence.

Of course, we must qualify this optimistic picture with reference to the damage caused by Israel in Gaza. Qatar closed the Israeli trade mission in Doha, Mauritania withdrew its ambassador, relations with Turkey were damaged and Arab society as a whole was angered by the killing in Gaza. Yet beyond these reactions, some of which are reversible, it is important to note that not every Arab-Israel dispute generates automatic Arab unity and isolates Israel regionally. This insight is important insofar as the struggle against regional radical actors will continue during periods of calm as well.

Thus there exists an infrastructure of shared interests that can enable Israel, openly or clandestinely, to advance peace initiatives with Arab actors. The Arab peace initiative, which will again be deliberated at next month's Arab summit in Qatar, affords an excellent opportunity to renew the Israel-Arab dialogue that was halted by the war in Gaza.- Published 12/2/2009 ©

Prof. Elie Podeh chairs the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The coming debacle in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has ruined the armies of several empires - and perhaps the empires themselves. In recent times, first the British, and then the Soviets, met disaster there. President Karzai, once touted by the Bush administration as symbolic of a model to be followed in nation building is a evidently a crook of the first order, as well as a fanatical religious reactionary. The state is run on revenues from opium, which also enrich various officials and cronies. Islamic Sharia law is enforced draconically. Not long ago, vigorous international protests were required to save a convert to Christianity from a sentence of execution. There are no good guys in Afghanistan. Only bandits and crooks and fanatics all competing with each other. The enemy of the worst fanatical crook is another fanatical crook. There is no local regime to back. Money poured into rehabilitation will vanish. Attempts to impose unjust regimes on the people will fail.  
In Pakistan, the situation is just barely better. There is a democratic government, besieged by Islamists and beset by India. Its leaders are murdered on a pretty regular basis, and its writ doesn't run to the border areas with Afghanistan.
Barack Obama proposes to save both countries. What would it really take to do that, and is it at all possible?
Obama's war
Peter Goodspeed,  National Post  Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Twenty years ago last Sunday, General Boris Gromov drove the last Soviet armoured personnel carrier out of Afghanistan, crossing a bridge over the Amu Darya River into Soviet Uzbekistan.
Greeted with kisses and garlanded with bouquets of carnations, he, nevertheless, was a symbol of abject defeat. After nine years of vicious fighting, in which up to 110,000 Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan, killing a million Afghans and losing 15,000 soldiers themselves in the process, the badly demoralized Soviet army abandoned the country to another decade of civil war and chaos.
Now, fears are growing that the United States and NATO may be making exactly the same sort of mistakes as the Soviets.
Seven years after U.S. and allied troops drove the Taliban from power, Afghanistan is ensnared in an increasingly violent insurgency that threatens both Kabul and nuclear-armed Pakistan. The country is threatened by new waves of suicide attacks, roadside bombings and assassinations of key Kabul-appointed officials.
Operating from safe havens across the border in Pakistan, the Taliban occupy 72% of the country and run shadow governments and courts that challenge local officials.
Riddled with corruption, poverty and despair, Afghanistan has deteriorated into a "narco-state" that provides 90% of the world's illegal opium.
Like the Soviets before them, the United States and NATO control Afghanistan's cities but are unable to maintain a decisive presence in the hinterland.
"There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that was not repeated by the international community here in Afghanistan," says Zamir Kabulov, Russia's current ambassador to Kabul.
"They have already repeated all our mistakes. Now, they are making mistakes of their own," says Mr. Kabulov, who was the KGB station chief in Kabul during the Soviet occupation.
U.S. President Barack Obama wants to change that. He has vowed to make Afghanistan the centerpiece of his foreign policy, declaring it "the central front in the war on terror."
Promising "a robust military effort," he is preparing to dispatch an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, while insisting the United States and its allies need to reassess their strategy.
Unable to win a decisive military victory or to withdraw abruptly without facing potentially catastrophic consequences, Mr. Obama is determined to overhaul U.S. policy in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan completely before a crucial NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, in April.
If Iraq was known as "Bush's War," Afghanistan is definitely about to become "Obama's War." It could come to define Mr. Obama's presidency.
"The window of opportunity for expansive nation building in Afghanistan has closed," says Roland Paris, director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa. "Deteriorating security conditions and declining public support for the international mission require a more focused, modest set of goals.
