Randy's Corner Deli Library

30 April 2009

AIPAC Could Face First Test In Decades

AIPAC’s relationship with the Obama administration hinges on the policies of Bibi Netanyahu, above.
AIPAC’s relationship with the Obama administration hinges on the policies of Bibi Netanyahu, above.

by James D. Besser
Washington Correspondent

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which holds its annual policy conference in Washington next week, could face its toughest battle with an administration in more than a decade, depending on the proposals Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings to Washington later in May.

Press attention has focused on mounting criticism of the Israel lobby in left-wing and foreign policy circles and the continuing shadow cast by the Espionage Act trial of two former employees. But the real challenge facing AIPAC may be diverging policy in Washington and Jerusalem — with AIPAC and its supporters in the American Jewish community caught in the middle.

“AIPAC hasn’t had a major fight on its hands since the loan guarantee battle of 1991 — which it lost,” said Dan Fleshler, a New York publicist who has worked with a number of dovish pro-Israel groups and is the author of a new book on AIPAC, “Transforming America’s Israel Lobby.”

“AIPAC could be facing the first real test of its power in a long time,” Fleshler continued. “They are going to do everything possible to avoid a confrontation. The real question is whether Bibi has the same goal.”
In past fights with an American administration, Netanyahu looked to AIPAC as a key ally.

So far the omens are mixed. A series of statements from Jerusalem, including last week’s assertion that Israel will not engage with the Palestinians until Washington deals with Iran, prompted stern responses from the administration and a reiteration of U.S. support for a two-state solution and an Annapolis peace process Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly rejected.

“There’s a game of verbal ping-pong going on now,” said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank. “It’s being driven by statements coming out of Jerusalem. That’s not ideal, because I think it’s everybody’s goal to avoid a fight.”

Even more challenging could be the question of U.S. Iran policy, AIPAC’s top policy priority in recent years.

While the immediate trigger for U.S-Israel tension will likely involve issues such as settlements, illegal outposts and Washington’s desire for confidence-building gestures by both Israel and the Palestinians, any move by Netanyahu to make progress on Iran a precondition for new negotiations with the Palestinians will likely produce a strongly negative response from an administration that regards both as critical priorities, analysts say — and put AIPAC on the firing line.

With new legislation in the works to toughen sanctions against the Tehran regime, Iran will once again be a dominant theme at the policy conference.

If new tensions do emerge along the Jerusalem-Washington axis, the big lobby group will face a different political climate from the last time it went head-to-head with an administration, said former AIPAC Executive Director Neal Sher.

Changes include pro-peace process groups that have the ear of important Obama administration policymakers, a Congress with a strong Democratic majority and a new Democratic president with unusually high approval ratings. 

“Right now everything hinges on Bibi,” Sher said. “If there is a confrontation, it remains to be seen if AIPAC is up to that kind of test in the current climate.”

In recent weeks AIPAC, accused by some detractors of tilting to the political right here and in Israel, has been reinforcing relationships with key Capitol Hill Democrats, although the group lacks the tight leadership ties it had when the Republicans were running both Houses of Congress.

The group’s next president will be one of Obama’s staunchest and earliest supporters in the Jewish community: Lee Rosenberg, a Chicago businessman and Democratic activist, who will be introduced as president-elect at next week’s policy conference and take the reins in 2010.

AIPAC officials won’t say who will represent the Obama administration at the conference, but word on the pro-Israel street is that it will be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden or both.

AIPAC officials undoubtedly hope to avoid strong outbursts by delegates against a new administration it must get along with for the next four years, but that could be harder because of another scheduled keynoter — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), one of the administration’s most scathing foreign policy critics and a longtime ally of both AIPAC and Netanyahu.

Early speculation had Netanyahu coming to Washington both to address the conference and hold his inaugural meetings with Obama. That won’t happen, according to reports in the Israeli press, because Netanyahu needs time to flesh out his new government’s policies.

“It’s a good sign that he delayed the trip by three weeks,” said the Washington Institute’s Makovsky. “A week ago, the betting money would have said he couldn’t resist the temptation of speaking to 6,000 American Jews who are ardent supporters of Israel. But it’s better to take his time and make sure he gets off on the right foot.”

Instead, AIPAC insiders say President Shimon Peres will represent Israel at the conference.

Shadowing the conference will be the unfolding controversy enveloping Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who was reportedly taped in a federal wiretap offering to intervene on behalf of two former AIPAC officials awaiting trial for passing along government secrets. At press time Harman was still scheduled as a policy conference speaker.

Few observers doubt AIPAC will adjust to the dramatic shift to Democratic dominance in Washington.

While the press has made much of a new challenger on the scene — J Street, the pro-peace process lobby and political action committee — AIPAC retains an unmatched activist network in congressional districts across the country and connections to countless donors to political campaigns, a critical element in its reputation for Capitol Hill clout.

But the fact is, that clout has not been put to the test for many years.

“For more than a decade, they’ve been pushing against open doors,” said former AIPAC director Sher. “You can get resolutions passed, letters of support and overwhelming support for foreign aid, but those are issues members of Congress are not spending any political capital on; they’re no-brainers.”
If the Netanyahu government chooses to push back against an administration that demands quick progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, “the test is this: can AIPAC get enough Democrats to take on a popular Democratic administration?” Sher asked.

The answer is not simple. Even ardently pro-Israel Democrats may be reluctant to pick a fight with the high-flying Obama. At the same time, some Democrats will be anxious about 2010 midterm elections — and reluctant to risk pro-Israel campaign donations by picking a fight with AIPAC, Sher said.

What’s far from clear on the eve of the policy conference is this: how much of the tough talk from Jerusalem is just that — talk meant for domestic political consumption. Many observers believe the new Netanyahu government will go to great lengths to avoid the conflict recent newspaper reports seem to regard as inevitable.

Gilbert Kahn, a Kean University political scientist, said that while Netanyahu probably wants to avoid a disruptive fight with the Obama administration, “We don’t know what the internal politics of this coalition are. Bibi is extremely pragmatic; the question is whether he can hold his coalition together if he demonstrates that pragmatism.”

Netanyahu may also be willing to make compromises on the Israeli-Palestinian front to win stronger U.S. action on Iran — but whether he can pull that off without fracturing his coalition and angering the White House remains to be seen.

“The last eight years were essentially a cakewalk for AIPAC,” he said. “That could change, but it’s in Bibi’s hands.”

“AIPAC could be facing the first real test of its power in a long time,” said author Dan Fleshler. “AIPAC, I believe, will do everything possible to avoid a confrontation.”

Netanyahu, he said, may not be on the same page — but a confrontation is by no means a certainty.

“Right now what we’re seeing is a game of diplomatic chicken before the real hard decisions are made,” he said.

29 April 2009

Bob Dylan Talks About Working With Robert Hunter On “Together Through Life”

4/28/09, 10:56 am EST

Photo: Micelotta/Getty

Bob Dylan’s latest, Together Through Life, arrives today, but while critics are hailing this fresh batch of hardened, urgent songs, much of the advance chatter surrounding the album centers on the involvement of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

“Hunter is an old buddy,” Dylan explains in our next cover story, which hits newsstands this week. Dylan and Hunter collaborated on 10 songs, all but one of the album’s tracks. “We could probably write a hundred songs together if we thought it was important or the right reasons were there,” Dylan tells Rolling Stone. “He’s got a way with words and I do too. We both write a different type of song than what passes today for songwriting.”

Dylan and Hunter collaborated before on “Silvio” and “The Ugliest Girl In The World” for Dylan’s 1988 album Down In The Groove. The pair’s latest efforts, however, mark Dylan’s deepest work with a collaborator since his 1976 album Desire, which saw Dylan team with Jacques Levy for all but two songs.

