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Archive for the ‘Israel-Palestine’ Category

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The Israel-Hamas ceasefire has now been in effect for four days. It will be broken sooner or later, that’s for sure, though before that happens there will surely be another explosion in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and/or inside Israel itself. On the 11 days of fighting, death, and destruction preceding the ceasefire, Avi Issacharoff has a typically incisive analysis (May 21st) in The Times of Israel, the gist of which is in the title: “Why Hamas (most of all) and Netanyahu (for now) are the winners of this mini-war: The losers, needless to say, are the citizens of Gaza and Israel, as the Islamist terror group makes strategic gains beyond even its own expectations.”

On Gazawis being losers, see the analysis (May 20th) by Haaretz’s Amira Hass (whose knowledge of Gaza is unmatched among Israelis): “Gaza’s destruction: An unbearable humanitarian and financial toll.” The lede: “Hamas figures estimate that damage to the Gaza Strip has already cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars, while damage to power and water infrastructure has obstructed access to water for around 800,000 people.” The destruction visited upon Gaza’s infrastructure—conforming to the IDF’s Dahiya doctrine—is staggering. As Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe reports:

Selon les décomptes des Nations unies, 24 centres de santé ont été touchés par les bombardements, ainsi que 50 établissements éducatifs. Trois usines de désalinisation d’eau, servant 400 000 habitants, ont été mises hors service. Le seul laboratoire de dépistage du Covid-19, la clinique Rimal, dans le centre de Gaza, a volé en éclats lorsqu’un missile a frappé une rue adjacente. Les bureaux du Croissant-Rouge qatari ont été dévastés.

Selon le ministère de l’habitat de Gaza, 162 bâtiments résidentiels ont été anéantis par les tirs israéliens. Si l’armée a fréquemment prévenu leurs occupants avant de passer à l’action, leur laissant quelques dizaines de minutes pour évacuer les lieux en catastrophe, cela n’a pas toujours été le cas. Une dizaine de familles de Gaza ont été décimées par les frappes, à l’instar des Al-Kolak et Al-Aouf.

The Al-Kolak and Al-Aouf families, on Gaza’s Wehda Street, lost 44 members, the reports on which I linked to in the post of May 16th. Barthe continues:

« Ces onze jours de guerre ont été aussi éprouvants que les cinquante jours de la guerre précédente, en 2014 », affirme Leïla Barhoum [de l’ONG humanitaire Oxfam]. « Nous avons réchappé aux bombardements, mais je ne sais pas comment nous allons survivre au milieu de toutes ces destructions », ajoute Abier Al-Masri, de l’ONG de défense des droits de l’homme Human Rights Watch.

L’armée israélienne rejette toute responsabilité pour ces pertes et ces dégâts matériels, au motif que les « terroristes du Hamas se cachent parmi les civils ». Mais cet argument, répété à chaque offensive, ne suffit pas à expliquer l’étendue des frappes, notamment le bombardement de quatre immeubles d’une dizaine d’étages qui faisaient la fierté de Gaza : Shorouk, Al-Jawhara, Hanadi et Al-Jalaa. Contrairement à ce que M. Nétanyahou avait promis, le département d’Etat américain n’a reçu aucune preuve attestant de la présence du Hamas au sein de la tour Al-Jalaa, dont l’effondrement a entraîné la destruction des bureaux de l’agence de l’agence de presse AP et de la chaîne panarabe Al-Jazira.

« Cette opération a bafoué une nouvelle fois tous les principes du droit humanitaire international, comme la proportionnalité et la distinction entre cibles civiles et militaires, accuse Essam Younes, le directeur de l’ONG de défense des droits de l’homme Mezan.

A dispassionate examination of the toppling of the Al-Jalaa tower from the perspective of international law is offered by journalist Dania Akkad (May 24th) in Middle East Eye, “Israel’s war on Gaza: Was Hamas really operating out of the Al-Jalaa building? Experts say Israel’s attack on the tower block, used by international media organisations probably wasn’t legal—here’s why.”

Concluding Barthe’s report:

De nombreux lieux de culture ont aussi fait les frais des bombardements israéliens, comme la librairie Samir Mansour, la plus renommée de la bande de Gaza. Cette boutique, qui vendait aussi bien de la littérature arabe que des classiques occidentaux, a été réduite à l’état de gravats. Selon son propriétaire, plusieurs dizaines de milliers de livres sont partis en fumée dans l’explosion, qui a aussi détruit une imprimerie, une bibliothèque et un centre de formation. « L’une de mes plus grosses ventes après le Coran, c’était la traduction des Misérables, de Victor Hugo », raconte Samir Mansour, avant d’ajouter d’une voix exténuée : « Les misérables d’aujourd’hui, c’est nous. »

A report from Gaza on France Inter this morning (listen at 7h30) describes the catastrophic situation at the Al-Shifa hospital, and whose top doctor, Ayman Abou al-Awf—who had created the hospital’s coronavirus unit—was killed, along with his entire family, in an Israeli attack (see also the report in Libération).

For a Gazawi POV that is no doubt representative of sentiment there, do read the NYT guest essay (May 24th) by translator-editor Basma Ghalayini, “A Gazan’s view on Hamas: It’s not complicated.”

In my last post, which was mainly on Jerusalem, the Palestinian resistance there, and of the anger driving it, there was a word I neglected to mention, which is humiliation. The Israelis humiliate the Palestinians in countless ways, personally and symbolically, which is so well known to non-Palestinians that one hardly needs to give examples (if one wants a couple of recent ones, see, e.g., Nathan Thrall’s lengthy March 19th essay in the NYRB, “A Day in the Life of Abed Salama,” and the 2021 Oscar-nominated short film The Present; in France: Le Cadeau). Focusing on Palestinian citizens of Israel (PCIs), the humiliation—and mounting ras-le-bol—ensues from the panoply of discriminatory laws to which they are subject, notably land policies. The latest indignity to PCIs is the 2018 “nation-state” law, which validated the apartheid label for some who had previously resisted it. To comprehend the explosion of PCI anger in Israel’s “mixed cities,” one need look no further. As Tel Aviv-based political scientist and pollster Dahlia Scheindlin headlined a May 13th opinion piece in Newsweek, “For years, Israel’s leaders have cultivated ethnic hatred. This is on them.”