"The situation has become urgent. More NATO troops are certainly needed, but the deployment of additional forces will not, in itself reverse the slide toward defeat. A new approach is needed to the mission."
Two weeks ago, as he testified before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared previous U.S. goals for Afghanistan were "overly ambitious" and "too broad and too far into the future."
"If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose," he said.
Since Mr. Obama won the presidential election in November, Washington has been swamped with experts undertaking reviews aimed at changing the trajectory of the Afghan war. Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Army General David Petraeus, head of Central Command, and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all conducting their own reviews. This week the White House appointed Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official, to chair an inter-agency policy review committee to assess all work on Afghanistan.
So far, there seems to be a consensus view that the war in Afghanistan suffered from a lack of resources and manpower as a result of the U.S.'s pre-occupation with the war in Iraq.
But there is also a growing disenchantment in Washington with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Once the darling of the West, he is no longer assured of the unwavering support he enjoyed from former U.S. president George W. Bush. During the presidential election, Mr. Obama criticized Mr. Karzai's government as being unreliable and ineffective, saying it "had not gotten out of the bunker and helped organize Afghanistan."
Before he was appointed special envoy, Mr. Holbrooke wrote a withering criticism of U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the Septemebr issue of Foreign Affairs magazine in which he bluntly claimed Afghanistan's "central government has shown that it is simply not up to the job."
"As the war enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth," Mr. Holbrooke said. "It will last a long time - longer than the United States' longest war to date, the 14-year conflict [1961-1975] in Vietnam. Success will require new policies with regard to four major problem areas: the tribal areas in Pakistan, the drug lords who dominate the Afghan system, the national police, and the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan government."
A long series of well-placed leaks and snubs have left little doubt that the relationship with Mr. Karzai has soured. Last October, a leaked U.S. intellignece report identified Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan President's half-brother, as a major drug trafficker. Senior U.S. officials repeatedly express doubts over Mr. Karzai's ability or willingness to rein in corruption, to improve law and order and to confront warlords who exploit a thriving opium trade.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wrote recently in the Washington Post, "Afghan leadership is not some distant aspiration – it's something that we need as soon as possible and on which we must insist. The basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it's too little good governance."
If Afghans were given a government that deserved their loyalty and trust "the oxygen will be sucked away from the insurgency," he predicted.
"Nothing will sap the insurgency's power as effectively over the long term as a positive, tangible alternative to Taliban rule that is based on physical security, the provision of basic services and accountable, non-predatory governance," says a recent policy brief by the Center for New American Security, a Washington think-tank with close ties to the Obama White House.
For now, Mr. Karzai seems bent on further alienating his Western allies.When he opened parliament on Jan. 23, he delivered a blistering speech that attacked the conduct of the U.S.-led war, complaining Washington and NATO undermine his government by ignoring its authority and overlooking corruption and waste in their own aid programs. He also criticized U.S. and NATO military tactics, claiming air strikes were killing too many civilians.
Recently, Mr. Karzai sent U.S. and NATO officials a document outling possible new rules of engagement in  which Afghan officials would control where and how foreign troops were deployed. Mr. Karzai is demanding co-ordination at "the highest level" on the use of air strikes and wants to stop having allied troops search Afghan homes or arrest Afghans.
The move may be a calculated election ploy to bolster Mr. Karzai's chances in presidential elections that were recently rescheduled for Aug. 20. But it could set the Afghan president on a collision course with Washington as Mr. Obama prepares to order a "surge" of three new combat brigades into Afghanistan starting this spring.
While a lack of progress in Afghanistan threatens to undermine Western support for the NATO mission there, experts agree military operations need to be beefed up to reverse the Taliban's recent gains, but they stress the ultimate solution lies in creating a viable, long-term Afghan alternative to the Taliban.
"We need to get back to basics," says J. Alexander Their of the United States Institute of Peace. "Establish security, create a conducive regional environment, build basic governmental legitimacy, engage the citizenry, create economic opportunity - these are the building blocks of a virtuous cycle that will broaden opportunity for ordinary Afghans while narrowing the space for insurgents."
National Post

An Islamic Taliban Republic - in Pakistan?