Dylan explained his creative partnership with Hunter to RS contributor Doug Brinkley, a noted historian and Rice University professor who’s also profiled Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut and Ken Kesey for RS. Brinkley interviewed Dylan for our new issue, which arrives this week. During their conversation, Dylan kept the door open to future collaborations with Hunter. “I think we’ll be writing a couple of other songs too for some off-Broadway play,” Dylan says.

Rolling Stone issue 1078 hits newsstands this week, and look for more from Dylan — including more from our exclusive interview, and a look back at his past RS covers — throughout the week here on RS.com. In the meantime, check out David Fricke’s four-star review of Together Through Life.

Related Stories:

Dylan Records Surprise Modern Times Follow-Up
Bob Dylan Reveals Together Through Life Track “Feel a Change Comnin’ On”
Beyond the Music: Bob Dylan’s Artwork

28 April 2009

A Visit to the Veterinarian with Irving

Morty visits Dr. Danielle, the veterinarian, and says, "My dog, has a problem."

Dr. Danielle says, "So tell me about the dog and the problem."

"It's a Jewish dog. His name is Irving and he can talk," says Morty.

"He can talk?" the doubting doctor asks.

"Watch this!" Morty points to the dog and commands: "Irving, Fetch!"

Irving, the dog, begins to walk toward the door, then turns around
and says, "So why are you talking to me like that? You always order
me around like I'm nothing. And you only call me when you want
something. And then you make me sleep on the floor, with my
arthritis. You give me this fahkahkta food with all the salt and fat,
and you tell me it's a special diet. It tastes like dreck! YOU should
eat it yourself! And do you ever take me for a decent walk? NO, it's
out of the house, a short pish, and right back home. Maybe if I could
stretch out a little, the sciatica wouldn't kill me so much! I should
roll over and play dead for real for all you care!"

Dr. Danielle is amazed "This is remarkable! What could be the problem?"

Morty says, "He has a hearing problem! I said 'Fetch', not 'Kvetch'".

Snoutbreak '09 - The Last 100 Days

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24 April 2009



Office of the Press Secrectary

For Immediate Release
April 23, 2009


United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.

12:04 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you very much. To Sara Bloomfield, for the wonderful introduction and the outstanding work she's doing; to Fred Zeidman; Joel Geiderman; Mr. Wiesel -- thank you for your wisdom and your witness; Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Senator Dick Durbin; members of Congress; our good friend the Ambassador of Israel; members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; and most importantly, the survivors and rescuers and their families who are here today. It is a great honor for me to be here, and I'm grateful that I have the opportunity to address you briefly.

We gather today to mourn the loss of so many lives, and celebrate those who saved them; honor those who survived, and contemplate the obligations of the living.

It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal used to kill; education that can enlighten used to rationalize away basic moral impulses; the bureaucracy that sustains modern life used as the machinery of mass death -- a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands.

While the uniqueness of the Holocaust in scope and in method is truly astounding, the Holocaust was driven by many of the same forces that have fueled atrocities throughout history: the scapegoating that leads to hatred and blinds us to our common humanity; the justifications that replace conscience and allow cruelty to spread; the willingness of those who are neither perpetrators nor victims to accept the assigned role of bystander, believing the lie that good people are ever powerless or alone, the fiction that we do not have a choice.

But while we are here today to bear witness to the human capacity to destroy, we are also here to pay tribute to the human impulse to save. In the moral accounting of the Holocaust, as we reckon with numbers like 6 million, as we recall the horror of numbers etched into arms, we also factor in numbers like these: 7,200 -- the number of Danish Jews ferried to safety, many of whom later returned home to find the neighbors who rescued them had also faithfully tended their homes and businesses and belongings while they were gone.

We remember the number five -- the five righteous men and women who join us today from Poland. We are awed by your acts of courage and conscience. And your presence today compels each of us to ask ourselves whether we would have done what you did. We can only hope that the answer is yes.

We also remember the number 5,000 -- the number of Jews rescued by the villagers of Le Chambon, France -- one life saved for each of its 5,000 residents. Not a single Jew who came there was turned away, or turned in. But it was not until decades later that the villagers spoke of what they had done -- and even then, only reluctantly. The author of a book on the rescue found that those he interviewed were baffled by his interest. "How could you call us 'good'?" they said. "We were doing what had to be done."

That is the question of the righteous -- those who would do extraordinary good at extraordinary risk not for affirmation or acclaim or to advance their own interests, but because it is what must be done. They remind us that no one is born a savior or a murderer -- these are choices we each have the power to make. They teach us that no one can make us into bystanders without our consent, and that we are never truly alone -- that if we have the courage to heed that "still, small voice" within us, we can form a minyan for righteousness that can span a village, even a nation.

Their legacy is our inheritance. And the question is, how do we honor and preserve it? How do we ensure that "never again" isn't an empty slogan, or merely an aspiration, but also a call to action?

I believe we start by doing what we are doing today -- by bearing witness, by fighting the silence that is evil's greatest co-conspirator.

In the face of horrors that defy comprehension, the impulse to silence is understandable. My own great uncle returned from his service in World War II in a state of shock, saying little, alone with painful memories that would not leave his head. He went up into the attic, according to the stories that I've heard, and wouldn't come down for six months. He was one of the liberators -- someone who at a very tender age had seen the unimaginable. And so some of the liberators who are here today honor us with their presence -- all of whom we honor for their extraordinary service. My great uncle was part of the 89th Infantry Division -- the first Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp. And they liberated Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald, where tens of thousands had perished.

The story goes that when the Americans marched in, they discovered the starving survivors and the piles of dead bodies. And General Eisenhower made a decision. He ordered Germans from the nearby town to tour the camp, so they could see what had been done in their name. And he ordered American troops to tour the camp, so they could see the evil they were fighting against. Then he invited congressmen and journalists to bear witness. And he ordered that photographs and films be made. Some of us have seen those same images, whether in the Holocaust Museum or when I visited Yad Vashem, and they never leave you. Eisenhower said that he wanted "to be in a position to give firsthand evidence of these things, if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda."

Eisenhower understood the danger of silence. He understood that if no one knew what had happened, that would be yet another atrocity -- and it would be the perpetrators' ultimate triumph.

What Eisenhower did to record these crimes for history is what we are doing here today. That's what Elie Wiesel and the survivors we honor here do by fighting to make their memories part of our collective memory. That's what the Holocaust Museum does every day on our National Mall, the place where we display for the world our triumphs and failures and the lessons we've learned from our history. It's the very opposite of silence.

But we must also remember that bearing witness is not the end of our obligation -- it's just the beginning. We know that evil has yet to run its course on Earth. We've seen it in this century in the mass graves and the ashes of villages burned to the ground, and children used as soldiers and rape used as a weapon of war. To this day, there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened; who perpetrate every form of intolerance -- racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and more -- hatred that degrades its victim and diminishes us all.

Today, and every day, we have an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to confront these scourges -- to fight the impulse to turn the channel when we see images that disturb us, or wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others' sufferings are not our own. Instead we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy; to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take -- whether confronting those who tell lies about history, or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda, those taking place in Darfur. That is my commitment as President. I hope that is yours, as well.

It will not be easy. At times, fulfilling these obligations require self-reflection. But in the final analysis, I believe history gives us cause for hope rather than despair -- the hope of a chosen people who have overcome oppression since the days of Exodus; of the nation of Israel rising from the destruction of the Holocaust; of the strong and enduring bonds between our nations.

It is the hope, too, of those who not only survived, but chose to live, teaching us the meaning of courage and resilience and dignity. I'm thinking today of a study conducted after the war that found that Holocaust survivors living in America actually had a higher birthrate than American Jews. What a stunning act of faith -- to bring a child in a world that has shown you so much cruelty; to believe that no matter what you have endured, or how much you have lost, in the end, you have a duty to life.

