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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An Open Letter To Tommy Friedman

by Shmully Hecht

Dear Thomas,

In a recent New York Times column you suggested that those who would like to understand the Middle East conflict should watch a movie "Precious Life" about Israeli doctors and philanthropists who save the life of a young Palestinian
The same rank stench has been emitted for years from under the desks of writers such as yourself who have sold the world on the idea that there are two sides equally committed to peace.
While that film may indeed capture the reality that Israel can do no right for those who dream of its destruction I have a different suggestion to those who desire to better understand the problems that comprise this conflict; travel to the Middle East and talk to the people who live there.

I recently visited Israel and spoke to a Muslim Arab taxi cab driver who drove me across East Jerusalem while telling me that he would not live in the capitol of any other state in the region, not Cairo, not Beirut, not Amman. It is not something you will ever see explored in mainstream American papers, but according to him, the life of an independent minded Arab seeking comfort, freedom and self-sufficiency is vastly better in the Jewish homeland. Measuring by any standard, what the taxicab driver said is an accurate description of life for all Arabs in Israel.
Upon my return I found myself on a connecting flight next to a Christian American who had spent years in Saudi Arabia working for GE, designing healthcare software for Middle East hospitals . After describing the vast differences between Israel and its neighbors he reminded me that non Muslims are not even permitted to enter Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. How odd that the same Saudis have offered a “Peace Initiative” to the People of Israel .
So Thomas, I agree that there does exist the foul and ancient stench in the air that you mention. Hyper scrutiny and de-legitimization of Israel have been the hallmark of Arab activism and now we find it in both mainstream press as well as Europe and America's leading universities, including Yale where I serve as the Rabbi of Eliezer; the Jewish Society on campus . How did this happen?
It happened because the same rank stench has been emitted for years from under the desks of writers such as yourself who have sold the world on the idea that there are two sides equally committed to peace. You and your like-minded friends said that if only Israel does the right thing in the form of giving up land or demolishing its security walls then the Arabs will establish a state of Palestine which also only wants what is best for their citizens and the region. The stench is the result of trying to perfume the murderous intent of the PLO, Fatah and Hamas, calling it 'resistance' and statesmanship. The stench is the smell of Yassir Arafat's rotten Nobel Peace Prize.
The fullest and foulest emission of this noxious stench was the Oslo fantasy which began to evaporate even before it took any real form. Even President Bill Clinton could not achieve it’s goals after days of pleading with Mr. Arafat.
You, and most writers on the subject who strive to apportion guilt and responsibility "fairly," sold the world on Oslo and on the withdrawal from Gaza, the first which will never happen, and the second which brought about the daily bombing of Israel with thousands of rockets fired at civilians. Your suggestion that if only Israel now further dismantled cities in the West bank there would be peace, confirm your delusion that there will be a shortage of Kassam rockets fired on Israel from Ramallah.
How odd that the same Europeans and members of the United Nations that urged Israel to withdraw from Gaza were the first to condemn Israel for finally defending their civilians in the Gaza War.
Tom, you return to form with your desire to be a "fair" judge, urging we acknowledge lopsided and twisted criticism of Israel mainly so that Israel will listen better, so that you can be an even better critic.
Now is not the time to criticize Israel or "colonial settlements" on Jewish land that Israel captured in defensive wars and over which Israel maintains legitimate sovereignty. It is time instead to finally clear the air. Thomas, please remove the source of the odor. It is under your desk.

Shmully Hecht is the Rabbinical advisor of Eliezer; the Jewish Society at Yale

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Competing World Views Tear A "Peace Process" to Pieces

By Barry Rubin*

August 21, 2010





George Mitchell explains:


"We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded, all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders. In addition, we all know that, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, and as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don't expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately."
This is a good explanation that the administration knows how hard it is to bring peace, though it does not jibe well with his saying a few minutes later: "We believe that if those negotiations are conducted seriously and in good faith, they can produce such an agreement within 12 months. And that is our objective."
Of course, Mitchell is right that the task's difficulty shouldn't preclude an attempt to negotiate and that understanding the difficulty is essential to doing a decent job. The one-year thing, though, is nonsense. If negotiations would be conducted seriously an agreement could be reached in a month but there are reasons this has never happened and won't happen for a long time.