The communal riot in Lod (Lydd) has been extensively reported, e.g. by Ruth Margalit (May 20th) in The New Yorker. Le Monde’s Jerusalem correspondent Louis Imbert had an exceptional reportage from the city in the May 15th issue. It begins:

Une tumeur cancéreuse, un abcès de haine explose en Israël, dans une éruption de tentatives de lynchages, d’incendies antisémites, de ratonnades. Un Arabe battu en direct à la télévision à Bat Yam. Un juif bastonné à Saint-Jean-d’Acre. Depuis lundi 10 mai, les Israéliens assistent, impuissants, à des scènes de chaos inconnues ces vingt dernières années, alors que le Hamas poursuit ses tirs sur le pays, depuis l’enclave de Gaza. L’épicentre de ces émeutes est à Lod. A un jet de pierre de l’aéroport David-Ben-Gourion. Dans un coin de plaine industrielle glauque du centre du pays, où un mort est tombé, Moussa Hassouneh, lundi.

Tard dans la nuit de mercredi à jeudi, des groupes armés juifs errent dans les quartiers nord, au bord de la route 40 fermée par la police. Ils traînent des barres de fer et des battes sur le bitume jonché des débris des émeutes de la veille. Certains portent en bandoulière des fusils automatiques. Ils se penchent sur les pare-brise des voitures, sous la lumière biaisée des réverbères. Juif ou Arabe ? Ils traquent l’ennemi. De petits groupes s’aventurent sur des routes défoncées, dans le noir d’encre, à travers un lacis d’usines et d’entrepôts qui mène à la ville arabe.

Lod’s Likud mayor has fueled the toxic climate:

Ce maire d’une ville moyenne de 77 000 habitants, Yair Revivo, homme sanguin, aisément incohérent, fervent membre du Likoud au pouvoir, en lutte constante avec le tiers arabe de sa majorité municipale, se révèle en incendiaire dans la crise actuelle. Dans la nuit de mardi à mercredi, il a appelé le gouvernement, en direct à la télévision, à déployer l’armée à Lod, dénonçant « une Intifada ». Les funérailles du jeune homme arabe tué la veille dégénéraient en attaques contre des Juifs – et aussi de groupes de défense juive contre des Arabes. Le premier ministre, Benyamin Nétanyahou, pâle et essoufflé à 2 heures du matin, est venu ici pour dénoncer « l’anarchie » et décréter l’état d’urgence dans la ville.

Mais déjà, depuis des mois, le maire M. Revivo exigeait des soldats. Il n’en fait pas mystère : il est le maire de la part juive de la ville. Dès le début de son second mandat, en 2018, il a mis fin à un programme de constructions immobilières dans les quartiers arabes. Il refuse de fournir des services sociaux « aux familles criminelles. » Dans son vocabulaire, ce mot, « criminel », précède ou suit usuellement celui d’« Arabe ».

M. Revivo souhaite traiter à la sud-américaine la criminalité qui gangrène Lod. Des affiches marquées d’étoile de David proclament sa détermination à lutter contre les gangs arabes, qui font lit sur la mixité de la ville, en bonne intelligence avec la mafia juive. Ceux-ci prospèrent sur le commerce de drogue et d’armes dans des quartiers arabes où la police est aux abonnés absents.

Quoting Malek Hassouneh, the father of Moussa, who was shot and killed:

« Vois comme ils nous traitent : à l’hôpital, un flic m’a dit qu’il faudrait encore deux morts arabes pour que nous nous calmions. Ils ne veulent pas d’Arabes à Lod », estime le père. Les Hassouneh sont une famille de notables ici, rassemblée dans une belle maison du sud. Ils possédaient avant 1948 quelque 7 000 dounam (700 hectares) de terrain. Les parents de Malek, qui ont fui ou ont été chassés durant la guerre, se sont vus confisquer leurs biens par l’Etat. Il reste 2 000 dounam à cet entrepreneur du bâtiment.

Son histoire familiale, M. Hassouneh la reconsidère à cette heure. Alors que des manifestants brandissant le drapeau israélien réclament devant le tribunal de Lod la libération du « héros » qui a abattu son fils. En ce jour où le ministre de la sécurité intérieure, Amir Ohana, affirme que si cela ne tenait qu’à lui, le tireur serait déjà libre (il a été libéré jeudi). « J’étais un bon citoyen ! Je respectais l’Etat. J’étais satisfait de mon sort ici : j’allais passer dignement le flambeau. Je n’aurais jamais cru dire cela mais aujourd’hui, je ne suis plus israélien », dit M. Hassouneh.

The article goes on to discuss the phenomenon of extremist, gun-slinging Jewish settlers on the West Bank moving to Lod and other mixed cities—and with their attitudes toward Arabs—to further Judaize them. Establishing a parallel with France, the actual situation in Lod would be akin to the city of Saint-Denis in the Paris banlieue with a Front National mayor and who received security reinforcements from Génération Identitaire bullyboys constituted as an armed militia—and who was backed by a President Le Pen…

As the Republican Party has become the US equivalent of the French FN/RN (it’s even further to the right, in fact), it is likewise with the Likud, which is now the Israeli equivalent—in overall Weltanschauung—of the party headed by Marine Le Pen. This may not have been the case in the past but it is now.

But whereas the FN/RN is as far right as one gets on the French political spectrum (among parties that contest elections), there are formations to the right of the Likud—Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit being the most talked about at present—which not only elect deputies but are potential coalition partners for the Likud.

In an essay (May 19th) in the highbrow webzine AOC, “Israël-Palestine: la guerre silencieuse,” sociologist Eva Illouz, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and EHESS in Paris, has this to say:

Le lecteur européen ignore que l’extrême droite israélienne à laquelle Netanyahu s’est allié est d’une nature différente des partis habituellement ainsi qualifiés en Europe. Itamar Ben Gvir, qui dirige le parti d’extrême droite Otzma Yehudit (Force juive), avait jusqu’à récemment dans sa maison un portrait de Baruch Goldstein. Baruch Goldstein était un médecin américain qui, alors qu’il vivait dans la colonie de Kiriat Arba (Hébron), a tué 29 musulmans pendant qu’ils priaient dans la grotte des patriarches. Ben-Gvir, quant à lui, est un avocat qui défend les terroristes juifs et les auteurs de crimes haineux. L’organisation Lehava, étroitement associé à ce parti, a pour mission d’empêcher les mariages interconfessionnels et le mélange des « races ».