We find cause for hope as well in Protestant and Catholic children attending school together in Northern Ireland; in Hutus and Tutsis living side by side, forgiving neighbors who have done the unforgivable; in a movement to save Darfur that has thousands of high school and college chapters in 25 countries, and brought 70,000 people to the Washington Mall -- people of every age and faith and background and race united in common cause with suffering brothers and sisters halfway around the world.

Those numbers can be our future -- our fellow citizens of the world showing us how to make the journey from oppression to survival, from witness to resistance, and ultimately to reconciliation. That is what we mean when we say "never again."

So today, during this season when we celebrate liberation, resurrection, and the possibility of redemption, may each of us renew our resolve to do what must be done. And may we strive each day, both individually and as a nation, to be among the righteous.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

12:18 P.M. EDT

23 April 2009

Why We Remember

Bernard-Henri Lévy
French philosopher and writer

Posted April 22, 2009

Why We Remember

This speech was delivered April 20 at Place des Nations in Geneva.

Here I am, for the third time in thirty years, charged with the dreadful honor of speaking on this day that is, for Jews all over the world, a day of grieving and remembrance. And here I am, as before and perhaps now even more so, compelled to explain again why this commemoration is a sacred duty not only for Jews but for the world.

Shouldn't we, some ask, let the dead rest in peace and let forgetfulness, merciful forgetfulness scar over the wounds of the past? Yes, of course, we should. Yes, of course, it is always good to let the dead rest in peace. And I will even say that there is nothing more Jewish, more consistent with the commandments of the Torah, than the religious injunction to bury the dead quickly, once and for all. Except... Yes, except for those dead who haven't been truly buried. Except the dead whose deaths involved no tomb or memorial. Except for the dead whose deaths were engineered to be deaths without a trace, without a remnant, and thus, I maintain, without a grave. So it is up to the living to be the living tombs of these dead. It is the duty of survivors, and the children of survivors, to carry within themselves the memory of these fathers who will forever be only as old as their children. The dead, the poor dead, are in much pain... We are the tombs of our fathers... These are the words of one of the great French poets, Charles Baudelaire. But this is, most of all, the case of those who refuse to wash their hands of all of the Jewish flesh gone up in ashes and smoke.

This crime, they say, was a grave crime to be sure. But how can you say that it was a greater crime than all other crimes? And why do you insist on declaring it an exception in the series of evil deeds that is the very framework of human history? We are not insisting on anything. Nothing is more alien to the Jewish idea of death than establishing any kind of scale or hierarchy of deaths. Except that, here again, something happened in the Shoah that finds itself--and that's just the way it is--without precedent. And this something is a manhunt and a massacre that meant, not only the absence of any trace of a tomb, but also the impossibility for the victims to find a place, any place, to escape their executioners. The Armenians, who were (and this is too often questioned) the victims of the first genocide in History, were only pursued in Turkey. The Tutsis, the Cambodians, the Darfuris (whose genocide should be denounced with the same force) could, at least in theory, should they have found asylum in a neighboring country, escape the murderers' clutches. There was no such escape for the Jews targeted by a Shoah that intended to be their complete destruction. All of Europe--soon thereafter, and in theory, the world--became an immense trap for the Jewish game hunted by the Wehrmacht dogs and the SS. An extermination--it is that which is excruciatingly singular--that offered no recourse because it wanted to leave no remnant, no remains.

This notion of total extermination is important for yet another very precise and concrete reason: namely, Israel. The Shoah did not cause Israel to come into being. And we must do everything, truly everything, to break the insidious chain that, in linking the two, ends up imputing a providential cause to, and, whether we want it to or not, justifying the Shoah. All the same, there is another inanity heard all over, which consists of the following: "Yes, alright, it was a crime; yes, if absolutely necessary to admit, a singular crime; but as for the survivors of the tragedy, why weren't they moved to Germany? Why a national Jewish homeland in the Arab world--the only part of the world that did not take part in the crime?" And the answer remains that the world itself was a trap for Jews; there wasn't a single part of the world where the evil wind of this death didn't blow; and the Arab world did not recuse itself, any more than the rest of the world, from this plan of total extermination... Today we have very detailed information on the matter. We have the memoirs of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem describing, relentlessly, during the entire duration of the war, his admiration for Hitler. We have the work of historians citing the existence of an Arab SS legion waiting, at the rear guard of Rommel's army, for the order to descend on the Yishuv in order to exterminate the 500,000 Jews who had already settled there. We know, in other words, that Nazism was a global ideology that manifested itself in national versions and, in particular, in an Arab version no less criminal than the European version. This changes nothing--quite the contrary--when it comes to the necessary fight for democracy in the Arab world and, in particular, in the Palestinian State to come. This is simply an argument for honesty, an argument to oppose relentlessly those who, sustained by an ignorance related to an absence of memory, try to delegitimize Israel--and who sometimes, unfortunately, succeed. Commemorating the Shoah is also a matter of honesty. It is also a fight against ignorance.

It is April 20, 2009. We could have, when it was decided fifty years ago, to inscribe this day of commemoration in the calendars of nations, chosen the anniversary of the opening of the death camps. We could have chosen the date of the Wansee Conference. We could have decided on any other day--and they are legion!--commemorating the Jewish martyrdom across the ages. But no. It was the 27th of Nissan of the Hebraic year that was chosen. In other words, this year in particular, the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. And, in the lively discussions that presided over this choice, in the debate, notably, between Ben Gurion and the religious adherents of Judaism, this detail surely escaped no one. What was it meant to mean? That we had to put an end to the cliché of a Jewish people going to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter. That we had to celebrate, at the same time as the memory of the crime, this heroic episode in Warsaw that was followed by the revolts of Sobibor, Birkenau, Treblinka. That it mattered, in other words, to commemorate a massacre, but also a resistance. For me, the son not of a deportee but of a member of the Resistance, this will to act is essential. I invite you to remember that there is always, even in the darkest night, a place for insurgence and for hope. We are here to remind, far beyond ourselves, all the people of the world, that it is always possible, always, to revolt.

A last word. Since we are discussing the calendar, there is quite the coincidence that an international conference against racism opens today just a few steps from here. And there are once again voices who say to us: "What good is there in reviving the racisms of yesterday when it is the racisms of tomorrow that threaten us? And aren't you afraid, in fixating on past genocides, of neglecting those happening here, now, right in front of you?" Of course not, no, I do not fear that. And to be frank, I even believe that that is, on the contrary, another reason to commemorate the Shoah. Because beyond the fact that this conference is beginning to become, as anticipated, a masquerade, I come back to the question: why have so many Jewish organizations mobilized for Darfur? Why did the first who understood what was happening in Rwanda, be they Jews or non-Jews, have the Shoah in their hearts? Why, when the world closed its eyes to the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia, was it up to a handful of men and women, whose only commonality was the "never again" of Auschwitz, to sound the alarm? Nor were they better informed than others. Nor were they better. They had but a compass. A scale of bad and of worse. A kind of radar that signaled, every time, the proximity of the Beast and of his trademark scent. We must commemorate the Shoah because, far from blinding us to the suffering of the moment, it is, on the contrary, the only way to render that suffering intolerable and visible.

I dream, dear friends, of a Conference that could have been a platform for all of the victimized, the voiceless of today's forgotten genocides, instead of serving as a platform for the racist ranting of a psychopathic Iranian President, instead of serving as a moral whitewashing of a handful of dictators whose contribution to the global history of democracy and of human rights has consisted, until now, of hanging homosexuals, of oppressing religions minorities, or of burning alive adulterous women. I dream of a Durban II that would have opened with the testimony of a Dalit Indian. Or of a survivor of Darfur. Or of a Rwandan who had survived the massacres fifteen years ago. Or of a son of one of these dead without a tomb, without a name, without a face, without an inscription in any archive or memoir, sometimes without being counted, who have a fraternal resemblance to the dead without remnant, without remains, of the Shoah, and that are cut down, even today, in Africa, in Asia, or elsewhere, in wars that no one notices. This dream will have to come true one day. And that's why, this evening, from this beautiful city that is, by tradition, a symbol of hospitality and liberty, before you who are, by vocation, natural advocates of all these modern damned, I call for another Conference, truly antiracist, truly faithful to the ideals of the United Nations, to seal the Great Alliance of "the shaken" of yesterday and today. Let's forget about Durban II. Let's prepare for Geneva III.

