Saturday, July 10, 2010

Karzai not enthusiastic about U.S. Afghan strategy

In this case, Karzai is probably right. Arming the villages can create renegade groups and also is an open invitation to subversion by the enemy. But it is also a threat to the greed of Karzai's officials.
Petraeus, like all generals, is trying to fight the last war. What worked in Iraq, if it worked, cannot work in Afghanistan for many reasons. The key in Iraq was controlling the cities and towns. The key in Afghanistan is controlling the countryside. The Afghans already had a culture of warlordism and the strategy of forming alliances that worked in Iraq will probably backfire in Afghanistan. On the other hand, since the war in Afghanistan is probably unwinnable in the present parameters by any strategy, one route to disaster is no worse than another. An enemy that knows the US will soon leave has only to wait until that happens.
Ami Isseroff
By Joshua Partlow and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 10, 2010; A01
KABUL -- As he takes charge of the war effort in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus has met sharp resistance from President Hamid Karzai to an American plan to assist Afghan villagers in fighting the Taliban on their own.
A first meeting last week between the new commander and the Afghan president turned tense after Karzai renewed his objections to the plan, according to U.S. officials. The idea of recruiting villagers into local defense programs is a key part of the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, and Karzai's stance poses an early challenge to Petraeus as he tries to fashion a collaborative relationship with the Afghan leader.
Senior U.S. officials say that the United States would like to expand the program to about two dozen sites across Afghanistan, double the current number, and are hoping to overcome Karzai's concerns. But the issue is delicate to many who fear that such experiments could lead Afghanistan further into warlordism and out-of-control militias.
The U.S. initiative was developed under Petraeus's predecessor, ousted Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, although Petraeus has been a strong supporter of such programs. When Petraeus commanded the Iraq war, U.S. forces partnered with tens of thousands of civilian guards, including former insurgents, who fought against the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Despite his tensions with other U.S. officials, McChrystal formed a close working relationship with Karzai. The question of whether Petraeus can replicate that bond remains a significant uncertainty hanging over the war effort.
"We always have long meetings and many arguments," said a senior Afghan official who was present at Karzai's meeting with Petraeus. "We always try to teach our foreign partners how to deal with a situation like this. We Afghans know better than you."
In his first week on the job, Petraeus has met with Karzai three times and discussed many topics. But on at least one issue, the village defense forces, the general has run into resistance from Karzai. The policy would give the United States and the Interior Ministry authority to pursue a variety of programs, including expanding the pilot projects that give uniforms and salaries to villagers trained by U.S. Special Operations forces.
The Afghan official said Karzai is wary of creating "a force that will be viewed as a private militia."
"We should be empowering the community in a way that doesn't risk future stability," the official said. "We are not looking for a solution only for our sake. We try to find solutions for the sake of the U.S. and Afghanistan."
A senior U.S. military official described the initial Petraeus-Karzai meeting on July 3 as a "forthright" discussion of "concerns and needs" on both sides and said Petraeus and his staff came out of it feeling that it was valuable for getting a clear firsthand sense of Karzai's views.
At a subsequent dinner in Kabul attended by Petraeus, Karzai, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and others, the issue of village defense was raised, and Karzai invited Petreaus to address the Afghan leader's concerns. The two met one-on-one Wednesday and plan to discuss the issue again next week. Petraeus is attempting to quickly respond to Karzai's problems with the program, U.S. military officials said.
Some of Karzai's concerns are "understandable," a senior military official said. "There are potential downsides with these, and safeguards are needed," the official said. "That's what we're working with our Afghan partners to ensure."
When Karzai initially objected to the initiative, his skepticism was shared by his then-interior minister, Hanif Atmar, and by U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. But Atmar has since been fired, and U.S. officials said that Petraeus's arrival has changed the dynamic between the civilian and military sides of the U.S. effort. While it was not made explicit in President Obama's offer or Petraeus's acceptance of the command, officials said that the general's stature, and the perilous state of the war, have clearly positioned him as the senior member of the U.S. team.
Attempts to recruit villagers to fight the Taliban have emerged in many forms in Afghanistan. One effort called the Village Stability Program (formerly Local Defense Initiatives), run by U.S. Special Operations forces, has been tested in places such as the volatile Argandab Valley of Kandahar. But without Karzai's approval of the policy, the spread of the program would be limited.
Another iteration, the Afghan Public Protection Police, is intended to provide an Afghan government structure over the armed villagers and salaries paid by the Interior Ministry. This program is intended to eventually envelop programs run by the U.S. Special Forces, as Afghans take more control of security in the country.
A plan for local defense forces was expected to be endorsed Thursday at a large coordinating meeting in Kabul of Afghan officials and military and civilian representatives from donor countries, to pave the way for formal introduction at an international conference in Kabul in 10 days. But while the concept was supported, it was not officially endorsed as some at the meeting wanted clarification on how it would work, according to three participants.
"It's a very well-thought-out concept, which is aimed at protecting civilians and enabling and empowering the local people to gather behind the law," said Vygaudas Usackas, the European Union special representative in Afghanistan. "The concern which we had as the European Union is to see a clear chain of command [within the Interior Ministry] so it doesn't become a separate militia."
DeYoung reported from Washington. Staff writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran, also in Washington, contributed to this report.

Obama predicts peace again - hope springs eternal

Barry Rubin notes:
Last September, President Barack Obama — with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas standing nearby — said that there would be direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington by November 2009.