Militias look to create 'shariah state,' author says
National Post  Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A Swat Valley delegation meets yesterday with Pakistani government officials in Peshawar to discuss the introduction of Islamic law.Ali Imam, Reuters
Richard Holbrooke, the new U. S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently went to ground zero in the U. S.-led jihadist war. As heavily armed CIA Predator drones patrolled the skies above Pakistan's troubled tribal areas hunting for al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, the former Wall Street investment banker and Balkan peacemaker launched his own fact-finding mission, huddling with presidents, prime ministers, soldiers and spies.
While he insisted he was there to listen and not to lecture, Mr. Holbrooke was really searching for ways to salvage U. S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Seven years after a U. S. invasion drove Afghanistan's Taliban from power and dislodged al-Qaeda's leaders, the war against terrorism and Islamist radicalism seems to have fizzled in the barren border lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Former U. S. President George W. Bush's "War on Terror" has come to resemble a deadly game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey rather than a well-planned military campaign. Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, Afghanistan is in danger of sliding back into chaos and civil war, and instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan has provided the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a haven and the support they need to regroup.
In a television interview a little over a week ago, Pakistani President Ali Zardari acknowledged the Taliban was present "in huge amounts" of the country and Pakistani forces were "fighting for the survival of Pakistan."
"Pakistan is at the centre of a gathering firestorm engulfing south and central Asia in the most volatile confrontation since 9/11," warned Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani analyst who wrote the best-selling book Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
The West's failure to crush the Taliban and rehabilitate Afghanistan has resulted in a spreading contagion that now threatens the entire region as Pakistan has become the global centre for terrorism.
"Last year, Pakistani Taliban militias developed their own political agenda-- to Talibanize northern Pakistan and create a new 'shariah state' -- that would lead to the balkanization of Pakistan," Mr. Rashid said.
"The Pakistani Taliban now control all seven tribal agencies that make up the autonomous region bordering Afghanistan called the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)," he added. "They have spread across the North West Frontier Province through brutal terror tactics and threaten large towns. Poised on the borders of Punjab, the largest province, they are joined by Punjabi and Kashmiri extremist groups."
Mr. Holbrooke didn't have to look far for evidence of Pakistan's dangerous vulnerability and the threat it poses to the rest of the world.
During his last day in Pakistan, before travelling to Afghanistan, Taliban terrorists simultaneously stormed three government compounds in Kabul in a Mumbai-style terror attack that left 26 people dead. Within hours of the assault, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amnrullah Saleh, said the terror plot was hatched in Pakistan and the attackers had "sent three messages to Pakistan, calling for the blessings of their mastermind" before launching their suicide attacks.
Earlier, Mr. Holbrooke was in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, as he travelled by helicopter to some of Pakistan's battle-scarred tribal territories. While he was there, a local provincial politician was assassinated with a car bomb in Peshawar and a policeman was killed in a Taliban rocket attack on a police station in North Waziristan.
A day earlier, Pakistani Taliban militants released a graphic video of the beheading of a Polish engineer, Piotr Stanczak, who had been abducted in September. The same day, terrorists in North Waziristan killed a local man who they accused of being a U. S. spy and dumped his body by a road.
In recent weeks Taliban insurgents have cut off supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan by attacking supply routes through the Khyber Pass.
In the nearby Swat Valley, 3,000 Taliban militants have run circles around a 12,000-man Pakistani army division and bombed or burned 185 schools in addition to destroying 25 bridges.
Pakistan's military has been unable even to jam the FM radio station the Swat Valley militants use to co-ordinate their attacks and spread hatred against Pakistan's government.
Just 150 kiliometres from Pakistan's capital, the Swat Valley extremists regularly stage public lashings of "sinners" and have just issued a list of 43 people, primarily government officials, who are "wanted" for crimes punishable under Sharia law.
"The failure to bring peace and to restore a modicum of stability to the FATA will have widespread repercussions for the region and perhaps the world," warned Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of attack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region."
But as Pakistan flirts with becoming a full-fledged failed state, fears are growing its nuclear-armed military may not have the ability or the will to control the situation.
Ill-equipped for fighting a domestic counter-insurgency instead of a conventional war, Pakistan has repeatedly been unable to provide proper security for its own or other high ranking officials. Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated a little over a year ago, in spite of numerous threats; the biggest hotel in Islamabad, near the Pakistani presidential compound, was destroyed in a car bombing; a U. S. embassy official was attacked in Peshawar; Afghanistan's ambassador designate was kidnapped and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' top official in Pakistan, John Solecki, was abducted earlier this month in Quetta in Baluchistan.
U. S. President Barack Obama has said he intends to treat the growing security crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single issue. He has said he is determined to step up military attacks on Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists on both sides of the border.
But to do that, U. S. policy will have to focus on supporting Pakistan's fledgling democracy, while both demanding more from Pakistan's military and doing more to prepare Pakistan to fight a counter-insurgency.
As a first step, the U. S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has begun reviewing a massive new development assistance program for Pakistan that includes $1.5-billion annually in aid focused on developing Pakistan's tribal areas over the next five years.
At the same time, Pakistan's military is pushing Washington for more military aid, asking for attack helicopters, night vision goggles and radio jamming equipment.
In return, Washington will likely demand Pakistan adopt a more coherent strategy for fighting the Taliban and routing out al-Qaeda.
Mr. Holbrooke can also be expected to try and defuse tensions between India and Pakistan in the hopes a form of detente between South Asia's two nuclear powers will allow Pakistan's military to focus on the terrorists along its western border instead of on its traditional enemy in the east.
Before he became Mr. Obama's special envoy, Mr. Holbrooke wrote a guest column for the Washington Post in which he flatly declared "the most critical fact about the war in Afghanistan [is that] it cannot be won as long as the border areas in Pakistan are havens for the Taliban and al-Qaeda."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Venezuelan Jewish leader to address London conference


