Thursday, May 21, 2015

Letter From Israel

Oh dear...

This has been a moderately horrible year for me; one of accidents and incidents (thanks, Paul) and not much fun. Not quite as bad as the annus horribilis suffered by Queen Elizabeth and Buckingham Palace—not to mention Princess Diana—but close. 

Last August, almost on my way home from Australia, I fell.  I never was far from being a total klutzit but this time it was serious:  Two ruptured discs, a dislocated shoulder and a partridge in a pear tree.  Couldn’t write, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even imagine a pain-free existence.  And arriving home just before the High Holydays was a hoot.  Every medical request was answered with the same phrase:  After the holidays.  It was almost a month before someone would say Let’s see…can you come in on November 28th?

Socialised medicine is great.  Costs a farthing; without the profit motive people are happy to help but holy cow it took a long time to find the guy who does the best acupuncture (it worked); receive an appointment with the physiotherapist (she helped) and try to get back to normal.  And here I am.

Politically, we’re on the edge of a precipice and everyone knows it.  Bibi made his Likudniks sign a paper saying they wouldn’t vote against him.  Is this democracy?  I don’t think so. 

Avigdor Lieberman is turning out to be the wild man of the bunch, waiting until the end to be assigned his role in the new government and then saying No thanks.  I just love that—he could have continued as Foreign Minister, become the Finance Minister or just about anything he fancied but he has other plans.  Don’t know what they are but I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering about the man who pulled off the biggest kick-in-the-butt that Bibi has ever experienced—and the sound of sniggering was heard throughout the land.   

A recent article in Haaretz proclaimed that Arieh Deri is the only dove in the new government.  That’s nice.  But will he keep his hands out of the till?  There are countries which prohibit people who have 'done time' from taking government posts.  I wonder why Israel doesn’t have that law…

I also wonder why people pick on the New Israel Fund.  I worked with them years ago and found them upright, forthright and so on.  Perhaps it was just early days in Israel when I couldn’t identify right from left if I tried; maybe they’ve changed their operating philosophy ere since.  Happens.  Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered if they were flaming Communists (peace, Americans)—my job was to write grant proposals and obtain funding for a brand-new school for gifted students.  It worked.

Updates to follow. 

How to advocate for Israel

Sar Shalom

A recurring feature at IsraellyCool is a guide to hasbara featuring a different mistake pro-Israel advocates make each Tuesday. In that vein, I would like to suggest my own principle for how to advocate on behalf of Israel.

Restrict your arguments for Israel, to those which demonstrate support for Israel as flowing from broad principles that your interlocutors claim to uphold. Do not present any arguments suggesting that an exception to those principles should be made for Israel.

First is the category of argument claiming that Israel deserves support because an exception should be made to broader principles. The most significant argument in this category is the covenant between God and Abraham. Consider what it would mean to make a general principle for this argument. It would mean that any people who claims that their deity made a promise to their ancestor(s) would have carte blanche to do as they please to its neighbors. Is this a principle you would support? I didn't think so. Therefore, the only way this argument could have any effect is if it convinces the listener that whatever his principles, the Jewish God's promise thousands of years ago should take precedence.

Now for a few arguments that marshal broader principles into support for Israel.

Indigenity. One of the principles often cited against Israel is "indigenous rights" with the claim that the Palestinians while the Jews are not and thus Palestinian rights must be respected. The counterargument would be that indigenous rights are meaningless without a definition of indigenity such as the Martinez-Cobo criteria. People are free to have their own definition of indigenity that applies to all claims of indigenity, however, anyone insisting on an alternative to Martinez-Cobo can be challenged on the grounds of where else that alternative is accepted. From this argument, unless one believes that conquerors can become indigenous, one would have to accept the Jews of Israel as indigenous and that indigenous rights apply to the Jews.

Legality of the "settlements." There are two issues involved in this one. One is how far does Israel's right to possess land beyond the 1949 Armistice Line extend, the other is what right Israel has to settle land that is not recognized as permanently Israel. As to what rights to the land go to whom, the notion that Israel's land rights should be limited stems from the principle stated in UNSC 242 about the inadmissibility of acquiring land through war. The problem with that notion is that the application of it to say that the full plot of land past the Armistice Line thus "belongs" to the Palestinians effectively confers its blessing on Jordan's acquisition of territory through war back in 1949. This does not mean that there are no grounds for the Palestinians to achieve autonomy or even sovereignty on some part of that land, however, if you believe that acquiring territory through war is inadmissible, you have to admit that a foreign army's conquest of the land 66 years ago does not confer an automatic right. Regarding settling the land before it is internationally recognized as part of Israel, the principle should be that civilian settlements are either legal for all occupying powers or illegal for all occupying powers. There has not been a single ruling from any international entity that civilian settlements occupied territories are illegal when done by any power other than Israel.

Civilian casualties and terror. The principle of just war is that there are certain provocations that constitute a legitimate casus belli. Without getting into what cases belli are legitimate in the conflict, when there is a legitimate casus belli, action is permitted to impede the ability of the offender to commit the provocation. Any action taken solely to impose a human cost for the provocation, such as one directed at individuals who are innocent of the provocation or so untargeted as to have a greater likelihood of hitting an innocent target than on responsible for the offense, is an act of terror. However, action directed at those perpetrating the provocation is not an act of terror. When such an action ensnares innocent victims, it is possible for that action to be lawful or unlawful depending on the circumstances, but in either case it is not terror. You can summarise this as, it doesn't matter whether the innocents killed are Muslim, Christian or Jewish and it doesn't matter whether those killing them are Muslim, Christian or Jewish, if the innocents are the ones targeted or there is no targeting, it is terror, if they are not targeted, it is not terror.