As an analyst not a diplomat, I can point out that the problem is not just "mistrust," "residue of hostility," and "differences of opinion," but rather structural impediments to success. Western media and leaders are all too eager to point out alleged problems on the Israeli side-domestic politics-but never really discuss the same thing on the Palestinian side.



I have pointed out HERE that the problems posed by Israeli politics and public opinion for peacemaking is greatly exaggerated, sometimes due to ignorance and sometimes due to a malicious effort to make things seem Israel's fault.

What is lacking, as I've pointed out HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE, is that there is a huge problem on the Palestinian side. This includes:

--Hardline views by the overwhelming majority of Fatah leaders, who do after all control the PA.

--The belief that it is not necessary to negotiate peace because in the shorter-run the PA can get the West to hand them a state on a silver platter and in the longer-run the Palestinians can win the conflict and destroy Israel entirely.

--The almost 100 percent lack of any effort to prepare and moderate Palestinian public opinion by its own leadership, clergy, media, and politicians. There has been an extensive debate in Israel and there is a great willingness to compromise, something simply not there on the Palestinian side. Israelis have empathy and even often sympathy for Palestinians; the reverse is simply not true. It is a cultural and political issue that lies beyond the bounds of any "Politically Correct" "Multicultural" mentality to understand but can be easily demonstrated.

Incidentally, here's one of many such tricks used to avoid understanding these things. Fatah issues a new charter and Western media articles and experts gushed at how moderate it was, including not repeating material from the old charter that called for the use of violence. The only problem is that the new document explicitly stated that all of the old document was still in effect.

--The wooly mammoth, "elephant" is not an adequate description, in the room of a Hamas regime dedicated to warfare, terrorism, and genocide. There is no conceivable mechanism for dealing with this issue.



On that last point here is how Mitchell (didn't) address it:



QUESTION: So you expect Hamas to accept any decision made by President Abbas at these negotiations?

MR. MITCHELL: It is not for me to make decisions for others....With respect to Hamas, let's be clear. Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn't end President Bush's tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government. And that is the situation here.

Again, Mitchell says what he needs to say, but of course he omits the Hamas violent coup against the PA. Indeed, his statement jibes with the false history of Hamas and its supporters and is rather a mess factually. Abbas's turn came to an end almost two years ago and Hamas could easily argue-and it sure will do so--that he is in office illegally and thus that any agreement he reached with Israel was not valid. By the way, Mitchell states that Hamas does "acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team." I believe that this is false.

In short, Mitchell lays the basis in theory for an Israel-Palestinian treaty leading to a Palestinian state, then Hamas overthrowing the regime to seize control of that state, tossing out the treaty and calling in Iranian and Syrian troops to "protect" Palestine. True, this is leaping ahead in time but this is the kind of thing negotiators need to take into account.

Instead of Mitchell's facile Democrats/Bush analogy, here's a more accurate one: The Democrats regain control of Congress, the two sides reach an agreement, the Democrats than stage an armed coup and murder Republicans by the score then throw the Republicans out of the regions they conquer, and the United States has two governments that are in effect at war with each other. Bush doesn't hold any elections but just keeps extending his term in office.



Would other countries then be able to rely on agreements made with Bush and consider him "legally elected?" Of course not.

And consider this: By forcing Israel to end the high level of sanctions against the Gaza Strip, the West has in effect recognized the Hamas regime as an independent entity that can stay in office for decades. Certainly, it has ceased any effective attempt to bring down that regime. So what is Hamas's incentive to accept a PA-Israel negotiation process that it has denounced as treasonous?

I don't want to spend so much time on this single issue but it is worth reviewing as an example, one of the more obvious cases where the real world and the fantasy world of Washington's Middle East come into collision.



Mitchell also states:

"But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including, but not limited to, an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it's in the national security interests of the United States, and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance, and determination."

Trying to promote negotiations is certainly in the U.S. national security interest. Yet the strategy and tactics used cannot ignore regional realities.

Here's one of them: Is "comprehensive peace" in the interest "of all people in the region?" On one level that seems obvious but on the level of actual reality it is completely false. Consider this: having peace in Europe was arguably in the interests of everyone at all times between, say, between 1337 (start of the Hundred Year's War between England and France) and 1990 (the Cold War's end), yet nonetheless there wasn't peace much of the time.