It didn't happen.
The media didn't ridicule the Obama administration or point to this failure. Too bad. That kind of behavior by the media plays a positive role — in this case, teaching the president to be more circumspect and skeptical about rapid progress. Moreover, the president of the United States should never say that something is going to happen unless he knows that it will happen.
Now, in July 2010, the president is pressing for direct negotiations by the end of September: "And my hope is, is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium  [Israeli construction freeze that ends in September] has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success."
That is less of a problem for Obama than one might think. The Guantanamo base was supposed to be closed a long time ago according to Obama's announcement on the subject. It didn't happen either, and nobody is making a big deal out of that. For that matter, Jews always vow "Next year in Jerusalem," but we aren't holding our breath until they all get here either.  
Rubin quotes the Washigton Post:
By reaffirming U.S. support for Israel and pressing for direct talks, Mr. Obama has created an opportunity to put both Palestinian leaders and Mr. Netanyahu to the test and to discover who is serious and who is not about a two-state settlement.
But he notes that there is no chance of success. What will happen when the talks fail due to Palestinian intransigence? We can see the outlines of how it will go down even now. at the Community of Yes Web site started by J Street. The thesis of the site is that Palestinians are ready and eager for peace, and only Bibi Netanyahu and the evil Israelis do not want peace.
Ami Isseroff
Pressing for Israel-PA Negotiations? Obama Sets Himself Up for Mideast Failure, Again
After his prediction of upcoming talks proved wrong last year, Obama ... makes the exact same prediction for 2010.
July 10, 2010 - by Barry Rubin 
Last September, President Barack Obama — with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas standing nearby — said that there would be direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington by November 2009.
It didn't happen.
The media didn't ridicule the Obama administration or point to this failure. Too bad. That kind of behavior by the media plays a positive role — in this case, teaching the president to be more circumspect and skeptical about rapid progress. Moreover, the president of the United States should never say that something is going to happen unless he knows that it will happen.
Now, in July 2010, the president is pressing for direct negotiations by the end of September: "And my hope is, is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium  [Israeli construction freeze that ends in September] has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success."
But is there any reason that this deadline will be met? No.
Israel is eager for direct talks; the PA keeps finding excuses for opposing them. Now it wants Israel to state its positions on borders and security measures before any talks can start. Yet what would happen if Israel did so? The PA would state that they are excessive, and thus refuse to enter direct talks.
True, the U.S. government is putting on some pressure to convince the PA to change its stance. Yet this limited pressure may well not be sufficient. The PA knows that the White House won't go too far in this effort and will never publicly denounce the PA for its obduracy (whereas it would not hesitate — as we have seen — to criticize Israel).
Thus, the PA has ample reason to believe that if it does nothing, nothing will happen to it.
The PA strategy is to ensure that negotiations go nowhere and instead claim that it is building a state and then declare independence some time in the future. The great advantage of this approach is that the PA can try to get a state without compromise or concession to Israel. Moreover, by such methods, the PA can hope — as has happened numerous times — that Israel is blamed for the lack of progress and the U.S. government will pressure Israel.
These expectations may well be wrong — no unilateral independence declaration might ever happen — but they suit the needs of the PA leaders. They hope to avoid internal anger at concessions, closing their options for total victory in the future, and Western criticism or punishment.
The likelihood, then, is that Obama's prediction might fail. Will the media remember that he went out once again on a limb and sawed it off?
Of course, just getting direct talks is no big deal — they existed between 1992 and 2000! A Washington Post editorial states:
By reaffirming U.S. support for Israel and pressing for direct talks, Mr. Obama has created an opportunity to put both Palestinian leaders and Mr. Netanyahu to the test and to discover who is serious and who is not about a two-state settlement.
Yet we've been through this numerous times before. What happens when Netanyahu proves he is for a two-state solution and Abbas shows he is against it in practice? Will the West put heavy pressure on the PA? Will it swing to a strong pro-Israel policy?
Of course not. And that will help guarantee that no progress is made toward peace.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition, Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth about Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

Did Israel stop Sayf al-Islam's Gaza-bound Libyan ship ?

Actually, it is a Moldovan ship, chartered from Libya. We won't know what actually happened until the episode plays out. The ship was charted by a "charity" organization headed by Muammar Ghaddafi's son, Sayf al Islam.  His name means "Sword of Islam," se we are entitled to have suspicions about the nature of this "charity" and the nature of the materials on board the shio.  

JERUSALEM — Intense diplomatic efforts have likely prevented a Libyan aid ship from trying to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, the foreign ministry said on Saturday.

"Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke several times in recent days with the foreign ministers of Greece and Moldova and reached understandings with them about dealing with the Libyan ship," a ministry statement said.

"The foreign ministry believes that due to these talks, the ship will not reach Gaza," the statement added.

The Greek foreign ministry confirmed it was in contact with Israel over the boat but would not elaborate.

A charity headed by Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, the son of Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi who is widely seen as heir apparent, said on Friday it was sending an aid boat from Greece to Gaza.

Agents for the Moldova-flagged cargo ship Amalthea said the boat was expected to set sail from Lavrio, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) southeast of Athens on Saturday.

The 92-metre (302-foot) freighter has a 12-man crew and will carry up to nine passengers, a representative of Piraeus-based agents Alpha Shipping said on Friday.

But Israeli officials said that Moldovan authorities had made contact with the captain of the ship who agreed to divert the cargo to the Egyptian port of El-Arish. They did not elaborate.

Petros Arvanitis, the shipping agent of the Amalthea, confirmed to AFP that there have been discussions between the various parties on the boat's final destination.

Meanwhile Israeli media on Saturday reported that Israel had asked the United Nations to stop the Libyan ship.

Israel's UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev sent a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon asking that the international community intervene to prevent the ship approaching Gaza, Haaretz newspaper reported on its website.

"Israel calls upon the international community to exert its influence on the government of Libya to demonstrate responsibility and prevent the ship from departing to the Gaza Strip," Haaretz quoted from the letter.

Shalev also warned in the letter that "Israel reserves the right under international law to prevent this ship from violating the existing naval blockade on the Gaza Strip."

The Tripoli-based Kadhafi International Charity and Development Association said the cargo ship was "loaded with about 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid in the form of foodstuff and medications."

The ship will also carry "a number of supporters who are keen on expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people in the plight amidst the siege imposed on Gaza," the organisation added in a statement.

On May 31, Israeli special forces stormed a flotilla of six ships carrying aid for the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing nine Turks on board the Turkish passenger ferry Mavi Marmara.

Israel says its commandos only used force to defend themselves after being ambushed.

Israel imposed the blockade in June 2006 after its soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Gaza militants and tightened it a year later when Hamas seized power in the coastal strip.

In the wake of the May 31 incident, Israel has significantly eased the blockade, barring only arms and goods that could be used to create weapons or build fortifications, but it has maintained the naval blockade.