Le président d’Israël, Reuven Rivlin, un homme dont on ne peut pourtant pas dire qu’il porte la gauche dans son cœur, a, par le passé, décrit les attaques de Lehava contre les mariages interconfessionnels en des termes non équivoques : les membres de ce mouvement sont, a-t-il dit, comme « des rongeurs qui minent de l’intérieur le fondement démocratique et juif commun d’Israël ». Lehava publie aussi les noms des Juifs (dans le but de leur faire honte) qui louent des appartements à des Arabes. Seule la culture du Sud profond américain du début du XXe siècle peut soutenir la comparaison avec une telle idéologie.

Netanyahu est devenu leur allié politique naturel, virant ainsi vers les formes les plus extrémistes du radicalisme de droite. Ces groupes attisent les flammes de la guerre civile en répandant le racisme au sein de la société israélienne au chant du slogan « mort aux Arabes ».

The American counterpart of the Israeli extreme right is the groups that participated in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville VA in August 2017. If Itamar Ben Gvir and his followers weren’t Jews, we’d be calling them neo-Nazis. And they may possibly end up in the next Israeli government…

The peace march in Tel Aviv on Saturday was nice and let’s hope there are more of them, but the political domination of a radicalized right-wing is the reality in Israel. Which is why more explosions are a certainty.

To be continued.

UPDATE: Amjad Iraqi of the indispensable +972 Magazine has a must-read interview (May 21st) with ICG senior analyst Tareq Baconi, “Hamas breaks out of its Gaza cage.” Baconi, who’s Jordanian-Palestinian and based in Ramallah, is presently the sharpest Palestinian analyst of the conflict IMHO.

In the interview are numerous links to good articles, including “The UN predicted Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. They were right. Israel is trying to keep Gaza ‘quiet’ by applying new calculations to make life survivable — without allowing the people to truly live,” by Tania Hary in +972 (Dec. 31, 2019); and Tareq Baconi’s “Gaza and the One-State Reality,” in the Autumn 2021 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies.

2nd UPDATE: PCI lawyer Diana Buttu has a guest essay (May 25th) in the NYT that merits reading, “The myth of coexistence in Israel.”

3rd UPDATE: The Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem has published (May 20th) an invaluable report on the legal side of the property disputes in East Jerusalem, “Large-scale Displacement: from Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan.” (h/t Eric Goldstein)

4th UPDATE: In Haaretz (May 22nd): “Israelis tell him to go to Gaza, Palestinians call him a collaborator: The life of a stateless Jerusalem reporter.” The lede: “Born in East Jerusalem, he’s stateless and didn’t know a word of Hebrew until five years ago. But then Suleiman Maswadeh, who spoke to Haaretz before the flare-up in Gaza, decided he wanted to succeed. Today he’s the Israeli public broadcaster’s correspondent in Jerusalem.” The interview is lengthy but is worth the read, for what it tells about the chasm—which looks unbridgeable—in the city of Jerusalem, not to mention among Israelis and Palestinians more generally.

5th UPDATE: The gauchiste webzine Jacobin has a hard-hitting interview (May 26th) with Jerusalem-based ICG senior analyst Nathan Thrall, “We can’t expect Joe Biden to stop supporting Apartheid.” The lede: “The Western media discourse gets it all wrong. Israel is not at risk of becoming an apartheid state — it already is one.” It would be useful to see a response by liberal/left Zionists (Meretz, J Street et al) to Thrall’s arguments, in this interview as well as in his lengthy article in the 21 January 2021 issue of the LRB on “The separate regimes delusion.”

6th UPDATE: Samy Cohen, who has long been one of France’s leading political science specialists of Israel, has a tribune in the May 27th Le Monde, “Les Israéliens se sont laissé bercer par l’illusion qu’Israël était un ‘Etat juif et démocratique’.”

A very good article in Le Monde dated March 19th, by Christophe Ayad and Louis Imbert: “Du rêve d’un ‘Etat juif et démocratique’ à la colonisation de la Cisjordanie, que reste-t-il du sionisme?”

7th UPDATE: Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, has an unfortunately spot-on article (May 19th) in Foreign Affairs, “Fighting in Gaza marks the start of a more violent era: The search for a two-state solution is over.”

8th UPDATE: Le Monde’s Louis Imbert has a portrait in the May 28th issue of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahia Sinouar, in which he is presented as a relative moderate. One reads, e.g.

Longtemps, les généraux israéliens n’ont pas caché leur intérêt, voire leur admiration pour cet enfant d’une famille de réfugiés implantée à Khan Younès, à Gaza. M. Sinouar y a fait respecter les « bonnes mœurs » pour le Hamas naissant.

9th UPDATE: Tel Aviv-based journalist Neri Zilber has a must-read opinion piece (May 28th) in the Toronto Globe and Mail, “Israel’s Palestinian policy is in tatters.” Money quote:

As Israeli journalist (and co-creator of the hit TV show Fauda) Avi Issacharoff recently wrote, Israel’s policy aimed “to weaken Fatah and the PA so that it would not have a partner to negotiate with, and to strengthen Hamas through funds and [by easing measures] to claim that there is no partner to negotiate with.”

10th UPDATE: See the Statement on Israel/Palestine by Scholars of Jewish Studies and Israel Studies (May 22nd). If I were eligible to sign it, I would.

11th UPDATE: FWIW Vox’s Zack Beauchamp argues “In defense of the two-state solution.” The lede: “Some are declaring the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine totally doomed. But it’s not — and it’s still worth fighting for.” (May 26th)

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“This is Israel’s most failed and pointless Gaza operation ever. It must end now.” Voilà the headline of an analysis (May 18th) by Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn. It begins:

As of its ninth day, Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza has turned into Israel’s most failed and pointless border war ever, even when measured against the tough competition from the champion league of the Second Lebanon War, and Operations Pillar of Defense, Cast Lead and Protective Edge in Gaza. We have been witness to a serious military and diplomatic failure that has exposed major deficiencies in the army’s preparations and performance and in the leadership of a confused and helpless government.