Why is that? Because there were ideologies, nations, and leaders who thought there was something more important than peace: gains, victories, land, glory, the will of the Creator of the Universe, and other things. Moreover, they perceived that triumph was easy and that they could have everything they wanted. This worldview does not characterize the position today of more than 85 percent of Israelis (or Americans and Europeans for that matter) but does characterize the position of more than 95 percent of Arabs, Middle East Muslims, and Palestinians.
An element of this doctrinaire, deterministic "even-handedness" and "mirror-imaging" practices by Western governments today is to misunderstand much about the Middle East (and Israel as well) to the point that they fail in their efforts and stumble into crises. This point also applies to their understandings of Islamism, Iran's ambitions, the internal problems of Iraq and Afghanistan, and much more. These mistakes cost lives and produce strategic disasters.

Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and most of the PA's own Fatah rulers don't think a "comprehensive peace" is in the interests of Palestinians, much less all the peoples of the region. They believe that anyone who does think so should be murdered. They are certain that the elimination of Israel, which they do not number among the "peoples of the region”, is in everyone's interest.

Certainly, from the standpoint of 2010, the relatively moderate regimes aren't going to do much to make that happen and there are a number of Arab governments that behind-the-scenes understand the value to Israel for them. But they are generally going to avoid being much help because of their own interests.

A typical example: the United States invites the Egyptian and Jordanian governments to observe the new direct talks believing they will pressure the PA and reassure the Israelis into making peace. A far more likely outcome is that they will simply back PA positions, making Israel feel the dice are loaded against it and convincing the PA that it can avoid making peace by using the usual Arab and Muslim levers to guarantee region wide support for intransigence.

This kind of miscalculation is the problem when people like Mitchell conclude, in his words, that opposition cannot, deter leaders "who...recognize that the interests of their people, the future of their societies rests upon resolving this conflict and achieving the kind of peace and stability and security from which they will all benefit."

But of course it can! Not understanding why is the mistake that has repeatedly led Western leaders and experts to predict diplomacy will succeed only to find, to their puzzlement, that it fails.

Indeed, this factor has been the centerpiece of Middle East history for the last sixty years. Fear of public opinion, fear of Islamists and hardline clerics, fear of rivals taking advantage of their concessions, fear of assassination, fear of political destruction, and other such things have deterred leaders. And those not deterred-King Abdallah of Jordan, Amin Gemayel of Lebanon, Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt (and, yes, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, too)--have been eliminated as a result.



There is a rather sharp gap between the reality of PA "President" Mahmoud Abbas's political position (hardline) and thinking (scared to an extent which usually brings in a bad word at this point) and what Mitchell portrays it as being. Again, this does not mean the West should not try to negotiate. It does, however, mean that the West should maintain its own credibility in fighting the radicals (in part, to encourage the relative moderates) and support Israel strongly to show that maximal aims cannot be achieved. The lack of these pillars helps to cripple any peace process.

The text is, "Transcript: Clinton, Special Envoy Mitchell on Push for Middle East Peace, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, August 20, 2010.





*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), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.



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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