A Pakistani Muslim view of the flotilla


Against the backdrop of leafy quadrangles, to the sounds of British birdsong in a rainy English Spring, I have been thinking about religion, belief and morality. Over the past two weeks here in Cambridge, I have enjoyed the company of some of the most animated minds focusing on the nexus of science and religion today. Along with nine others, I am part of the 2010 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship, a program conceived by the late Sir John Templeton to help journalists engage in public discourse on the most challenging interfaces of our time while fostering inter-faith dialogue.
One of the most dazzling speakers to address us was Professor Noah Efron of Bar Ilan University who flew in from Tel Aviv to speak to us about Science and Judaism. In a pivotal moment, he made a critically important observation, one that stayed with me long after his electrifying talk had ended.
Later that week, at the end of long days of class, as I watched the reports of the Flotilla approaching Gaza, I remembered his astute observation about the tropism, the intense and heated near-animosity often found at the interface between science and religion, an energy by which one often defines the other. The intensity of attachment to either pole is surprisingly powerful and, as so often is the case, the dialogue which results, isn't (as Professor Efron teaches) really 'dialogue' , rather it is the noise made when two crashing conflicts meet. Professor Efron showed how such dynamics are rarely truly about ideas in their pure form, but rather about tangled emotions we tie up in the process.
This got me thinking.
The same qualities of an innate, reflexive and Pavlovian tropism exist between much of the Muslim experience and any manifestation of Judaism, most acutely the rift between 'the Muslim' and 'the Israeli'. This 'tropism' has been classically exhibited in the events surrounding the recent and intensely upsetting Flotilla incidents.
Much of the news coverage here in Britain has focused on the reality that Gaza has indeed remained under naval blockade and effectively under siege, deprived of many critical resources which would otherwise facilitate its rebuilding. Indeed while Israel permits the entry of significant amounts of aid, food, medicines, the details remain unclear in countless press reports, a deliberate oversight, in my opinion.
However, unfailingly, in every rendition, the May 31st Flotilla bearing humanitarian aid has been universally cast as a force for moral good, a symbolic 'liberator', as a response to a forgotten need. A colossal gesture of providing massive cargo bearing millions of dollars of aid is indeed philanthropic. But there is more to this than that.
From the first moments, I was flummoxed as to why these ships were suddenly arriving at this time, even though the blockade is over 3 years old. More intriguing was to consider why private interests in Turkey were underwriting this astonishingly expensive effort when their elected government has been an ally of Israel for years, even to the extent of engaging in regular naval exercises with the Israeli Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
For a long time, the portrayal of Israelis has been universally monolithic: oppressive, brutal, inhuman and heartless. The parallels between Israeli and Jew; military engagement with national identity; state policy with individual responsibility are conveniently blurred into one homogeneous, maligned, dislikeable edifice. Evidently we, the viewers, the invisible media auteurs, have lost all powers of nuance and discernment. In every report, Israeli brutality, whether on the ship, or in Gaza has been emphasized, both implicitly and explicitly.
At no point have I heard a sane discussion on the complex reasons why a blockade was in place or indeed why Egypt had for years cooperated in maintaining the blockade through the closure of Rafah. Rafah remained firmly shut throughout the entirety of Operation Cast Lead, immutably so, even in the face of pleas from the Arab world. Egypt's collusion in Operation Cast Lead was an acutely felt betrayal which resonated globally.
I was in Riyadh in those first days of what would become known as Operation Cast Lead, watching the episode unfurl from within the region. Within the first week, Saudi Arabia had gathered massive humanitarian aid at the behest of apical leadership. Despite the military incursion on Gaza, passage of aid was categorically and absolutely obstructed. It wasn't the Israelis refusing access to regional Arab aid - no the deniers of the Saudi appeals were not Jews, they were Muslims. It was Muslim-majority Egypt which refused to allow Saudi Arabia access to an open border even to deliver medical aid and supplies. Quite uncomfortable for Muslims to think about, wouldn't you agree?
And was Egyptian denial due to fear of Israeli retaliation? Perhaps -indeed that is a convenient construct, which does likely contain kernels of reality. However, more significant, the borders remained closed because, simply put, Egypt doesn't want to face a mass migration of Gazans.
These and other such details are irritating distractions, messy deviations, from a chiseled, binary portrayal which both the media, its bipolar audience and master media manipulators seek to display when we think about Israel and Palestine, Muslim and Jew. As world media becomes ever more comfortable with the portrayal of Israel as monolithic villain devoid of conscience, anti-Israeli criticism begins to ascend in volume, and commentary further deteriorates. This is a frightening descent and should concern all of us, irrespective of one's politics, faith or relationships.
At one stage, a spokesperson for Hamas appeared on the BBC citing that Gazans have no need for aid, adding " we do not need to fill our bellies". Well, the world thinks otherwise. In his astonishing defiance revealed by a casual, throwaway comment, the spokesperson revealed the prime goal of the Flotilla's mission, as he perceived it: to run the gauntlet against the blockade, not to alleviate material needs of his suffering electorate. The Flotilla was a bald and blatant political move designed to humiliate and provoke.
His remarks reveal the extent to which Palestinians are now objectified political pawns, rather than a people. While we are comfortable with the longstanding objectification of Palestinians by Israelis as the 'other' in the form of a security threat (after all Israel must balance a constant struggle to determine the needs of a terrorized Israeli citizenship over the needs of an exploding ever-younger ever impoverished, increasingly radicalized Gaza population) we fail to encounter our own sinister objectification of the Palestinians which we accomplish so effectively all by ourselves. This objectification is not only held by their revolving, corrupt leadership, but also by an objectifying Muslim world. We the Muslims need the Palestinians to remain locked in their plight so that they might continue to serve as the Ummah's scotoma (a blindspot) which literally prevents us from seeing our own more immediate distresses, distresses which might demand our attention and perhaps even require societal interventions . We would be lost, disarmed, and stunned without an external locus for our rage which is so piercingly trained on Gaza and the West Bank, so piercing in fact that Darfur barely warrants a sidelong glance.
Does this exonerate Israel? No. Does this implicate Muslims? You bet.
Let me continue the self-flagellation.
During this same period of Flotilla Face-Offs with the IDF, Pakistan, my nation of matrilineal and patrimonial heritage has witnessed the extraordinary massacre of 120 moderate, pacifist Muslims, followers of the Ahmadiyyah movement that subscribes to peaceful, pluralistic Islam. Specifically, they embrace non-violence, condemning violent jihad. They were massacred, in cold blood, in worship, by fellow citizens, fellow Pakistanis, fellow Muslims. Most of the murdered were elderly, and male. Hundreds more were injured, some of whom are still dying this week. Emergency services did not arrive for over two hours. Pakistani police stood back, apparently allowing the carnage to occur, supposedly too afraid to engage. Awaiting special operations commandos to intervene, in their uncertainty, perhaps their tacit tolerance, Pakistani police became silent accomplices to the massacre. Many of the pacifist Muslim worshipers died of uncomplicated hemorrhagic shock within mere minutes of advanced medical care.
Where has been the subsequent national and international outrage at the death of these Muslims? Where is the Muslim world now? Where are the Muslims calling for War Crimes to be investigated within the inert and increasingly fractious Pakistani 'leadership'? We, the Muslims find ourselves suddenly voiceless, tongue tied, jaded and unmoved, yet somehow Gaza stokes our bald fury.
So, against this deafening silence, when six passengers on the ship were regrettably killed during a confrontation with the Israeli Defense Force, this bloodshed became sufficient to call for investigations of war crimes by an elected government in charge of their military at work enforcing a public, long standing naval blockade, one which has been tacitly accepted in the region, irrespective of the ethics of this blockade. It wasn't just a member of the IDF, who was thrown overboard in the on board skirmish it would seem, it was morality.
Like most things in life, morality unfortunately is a little more complex than some would have you believe. Presently, morality is sinking into oblivion deep into the Eastern Mediterranean and all that remains is some soggy, discarded flotsam bobbing up and down in a magnifying pandemonium of hysterical, biased tropism.