There are a slew of other issues where such reasons could be applied. The important thing is whatever reason is invoked to defend Israel must be one you would allow to be used for any other group in relevant circumstances and preferably one which would demonstrate that whatever reason is invoked on behalf of the Palestinians would not be invoked on behalf of anyone else.

Profound Differences

Michael L.

flagMost American political analysts concerned with the Middle East would probably say that I am a right-winger.

How I suddenly became a right-winger is a mystery to me, particularly given the fact that most American political analysts concerned with domestic politics would consider me a man of the left.

It has something to do with the fact that I objected - strongly and in public - to left-leaning support for anti-Semitic anti-Zionism within venues allied with the Democratic Party.

Volleyboy1 is someone that I have known for years.

He is an intelligent guy and I respect him, although we have significant criticisms of one another.

It is not everyone who would have the courage to come onto what he must consider hostile territory and speak the truth as he understands it.

This is VB's initial criticism:
How can one call themselves a Liberal and yet actively support (through voting and advocacy) "Conservative" political forces that enforce entirely non liberal solutions to issues when they make policy. Not only that, but that those forces that are not Liberal are not ever criticized or mentioned when often times they engage in similar behaviors. 
This is his follow-up:
One of my biggest criticisms for instance of the Useful Idiot, is that he calls himself "Pro-Israel" yet all he does is criticize Israel and engage with anti-Semites. YET how can one be "Pro-Israel" when one does not contextualize and balance criticism or point out what the other side is doing. In David Harris Gershon's case, all he does is provide fodder for anti--Semites and anti-Zionists.
I like this criticism because it is honest and straight-forward.

It is a fair question.

How can one consider oneself liberal, in the contemporary American sense of that word, while abandoning liberal political venues and actually voting for a Republican?  That is an entirely fair question and I did, in fact, vote for Mitt Romney in the last American presidential election.

Romney is the one and only Republican that I have voted for in the past, but he may not very well be the last.  I am considering voting for other Republicans, but they have not yet made the sale.

In order to answer VB's question we need to separate American domestic policy from its foreign policy.  The world is getting smaller and smaller and I therefore, now, take foreign policy to be at least as important as domestic policy.

In truth, I am far more concerned about Obama allowing a Iranian bomb than I am about the possibility that Evangelicals will take over the American government and overturn Roe v. Wade.  That is, I am far more concerned about American foreign policy, at this moment in time, than I am about American domestic policy.

The Islamic State recently captured Ramadi, Iraq, about 75 miles outside of Baghdad.

The Jewish people in the Middle East remain a tough-minded and self-defended minority in that part of the world, but they remain a people under siege from Arabs within their own borders, Arabs and Muslims from without, and European alleged "liberals" who turn a blind eye to ISIS while continually castigating Israel.

Given the pressure that our Israeli friends and relatives are under, I think that it is imperative that we stand with our friends.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Iraq War Recriminations

Sar Shalom

Of late, there has been much hand-wringing over statements by various Republican presidential candidates as to whether or not George W. Bush's war in Iraq was a mistake. Without addressing whether or not the war was inherently a mistake, the focus on that issue by those excoriating the various candidates defending the war sidesteps the issue of how the war was fought.

Discussing the merits of alternate ways of fighting the Iraq War is about more than being able to say that the war might not have turned out so bad if only it had been fought more smartly, though I am of the opinion that that is the case. It is also a matter of drawing the correct lessons from the war, lessons with consequences for how we approach the conflicts presented to us today that cannot be avoided.

Saying that the Iraq War was irredeemably a mistake and that no alternative approach to it would have changed that is saying that how the war was fought is irrelevant. If how the war was fought was irrelevant, then all that matters in war in general is whether or not to fight, and if so, how much force to bear. If that is the case, then all that matters in the conflict with Isis is bringing enough force to bear. If all that matters in fighting Isis is applying enough force, then there is no reason not to outsource the application of that force to Iran.

However, if your lessons from the Iraq War have to do with how it was fought, rather than the simple fact that it was fought, then one clear lesson is to avoid aligning yourself with those who pit one part of the population against another. In this regard, Iranian-aligned government of Iraq clearly pits Shia Iraqis against Sunni Iraqis, giving the latter no reason to support the overall state. A result of this is that the Sunni sections Iraq have become fertile ground for Isis takeover because while the locals might detest Isis, they detest the Iranian-aligned national government even more. The result is that while the Iranians might be able to remove Isis from a stronghold here and there tactically, they cannot remove the root cause of those strongholds' receptiveness to Isis because they are the root cause of those strongholds' receptiveness.

This brings up the entire justification for Obama's engagement with Iran. Obama claims that we need to go easy with Iran on nuclear negotiations and their sponsorship of instability across the world because we need their help against Isis. However, if Iran is part of the problem in terms of making the region hospitable to Isis, then there is no reason to include Iran in the coalition against Isis, let alone yield so ground in negotiations in order to procure that inclusion.