Instead of wasting time in a useless effort to create an “image of victory” while causing death and destruction in Gaza and upending lives to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must stop now and agree to a cease-fire – and hope that the failure will be forgotten by public opinion as quickly as the Mount Meron disaster. In a more perfect world, it would be proper to add here “and order a thorough house cleaning of the Israel Defense Forces.” But criminal defendant Netanyahu, who is fighting to keep his official residence on Balfour Street, has neither the authority nor the political power to lead such a needed change.

Benn proceeds to discuss the five biggest problems revealed so far in Israel’s preparations for and conduct of the war. It would be helpful if such analyses were read by pro-Israel US commentators, some of whom have been figuratively screaming over the past week, not to mention ‘Les Grandes Gueules Moyen-Orient‘ I happened to come across two nights ago on i24NEWS Français, the one with la plus grande gueule being Meyer Habib, the deputy in the French National Assembly representing the 8th constituency of French citizens abroad, the majority of whose voters reside in Israel (and are, like Habib, dual-national Israelis). Habib, who is close to Netanyahu and the Likud (he was a Betar militant in his youth), may have been elected under the center-right UDI label but is way out there on the right. A prediction: between now and next April, Habib will endorse Marine Le Pen and her Rassemblement National, and will be followed by a not insignificant number of his co-religionists (N.B. French Jews are more conservative and attached to Israel than their American counterparts, and with a greater visceral animosity toward Arabs and Muslims).

N.B. Denouncing Israel’s military campaign in Gaza must not obscure the role of Hamas in initiating the conflict with its unprovoked rocket attacks, first on Jerusalem than everywhere else in Israel in the rockets’ range, and with the intention of hitting the civilian population at random (Hamas rockets, as one reads here, are not equipped with guidance systems that would enable them to strike specific targets). If Israel is committing war crimes that could be investigated by the ICC, so is Hamas.

Then there’s the politically pernicious side of Hamas’ action, which is explained by historian Vincent Lemire, the director of the French research center in Jerusalem, in a full-page, must-read interview in Le Monde dated May 18th, “‘Le fossé n’a jamais été aussi profond entre Jérusalem-Est et Jérusalem-Ouest’.” The two weeks that preceded the Hamas rockets had witnessed an exceptional mobilization of young Jerusalem Palestinians: against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, the attempt by the Israeli police to set up a checkpoint on the steps of the Damascus Gate of the Old City—a “small agora” where Palestinian families gather in the evening during Ramadan—and the actions of that police at the Al-Aqsa mosque and on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The tactical intelligence, as Lemire put it, of the Palestinian activists resulted in the Israelis not only beating a retreat at the Damascus Gate but also preventing Jewish extremists from marching through the Old City on their May 10th “Jerusalem Day.” It was a humiliating setback for Netanyahu and whose political future appeared compromised—until Hamas rescued him with its rockets. It was, as Lemire put it

une grossière tentative de récupération de la part du Hamas, qui, lundi soir, a choisi de déclencher une nouvelle guerre pour revenir dans le jeu, plutôt que de célébrer dignement la victoire des Palestiniens de Jérusalem.

On Jerusalem Day:

[Le] lundi 10 mai, [il y a eu] l’échec retentissant du « Jour de Jérusalem », organisé chaque année pour commémorer la « réunification » de la ville en 1967. Le jour où Israël devait célébrer sa pleine souveraineté sur sa capitale « éternelle et indivisible », les juifs israéliens ont été interdits par la police israélienne de pénétrer sur l’esplanade des Mosquées, puis empêchés de passer par la porte de Damas, avant que toute la Vieille Ville ne leur soit finalement rendue inaccessible.

Ce soir-là, jusqu’aux tirs de roquettes du Hamas, le premier ministre israélien, Benyamin Nétanyahou, était mortifié, humilié, et sa carrière politique semblait définitivement compromise.

Israeli journalist and activist Haggai Matar described the situation in Jerusalem well in +972 Magazine (May 10th), “Israel chooses violence: From the repression in Sheikh Jarrah to the bombing of Gaza, the Israeli government has opted to escalate its brutality toward Palestinians.” He begins:

The escalation in violence across Israel-Palestine over the past days is primarily the result of a number of choices made by the Israeli government. While such violence is far from unprecedented in our region, and has been inherent to Israel’s oppressive policies for decades, these are choices that ultimately serve the interests of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is desperately fighting to save his political career and avoid potential time behind bars.

The dangerous choices started in earnest with the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the Israeli authorities made the unfathomable decision to place new makeshift checkpoints at the entrance to Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. They then attacked Palestinians who gathered there to enjoy breaking the daily fast with friends and family. It took two weeks of police violence and a steadfast response by Palestinian protesters for the police to back down.

On Sheikh Jarrah, for those who need a primer, see the one (May 6th) by Mustafa Abu Sneineh in Middle East Eye, “Sheikh Jarrah explained: The past and present of East Jerusalem neighbourhood.”

See likewise the report (May 19th) by FT Jerusalem correspondent Mehul Srivastava, “How Arab evictions fuelled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

One aspect of what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah has not been mentioned so far as I’ve seen. The Jewish extremist organization that is claiming property there is basing the claim on the contention that the property in question was owned by Jews before 1948, i.e. by persons in their ethno-religious group, not by particular individuals in the organization in question. The Jewish organization wants to evict the Palestinian families who have lived there for seventy years and then occupy it for themselves, for the simple reason that a Jewish family, whose identity is immaterial and whose descendants are not part of the organization, owned it generations ago.

Rhetorical question: Is there any legal system in the world—and particularly in a state claiming to be a democracy and governed by rule of law—where such a claim would have any legal validity? Where invoking mere membership in an ethno-religious group would give someone the legal right to appropriate a piece of property and evict its longtime inhabitants?