Translated from the French by Sara Phenix.


Sultans of Swat—Muhammad’s Angels*…and More Timeless Wisdom from Lal and Burckhardt

April 23rd, 2009 by Andrew Bostom |
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The future’s so bright we gotta wear shades

(*all credit for image and blog title to Dr. Michael Schub)

Pakistan’s much ballyhooed moderate Muslim President Zadari, as recently as December 8. 2008, in the wake of the Mumbai massacre, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too.” Zardari acknowledged the significant presence of Al Qaeda/Taliban in his country, but claimed, piously, to be committed to the fight against these jihad terrorists—perhaps even more so than NATO—and sought worldwide support for his efforts. He stated:

The challenge of confronting terrorists who have a vast support network is huge; Pakistan’s fledgling democracy needs help from the rest of the world. We are on the frontlines of the war on terrorism. We have 150,000 soldiers fighting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their extremist allies along the border with Afghanistan — far more troops than NATO has in Afghanistan.

But as I suggested on December 14, 2008:

Ignoring serious concerns about the dubious use of some $5 billion in US military aid to Pakistan (via Coalition Support Funds) since 2002 — ostensibly to combat Al Qaeda and its allies in the tribal areas—I maintain that Zardari’s plaintive appeal for assistance—military and financial—be heeded exclusively by Muslim nations from the now 57 member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). …the OIC — currently headed by its Turkish representative Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu — is uniquely suited to marshall the military and economic might to “enact the utmost severe punishment” for Al Qaeda and Taliban “perpetrators” of “anti-Islamic” acts of terrorism. Turkey and Egypt – key OIC member states — have large, modern, well-equipped armed forces (here; here; here), including air forces (here; here), and both nations are believed to have been victimized by Al Qaeda attacks (here; here; here; and here). These Muslim nations — with formal, enthusiastic sanctioning by the OIC-should send large military contingents to reinforce the “150,000″ of their Pakistani Muslim brethren under President Zadari already doggedly engaged in combating the “anti-Islamic” terrorists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Despite Zadari’s bravado (duplicity/taqiya?), he has in fact now capitulated to the Talibanization of Pakistan’s own SWAT valley—with all its accompanying traditional Islamic brutality (see here, here, and here for but a few examples)—and the deafening silence (let alone organized, armed resistance to this ugly phenomenon) of his Muslim co-religionists from the OIC nations. Obviously the OIC Defenders of the Faith have been too busy planning and attending Durban II, and railing against the “Islamophobia” of non-Muslim nations and peoples, to avert the ongoing tragedy in Swat, a location renowned for its great physical beauty, which used to be known as “the Switzerland of Pakistan.”

I am reminded once again of an apparently bygone era which produced clear, unapologetic insights on Islamic societies. Just below—bearing the Talibanization of Swat close in mind—is a brief excerpt from the late great Indian historian of Islam, K.S. Lal (d. 2002), followed by much more extensive comments written in the late 19th century by Jacob Burckhardt (d. 1897), a social critic, and towering figure in the annals of historiography.

K.S. Lal:

Muhammad could not change the revelation; he could only explain and interpret it. There are liberal Muslims and conservative Muslims; there are Muslims learned in theology and Muslims devoid of learning. They discuss, they interpret, they rationalize — but all by going round and round within the closed circle of Islam. There is no possibility of getting out of the fundamentals of Islam; there is no provision of introducing any innovation.

Jacob Burckhardt:

Islam proselytized either not at all or only at times and in places. As long as it could, it spread not by mission, but by conquest. It even welcomed the presence in its midst of infidel tax payers, though killing them by means of contempt and ill-treatment, or even massacring them in outbursts of fury…

In Islam, where this fusion [between State and Church] took place, the whole culture was dominated, shaped and colored by it. Islam has only one form of polity, of necessity despotic, the consummation of power, secular, priestly and theocratic, which was transferred from the Caliphate to all dynasties. Thus all its parts were mere replicas of the world empire on a small scale, hence Arabized and despotic.

This aridity, this dreary uniformity of Islam, which is so terribly limited on the religious side, probably did more harm than good to Culture, if only because it rendered the peoples affected by it incapable of going over to another culture. Its simplicity much facilitated its expansion, but was marked by that extreme exclusiveness which is a feature of all rigid monotheism, while the wretched Koran stood, and still stands, in the way of any political and legal growth. Law remained half priestly.

The best that might be said of the cultural influence of the Koran is that it does not prohibit activity as such, fosters mobility (by travel)—hence the unity of this culture from the Ganges to the Senegal…

Yet Christian contemplation even at its gloomiest was less pernicious culturally than Islam, as will at once appear from the following consideration. Quite apart from the general servitude imposed by despotism and its police, from the lack of any sense of honor in anyone connected with power, for which the absence of a nobility and clergy offers no compensation, a diabolical pride is engendered towards non-Islamic populations and countries, involving a periodical renewal of the Holy War [Jihad], and that pride cuts it off from what is, after all, far and away the greater part of the world and from any comprehension of it.

The sole ideals of life are the two poles—the monarch and cynically ascetic dervish-sufi…

In Islamic education, we are struck by the predominance of linguistics and grammar over substance, by the sophistical nature of philosophy, of which only the heretical side is free and significant, further, by the poor quality of historical learning—poor because everything outside of Islam is indifferent and everything within Islam a prey to parties and sects—and by a scientific teaching the defects of which immediately become apparent when it is compared with free and unrestricted empiricism. Men were not able to investigate and discover nearly as much as they might have done in freedom. What was lacking was a general impulse to fathom the world and its laws.

Islamic poetry is mainly characterized by its repugnance to the epic, born of the fear that the souls of the several peoples might continue to live in it; Firdausi only exists as contraband. It has, further, a didactic bias which is mortal to the epic, and a tendency to value narrative only as the shell of a general thought, as a parable. For the rest, poetry took refuse in the tale, thronged with figures, but devoid of characters. Further, there was no drama. Fatalism makes it impossible to show fate as born of the interplay of passion and justification—indeed, it may be that despotism of its very nature checks the objective poetic expression of anything at all. And no comedy could come into being, if only because all comic feeling was consumed by the joke, the lampoon, the parable, the juggler, etc.

In the visual arts, architecture alone developed, firstly through Persian builders and subsequently with the help of Byzantine and any other styles which lay to hand. Sculpture and painting were practically non-existent, because the decree of the Koran was not only observed but carried far beyond its letter. What the intellect forfeited in these circumstances may be left to the imagination.

Side by side with this picture, there exists of course, another—that fiction of flourishing, populous, busy Islamic cities and States with poet-princes, noble minded grandees and so on, as for instance in Spain under and after the Umayyads.

Yet it was not possible to pass beyond those barriers to the totality of intellectual life, and as a result it was beyond the power of Islam to change, to merge into another higher culture, and the situation was aggravated by its political and military weakness in face of the Almoravides, Almohades, and Christians.

And now we must again turn back to Islam, with its stranglehold on national feeling and its miserable constitutional and legal system grafted on to religion, beyond which its peoples never advanced. The State, as a political picture, is here extremely uninteresting; in the Caliphate, practically from its outset, a despotism without responsibility to heaven or earth was taken for granted, and even, by a highly illogical twist, by its renegades. What is supremely interesting is how this organization came into being and could not but come into being, given the nature of Islam an of its rule over Giaours [Infidels]. There lies the explanation of the great similarity of Islamic States from the Tagus [a river in the Iberian peninsula] to the Ganges, the only difference being the former with less steadfastness and talent. A kind of division of power can be dimly descried only among the Seljuk nobility.