It is increasingly clear Israel is judged by very different measures and with decreasing objectivity by every actor independent of Israel. Israel herself cannot be objective because she is entrenched in a terrible dilemma. A Hamas that cares not to fill the bellies of those starving in Gaza is also the same agency spending millions of dollars on televised indoctrination designed to manipulate young, plastic minds. See for yourself: go to Palestinian Media Watch. Children, in the prime ages of 5-7 are critically vulnerable to developing attachment figure-like relationships to God. At precisely these ages, they are bombarded with "Hamas Box Office" productions: aspirational propaganda extolling the virtues of suicide bombing as vengeance. Through his work at Palestinian Media Watch, Itamar Marcus has revealed just how institutionalized terror has become in the territories. Work by Dr. Pehr Granqvist and colleagues at the University of Stockholm in Sweden has shown it is precisely at this time and stage of child development at which belief systems are most influenced, and concrete immutable beliefs can be established. Useful, therefore to introduce young minds to the concepts of self-destruction which are quickly embedded, and absorbed and nurtured. Who is decrying the morality of this manipulation? Who is the war criminal now?
Israeli concerns about opening Gaza, while still being unable to determine whether arms, bombs and other tools of terrorism, including the now-ubiquitous would be suicide bomber could enter, is a serious and valid concern, one which does not earn a sound-byte of discussion. Contrary, therefore, to popular reports, an Israeli life carries less international capital, it seems, than we may once have believed. As one Jewish friend of mine here in New York City put it to me in his own inimitably blunt way: "Jewish blood is cheap" but not, I argue, quite as cheap as that of a Pakistani Muslim pacifist in Lahore.
Yes, Muslims should be worried if Hamas is now able to obtain uninspected aid from Syria, Libya, Iran or anywhere else if the naval blockade is lifted because Hamas and their like are a means to an end answerable only unto themselves. They have no more regard for the plight of the Palestinians than the Egyptians or other silent partners in Palestinian isolation and dispossession. We are falling into the dangerous territory of over-simplification.
Dr. Jose Liht as part of Dr. Fraser Watt's team of researchers examining de-radicalization here at Cambridge University, has carefully studied the language of rhetoric in times leading up to conflict. A key feature of rhetoric leading the way to conflict is its simplification, its increasing polarization and over-simplification of 'the other'. The departure of nuance is a harbinger to calamity, which tends to take all of us down en masse. The data on such rhetorical analysis is confident and established. Even when military attacks have been surprise events, retrospective evaluations of transcripts reveal this same two-dimensional distillation that dangerously promotes 'otherness', out-group definitions, the beginnings of alienation and the end of mutual empathy.
By minimizing Israeli concerns, by uniformly portraying not only a nation, but an entire culture, whether one thinks of 'the Jew' or 'the Israeli' or the 'Bani Israeel' we are feeding into the lethal rhetoric of a frightening war. This is a reality that applies to every Muslim who subscribes to antisemitism, that resurgent, 20th Century disease of modern 'Muslim-hood'. In making sweeping simplifications, we ourselves (whomever we are) become as monstrous as the opponent we have thus sought to portray. Such base generalizations are the foundation, the bedrock for atrocities, as Professor Kathleen Taylor, author of Cruelty, explains in her work on morality and neuroscience at the University of Oxford.
We, the Jews and the Muslims, weren't always like this. One has only to watch Robert Satloff's incredibly sensitive documentary, 'Among the Righteous', detailing the collaboration of North African Muslims in sheltering North African Jews during World War Two to realize the world can be different, and it seems, indeed once was. This was an age when we were so much more than our tropisms. How did we come from this place and time of sheltering fellow People of the Book from the Shoah to becoming firm subscribers of Holocaust denial within the space of a two short generations?
In our quest for the delectable crispness of binary portrayal, we become ever more detached from applying our own holier-than-thou morality on our opponent. While we dehumanize and decry the immoral IDF officer, the cruel Israeli superpower, the heartless Jewish state, we, 'the other', maintain our own moral compass intact in assessing our own contributions to ongoing tropism. Hence, Hamas, and its violent and truly cannibalistic approaches (fueling a culture which literally consumes its own children in the service of its ideology) becomes a resistance of valor and indeed apparently one above moral question.
This is a bastardization of humanity and morality. Who are we to judge the Israelis and their policies, when the wider Muslim world tolerates a total departure of the most basic Islamic values: living a meaningful life in this world, sanctity of life above all other rights, subscription to ideologies meaningfully exchanged through suicide bombing into spiritual and material currency, fundamentally abandoning the protection and nurturing of society's weakest: the child. Conveniently, for our collective moral Muslim superiority, our moral compass is off line when considering ourselves. We do not reflect. We lack introspection. Indeed our own, increasingly grotesque reflection is too awful for ourselves to behold, because within it we recognize our complicity in immorality.
For me, there is no dilemma when considering the Flotilla incident. How many miles away from Israeli waters the boat was is irrelevant. Its announced intention was clear. Its refusal to dock at Ashdod underlined the symbolism and not the literalism with which the Flotilla envisioned itself. The intention was clearly to bring about forcible political change, irrespective of regional and international costs. It was not about feeding the hungry or clothing the poor.
The deeper motive for this acute-onset philanthropy is unclear but I sense is unlikely to be based on altruist imperatives but rather instead founded on a bed rock of atavistic hates which are now surfacing in the guise of morality and ethics. These goals are likely to be self-serving of shadowy puppet-masters. All the while, a nuanced interpretation of Israel's very real security dilemmas are overlooked and effectively erased, suffocated and marginalized. The upshot? Israel is left without recourse but to seek a more entrenched military and security solution and the world is left even more polarized and brittle than before. And no, it is not ALL Israel's fault. We, the Muslims, have each been complicit in this dance, complicit for decades.
When we assess circumstances involving Israeli-Palestinians conflict we are unable to be objective. As Tom Friedman likes to say, when approaching this issue all of us tend to go slightly insane. But its worth noting, when approaching every circumstance, our brain has no direct access to life, but must see it through our own in-built 'Kantian veil' rather than experience true reality. I am no exception to this distortion.
In this instance however, of Israel and the flotilla, that veil operates through what has become increasingly, collectively socially-acceptable and widely endorsed antisemitism which even erupted into the astonishing comments of Helen Thomas who suggested "all Jews return" to wherever they had come from.
As a daughter of parents who were both dispossessed of their childhood homes in India after The Partition, I take special affront. Her statements viewed merely from the vantage of a humanist, I find to be one of the most frightening developments in the hysteria unleashed by the Flotilla events. If it is acceptable to express a desire for a race, a group, a culture to 'return' (and incidentally demanding they return to the same places where the race almost met with its own literal extinction) we have arrived at a new moral level of depravity because, in that case, no one's place, not mine, not yours, can then be thought of as safe. That Jews, furthermore, are even assigned a 'collective race' merely underlines the depth of antisemitism with which these special People of the Book have had to contend with over millennia. It is hard for those of us who are not Jewish to truly grasp understand this profound, visceral legacy of anguish.
Just as I believe it is not just or moral to herd all Gazans permanently devoid of access to basic aid, national identity and other essential freedoms, so too I do not believe in the morality of a uniformly bipolar portrayal of Israel's very real and very dire concerns.
When will we understand that Israel's security problem is everyone's security problem, that a threatened Jew is a threatened Muslim, that suicide bombers can come to a neighborhood near you, that there is no morality in the destruction of life and that these problems are so big they require all of us to engage together and collaborate, not polarize around primal tropisms and alienate? When will that be? When?
I find I keep returning to the same sense of poignancy and despair. Comparing ourselves today to the beauty, solidarity and nobility of Arab Muslim-Jewish relations in the North Africa of World War Two, I can be certain of only one thing: like morality, the Righteous among us checked out, long, long ago. There's no escaping it, they will not be returning.
We are home alone, left to attend the appetites of our primal 'moralities' and, like narcissistic voyeurs, relish our myopic, brutally lurid, binary view.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Gaza flotilla and the dirty NGO war