On the eve of a conference on anti-Semitism on Monday, one man has
arrived in London with a simple plea for the government in his country
to stop its state-sanctioned and media-led campaign of anti-Semitism.
That man is Sammy Eppel from Venezuela, a Jewish community leader,
director of the human rights commission of B'nai B'rith and columnist
for Caracas's main newspaper El Universal. He has come to tell his
story of the plight of the Jewish community in his country and the
acute rise in anti-Semitism there, which he said was led by the state,
from the president through to the government.
The act that began this wave of anti-Semitism, he told The Jerusalem
Post, was a raid on a Jewish school in Caracas in 2004. The police had
been looking for weapons and explosives, he said, but pointed out that
the raid tied in with a visit to Iran by Venezuelan president Hugo
"It was, if you like, a gift for Ahmadinejad, to say that 'this is how
I treat my Jews,'" Eppel said.
This was part of the problem also - Venezuela's ties with Iran - which
he said the world would eventually have to take seriously.
Since Operation Cast Lead, things have gotten worse for Venezuelan
Jews. This culminated in an attack on the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in
Caracas on January 30 which caused widespread damage. The perpetrators
left slogans such as "damn the Jews" and "Jews out of here" on the
synagogue walls.

In the subsequent investigation, eight police officers have been
arrested, including a senior female police detective who has been
accused by the El Universal newspaper of leading the attack.
Before this, on January 20, the government sponsored news portal,
Aporrea, published a "Plan of Action‚" which among other things called
for "confiscation of properties of those Jews who support the Zionist
atrocities of the Nazi-State of Israel and [the] donation [of] this
property to the Palestinian victims of today's Holocaust."
It also called to publicly denounce by name the members of "powerful
Jewish groups" in Venezuela, as well as the names of their companies
and businesses in order to boycott them.
"[The plan] was a call to action, people were urged to confront Jews
in the streets, they were talking about closing Jewish schools,
confiscating Jewish property," Eppel said.
"It's being done in government and the media and this should be
troubling not just us but [the] whole world," he said.
He described the country as being like a laboratory in which the
government was trying to manufacture anti-Semitism where it had never
existed before.
"It is like an evil experiment to try and convince the population,
that has never been anti-Semitic, and try to introduce anti-Semitism
into society," he said.
"This is the time to stop because it's spreading hate, discrimination
and is a flagrant violation of human rights and it could spread and be
very dangerous," he warned.
Eppel was quick to emphasize that the people in Venezuela were not
"Venezuela is a country that has no anti-Semitism in the population,"
he said. "The people are not anti-Semitic."
Venezuela's Jewish community has halved in the last 10 years,
numbering today around 14-15,000, many halving left for Israel, other
South American countries and the US. He said he hoped that Jews would
stay in Venezuela.
"We don't want to leave, we are fully integrated in every walk of life
in Venezuela," he said.
He insists that anti-Semitism does not exist on the street.
"You have cases of anti-Semitism or hate crimes in Britain. You don't
have it in Venezuela. People would not attack a Jew on the street for
wearing a kippa, it is all state sanctioned."
Eppel will be addressing the London Conference on anti-Semitism on Tuesday.
"I have come to present the reality - everything I present comes from
open sources, I don't speculate, it's all documented and in the public
domain. I'm not taking anything out of context nor inventing anything
or presenting a theory," he said.
After the Synagogue attack, Eppel said that the media, 80 percent of
which is controlled by the government, had blamed the Mossad and the
CIA. The Jewish community had also been implicated, but he has no
doubt who was behind it.
"When they give you a standard response like that, it puts a warning
light and you immediately think it's the government because why are
they looking for excuses if no one has accused them?" he said.
I ask him what the community is doing in response.
"We have at least 61 times denounced this to the authorities in last
three years, including last November when we went to the Attorney
General and demanded that action be taken because we were afraid that
the offensive was so strong that the next stage would be a violent
act. Nothing has happened," he said.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Raymond Ibrahim: War, Peace and Deceit in Islam