It would seem that the belief in a future life was never of great consequence among the Moslems from the beginning. No interdict in the Western sense had any power, no moral qualms could afflict the potentate, and it was easy for him to remain orthodox or adhere to whichever of the sects happened to predominate. (But is sometimes happened that a fanatic gathered zealots under some standard or other, e.g. the Wahabis, whose doctrine is a hotch-potch utterly unintelligible to us.) It is true that, from time to time, benevolent despots were regarded with great affection, but even their sphere of influence was restricted to their immediate entourage. Now the question may arise how far Islam (like the more ancient Parsee [Zoroastrian] religion and Byzantium) represented a State in any sense whatever. Its pride was simply that it was Islam, nor could this simplest of all religions be attacked through its own devotees. Sacraments could not be withheld from the evildoer, whose fatalism made him impervious to many things, while every one of its members was familiar with violence and corruption.

Whoever was unable or unwilling to exterminate the Moslems found it best to leave them in peace. Their empty, arid and treeless lands might perhaps be taken from them, but obedience to a non-Koranic dispensation could never be enforced. Their equanimity gave them a high degree of individual independence; their slave system and their subjection of the Giaours [Infidels] inspired them with contempt of all labor, except agriculture, which is the basis of their communal feeling.

…Any importation from Western culture…seems to be detrimental to the Moslems, from loans and national debts onwards

All Articles Copyright © 2007-2009 Dr. Andrew Bostom | All Rights Reserved

20 April 2009

Wall: A Monologue

View from a booth:

Say what you will about the "security fence" or wall or whatever you want to call it: it is a shame that a state that was, under Ben-Gurion, supposed to be a "normal" nation among nations has become what Hannah Arendt and her ilk said it would prior to 1948: a garrison state. Yet it's all we Jews have.  How can a country so small be the source of such pain and agony among its neighbors? There has to be another explanation besides old fashioned Jew-hate. Or is there? 

Whatever the reason, it's clear to any reasonable observer that Israel is in psychological trouble, if only because its own citizens, as Mr. Hare points out in this piece, don't quite yet really, deep down, believe that it will last. As he says, in Britain, they plan airport expansions, trains and the like for 2038. Why doesnt' or can't Israel plan like that for its own future?  

In Israel, Yitzchak Rabin, the martyr for the left, said very clearly that separation is a philosophy, much like Joe Biden planned to separate Kurds, Sunnis and Shia Muslims in Iraq.  Perhaps that is the only real solution; I don't know.  The most telling quote in the article, and there are plenty, is this:

Israel, he says, has no real confidence in its own survival. "Israelis have a very fragile sense of the future," he says.

It's incredible but the country itself still feels provisional. Of what other state can this be said? I notice when I am in Britain that you plan for 2038, you say there will be this railway or that airport. But no Israeli plans so far ahead without feeling a pang in his heart which asks whether we shall be here at all. We look so strong from the outside, we have such a large army, so many nuclear weapons, we're so certain in our expansion, and yet from the inside it doesn't feel like that. We feel our being is not guaranteed. You might say we have imported from the Diaspora the Jewish disease—a sense of rootlessness, an ability to adapt and make do, but not to settle. After sixty years, Israel is not yet a home.

The sad thing is that while Israel is accused in Durban by racist megalomaniacs like Ahmedinejad of being a racist state, Judaism does not teach racism. It is the most universal of all religions. But Jews are too much at each other's throats -- who's a Jew? -- who is Orthodox enough? -- to come together to make the world see the beauty that is Judaism and Israelis for some reason are just poor at marketing themselves and worse in betraying a lack of confidence that the state is somehow not provisional --  and won't last forever. 

When Israelis themselves make it a more attractive place for Jews to settle, perhaps Israelis themselves will stop flooding into Los Angeles and New York. I believe in the concept of Israel. I believe in Jewish nationhood.  I am grateful that it exists. But live there? No. Not voluntarily. Or permanently. Unless God forbid Ahmedinejad takes over the world. Maybe my attitude is a deficiency in my Jewish education, a lack of understanding of Religious Zionism as taught by Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, but my first goal is survival. Maybe it's a function of my age. Maybe it's my history - and my family's, for the past 100+ years as an American Jew. Outside the concept of religious Zionism, what is my connection to Israel? Do I internalize the pain of the Exodus and the destruction of the First and Second Temples so long ago? It's hard to relate. 

Is it  a lack of confidence in our ability to make a  Jewish political entity, or just a diaspora mindset, rootlessness, that we can never shake? You tell me. I'm just asking questions. I don't have answers. Believe me. 

Randy Shiner 

Wall: A Monologue

By David Hare

ll right. Let's be serious, let's think about this.

Please, please: consider the state of affairs, consider the desperation, consider the depth of the despair. A country has reached a point at which 84 percent of its people are in favor of building a wall along its borders.

Have you ever known anything of which 84 percent of people were in favor? And yet there it is, over four fifths of a nation—can you imagine that figure?—saying something completely bizarre. The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in. This one, they say, is being built to keep people out.

You might call this an extraordinary state of affairs. Hardly a normal state of affairs. And that's the word you hear all the time in the Middle East. "Normal." The Palestinians ask, "When will we have a normal life?" And so do the Israelis. Indeed, the Israeli state was founded in 1948 with the principal ambition of being normal, of being a normal place like any other. The Palestinians call the foundation of the Israeli state the nakbeh: the disaster. And now sixty years later Israel believes itself, in the frequently expressed view of the majority, in need of a wall.

Except, of course, they don't call it a wall. They call it a fence.

It's one of those things, there seem to be so many, don't there?—I'm thinking of abortion, or armed revolt—where the words you use—pro-life/pro-choice, terrorist/freedom fighter—tell the world which way you think. Words become flags, they announce which side you're on. In this case, literally. The Israelis call it the gader ha'harfrada, which in Hebrew means "separation fence." The Palestinians don't call it that. Not at all. They call it jidar al-fasl al-'unsuri, which in Arabic means "racial segregation wall."

The Economic Crisis and How to Deal with It

OK, let's go coolly into this, shall we? If I use one word or the other, forgive me, it does not imply I am partisan. I have acquaintances on both sides of the fence and on both sides of the wall. "I hate the wall," say my Israeli friends. "I regret it." "I'm ashamed of the wall." "I drive for miles so that I don't have to see it. But it works. 80 percent of terrorist attacks against Israel have stopped. Have been stopped. Am I not meant to be pleased about that?"

Very well. I shall seek to describe the history of the wall.

On June 1, 2001, nine months into the second intifada, a Palestinian suicide bomber named Saeed Hotari crossed into Israel from the West Bank, and exploded himself at the entrance to the Dolphinarium discotheque on the beach in Tel Aviv, killing twenty-one civilians, most of them high school students. A further 132 people were injured. In response to the massacre, a grassroots movement grew up all over Israel calling itself Fence for Life. They argued, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had argued ten years earlier, that the only way of protecting the country from infiltration by terrorists was by sealing itself off from the Palestinian territories, by removing the points of friction between the two communities. But separation would not be a purely military tactic. No, before he was murdered by a fellow Israeli, Rabin had been arguing something much more radical. "We have to decide on separation as a philosophy."

There it is. Not just a wall. A wall would be a fact. But this wall is a philosophy, what one observer has called "a political code for shutting up shop."