I have long resisted applying the apartheid label to Israel, though in a 2014 post, ‘Rage in Jerusalem,’ made an exception for East Jerusalem, where I determined that the ignominious label did indeed apply. If such was the case seven years ago, it is every bit as much so today.

AWAV readers, who are by definition well-informed, will be aware that the apartheid analogy in regard to Israel has gone mainstream, notably with the April 27th release of Human Rights Watch’s report, A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution. As the editor of the report, Eric Goldstein, who is Acting Executive Director of HRW’s MENA Division, is a very good and dear friend—and who happens to be responsible for this blog’s name: yes, Arun with a View was his brainchild—I owe him my assessment of the report, and particularly as we’ve had numerous discussions on the subject over the years. I will have a separate post on it soon (after I’ve had a chance to actually read through the thing; in the meantime, here’s an opinion piece of his in The Forward, on how attaching the apartheid label to Israel was not a decision HRW reached lightly).

Rereading my 2014 post, so much of what I wrote then could be repeated almost verbatim today. Quoting myself:

[O]n the Israeli response to the rage in East Jerusalem—of draconian police and army repression, mass arrests and prosecutions of minors, sealing off Arab neighborhoods with concrete blocks, demolishing the homes of the families of terrorists (or anyone the Israelis deem as such; a.k.a. collective punishment), randomly spraying “skunk water” in the eastern part of the city, restricting Muslim access to the Haram al-Sharif, colonizing densely populated Arab quarters with extremist settlers, proposing new “anti-terrorism” laws that will further abuse Palestinians under Israeli rule (including Palestinian citizens of Israel, PCIs), etc, etc—, WTF are Netanyahu & Co.—indeed the entire Israeli right—thinking? How do they imagine this is going to play out? What’s the end game? We’re not talking about Gaza, Jenin, or some place around which the Israelis can build a wall and try to forget about. This is their “eternal” unified capital city, but where close to 40% of the population does not enjoy the rights of citizenship and is hostile to them. And the Palestinians of Jerusalem are devoid of political leadership, with not a single person who can speak in the name of even some of them or serve as an interlocutor with the Israelis. Moreover—and I find this incredible—, the Israelis don’t want Palestinian interlocutors in Jerusalem. They don’t want to negotiate or bargain with the Palestinian residents of the city, to collectively dialogue with or treat them as anything other than barely tolerated interlopers in a city that they, the Israelis, consider to be theirs and theirs only. And the Israelis have absolutely nothing to propose to the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (except to subtly—or not so subtly—encourage them to emigrate, or just go away). The people who run the state of Israel have become unhinged, point barre (the new state president, Reuven Rivlin, being a notable exception). Again, WTF do they expect to happen? Indian-style communal riots, with rampaging mobs in both communities chauffé à blanc murdering dozens, if not hundreds? And if this comes to pass—an eventuality that one must not exclude—, what then? If anyone who identifies with the Israeli right can give a response to this—to what appears to objective observers to be an irrational fuite en avant on the part of Netanyahu & Co.—, I’m all ears.

Needless to say, I have yet to see any kind of response to this from anyone who considers a unified Jerusalem to be Israel’s eternal capital.

N.B. The Palestinians will never cede on the question of Jerusalem. They will never acquiesce in the Israeli annexation of the eastern part of the city or it being severed from the rest of the West Bank. If there is ever, inshallah, going to be a peace agreement—which we’re not likely to see in our lifetimes—Israel will simply have to yield on East Jerusalem, as not only does it have no legal right to be there (if UNSC resolutions mean anything) but also, as I wrote in 2012, no moral right.

Vincent Lemire, in the interview cited above, makes an observation that Israelis and Israel partisans may not be aware of, which is that Israel is losing the demographic battle in Jerusalem.

[Les Palestiniens] résistent aussi parce que la démographie leur donne raison : il y a aujourd’hui 350 000 Palestiniens à Jérusalem, soit cinq fois plus qu’en 1967 (70 000), alors que la population israélienne n’a pas progressé dans les mêmes proportions (190 000 en 1967, 560 000 aujourd’hui, soit une multiplication par trois).

Et si on se focalise sur la Vieille Ville, cœur historique et religieux de la ville sainte, la résistance démographique palestinienne est encore plus nette : la population juive israélienne représente moins de 10 % de la population totale de la Vieille Ville aujourd’hui.

La colonisation progresse à grands pas en Cisjordanie, mais elle est en échec à Jérusalem, ce qui est insupportable pour l’extrême droite israélienne, qui se cogne à cette réalité à chaque fois que ses Proud Boys tentent de manifester dans les ruelles étroites de la ville historique.

Cette bataille démographique est essentielle parce qu’elle engage toute la société civile, toutes les familles, avec évidemment les femmes en toute première ligne, et parce que la supériorité militaire israélienne n’y peut rien changer.

The Israeli supreme court will hand down its ruling in the coming weeks on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. If it goes against the Palestinian families, which is likely, there will be an explosion of rage among Palestinians, and not only in Jerusalem. If the ruling is in their favor, the Jewish extreme right will go ballistic. And they’re armed and dangerous. Either way, the consequences will be bad. This thing is only beginning.

Some worthwhile articles by A-list analysts:

Shlomo Ben-Ami in Project Syndicate (May 13th): “The end of Israel’s illusion.”

Mouin Rabbani in Time magazine (May 13th): “Israel-Palestine is a state of permanent conflict punctuated by periodic carnage. Only the watching world can stop it.”

Tareq Baconi in the LRB blog (May 14th): “Sheikh Jarrah and after.”

Natan Sachs in the Brookings Institution blog (May 15th): “The perfect storm for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Dahlia Scheindlin in The Guardian (May 16th): “How did it happen that Israel’s Jews and Arabs rose up against each other?”

To be continued.

UPDATE: Journalist Neri Zilber has a useful ‘7 min read’ (May 13th) in Newlines Magazine, “The war that shouldn’t have been: Israel and Hamas had reached a pragmatic arrangement for years. How it was upended.”