THE UK, THE MIDDLE EAST, AND ISRAEL: A SYMPOSIUM

INTRODUCTION


Several experts report and analyze attitudes within the United Kingdom's civil society regarding the Middle East and Arab-Israeli conflict.
In this symposium, several experts report and analyze attitudes within the United Kingdom’s civil society regarding the Middle East and Arab-Israeli conflict.
One of the most widely noted developments has been the rise there of grassroots activism and intellectual ferment on behalf of the Palestinian cause and against Israel. In 2005, an attempt to use professional associations to initiate a boycott of Israeli academia was launched in Britain. While this was eventually defeated through legal action, efforts to reintroduce it have become a regular part of the annual conference of the main British lecturers' union, the University and College Union (the UCU).
In 2009, the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) supported a call for a boycott of goods and services originating in Israeli settlements and a divestment campaign directed against companies “associated” with the occupation.
Yet the academic boycott saga and the TUC decision represent only aspects of a broader picture in which some elements of British civil society have emerged as the most trenchant of Israel's critics in Western Europe.
Why are these phenomena manifesting themselves with particular strength in the UK? Why has the UK become one of the central “hubs of delegitimization” facing Israel at the present time? What are the factors that need to be taken into account in order to better understand recent developments? Moreover, what is Israel doing in order to attempt to rectify this situation in what remains, after all, one of its most important global allies? The articles within this symposium address these subjects, each in its own area of focus.
The first article is written by Douglas Murray, head of the Centre for Social Cohesion. In his essay “How the UK Arrived at the Present Situation Regarding Israel and Middle East Issues,” Murray seeks to identify the core reasons explaining the emergence in Britain of the attempt to “delegitimize and demonize” Israel. He discusses a variety of factors that may explain the virulence of the anti-Israel campaign in the UK.
Murray points to the presence of radical Islamism in British society and political life as a central factor. He traces the vital and central role played by Islamist groups in bringing the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the prominence it now has in the British debate. Murray writes: "As a result of a very deliberate campaign from the start of the ‘War on Terror,’ at places of learning and in society at large, it has become lodged in the public mind that an issue at best tangential to the issues at hand is not just a part of the picture but the biggest part of the picture, and eventually, the whole picture."
Murray relates this growing prominence of radically anti-Israel positions in British society to what he sees as a broader failure of British society in developing ways to absorb successfully some Muslim immigrants in the country. He sees this in regard to broader problems affecting British society, which are discussed in the article. Whether or not one chooses to accept Douglas Murray's interpretation of the reasons for Israel's current standing in Britain, his essay offers a rigorous and thought- provoking treatment of the issue.
The subsequent articles focus on specific areas of British civil society and the attempts by advocates of Israel's cause to halt or reverse the slide toward delegitimizing Israel in their respective fields.
Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel, is both a researcher of British trade union history and an erstwhile activist in the UCU who played an important role in opposing the academic boycott of Israel campaign in Britain. His essay “UK Attitudes Toward the Middle East: The British Trade Union Movement” is informed by both his research and his experience.
He first discusses the historical roots of the British trade union movement's engagement with the Middle East as a whole, before going on to focus on the pro-Palestinian campaign in the movement. Fraser notes the general failure of the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign internationally, and asks why the trade unions in Britain nevertheless seem interested in “buying into” this campaign. He discusses a series of practical measures that supporters of Israel in British trade unionism might take in order to arrest the decline.
Jonathan Rynhold of Bar-Ilan University was one of the Israeli academics most active in challenging the proposed academic boycott. He draws on this experience in his article “The Meaning of the UK Campaign for an Academic Boycott of Israel.” Rynhold looks into the dynamics behind the proposed academic boycott and the campaign against it. He sees the attempted boycott as a significant contribution to a larger effort by the British hard left to “shift the discourse” about Israel, which could later on form a real threat in terms of Israel's legitimacy and its relations with Britain and Europe. However, he is optimistic regarding the likelihood that this broader movement for divestment and sanctions against Israel can be “contained, if not fully defeated.” 
Jonathan Cummings, director of the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) office in Israel, discusses his organization's experiences in bringing delegations of British journalists, students, academics, and politicians to Israel over the last decade. Cummings, too, does not mince words in describing the problems affecting Israel in the UK context. “Criticism of Israel,” as currently manifested in the UK, he maintains, "threatens to elide into an assault on the very right of the State of Israel to exist as a democratic, Jewish state."
His essay argues that Israel's traditional reliance on military deterrence must be supplemented and qualified in an age in which the real challenge to Israel, in his view, is the campaign to delegitimize the country. In dealing with this threat, Cummings suggests engagement, rather than deterrence, is the answer.
On this basis, he discusses BICOM's extensive work in recent years in seeking to bring members of the British opinionmaking elites to Israel, in order to allow them to develop a realistic picture of the Israeli reality. Cummings does not suggest that there are easy solutions to Israel's difficulties. However, he suggests that building “networks of relationships” between Israeli and British elites is one of the tools for achieving this.
 The final essay in the series returns to a broader theme. David Rich, of the Community Security Trust in the UK, discusses British media coverage of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008/2009. Rich examines the extent to which “the hardening of attitudes toward Israel has opened the door to more extreme, and sometimes antisemitic, language when Israel or Zionism is discussed.” He notes examples in which Israel has been compared with Nazi Germany in UK public debate, arguing that there has been an increase in statements of this type by figures close to the British mainstream.
Rich considers that British media coverage of Operation Cast Lead formed a significant escalation in a process in the last few years whereby British Jews are feeling their sense of “well-being and belonging” somewhat “bruised” because of the widespread assumption among significant circles in Britain that Israel is “pretty much always in the wrong.” Rich cautions, however, against simplistic readings of events, however, concluding, “The British intellectual scene, particularly in the media and academia, is dominated by a liberal left worldview that sees the Palestinians as the underdog and Israel as little America. This is different from antisemitism, even if it sometimes looks similar."
Hadar Sela's contribution focuses on the Guardian's “Comment is Free” website and its coverage of Israel. This very successful website, which publishes online articles mainly by individuals not employed by the Guardian, has been criticized for the one-sided nature of the very large number of articles it publishes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sela considers that the vociferousness of some of the attacks on Israel at Comment is Free--and the sheer volume of articles--means that the Guardian is playing a role in an ongoing campaign, the final result of which may impact on the lives of British Jews. As she puts it:
The effect upon public opinion and notions of socially acceptable forms of criticism of Zionism and Israel within Britain is far from negligible; indeed, increasingly hostile attitudes toward Israel and individual Israelis are to be witnessed at all levels of British society, from the House of Lords to trade unions and universities. By extension, these attitudes are liable to have a negative effect upon the lives and wellbeing of British Jews, the majority of whom identify strongly with Israel.
The importance of the issues raised here notwithstanding, it is also necessary to keep a sense of perspective with regard to developments in the UK. The agitation against Israel, which has received a large degree of attention, is ultimately largely restricted to a particular section of British public opinion--namely, the left plus supporters of various brands of political Islam. Elements within the Foreign Office traditionally hostile to Israel may perhaps also be included, but the “commanding heights” of the British-Israeli relationship remain largely unaffected. Business relations are good and the British want to retain a role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which militates against taking an anti-Israel stance.
Also, there exist significant counterweights to the elements supporting an anti-Israel position. On the center Right in the UK, the anti-Israel position exists but is much weaker. On the center Left, meanwhile, despite the presence of vociferous anti-Israel voices, the last two Labour Prime Ministers--Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were known and strong supporters of Israel. These issues and the dynamics of British policymaking on Israel are discussed further in this author’s article, “An Analytical and Historical Overview of British Policy Toward Israel,” published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs in 2004.
While it is important to retain perspective in this regard, it is undoubtedly the case that developments in the British debate on Israel over the last decade represent a notable shift in the European debate on Israel. This symposium offers MERIA readers a variety of thoughtful perspectives in an ongoing analytical conversation on the significance of this shift.


*Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. He is a columnist at the Jerusalem Post newspaper and a frequent contributor to other publications, including the Haaretz English edition and theGuardian Comment is Free website. His first book, The Transforming Fire: the Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict will be published in November 2010 by Continuum.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why We Must Remain

Afghanistan.

The graveyard of empires.
It looks like we're stuck.
If we had never gone there, or if we had gone there, taken out the Taliban, and come home, we could act like we didn't know how bad things were there, in terms of human rights, and never pay Afghanistan even a passing thought.
Now we have all seen it, particularly the human rights abuses towards women and children.
We cannot, in good conscience, turn our backs on them.
On Fox yesterday they showed a photo of a woman, a formerly beautiful woman, who'd been disfigured by the Taliban for attending school.
These people, the Taliban, and Hamas and Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, and other Islamist criminal organizations, give new meaning to the word "cruelty".
Their brutality towards women is not their "custom", it's criminality, but even if it was "tradition", woman do not deserved to be enslaved by these evil despots.
We should insist that the U.N. become more involved.
We can pressure this body more than any other member.
We should threaten the UN with sanctions if they continue to overlook human rights abuses by anyone.
It is sad that we probably are there now because of the military-industrial complex need for money, power, and control.
Nonetheless, as a moral nation we must defend innocent victims.
Even if we must do it alone.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The False Issue of "Race" in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

August 8, 2010

As the waitress whose family had come from Ethiopia put the pizza on the table at the Tel Aviv restaurant, I contemplated the ridiculous misuse of "race" as a factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Regardless of skin color, we belong not only to the same country by way of citizenship but also to the same nation and people in a very profound way that isn't true for countries that are merely geographical entities. 

Among the scores of ridiculous things said, thought, and written about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the pretense that it has something to do with "race" ranks high among them. This has been interjected for two reasons. First, this is a blatant attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

Second, as part of that point but also due to trends in Western intellectual discussions, there is a conflation of nationality and race. Often, there is an attempt nowadays to portray any form of nationalism in the West as racist, though this is never applied to Third World nationalists situations. Neither the internal conflicts in Iraq (among Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds) nor in Lebanon (among numerous groups) are about race but rather arise from national, ethnic, and religious (sometimes all rolled up into one) conflicts.