Construction began in 2002. The original plan was that the fence should stretch a full 486 miles, the entire length of Israel's eastern border. The current estimate for its completion is some-time around the end of 2010. Varying in width between 30 and 150 meters, this $2 billion combination of trenches, electronic fences, ditches, watchtowers, concrete slabs, checkpoints, patrol roads, and razor coil is priced at around $2 million per kilometer. Some seventy-five acres of greenhouses and twenty-three miles of irrigation pipes have already been destroyed on the Palestinian side. More than 3,700 acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated, some of it so that the wall may run yards away from Palestinian hamlets and villages. Already, 102,000 trees have been cut down to clear its path.

It is, says an Israeli friend, an acknowledgment of failure. "History has not followed the course we might have wished." Another way of putting it, later the same evening, after a few drinks in one of the big beachside hotels that are beginning to make the Bauhaus quarter of Tel Aviv look like Florida: "You do have to ask yourself: I'm not sure Ben-Gurion would be thrilled."

From the start the exact route has been controversial. The most obvious path for it to have followed would have been along the international border, established in 1949 between Israel and Jordan, and known to all parties as the Green Line. But in fact, 85 percent of its intended route is inside the West Bank. The fence snakes and coils, departing eastward from the Green Line in places by just two hundred meters, but in other places by as much as twenty-two kilometers where it goes inland to collect up and protect Israeli settlements established far inside the occupied territory. Sometimes it takes in fertile Palestinian agricultural land and water wells, leaving Palestinian farmers without access to their own fields. Some 140,200 Israeli settlers will be living between the fence and the Green Line. 93,000 Palestinians will be caught on the wrong side of the wall.

For that reason the fence is seen by its opponents not as what it claims to be—a security measure—but more as a land grab, the delineation of a de facto claim, an attempt, like the steady expansion of the Israeli-controlled parts of Jerusalem, to do what is known as "change the facts on the ground." At the outset of the campaign, supporters of Fence for Life insisted that the wall should be a barrier, not a border. It was not to be used as a bargaining tactic in any future negotiation for a final status agreement. But even Israelis have found this intention hard to credit. Before he left office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted that had he survived in the job he would have sought to set Israeli permanent borders by 2010—and that the border "would run along or close to the barrier."

Even the most ardent supporters of the fence admit that it is, like the blockade of Gaza, a source of huge inconvenience to Palestinians. But they argue, in the words of one defender, that "the deaths of Israelis caused by terror are permanent and irreversible, whereas the hardships faced by the Palestinians are temporary and reversible." The International Court of Justice in The Hague had a different view. On July 9, 2004, it ruled 14–1 that

the construction of a wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory...[is] contrary to international law. Israel is under an obligation...to cease forthwith the works of construction,...to dismantle forthwith the structures therein situated,...to make reparation for all the damage caused by the construction of the wall....

Professor Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Quds University puts it most pithily:

It's like sticking someone in a cage and then when he starts screaming, as any normal person would, using his violent temper as justification for putting him in the cage in the first place. The wall is the perfect crime because it creates the violence it was ostensibly built to prevent.

To give you an idea what it's like, one morning I'm setting out from Ramallah. Ramallah houses the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank—as opposed to Hamas, which was elected to govern Gaza in 2006. Ramallah is a government town, and like all government towns—like Washington, D.C., like Canberra—a bit bland, a bit boring. Today I'm setting out with a couple of friends: one is from London, the other, to whom the car belongs, along with the crucial license plate, is Palestinian. The evening before, in a suburb of Jerusalem, I've been taking tea with an Israeli intellectual who outlines what he regards as the defining paradox of Israel: to the world it seems powerful and aggressive, yet to itself it seems weak and frail.

Israel, he says, has no real confidence in its own survival. "Israelis have a very fragile sense of the future," he says.

It's incredible but the country itself still feels provisional. Of what other state can this be said? I notice when I am in Britain that you plan for 2038, you say there will be this railway or that airport. But no Israeli plans so far ahead without feeling a pang in his heart which asks whether we shall be here at all. We look so strong from the outside, we have such a large army, so many nuclear weapons, we're so certain in our expansion, and yet from the inside it doesn't feel like that. We feel our being is not guaranteed. You might say we have imported from the Diaspora the Jewish disease—a sense of rootlessness, an ability to adapt and make do, but not to settle. After sixty years, Israel is not yet a home.

I'm thinking of his words next day—secure but insecure, strong but uncertain—as the three of us come to a roadblock on a road that runs inside the Palestinian part of the West Bank, not far from Jerusalem. It's a dusty spot, featureless, in the middle of nowhere—or would be featureless if it weren't for the series of high concrete slabs on our left-hand side. The wall. Although the road doesn't run through the wall, we are forced to stop. We join a long line of cars which we are told has been here for fifteen minutes. The drivers have turned their engines off, and they sit on the roofs or the hoods, smoking cigarettes and talking. Yes, this is what happens every day. A daily event. For those who go back and forth between towns in the West Bank more than once daily, a more-than-once daily event. The soldiers are letting only one side go through at a time. So we sit for a further twenty minutes, cars coming at us from the opposite direction, and then very slowly, insolently, the Israelis, carrying machine guns, move to our side of the road, and for no reason, begin to let us through.

I say "for no reason" but probably there is a reason. And nobody imagines it has anything to do with security—since the road doesn't go to Israel itself, and no one shows any interest in the cars themselves. After all, the road stretches empty in either direction, and the checkpoint is not short-staffed. Why, then, are Israeli soldiers wasting time by holding back one line of traffic which they could perfectly well let through, while they permit the flow of another? Why are they doing this? The answer seems clear. They are doing it because they can. To those waiting in line the implicit message is: "If we choose to delay you, we shall. We have the right to delay you. We have the right to render your life meaningless."

Inevitably, as we drive on, delayed, I'm still thinking back to the famous writer in the suburb of Jerusalem, the gorgeous evening light, the tea, the home-baked sweet biscuits, the profound leafy calm of his home. "We look strong but we feel weak." Is that the reason, then, for the harassment, for the needless harassment, for the pointless insistence that daily life be as frustrating as possible? For what the Palestinians call their collective punishment? How, you wonder, are the Palestinians to know that the Israelis feel weak, when all they can see is the Israelis acting strong? When Tony Blair was appointed Middle East envoy in June 2007 there were 521 Israeli checkpoints on the West Bank. Today there are 699.

Another thing my Israeli friend said: "The occupation degrades them. But it also degrades us."

"We need a wall because we want a normal life," says one lot. "Our life will never be normal for as long as there's a wall," says the other. That's how it is, or that's how it seems to me. Israeli prime ministers come in as hawks, promising security crackdowns and military buildups. They leave office convinced that the occupation is unsustainable, that the cost of occupying another people forever cannot be borne. "A new generation of Israelis," I am told everywhere, "has grown up. They're more cosmopolitan. They travel the world. Yes, they're committed to Israel, emotionally they're committed to its survival, but on the other hand they want a good reason for living here rather than in California. If we can't give them one, they'll go elsewhere." The socialist idealism in which Israel was founded is long gone. In its place, a hardheaded practicality. But if it's hardheaded practicality you want, if it's beaches and machine guns, you can find those anywhere in the world. What will make the young choose to live in Israel?

Sure, the religious-minded know the answer to that question, even the putting of the question offends them, but do the secular? It's the same on the other side, fear of a rising fundamentalism forcing open-minded Palestinians toward an accommodation they were once less ready to make. In conversation, Palestinians in the West Bank don't quite have the easy generosity the Israelis have; after all, the occupied never do, do they? It's a different tone. But even so. The rise of Hamas has affected everyone. Its ascendancy in Gaza is as much in reaction to the corruption of the PLO as to any positive enthusiasm for its methods. So—like good British socialists who never spoke ill of the Soviet Union in front of strangers—many Palestinians don't talk much about Hamas. It's disloyal. But few people on the West Bank are exactly defending them either.