The never uninteresting and invariably incisive Peter Beinart correctly asserts in his Substack newsletter (May 20th) that “If Israel eliminated Hamas, nothing fundamental would change.” Entre autres, he writes:

Today, it’s common to associate Hamas’s militancy with its Islamist ideology. The implication is that if only Islamists were eliminated from the Palestinian political scene, Palestinian politics would grow more moderate and quiescent. But Israeli leaders didn’t always see it that way. Just as US officials once saw Islamists like the Afghan Mujahedeen as less threatening than communists backed by the USSR, Israeli officials once saw Hamas as more pliable than Yasser Arafat’s more secular Fatah. In a recent letter to the editor of The New York Times, former Times’ Jerusalem correspondent David K. Shipler noted that in 1981, Israel’s military governor of Gaza told him that, in Shipler’s words, “he was giving money to the Muslim Brotherhood, the precursor of Hamas, on the instruction of the Israeli authorities. The funding was intended to tilt power away from both Communist and Palestinian nationalist movements in Gaza, which Israel considered more threatening than the fundamentalists.” Oops.

And don’t miss Gershon Baskin’s opinion piece (May 19th) in The Jerusalem Post, “Israel must talk to Hamas to improve the situation in Gaza.”

2nd UPDATE: The Times of Israel’s senior analyst Haviv Rettig Gur has an analysis (May 22nd) that merits reading: “Hamas’s forever war against Israel has a glitch, and it isn’t Iron Dome: Why Hamas promises another war soon, and another and another. And why it won’t work.” The story of the two retired IDF major-generals meeting with Vo Nguyen Giap in Hanoi is interesting. Also the bit about Musa Abu Marzouk’s May 17th interview with RT.

3rd UPDATE: Adam Shatz’s analysis of this latest phase in the Israel-Palestine conflict, “Ghosts in the land,” is up on the LRB website (June 3rd issue). At the end of the piece is a link to Adam’s 45-minute May 21st podcast discussion with Tareq Baconi and Henriette Chacar.

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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

Gaza edition. I watched the destruction of the Al Jalaa tower in Gaza live on Al Jazeera yesterday. In an email sent out shortly afterward—admittedly sous le coup de l’émotion—I wrote that if the Israelis are looking to be hated, they’re doing a helluva job. As reported, the building housed the offices of Al Jazeera, the Associated Press, and other media outlets, plus offices of businesses, lawyers, and doctors, and private residences. The IDF says that Hamas had “military intelligence assets” in the building—with the journalists and other civilians there thus serving, unbeknownst to them, as “human shields”—so was thus a legitimate military target, and with an IDF spokesman on CNN today reminding us that the inhabitants of the building were given an hour’s notice to evacuate before the missiles hit, so that no one would get hurt. How thoughtful of the IDF. As for the evidence of Hamas’s “military intelligence assets,” the Israelis naturally cannot reveal their “intelligence sources and methods…”

Even if Hamas had some kind of military asset in the building—which the media organizations and others would have presumably been aware of—that was no reason to target it. The fact of the matter is, Israel committed an act of state terrorism in destroying the Al Jalaa tower, even if happily no one was killed or injured, as the manifest intent of taking it down was to terrorize and collectively punish the Gaza population for the actions of its rulers, and to shock and awe Hamas in a way the IDF did not succeed in doing in 2014. In a p. 2 article in Le Monde dated May 16-17 and signed by Madjid Zerrouky and Piotr Smolar, “A Gaza, sous les bombardements, la peur et la dévastation,” one reads that other high-rise buildings in Gaza housing media organizations have been destroyed by the Israelis over the past week. Here is a lengthy passage that merits quoting:

Les Gazaouis ont une hantise des immeubles les plus hauts depuis que les forces israéliennes s’emploient à réduire méthodiquement à l’état de gravats ce que les locaux appellent les « tours ». Soit une demi-douzaine d’édifices de plus de dix étages qui se sont effondrés en quelques secondes, endommageant les habitations alentours. Cette fois, les forces israéliennes ont surpris les habitants en ciblant, dès les premières heures du conflit, les infrastructures civiles et commerciales du territoire.

Une quasi-inversion par rapport à leur « calendrier » d’attaques en 2014. Et une nouvelle punition collective pour le poète Omar Salah, 19 ans. Membre de We Are Not Numbers (« Nous ne sommes pas des numéros »), un collectif de jeunes Gazaouis qui ont saisi la plume pour informer le monde et échapper à l’enfermement, il décrivait avec amertume le sort réservé à l’artère commerçante du quartier de Rimal, attaquée le 13 mai. « Rimal est associé à de beaux souvenirs chez tout le monde dans la bande de Gaza. En ces jours d’avant l’Aïd, cet endroit est censé être décoré pour célébrer la fête. Il s’est transformé en cendres grises. »

« C’est un sacrifice pour Jérusalem, Cheikh Jarrah et nos frères palestiniens de l’intérieur. » Malgré sa mauvaise fortune, Ahmed Al-Zaim tentait, lui, de faire bonne figure en posant aux pieds de la carcasse d’« Al-Jawhara », la tour dont il était le propriétaire. Un immeuble de dix étages qui est parti en fumée mercredi 12 mai. Le bâtiment abritait 14 médias, dont le quotidien Palestine Daily News, la chaîne de télévision panarabe Al-Araby ou l’agence photo APA. La veille, la tour « Al-Shourouk » avait subi le même sort. Sept médias, dont ceux du Hamas, y avaient leurs bureaux. L’armée israélienne a affirmé avoir ciblé des stocks d’armes du mouvement islamiste « cachés dans des bâtiments civils ».

« En moins de vingt-quatre heures, Israël a bombardé plus de trois tours qui abritent la plupart des médias locaux et internationaux travaillant à Gaza. C’est alarmant. Israël impose un black-out aux médias pour masquer des crimes de guerre », accuse de son côté Ramy Abdu, président de l’Observatoire euroméditerranéen des droits de l’homme.