The Gaza flotilla and the dirty NGO war

Gerald Steiberg

Thursday, 08 July 2010

The images from the "peace" flotilla to Gaza exposed the tactics of powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that lead the strategy of political warfare targeting Israel.

In the May 31 flotilla attack, IHH – a Turkish "charity" with close links to Hamas and jihadist groups – combined forces with European anti-Israel campaigners, including the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Members of both groups co-operate with terrorists that goad Israel into using force, resulting in injuries and deaths. They know how to unleash massive diplomatic and political campaigns using false charges of "war crimes," "collective punishment" and similar allegations.

The Israeli government has been remarkably and depressingly inept in dealing with this third-generation warfare (following conventional army attacks from 1948 to 1973, and the ongoing terror campaigns). In the case of the IHH-ISM "free Gaza" flotilla, the IDF and Defence Ministry were surprised by the violence, and the political leadership, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, didn't anticipate the international pressure to end the Gaza blockade. (When they acted to allow most civilian goods into Gaza, it was another case of too little, too late.)

In order to defeat this third-generation warfare, which has already done considerable damage, we need to assess the threat and find the right strategy. Understanding NGO exploitation of moral principles is the first step. The IHH and ISM were supported by a wide network, including the major NGO superpowers (Amnesty International, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch) and many local partners. This network creates the environment that automatically condemns Israel, while portraying Palestinians as helpless victims.

This illicit political influence has been visible in Canada, where self-promoting radicals initially funded by Liberal governments have waged political war against Israel, the United States and other democracies. When the Harper government ended their taxpayer funding, the NGOs fought back with all their power, mobilizing allies in Radio-Canada, the Toronto Star and Maclean's.

I recently observed the wrath of the NGO network at the European Parliament's subcommittee on human rights in Brussels. A hearing, ostensibly on civil society in Israel, was initiated by NGOs under the façade of promoting peace and human rights. As in Canada, these powerful NGOs have a great deal to lose if Europe's secret funding mechanisms are opened to public scrutiny.

The session opened with speeches from three EU-funded NGO speakers – a fringe Israeli who heads PCATI (the "Public Committee Against Torture in Israel"), Mossawa (led by radical Israeli-Arabs), and the Euro-Med Human Rights Network, which co-ordinates demonization among these and similar groups. Each spoke for more than 10 minutes, repeating the standard anti-Israel rhetoric, and praising bogus human rights defenders, including the IHH/ISM "Free Gaza" terrorists.

I was invited to present a different perspective by one of the few Euro MPs who knows enough about the reality in Israel to distinguish fact from fiction and recognize the need for a fact-based analysis of NGO agendas and the secret EU funding they enjoy. This was a major departure from the standard ideological monopoly, and the NGO network made a major effort to prevent me from speaking by falsely claiming that I and NGO Monitor are agents of the Israeli government. After losing the battle, they convinced the chair to limit me to five minutes, after they had spoken for 30. (Foreign diplomats get five minutes, and the Israeli diplomat used his time effectively.)

I eventually got my 10 minutes, and surprised many of the EU officials with detailed evidence of NGO manipulation and coarse immorality. This was one small battle in the NGO-led dirty war against democracy, in general, and against Israel, in particular. The Harper government has also made important progress in this area, as has Australia. If Europe's role in aiding third-generation NGO warfare against Israel is also exposed and then halted, this will mark a turning point.

We must win many more battles, focusing on the NGO groups that exploit and destroy moral principles, and on the funding sources that facilitate their dirty warfare. But at least we understand the threat, have a rational strategy and some solid allies, and a few initial successes to give hope.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Obama, Netanyahu, reaffirm commitment to work for peace, israel-US bond


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel in Joint Press Availability

Oval Office

12:38 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I just completed an excellent one-on-one discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I want to welcome him back to the White House.
I want to, first of all, thank him for the wonderful statement that he made in honor of the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, when he was still in Israel.  And it marked just one more chapter in the extraordinary friendship between our two countries. 

As Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in his speech, the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.  It encompasses our national security interests, our strategic interests, but most importantly, the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values and whose people have grown closer and closer as time goes on.

During our discussions in our private meeting we covered a wide range of issues.  We discussed the issue of Gaza, and I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that's been made in allowing more goods into Gaza.  We've seen real progress on the ground.  I think it's been acknowledged that it has moved more quickly and more effectively than many people anticipated.

Obviously there's still tensions and issues there that have to be resolved, but our two countries are working cooperatively together to deal with these issues.  The Quartet has been, I think, very helpful as well.  And we believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas.
We discussed the issue of Iran, and we pointed out that as a consequence of some hard work internationally, we have instituted through the U.N. Security Council the toughest sanctions ever directed at an Iranian government.  In addition, last week I signed our own set of sanctions, coming out of the United States Congress, as robust as any that we've ever seen.  Other countries are following suit.  And so we intend to continue to put pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations and to cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.

We had a extensive discussion about the prospects for Middle East peace.  I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he's willing to take risks for peace.  And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security. 

Israel's security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own -- those are goals that have obviously escaped our grasp for decades now.  But now more than ever I think is the time for us to seize on that vision.  And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.  It's going to be difficult; it's going to be hard work.  But we've seen already proximity talks taking place.  My envoy, George Mitchell, has helped to organize five of them so far.  We expect those proximity talks to lead to direct talks, and I believe that the government of Israel is prepared to engage in such direct talks, and I commend the Prime Minister for that.