One evening not long ago we'd been at a party in Ramallah. A guest told me about a Hamas torture technique against citizens of Gaza suspected of being informants:

The victim is shown a wall on which a staircase is drawn, and at the top is a drawing of a bicycle. The victim is told to go and get the bicycle. He says he can't get the bicycle because it's a drawing. He is then told if he doesn't bring the bicycle downstairs he will be beaten. "I can't get it. It's a drawing."

All right, what does that prove? I'm asking myself, as we drive on. Hamas isn't very nice. You wouldn't be nice if you lived under permanent siege. But the ingenuity chills me. It's so thought out, so intellectual even, to ask someone to go get a drawing. Is this what we're dealing with? So much thought put into a simple means of torture?

I need to know the answer because right now we're heading for Nablus. But we can't go along the tarmac road because the Israelis control access. Soldiers have already turned us away a couple of times, so each time we set off in new directions, winding back, climbing, always in search of the one illicit route, unguarded, that takes you into the back of the city.

And all the time, at the top of every hill, it seems, there's yet another Israeli settlement.

Again, from yesterday, I recall the exasperation of the Israeli writer: "There are only a quarter of a million settlers," he said. "They're nothing. They're the size of an average Israeli town. And 75 percent of them aren't there out of any religious conviction. They're there because they're paid to be. The housing is cheap and the schooling is good. Pay them some more and they'll leave. And yet," he says bitterly, "for forty years the national debate has been centered around the fate of these few people. It's time we moved on."

It was said with a wave of the hand as if "Oh forget about the settlers, they'll be dealt with." But in fact, it isn't till you travel on the West Bank, it isn't till you look, it isn't till you see where the settlers are—literally all around you—that you think, "I'm not sure this is quite as simple as people say." Because, you see, sometimes you look up to that hilltop, and then the next one, and then the one beyond that, and there aren't even houses, just trailers, the trailers arriving to plant a new community, and then no sooner planted than they move on to plant another. They're called settlements, but in fact they're plantations.

And that's what I feel in Jerusalem as well. Jerusalem used to be the spiritual capital—after all, that's what the argument was about. You could feel it, on every street corner, you could feel the history, but now with the hideous wall and the overbuilding and desecration of the landscape—I mean, what is going on? Aren't they destroying the very quality for which the city was meant to be precious? Aren't they killing the thing they love? Or is that my problem? Am I just a decadent Westerner who can't help thinking spirituality must have something to do with beauty? Jerusalem used to be beautiful. Now it isn't. As far as I'm concerned, Jerusalem is spoiled—How can it not be spoiled? It has a great concrete wall beside it—but then Jerusalem was never intended for me. It was intended for believers.

So—look again, look to the hills, and you can see why the Palestinians consider the settlements not a religious phenomenon but a network of control. Because that's what they look like. Watching over us. And another thing, by the way, we're lost. There's a certain amount of Palestinian macho going on, on my right, my friend boasting "I know the way." Actually, he doesn't. So a tall man, pencil-thin, with a mustache and a cigarette, a kind of Oriental George Orwell, has got out of his Volkswagen. "You want to get into Nablus?" he says, roaring with laughter at our uselessness, as if he encounters this problem five times a day. "I'll get you into Nablus. Follow me." And off he goes, cheery, farting petrol fumes, the camaraderie of the road, the camaraderie of occupation, the impossibility of daily life turned into survivors' humor. Across a few unmarked tracks, then we turn a corner, and shit! It's Nablus. A forty-minute journey has taken three hours, but it's still Nablus.

Nablus, the town of Joseph's tomb and Jacob's well; a city with 180,000 residents, surrounded by six Israeli checkpoints, fourteen Jewish settlements, and twenty-six settlement outposts which are illegal even under Israeli law. Nablus, the city that everyone says will be the crucial testing ground for the future of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank: once a home to the Fatah-based al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, but now with a mayor, Adly Yaish, a graduate of Liverpool University, who, though not a member of Hamas, nevertheless ran on their ticket and got 73 percent of the vote in 2005. Since then he has spent fifteen months of his term as mayor in Israeli jails, without ever being charged with anything. Nine times Israeli judges have ordered his release.

Nablus, a trading center which is no longer allowed to trade because—problem for a trading center—nobody's allowed to go there. Here we are, passing through gray stone arches into the countless alleys of the old covered market. This could be Marrakech: row upon row of raw meat, and fresh fruit, and flies and umbrellas and clothes and perfumes and spices, and dogs wandering, and children, and bubbling pans of kanafeh, of which the locals are famously proud: layers of Nabulsi cheese boiled with sugar, dyed dayglo-orange and scattered with crushed pistachios. Too rich for my blood. Even the smell sticks my tongue to the roof of my mouth. Up to 80 percent of the citizens of this town are unemployed. So there are few customers, and the prices are half what they are in Jerusalem. In the corner, a biblical hammam, up a short alley, nothing but steam and stones.

Oh yes, I'm happy here, this is the kind of place that makes me happy. You can lose yourself. Now we've come upon what seems to be the most famous café, at the center of the market, looking like one of the greenhouses at Kew. Before renovation, of course. Flat-planed walls of cracked glass and rotting timber, giving out onto a sunny courtyard. The Sheikh Qasim Café used to be the fashionable place, the hub, where everyone went. Now with just five of its four hundred wooden chairs occupied, it looks like a film set, a stage play, maybe at the Glasgow Citizens, peeling paint, the wild romanticism of abandonment and decay. Unless something happens soon, unless the Israelis relax their grip, unless peace comes to the Middle East, the soil will reclaim this place. We order Turkish coffee. Then I turn.

On the wall, in this decaying spot, the only new thing: a bright gleaming poster of Saddam Hussein.

It's one of those moments. I know as soon as I look I'm never going to forget. How do you react to that? If you were going to choose a hero, could you choose a worse? If you were going to choose a future, could you so completely misconceive it? If you were going to choose a leader to take you precisely nowhere, could you do better than Saddam Hussein? My mind flashes back to Cherie Blair, who once fell into one of those stupid media rows for saying that if you deny the young hope, no wonder they blow themselves up. You can understand it, she said, when you come to Palestine. Maybe, but could she "understand" this? You choose as your poster boy someone who has done the world, and the Arab world above all, nothing but harm. The master of mass graves and untold massacres.

I turn to my companion. "What is this?" I ask. "My enemy's enemy is my friend? Is that what this is about? It's as dumb as that?" He shrugs, embarrassed. "Well, Saddam stood up to the Americans didn't he?" And is that the only reason? He shrugs again. "We hated Saddam Hussein. Like everyone else. We despised him. We couldn't stand him. Until he stood up to the Americans."

"But he didn't believe anything you believe."

They bring the coffee. Who's the idiot here? Them or me? I think of myself as less naive than Cherie Blair. But am I? Really? At least now I know why the wall's gone up. The Israelis want to separate themselves from people who display posters of Saddam Hussein. Who can blame them? Or—hold on, the old conundrum—do they display posters of Saddam Hussein because somebody just put up a wall?

Now we're driving back. We come to the checkpoint. The Israeli soldier is predictably furious. "How did you get in? You're not allowed in. You know you're not allowed in." Us smug, as if it were all in the British TV police show Dixon of Dock Green and sorry, officer. Big grins. "We found a way in." But actually that's the point, isn't it? We found a way in. That's the point the Israelis don't want to understand. Even Professor Neill Lochery of London University, a friend of Israel, the author, for goodness' sake, of Why Blame Israel?, has described the security fence as a white elephant. "Already," he says, "the wall belongs to a bygone era." Because before it was even finished, before the $2 billion had even been spent, Israeli's enemies had switched tactics. They had moved on from suicide bombing to missiles, to firing Qassam rockets, which could, if deployed in the West Bank as they have been in Gaza, sail oblivious way up high above the wall, fueled by nothing but sugar and potassium nitrate. Future fights, says Lochery, will be in the sky. In other words, build a block, people go around it, or in this case over it. In the kernel of an idea lies that idea's incipient obsolescence.