Hatred is turning me into a Jew
Nick Cohen
February 12, 2009

The more the British Left indulges antisemitism, the more kosher I feel
My name is Nick Cohen, and I think I'm turning into a Jew. Despite being
called "Cohen", I've never been Jewish before. It's not simply that I am an
atheist. My Jewish friends tell me that it is hard to find an educated
London Jew who is not an atheist, but that I have no connection with Jewish
The Jewish side of my family is my father's (which is not a help, I gather).
My great grandparents fled from the Tsarist Empire at the time of the
pogroms, but their son, my grandfather, revolted. He became a Communist and
married outside the faith. My father was brought up with no connection to
Judaism and, inevitably, so was I.
My sole interest in Jewish concerns came from being a left-wing opponent of
the far Right, and the blood-soaked antisemitic superstitions which turned
Europe into a graveyard. When I was young, such attitudes seemed
unproblematic. You did not have to be a Jew to oppose fascism; everyone I
knew did that regardless of colour or creed.
Today the old certainties have gone because there are two far-right
movements: the white neo-Nazi parties that the Left still opposes; and the
clerical fascists of radical Islam which, extraordinarily, the modern Left
succours and indulges. I am not only talking about Ken Livingstone, George
Galloway and their gruesome accomplices in the intelligentsia. Wider liberal
society is almost as complicit. It does not applaud the Islamist far Right,
but it will not condemn it either. From the broadcasters, through the
liberal press, the Civil Service, the Metropolitan Police, the bench of
bishops and the judiciary, antisemitism is no longer an unthinkable mental
deformation. As long as the conspiracy theories of the counter-enlightenment
come from ideologues with dark rather than white skins, nominally liberal
men and women will not speak out.
Fight back and you become a Jew, whether you are or not. Mark Lawson
recently described an argument at the BBC over the corporation's decision
not to screen the charity appeal for Gaza. His furious colleague declared
that the only reason Lawson supported the ban was because he was Jewish.
Lawson had to tell him that he was, in fact, raised a Catholic.
A furious Labour MP was no different when he told a colleague of mine that I
had gone off the rails when I married a "hard-right" Jewish woman from North
London. My friend replied that this would be news to my wife, a liberal
Catholic from Stoke-on-Trent.

It was kind of him to point that out, but I would no longer protest that I
wasn't Jewish, and I don't think Lawson should either. It is cowardly to
stammer that you are not a Jew because you concede the racist's main point —
that there is something suspect about being Jewish — as you do it.
In any case, my experience of left-wing antisemitism has changed the way I
think and made me, if you like, more Jewish.
Although I want to see every Israeli settlement on the West Bank dismantled,
it was clear to me that when Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel it
had declared war and had to accept the consequences. I would not have
thought that five years ago.
You do not need me to add that mine is a minority point of view among
liberals, and that British Jews are living through a very dangerous period.
They are the only ethnic minority whose slaughter official society will
excuse. If a mass murderer bombed a mosque or black Pentecostal church, no
respectable person would say that the "root cause" of the crime was an
understandable repulsion at the deeds of al-Qaeda or a legitimate opposition
to mass immigration. Rightly, they would blame the criminal for the crime.
If a synagogue is attacked, I guarantee that within minutes the airwaves
will be filled with insinuating voices insisting that the "root cause" of
the crime was a rational anger at the behaviour of Israel or the Jewish
Put like this, the position of British Jewry sounds grim. Remember, however,
that the first aim of radical Islam is to subjugate Muslims. When brave
feminists, gays, democrats and liberals in the Muslim world and in Britain's
Muslim communities make a stand, they, too, are accused of being the tools
of Zionists.
As the struggle between theocracy and liberalism intensifies, I can see some
being pushed into taking the same journey I have taken and finding their
views towards Judaism and Israel softening as they realise that antisemitism
helps drive the fascistic ideologies of the 21st century just as it drove
the Nazism of the 20th.
I will tell them that the opponents of totalitarianism must never be
frightened. If their enemies say they are Jews, they should shrug and say:
"All right, I am." As long as readers of the Jewish Chronicle don't object,
of course.
Nick Cohen is a columnist for The Observer. His latest collection of essays,
'Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England', is
published this week