There are going to need to be a whole set of confidence-building measures to make sure that people are serious and that we're sending a signal to the region that this isn't just more talk and more process without action.  I think it is also important to recognize that the Arab states have to be supportive of peace, because, although ultimately this is going to be determined by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, they can't succeed unless you have the surrounding states having as -- a greater investment in the process than we've seen so far.

Finally, we discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference.  And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues.  We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it's in, and the threats that are leveled against us -- against it, that Israel has unique security requirements.  It's got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region.  And that's why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel's security.  And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

So I just want to say once again that I thought the discussion that we had was excellent.  We've seen over the last year how our relationship has broadened.  Sometimes it doesn't get publicized, but on a whole range of issues -- economic, military-to-military, issues related to Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge, intelligence-sharing, how we are able to work together effectively on the international front -- that in fact our relationship is continuing to improve.  And I think a lot of that has to do with the excellent work that the Prime Minister has done.  So I'm grateful.

And welcome, once again, to the White House.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Thank you, Mr. President. 

The President and I had an extensive, excellent discussion in which we discussed a broad range of issues.  These include of course our own cooperation in the fields of intelligence and security.  And exactly as the President said, it is extensive.  Not everything is seen by the public, but it is seen and appreciated by us. 

We understand fully that we will work together in the coming months and years to protect our common interests, our countries, our peoples, against new threats.  And at the same time, we want to explore the possibility of peace.

The greatest new threat on the horizon, the single most dominant issue for many of us, is the prospect that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons.  Iran is brutally terrorizing its people, spreading terrorism far and wide.  And I very much appreciate the President's statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

That has been translated by the President through his leadership at the Security Council, which passed sanctions against Iran; by the U.S. bill that the President signed just a few days ago.  And I urge other leaders to follow the President's lead, and other countries to follow the U.S. lead, to adopt much tougher sanctions against Iran, primarily those directed against its energy sector.

As the President said, we discussed a great deal about activating, moving forward the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  We're committed to that peace.  I'm committed to that peace.  And this peace I think will better the lives of Israelis, of Palestinians, and it certainly would change our region. 

Israelis are prepared to do a lot to get that peace in place, but they want to make sure that after all the steps they take, that what we get is a secure peace.  We don't want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories and those are overtaken by Iran's proxies and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks or rocket attacks.

I think there are solutions that we can adopt.  But in order to proceed to the solutions, we need to begin negotiations in order to end them.  We've begun proximity talks.  I think it's high time to begin direct talks.  I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace, coupled with security and prosperity.

This requires that the Palestinian Authority prepare its people for peace -- schools, textbooks, and so on.  But I think at the end of the day, peace is the best option for all of us, and I think we have a unique opportunity and a unique time to do it. 

The President says that he has a habit of confounding all the cynics and all the naysayers and all those who preclude possibility, and he's shown it time and time again.  I think I've had my opportunity to confound some cynics myself, and I think if we work together, with President Abbas, then we can bring a great message of hope to our peoples, to the region, and to the world.

One final point, Mr. President -- I want to thank you for reaffirming to me in private and now in public as you did the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance.  I want to thank you, too, for the great hospitality you and the First Lady have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation.  And I think we have to redress the balance -- you know, I've been coming here a lot.  It's about time --


PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  -- you and the First Lady came to Israel, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We look forward to it.  Thank you.


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

All right, we've got time for one question each.  I'm going to call on Stephen Collinson, AFP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As part of the steps which need to be taken to move proximity talks on to direct talks, do you think it would be helpful for Israel to extend the partial settlement moratorium, which is set to expire in September? 

And if I could just briefly ask the Prime Minister, with regards to the sanctions you mentioned, do you think that these measures will contain or halt Iran's nuclear program where others have failed?
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me -- let me, first of all, say that I think the Israeli government, working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions, has shown restraint over the last several months that I think has been conducive to the prospects of us getting into direct talks. 

And my hope is, is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success. Not every action by one party or the other is taken as a reason for not engaging in talks.  So there ends up being more room created by more trust.  And so I want to just make sure that we sustain that over the next -- over the next several weeks.

I do think that there are a range of confidence-building measures that can be taken by all sides that improve the prospects of a successful negotiation.  And I've discussed some of those privately with the Prime Minister.  When President Abbas was here, I discussed some of those same issues with him. 

I think it's very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they are not engaging in provocative language; that at the international level, they are maintaining a constructive tone, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel.

At the same time, I've said to Prime Minister Netanyahu -- I don't think he minds me sharing it publicly -- that Abu Mazen working with Fayyad have done some very significant things when it comes to the security front.  And so us being able to widen the scope of their responsibilities in the West Bank is something that I think would be very meaningful to the Palestinian people.  I think that some of the steps that have already been taken in Gaza help to build confidence.  And if we continue to make progress on that front, then Palestinians can see in very concrete terms what peace can bring that rhetoric and violence cannot bring -- and that is people actually having an opportunity to raise their children, and make a living, and buy and sell goods, and build a life for themselves, which is ultimately what people in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories want.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  I think the latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacy or create de-legitimization for Iran's nuclear program, and that is important.  I think the sanctions the President signed the other day actually have teeth.  They bite. 

The question is -- how much do you need to bite is something I cannot answer now.  But if other nations adopted similar sanctions, that would increase the effect.  The more like-minded countries join in the American-led effort that President Obama has signed into act, into law, I think the better we'll be able to give you an answer to your question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Is there somebody you want to ask here?

Q    Mr. President, in the past year, you distanced yourself from Israel and gave a cold shoulder to the Prime Minister.  Do you think this policy was a mistake?  Do you think it contributes to the bashing of Israel by others?  And is that -- you change it now, and do you trust now Prime Minister Netanyahu?

And if I may, Mr. Prime Minister, specifically, did you discuss with the President the continuing of the freezing of settlements after September?  And did you tell him that you're going to keep on building after this period is over?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me, first of all, say that the premise of your question was wrong and I entirely disagree with it.  If you look at every public statement that I've made over the last year and a half, it has been a constant reaffirmation of the special relationship between the United States and Israel, that our commitment to Israel's security has been unwavering.  And, in fact, there aren't any concrete policies that you could point to that would contradict that.

And in terms of my relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know the press, both in Israel and stateside, enjoys seeing if there's news there.  But the fact of the matter is that I've trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected President, and have said so both publicly and privately.

I think that he is dealing with a very complex situation in a very tough neighborhood.  And what I have consistently shared with him is my interest in working with him -- not at cross-purposes -- so that we can achieve the kind of peace that will ensure Israel's security for decades to come. 

And that's going to mean some tough choices.  And there are going to be times where he and I are having robust discussions about what kind of choices need to be made.  But the underlying approach never changes, and that is the United States is committed to Israel's security; we are committed to that special bond; and we are going to do what's required to back that up, not just with words but with actions.