No single move traps the king.

It's a nice road. We're going back to Ramallah on what's called the VIP road, because zooming away with white faces and two British passports we've been mistaken for settlers. So we have priority. We have a lovely empty road to ourselves. We can see the parallel road, the road for Palestinians, just fifty yards away, running alongside. It's at a standstill. On that road the poor bastards have had to stop again for what looks like most of the afternoon. But us? We sail through. My Palestinian friend lights a cigarette. "Wherever you go, if you want to travel, there will be seventeen-year-old soldiers, Russians, Ethiopians, telling you how to live in your country. I'm old, so I put up with the humiliation, I absorb it." He drags on his cigarette, his face shading now. "But young people can't absorb it. They won't."

Coming into Ramallah now. Raja Shehadeh, a lawyer who lives here, says that it is Ramallah's greatest good fortune not to be mentioned in the Bible. For that reason Ramallah is left alone, of no interest to fanatics, because its religious significance is precisely nothing. Nothing divine happened in Ramallah. What a stroke of luck for any town that wants to survive! Not to be named in any Holy Book! And along the cement wall, as we enter the town, is the blossoming graffiti. Oh yes, there's a parallel here and it's being made with aerosols and poster paints, so that every visitor will be forced to think "Ah! Berlin!" The wall may be obsolete for Professor Lochery, but for the inhabitants of the West Bank, it's all too real, blocking out the sun, blocking out the view, forbidding passage. There are people here on the West Bank who have not seen a body of water—lake nor sea—for fifteen years. The wittiest graffiti by far, in enormous capitals, the instruction scrawled across six cement blocks, just the letters CTL ALT DEL. As if at the press of three computer keys, the wall might disappear. Not a wall, just a drawing of a wall.

"It's no fun fighting strangers," says one Palestinian acquaintance. "If you're going to fight, fight family. It's much more fun." And it's true, Jews and Arabs are family, they remind you of each other, the children of Abraham, they remind each other of each other: same vitality, same wit, same land.

"You can tell a weak government by its eagerness to resort to strong measures," said Benjamin Disraeli, Britain's only Jewish prime minister. "If we do not find the path to honest cooperation and honest negotiations with the Arabs, then we have learned nothing from over 2,000 years of suffering and we deserve the fate that will befall us" is what Albert Einstein said.

And now I'm sitting having tea in the al-Kasaba cinema in Ramallah. It's the only working cinema on the West Bank. Mostly it shows Egyptian comedies. It's run by George Ibrahim, who's laughing, as he usually is. "At the moment we are all enjoying jokes about the Western economy going to pieces because we can laugh and say, 'It won't affect us because Palestine doesn't have an economy....'" His friend the playwright Salman Tamer joins in. "What is so shocking about Israel is that these days it doesn't even have a protest movement. In the old days, there were peaceniks on the streets and long-haired students. Now they have almost no peace movement at all. What can you say? A country which loses its hippies is in deep trouble."

George drinks his tea and smiles. "The wall is not around us. It's around them."

And next day I'm in Jerusalem talking with David Grossman, the Israeli novelist whose son Yuri was killed on the last day of the Lebanon war. His house is still charged with grief.

Of course at the foundation of the state there was a tremendous sense of purpose, of building something together. But we squandered our chance to make the state permanent in 1967. Instead of using the conquered territories as leverage in negotiation, instead we became addicted to occupation. When a people have suffered as much as we have it's not a bad feeling to be masters for once. And we became addicted to that feeling, like a narcotic.
Now we have terrible trouble imagining any other reality than the one we live in. You become habituated, you cannot believe there is another possible way of life. And so effectively you become a victim of the situation. And here, again, is the central paradox, the idea of Israel was that we should cease to be victims. Instead we hand our fate over to the security people, we allow the army to run the country, because we lack a political class with a vision beyond the military. Survival becomes our only aim. We are living in order to survive, not in order to live.
I want to begin to live. I want some gates in the wall.

08 April 2009

Virtual New Jerusalem Game Proposed to Google

Virtual New Jerusalem Game Proposed to Google
by staff, Jan 11, 2009
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Dr. Yitzhaq (Isaac) Hayut-Man, Jewish scholar, rabbi and cyber-architext has proposed that a virtual New Jerusalem global multi-user computer game system be built to fulfill the redemptive visions of the prophets of Israel.

Hayut-Man's proposal might receive soon receive new life, as Google celebrates its tenth birthday. Google announced a world-wide competition for finding ideas that can help humankind and allocated 10 million dollars to realize up to five of the winning ideas. More than 150,000 people have sent proposals, and a team of 3,000 is now examining the proposals in order to nominate 100 for a free world-wide vote.

The Virtual New Jerusalem, Hayut-Man claims, would allow a new generation to relate to the third Temple without removing a single stone on the Haram a-Sharif (Temple Mount) or harming the Dome of the Rock or al-Aqsa Mosque. Instead, Virtual New Jerusalem games would be an interfaith interface and inter-cultural temple (in the model of the Twelve Tribes) for forming understandings.

Hayut-Man has been solving urban and world problems via computer games since working with Buckminster Fuller and studying in U.C. Berkeley in the turbulent 1960's. Much like a builder adding a brick over brick in accordance with a plan, Hayut-Man and his associates have defined the different modules that should be integrated into the games system - war games and reconciliation/peace games, training procedures for leadership and for spiritual ascent.

The game would draw upon the stormy history of Jerusalem as basis for interaction through which participants will be able to conduct all the wars over Jerusalem - of the past, present, and future (as substitute for their real performance) - but also to change roles and identities, and consider the future of Jerusalem as an international city of peace.

With the assistance of the Google programmers and with a budget of two million dollars it is entirely practical to build an attractive initial games system with the right mix of action and of spiritual development that would attract millions of participant players and would also attract investment for its extensions into a system that delivers interest and inspiration for scores of millions of users.

Hayut-Man claims, "when a global audience becomes aware of the positive possibilities, the cloud of doom hovering over the Temple Mount would evaporate and there would appear over the Temple Mount a holographic Temple of Light that would display the results of the progress of the Jerusalem Games and the drawing-near of cultures in the form of magnificent light patterns display."

The Jerusalem Virtual Game proposals have already gained attention. Wired magazine published an article the Holographic Temple proposal. Hayut-Man has also written an extensive biblical piece, entitled "From Tel Aviv to the Temple" to show that the vision of the prophet Ezekiel is about an electric-virtual Temple. His writings can be found at the Academy of Jerusalem site.

Hayut-Man hopes his proposal will be selected in January among the 100 proposals for voting. When that happens, a call will go out to people to vote on the holographic Temple proposal, and perhaps realize the visions of the Prophets of Israel. Click to watch a brief youtube.com on the Virtual Jerusalem Temple Redemptive Games.

06 April 2009

It’s 1930 Time

It’s 1930 time

Barry Eichengreen and Kevin O’Rourke have an alarming paper in Vox EU, showing that if you take a global view, the world slump since early 2008 is as bad or worse than the slump from 1929-30. It’s full of pictures like this one, showing monthly volume of world trade:


What this says is that the world economy right now is more or less at the point Keynes described in his essay The Great Slump of 1930.

What hasn’t happened — at least not yet — is any counterpart to the catastrophes of 1931: the wave of bank runs in the US, the failure of Credit Anstalt in Austria, and the great perverse response of central banks that was triggered by the death spasms of the gold standard.

What Eichengreen-O’Rourke show, it seems to me, is that knowledge is the only thing standing between us and Great Depression 2.0. It’s only to the extent that we understand these things a bit better than our grandfathers — and that we act on that knowledge — that we have any real reason to think this time will be better.