Concierge, groupes électrogènes et vue sur la mer… La tour Hanadi, une résidence de 14 étages – le plus haut immeuble de la ville – était, elle, décrite comme un havre de paix et de confort par ses occupants. Quelque 80 familles issues de la classe moyenne et de la bourgeoisie locale ont tout perdu « en un clin d’œil » dans la soirée du 11 mai, selon les dires de l’un de ses habitants, qui, hébétés, s’affairaient le lendemain à récupérer ce qui pouvait l’être au milieu d’un gigantesque amoncellement de décombres : papiers administratifs, jouets des enfants, rideaux ou affaires scolaires…

« J’ai fait aussi l’expérience directe de la première frappe, sur ce qu’on appelle la tour Hanadi. Je la voyais de mon appartement. C’était un peu surréaliste. Effectivement, les habitants avaient été avertis. Sur les réseaux sociaux, l’information a donc circulé que la tour allait être visée », décrit Matthias Schmale, de l’UNWRA. Le gardien de l’immeuble a ainsi été averti au téléphone par un officier israélien. C’est notamment cet échange, filmé, qui a donné l’alerte : « De combien de temps as-tu besoin ? Deux heures, trois heures ? Je vais à l’immeuble pour dire aux gens de ne pas venir et de partir ? (…) Allô. Oui, je suis là. J’écoute. Deux coups avec un drone, puis vous frappez la tour… »

A Beit Lahya, dans le nord de l’enclave, la famille Al-Tanani n’a pas eu la chance d’être contactée. « Elle a complètement été effacée des registres de l’état civil palestinien », note l’universitaire Shadi Fakhri Jabr. Il a fallu plusieurs heures, jeudi, aux membres de la sécurité civile, armés de simples pioches, pour dégager des décombres de leur maison les corps de Rawiya, 37 ans, son époux Mohamed, 39 ans, et de leurs quatre enfants âgés de 4 à 7 ans.

« Les Israéliens préviennent parfois les habitants, mais ils frappent aussi sans avertissement. C’est la loterie. Et les barrages d’artillerie peuvent être si intenses que nos ambulances, qui n’hésitent pourtant pas à aller au feu, atteignent parfois difficilement les blessés. Dans le nord, ce sont des quartiers entiers qui sont touchés, dénonce le docteur Ahmad Mohana, directeur de l’hôpital Al-Awda, qui a la douloureuse impression que le sort s’acharne sur son établissement. Le secteur médical était déjà dans une situation critique : le résultat de quatorze années de siège imposé à la bande de Gaza. Nous venons de subir de plein fouet l’épidémie de Covid-19. Et maintenant, cette guerre… »

All the lives and livelihoods shattered, in addition to those lost. This is an outrage and for which Israel, as the perpetrator, is rather manifestly responsible. Hamas may have initiated hostilities with its unprovoked rocket attacks beginning a week ago but Israel was not obliged to respond militarily, particularly with 90% of the rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome—which both sides knew would happen—and most of the rest falling harmlessly. Hamas may be playing a cynical game—and committing war crimes while it’s at it—but Israel is not obliged to fall into its trap. And as for Hamas’s cynical game, it may be summed up in the title of a must-read analysis by Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe and Louis Imbert: “Le Hamas veut imposer à Israël un nouveau rapport de force: Le mouvement islamiste réalise pour l’instant une opération politique payante. Dans l’opinion publique palestinienne, son initiative est saluée comme un sursaut d’orgueil salutaire, un réveil de la résistance à l’occupation israélienne.”

So that’s it: Hamas is seeking to sweep aside a deliquescent Palestinian Authority and impose itself as the dominant Palestinian actor, vis-à-vis Israel and everyone else, and which would most certainly win an election in the West Bank-Gaza (which will have to happen sooner or later). And thanks to Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, Hamas will likely succeed.

As for the other side of the equation, two pertinent articles from 2019 have been reposted on social media of late, one in Foreign Affairs by Aaron David Miller, “Israel and Hamas need each other;” the other in the Forward by Gaza writer and columnist Muhammad Shehada, “You know who wants Netanyahu to win? Hamas.” If the latter was the case in 2019, it is equally so in 2021. Hamas wants Netanyahu to remain in power and for his government to lurch even further to the extreme right—and with the inevitable consequences on the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and among Palestinian citizens of Israel. And it will likely succeed. Helluva job, Bibi.

To be continued.

UPDATE: Voilà the page 2 article in Le Monde dated May 18th: “Dimanche à Gaza, le massacre de la rue Wehda.” In The Washington Post’s dispatch (May 17th) on the Wehda Street massacre, and the 17 members of the extended family killed by Israeli missiles, is this:

The [IDF’s] operation is the first test of a new “victory concept” espoused by Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s chief of staff. It aims to turn the Israeli military into what one Israeli Defense Forces document describes as a “significantly more lethal, networked war machine that can destroy enemy capabilities in record time and with the lowest possible casualties” and to shift away from the old methods known as “mowing the lawn” — military campaigns that buy a little respite — to more decisive victories. Part of it is adapting to more quickly identify targets in dense urban areas such as Gaza. “This,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a recent briefing, “is the doctrine and concept being applied.”

For those in the city, it has felt as if there is no escape.

Also in Le Monde is an interview with Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, in which he submits: “Il faut se demander si la véritable intention de tels assauts [par Israël] n’est pas de brutaliser la population civile.”

2nd UPDATE: The well-known Israeli journalist and specialist of Palestinian affairs (and co-creator of the series ‘Fauda’), Avi Isaacharoff, seeks to set the record straight in a Twitter thread (May 17th) “For the ones who forgot some facts about the war in Gaza.”

3rd UPDATE: Historian Martin Kramer has seen fit to repost on Twitter a 2006 blog post of his, “Hamas of the intellectuals,” the subject of which is the dim views of Edward Said of the Palestinian Islamist organization and the secular intellectuals who apologize for it.