We are going to continually work with the Prime Minister and the entire Israeli government, as well as the Israeli people, so that we can achieve what I think has to be everybody's goal, which is that people feel secure.  They don't feel like a rocket is going to be landing on their head sometime.  They don't feel as if there's a growing population that wants to direct violence against Israel. 

That requires work and that requires some difficult choices -- both at the strategic level and the tactical level.  And this is something that the Prime Minister understands, and why I think that we're going to be able to work together not just over the next few months but hopefully over the next several years.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  The President and I discussed concrete steps that could be done now, in the coming days and the coming weeks, to move the peace process further along in a very robust way.  This is what we focused our conversation on.  And when I say the next few weeks, that's what I mean.  The President means that, too.

Let me make a general observation about the question you posed to the President.  And here I'll have to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relations -- relationship aren't just premature, they're just flat wrong.  There's a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day.  Our teams talk.  We don't make it public.  The only thing that's public is that you can have differences on occasion in the best of families and the closest of families; that comes out public -- and sometimes in a twisted way, too. 

What is not told is the fact that we have an enduring bond of values, interests, beginning with security and the way that we share both information and other things to help the common defense of our common interests -- and many others in the region who don't often admit to the beneficial effect of this cooperation.

So I think there's -- the President said it best in his speech in Cairo.  He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable.  And I can affirm that to you today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.  

1:01 P.M. EDT

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

PCUSA may make changes in the anti-Israel MESC rerport to make it more palatable.

The headline below cites "major changes" in the Israel-bashing report being cosidered by the Presbyterian church (USA), the proposed changes might best be labeled as "cosmetic" - sugar coating the pill. Affirming Israel's "right to exist" does not affirm Israel's right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people for example. Presumably, all of the one-sided and hate-filled narrative would remain. It would probably be a document, for example, that could be approved by the Fatah. Still it would be less bad than the original draft. which could be accepted by the Muslim Students Union.  It would still be interpreted as a victory by anti-Israel leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Ami Isseroff

Middle East Peacemaking Committee Considering Major Changes to Report

Minneapolis -- July 6, 2010


Note: Events are taking place as this blog entry is being written. Updates to follow.

The Middle East Peacemaking Committee is currently considering major changes to the Middle East Study Committee Report under consideration at the PC(USA)'s General Assembly. The changes would include an explicit affirmation of Israel's right to exist (which was missing from the original MESC report) and a more nuanced endorsement of the Kairos Document that does not affirm its calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel.

The amendments would also delete a specific reference to the World Council of Church's Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Israel-Palestine, a controversial organization that like other so-called peace making programs related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, draws attention to Israeli policies while offering little if any testimony to the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah.

The amendments will also delete an entire section of the document which includes a highly distorted "historical analysis" and replace it with a "series of eight narratives … four arising from the range of authentically 'pro-Palestinian' perspectives (including both Christian and Muslim) and four from the authentically 'pro-Israel' perspectives…" These narratives will be solicited and chosen by a monitoring group that will be appointed after the General Assembly.

"Hopefully these changes will reflect more fully the narratives of the conflict," a proponent of the amendments said.

The amendments, if they survive the committee process and are approved by the General Assembly, will also limit the number of people from the Middle East Study Committee that can serve on the group mentioned above.

The original document submitted by the Middle East Study Committee called for the creation of a "Monitoring Group on the Middle East" that would convene until the 2012 General Assembly and make another report to that body. The original report stated that this group would "consist of the members of this study committee."

The proposed amendment calls for the creation of a seven member monitoring group that will include "at least one, but no more than two members of the existing MESC."

This is a clear effort to limit the influence of the current members of the Middle East Study Committee on the yet-to-be created monitoring group.

Early Discussion Around Kairos Document

The amendments, if approved, would also call for the General Assembly to "endorse the Kairos Palestinian document ("A Moment of Truth") in its emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation, but not other elements, such as its call for BDS." The amendment would also lift the document up for study and discussion by the Presbyterian, and direct the Monitoring Group for the Middle East to create a study guide for the document."

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb came to the defense of the Kairos Document during these proceedings stating that it included a call boycotts divestments and sanctions as a way to avoid getting caught in the trap of "non-violent apathy."

"If you read Martin Luther King's letter from Montgomery, that is the power you see in this document," he said. "I encourage you not to be selective. Even the Bible, I have a problem with some sections but I wouldn't take them out," he said eliciting laughter from the audience.

This neat trick of rhetoric prompted a polite response from a committee member who said that the amendment was needed to get the report passed by the committee.

"With all due respect, the Kairos Document isn't the bible," he said.

Getting the Report Passed

The goal of these amendments committee members stated is to get the report approved by the General Assembly.

"We heard the concerns of the people who want to throw [the MESC] report out," said one of the proponents of the amendments. "The amendments are to make it more passable to the entire church, then we wouldn't lose the entire report."

The calls to reject the report outright made by some Presbyterians, including Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, definitely caught the attention of the committee members.

AFI Press Release: AFI criticizes boycott by Methodist Church

AFI Press Release: AFI criticizes boycott by Methodist Church
Written by Anglican Friends of Israel   
Tuesday, 06 July 2010

Anglican Friends of Israel is disappointed at the decision by the Methodist Church to boycott goods produced by Jews living in Judea and Samaria.

In convening the Working Group which produced the Report 'Justice for Palestine and Israel' the Methodist Church deliberately decided not to include the views of any who might have disagreed with a boycott, hardly a just approach.

The historical section of the Report was, by the admission of the Working Group's own

Ma.gnolia DiggIt! Blinklist Yahoo Furl Technorati Simpy Spurl Reddit Google

Methodist Clerics Try To Justify Israel Boycott

Methodist Clerics Try To Justify Israel Boycott

This is a cross-post by Joseph Weissman.

Yesterday, the President of the World Council of Churches praised the Methodist Church for offering 'more than words' on Israel. Disturbingly, many Christian clerical establishments are now intent on fully boycotting Israel: a boycott which ironically would have prevented Christianity from spreading in the first two centuries AD.

In her justification of the Methodist boycott of Israel, the media officer of the Methodist Church Karen Burke writes on  Ma.gnolia DiggIt! Blinklist Yahoo Furl Technorati Simpy Spurl Reddit Google

Monday, July 5, 2010

The "Staying Put": An Arab Culture

The other side of Tarek Heggy's argument, however astute, is that in the Middle East, one must never say, "nothing could be worse." Because what follows a change is almost inevitably much worse. Nothing could be worse than Farouk except Nasser. Nothing could be worse than the Shah except Khomeini. Nothing could be worse than Nuri as Said except for every ruller of Iraq who followed, each one worse than the previous oe.

Something tells me that Egyptians will one day mourn Moubarak as some now mourn Farouq. The "staying put" has something to recommend it. In the Middle East, change is usually not a good thing.