One of the most basic lessons in looking at foreign or international affairs is to understand that countries just don't think alike about issues. America, and in a different way Europe, has been obsessed with race. That doesn't mean everyone else is racially oriented. Israelis don't think about skin color as such and are well aware that Jews, while having a common ancestry, have been affected by many cultures and societies.

With intermarriage rates between Jews whose ancestors came from Europe and those who came from the Middle East approaching half in Israel today, there is no way to classify people. In fact, Israelis are far less interested than other countries about people's ancestral travels.

Moreover, what does one say about such "darker-skinned" Israelis as my Hungarian-Yemenite colleague or my Syrian-origin pianist neighbor (whose wife is from Poland by way of Argentina? There is absolutely no issue involved here. And many Israelis of European origin are not exactly "white" in their appearance.

Indeed, Israel has more "blacks" among its Jews (from Ethiopia) than do the Palestinians by far. Israeli media never use racial stereotypes or epithets while Arab and Palestinian media have had numerous racist remarks and cartoons about such American leaders as Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and now even Barack Obama. In a recent radio interview one of the leaders of the Islamist movement in Israel, in other words from the Arab minority here, said that it was a disgrace that a black Israeli soldier could ask for the identity document of an Arab Muslim. Yet such racism from the Arab/Palestinian side is ignored in the Western media.

While there have been some incidents in reaction to the arrival of Jews from Ethiopia, these have been few and universally rejected. Moreover, Israel has given refuge to the American "Black Hebrew" movement when it easily could have deported them.

It is officially estimated that at least 19 asylum seekers have been shot dead by Egyptian forces in Sinai. To my knowledge no one in this category has ever been injured in Israel.

I have had friends, mostly Filipinos, who were illegal workers (they overstayed work permits) deported from Israel and they simply accepted it and were soon working in another country. None of them bears any grudge against Israel, quite the contrary they could serve as citizen ambassadors on its behalf. None of them ever reported a single case of "racial" mistreatment and I don't believe there has ever been--and workers' advocacy groups have never reported--a racial assault or even insult on any foreign worker in Israel. The problem, of course, is that there is at times terrible economic exploitation by unscrupulous employers, which is in no way atypical in the world today.

The Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts are in no way "racial." National identity is something quite different from "race" generally. Israelis and Arabs are not easily distinguished by skin color, though of course there are exceptions.I was in an Israeli government agency meeting a high-ranking official whose skin shade was darker than that of Barack Obama. This was only something I noted because I was planning to write the article you are reading now.

I arrived at the meeting mentioned above by taking a cab from my neighborhood taxi stand. I gave the address and the driver went back to speaking on his mobile phone in Arabic, which is the only reason I realized he was an Israeli Arab. I couldn't tell just by looking at him.

The attempt by anti-Israel slanderers to inject a racial aspect is ludicrously nonsensical. If you have ever travelled in Syria you would find that the average skin color of people there is lighter than that of Israelis on average. Generally speaking, there is less variation in "racial terms" between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs than there is among member states of the European Union.

It just doesn't apply to conditions here. ‎'While Palestinian Arabs are on average a shade or two darker than Israelis you can find wider variations within the EU member states.

But if you can label someone as a "racist" because they are engaged in a conflict with another nation or group automatically "proves" they are in the wrong. If the conflict is a national one, however, you actually have to think about it. Who's right in the following conflicts: Irish Catholics or Protestants; Basques or Spain; Bosnians or Serbs; Russians or Chechens, Somalis or Ethiopians; Iraqi Sunni, Shia, or Kurds; India or Pakistan; Azerbaijan or Armenia, and so on?
The answer cannot be deduced automatically. But label one side as racist and the discussion is over. This, then, is a trick for deceiving, not a tool for understanding.
The ridiculousness of attempts to transfer American or European situations to Israel was embodied in an American student asking an Israeli professor how many blacks were on his university's basketball team. Actually, there are many on the professional teams but they are all, of course, from the United States, though I believe one or two had converted and remained in Israel. 

I don't think there's any question of the fact that there is far far more racism in Europe or in the Arabic-speaking world than in Israel--and that's an understatement. 
*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), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel

Never Again!


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