In Egypt: Christian converts fear for their lives, struggle for recognition

By Christopher Landau
BBC Religious Affairs correspondent, Cairo 

Mr El Gohary and his daughter fear for their lives' after converting
Maher al-Gohary has converted from Islam to Christianity. In spite of facing death threats, he's engaged in a legal battle to have his changed religion recognised on his official Egyptian documents.
We drive through the chaotic streets of Cairo to meet Mr Gohary's lawyer at a petrol station.
His client lives in hiding, and doesn't disclose his address.
He faces threats to his life - as a result of abandoning Islam for Christianity.
When we meet, in a small first floor office on an anonymous Cairo street, Maher al-Gohary is matter-of-fact about the dangers he faces.
"I am afraid. Many, many people can kill me and my daughter anytime," he says.
I asked him whether he felt these threats to his life were serious.
"Yes," he replied. "Anyone may kill us in the street."
His teenage daughter, also a Christian, sits at her father's side.
She, too, has been warned about the consequences of religious conversion.
"While I was going to school, someone stopped me and told me if my father does not go back to Islam, they will kill him and kill me," she tells me.
Legal recognition
Her father's legal challenge is a simple one.
He wants his state identification documents amended, so that his religious status is described as Christian.
Such a change would also mean his daughter could receive Christian religious education.
His lawyer, Nabil Ghobreyal, has already represented his client at several legal hearings - but no judge has yet issued a final verdict.
At the most recent, on 7 February, Mr Ghobreya believes he made a convincing case that Egyptian civil law offers no obstacles to religious conversion.
He believes the real problem is that the law is being ignored.

Who are Egypts' Christians?
Egypt has the oldest and largest Christian community in the Middle East
About 10% of Egypt's 80 million people are Christians
Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, a word derived from the Greek word Aigyptos, meaning Egypt
The Christian community is divided into: Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholics, Coptic Evangelicans (Protestants) and other minorities
They have their own pope, Pope Shenouda III, and give allegiance to him rather than to Rome
"The court should have ruled in the first session of this case to allow Mr Gohary to change his religion from Muslim to Christian," he explains.
"But the problem is that some judges rule according to their beliefs, not according to law."
Those beliefs lead some Muslims to support harsh penalties for those who abandon the Muslim faith.
Some believe that to renounce Islam - known as apostasy - should be punished by death.
But human rights lawyers in Egypt are convinced that the country's law allows for the freedom to change religion.
At the Arabic Human Rights Information Network, I met Gamal Eid, a lawyer fighting a similar case on behalf of another religious convert.
He believes that if Mr Gohary's case is successful, it could have far-reaching consequences.
"Many people in their ID are Muslim, or Christian, or Jewish - but they believe different things," he says.
"Many of them are afraid to convert officially. If that door opens - huge numbers of people will try to convert from Muslim to Christian. The law gives them this right."
Existing in secret
Egypt's Christian communities have deep roots - with many churches pre-dating Islam.
But some feel as though they have to exist in secret, or at the very least to be discreet about their activities.
At morning prayer at a Catholic church in Cairo, I come across Father Rafiq Greish.
He tells me that while his church is free to hold services when it wants, he is prevented from sharing his Christian faith as widely as he would like.
And he says that some women in his congregation, who have converted to Christianity, go to great lengths to hide their changed religious status from friends and family.
"When they go out from the church, they put their veil on again, and they go home with their veil as if a Muslim woman," he explains.
"Because she's afraid from her brothers, her father, in her work, she cannot say she was converted - and this is part of our problems."
Mr Gohary's legal challenge is being watched closely by supporters of religious freedom who believe it is under threat in many Middle Eastern countries.
Any change in the law would not necessarily improve his personal safety, but it would mean recognition for the faith he holds dear.
He told me that what he really wants is to be able to live a normal life, without fearing for his safety. And that several other countries have now offered him asylum on religious grounds.
But all he wants is to be able to stay in the place of his birth - and freely practise the religion he's chosen.

"All my hope: peace, and peace. Only peace. We don't find it in Egypt now."