Ami Isseroff

The "Staying Put":
An Arab Culture. 

Tarek Heggy

For a person to want to remain in a privileged position is a perfectly normal human instinct. But when the instinct turns into an obsession it becomes a cultural phenomenon with political, economic, social and psychological implications. I have watched this phenomenon in play over many years from my vantage point in the international corporation I was privileged to work in for close on two decades. What I saw during my years with the firm was very different from what is happening in Egypt today. Over the last twenty-five years, the desire of people in high places to cling to their posts has grown exponentially, to a degree never before witnessed in our country. Or, for that matter, in any society that enjoys political and social mobility, i.e. in societies marked with a high degree of democracy. As I mentioned, fate afforded me the opportunity to spend nearly twenty years in an international corporation which, since the nineteenth century, has been one of the five largest economic conglomerates in the world. Its revenues from sales in 2005 were three times higher than Egypt's national income for the same period, and much of its success can be attributed to the guiding principles by which it is governed and which it upholds strictly and unconditionally.

    • A general culture based on the premise that the driving engine of success is the institution itself and not any individual, no matter who.
    • A policy that abjures the notion of rewarding an individual for his exceptional performance by keeping him on in the same position indefinitely. For the well-being of the institution itself and in terms of sound management, the belief that no single individual is indispensable and hence irreplaceable makes more sense than the idea that a person who performs his job well and achieves good results has acquired the right to a lifelong tenure of the post.
    • Occupancy of a high-ranking post must not exceed a period of three to five years.
    • Any person who reaches the age of retirement must retire, no matter how exceptionally brilliant, competent and talented he may be.

    Conversely, a culture of "staying put" has pervaded our country in the last quarter of a century. Anyone occupying the top position in any given area – the president of a club, say, or of a professional syndicate or a political party – considers it a lifelong commission. The word "former" when applied to a minister not reappointed in a cabinet reshuffle is tantamount to referring to him as the "late" so and so. Departure from a high post sets the rumor mills rolling: the occupant has either fallen foul of the powers that be or his performance was so poor that he had to be removed. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is a normal human ambition to want to hold on to a high post, but when the ambition attains the proportions it has done in our current cultural context it becomes a phenomenon that needs to be studied and, perhaps, treated.

    More than a quarter of a century ago, Francois Mitterrand, then the president of France, called on President Anwar Sadat and, as he was leaving, told Sadat that he would be going on to visit Mohamed Hassanein Heikal. The Egyptian president's immediate reaction to this bit of news was to exclaim: "But I fired him!" President Mitterrand told friends later that he could not understand what that had to do with his decision to meet Heikal: "I didn't say I was going to call on the editor of Al-Ahram; I said I was going to call on Mohamed Hassanein Heikal." When the story was related to me by Mitterrand's daughter, whose paternity he acknowledged shortly before his death, I said her father's inability to understand Sadat's remark was due to the different cultural backgrounds and mentalities of the two men. For Sadat, as for many of our countrymen, a person's worth is measured in terms of the position he holds. Thus if Heikal's value stemmed from his position as editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, then it follows that when Sadat fired him he became a worthless nobody – hence Sadat's surprise that Mitterrand would want to meet him. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Although I differ with Mr. Heikal on most political issues, I know that he is far and away the best journalist in the Arabic-speaking world. I also know that all those who attack him today do so to curry favour with people in high places to whom they are greatly beholden for their good fortune. And, talking of how a person's worth should be appraised, I wonder if the international publishers who published Mr. Heikal's best-selling books would even deign to look at a manuscript presented by any of his attackers. I would like to recount an anecdote here that is self-explanatory. Despite my political differences with Mr. Heikal, I was lunching with him at a London restaurant a few years ago when he called the Spanish royal palace to request an appointment with King Juan Carlos two days later. After only fifteen minutes, the palace called him back to confirm that the king would be happy to see him the day after tomorrow. This is a man whose books have been translated into many languages and read by millions of people throughout the world. As to his critics, it is a fact that they vilify him for no other reason than to ingratiate themselves with their benefactors.  It is also a fact that not a single one of them is capable of putting together a manuscript that would be acceptable to an international publisher.

              "Does Egypt open its doors
              To every slave who kills his master?"

    It is almost certainly what led the university professor and former dean of the Faculty of Law to enter into a pitched battle with his opponents in the party, using live ammunition, in a bid to stay on as party president against the will of its members. Perhaps he would not have been so determined to cling to his position at the head of the party if he had remembered that its founder, who held no official position, was more popular than Egypt's king and its prime minister.
    The same thing happened in a famous sports club, where violent battles were fought over the club presidency.
    These and hundreds of other examples show how far people will go to cling to their privileged positions. Nobody today accepts the idea that occupancy of these positions is a temporary, not a permanent, state of affairs.

    A few weeks ago, Dar el Hilal published a book on the monarchs who ruled Egypt more than five thousand years ago, i.e. from the time of the founder of the First Dynasty in 3400 B.C., the Pharaoh Menes who unified Upper and Lower Egypt. A simple statistical survey shows that these rulers can be divided into three numerically equal groups:

    -        Those who were forcibly removed from the throne
    -        Those who died in office
    -        Those killed in office.

    My search for a single ruler who had voluntarily abdicated proved fruitless. In this connection, I would like to mention the sole exception to this pattern. On Wednesday, October 8th, 1917, the ruler of Egypt, Sultan Hussein Kamel, died. In accordance with the rules of succession, the throne was offered to his son, Prince Kamal el-Din Hussein, who turned down the offer. The throne went instead to the "blackguard" prince, the sultan's younger brother Ahmed Fouad. In a lecture I gave to a class of history students, I asked if any of them knew the name of the man who, less than a hundred years ago, had declined the throne of Egypt when it was offered to him. Not a single one of the history students knew what I was talking about: it was as though the event had never happened. The only explanation for this collective amnesia is that in our culture anyone who actually turns down the chance to wield absolute power must be demented and hence not worth remembering. And so a man of high principle, an idealist who exercised his free will in the face of the ultimate temptation, has been relegated to oblivion. In using the word "blackguard" to describe Prince Ahmed Fouad, I am quoting Bairam el-Tonsi who lamented the accession of a prince best known for his love of cabarets to the throne of the great Pharaohs in a famous poem that goes like this:

              "When in Egypt we ran out of kings,
              The British brought you and threw you in the ring,
              They sat you on the throne to masquerade as a king true,
              where did they find a traitor and blackguard like you."

    A friend of mine with a philosophical bent of mind is fond of quoting the dictum that "answers are blind, questions are clear-sighted." I would like to ask our esteemed historians if they have a scientific explanation for the monstrous growth and spread of the "staying put" culture in our society, a phenomenon that has led us to witness the infamous Gomaa using firearms to remain at the head of a party that no longer wanted him as its leader.