4th UPDATE: Gerson Baskin, the well-known peace activist and founder of the Jerusalem-based Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information—and who has dialogued with Hamas officials—has this comment (May 12th) on his Facebook page:

I don’t know about you, but I am quite amazed by the military capabilities of Hamas. Gaza has been under siege since 2005. From around 2014 the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza were destroyed by the Egyptians. Israel controls almost everything that enters Gaza, there are strong limitations on materials which are called “dual usage” meaning that they have a civilian use and a potential military use which are not allowed into Gaza. With all those limitations, let’s admit it – Hamas has developed an enormous quantity of short- and long-range rockets which are of a much higher quality than ever before. They have demonstrated the ability to launch up to 100 rockets in a very short period of time. The Engineering faculty of the Islamic University in Gaza must have really focused the studies and military applications of the students in the past years. By the way, if I remember correctly, the building of the Engineering faculty was built with money from USAID. I visited there once back in 2007. With that, it is important to consider what could have been done for the people of Gaza if Hamas had employed all of that enterprising genius in the development of housing, schools, hospitals, high-tech startups and more. I imagine that many Palestinians feel some sense of pride in the military abilities demonstrated by Hamas against mighty Israel. I can understand that, but please take a minute and consider what could have been developed instead of those rockets.

A question I’ve been asking (rhetorically) for years: if Hamas wants to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza, why doesn’t it simply announce that it accepts the three principles of the Middle East Quartet? Seriously.

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Places of Mind

[update below]

For any left-leaning, intellectually-inclined American of my generation and with an interest in the Middle East, Edward Said was a reference. Eighteen years after his death, he finally has a biography—more-or-less authorized—authored (naturally) by a protégé, Timothy Brennan, a professor of cultural studies, comparative literature, and English at the University of Minnesota. The book has received the expected attention, with four excellent reviews—that I’ve read so far, at least—the most excellent of them the 9,000-word essay by my dear friend Adam Shatz—who knew Said personally—in the May 6th issue of the London Review of Books. If you read just one review of Brennan’s book, let it be Adam’s.

The other reviews are the smart and always interesting Pankaj Mishra’s in the April 26th-May 3rd issue of The New Yorker, Thomas Meaney (smart historian) in the New Statesman, and Sameer Rahim in Prospect magazine (of which he is managing editor; titled “the confusions of Edward Said,” this one isn’t too sympathetic).

I never personally met Said, though saw him speak three or four times in the early-mid ’80s (in New York and Chicago) and was a fan of his through that decade, after which I became critical of some of his public positions, e.g. over the 1991 Gulf War, with him opposing the US-led international coalition but me supporting. And I was not in agreement with his harsh critique of the Oslo Accords, which I strongly favored at the time—how could one be against peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?—but had to acknowledge later that Said was not totally wrong on this one. But despite my political disenchantment with Said, I enjoyed reading his columns in Al-Ahram Weekly in the latter part of the ’90s and to his death in 2003. Agree with him or not, he was a brilliant writer and so erudite.

À propos, watching Said debate Fouad Ajami on the PBS MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1985 during the War of the Camps in Lebanon (Shias vs. Palestinians), a fellow U of Chicago MENA-focused graduate student friend and I marveled afterward at how these two Middle Eastern Arab academic intellectuals possessed a greater command of the English language than just about any of their educated American counterparts. Both were very impressive.

As for Said’s 20-25 books, I will admit to having only read five. Two of the early ones, The Question of Palestine and Covering Islam, I read around the time they came out and liked both, though my assessment would likely be different today (particularly in regard to the latter). My favorite book by Said was his memoir Out of Place, of his childhood and adolescence, which, in addition to being an engaging read, gave deep insights into the man, his family and milieu, and of life in Cairo and Lebanon (and a bit in Jerusalem) in the 1940s and early ’50s. It’s absolutely worth the read.

As for Orientalism, I first read it early on but not in a serious way. I was generally uncritical of its theses, though felt that Bernard Lewis got the better of the exchange with Said over the book (in the pages of the NYRB in 1982), and this when I was far more politically sympathetic to Said than to Lewis (not that I ever gained sympathy for the latter). In the early ’00s (after 9/11), I decided that I really needed to read it again and seriously, so proposed it to my U of Chicago alumni reading group here in Paris. I will simply say that I strongly disliked the book and downright hated its chapter 3, and particularly the latter part, of Said’s broadside against contemporary (to the 1970s) American social science—and political science above all—on the Middle East (these pages of my copy are covered with marginal comments—e.g. Rubbish! Bullshit!—and exclamation/question marks signifying incredulity). I proclaimed to my reading group friends that Said was way outside his domain of specialization in chapter 3 and simply did not know WTF he was talking about. The critiques of Orientalism by its many detractors were correct. Case closed.

In his essay, Adam mentions the negative reception of Orientalism by intellectuals in the Arab world, citing the case of Sadiq Jalal al-Azm. The article to read on this is Emmanuel Sivan, “Edward Said and His Arab Reviewers,” Jerusalem Quarterly 35 (Spring 1985).

UPDATE: Adam Shatz discusses “Edward Said and Palestine” (May 13th) with historian and journalist Jon Wiener in a 20-minute podcast hosted by The Nation magazine.

Verso’s blog has an unsigned post (May 11th), “A tale of two books: A biographical controversy concerning a new life of Edward Said,” the controversy being over Said’s longtime extra-marital relationship with Dominique Eddé and how Timothy Brennan dealt with that in his book.

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A friend (Franco-Algerian) has asked me for my take on the rapprochement between Morocco and Israel, and the role of the United States, i.e. of Trump and his recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara (neither of these developments have been warmly received by Algerians, needless to say). As for the Israel-Morocco aspect of the matter, the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the two states is normal and hardly necessitated US mediation, as they have enjoyed a close, unofficial relationship since the early 1960s—and which became official in 1994 with the opening of liaison offices in their respective capitals (Tel Aviv for the Moroccan one), and while closed by Morocco in 2000, during the second intifada, did not fundamentally change anything. Ronen Bergman has a piece in the NYT on the ongoing 60-year relationship and Yossi Melman writes in Haaretz on how the Mossad, over the same period, built “perhaps the most steadfast clandestine relationship between Israel and any Arab state.”

Morocco’s rich Jewish past and present is obviously the bridge between the two countries—and with Morocco valorizing and promoting that heritage. As one knows, Morocco had, along with Iraq, the largest pre-1948 Jewish population in the Arab world (around 250K), but, unlike Iraq, with Moroccan Jews emigrating pacifically (albeit surreptitiously in the decade after 1956) to Israel over time, with no pressure to leave or flight on account of persecution. And as one equally knows, Israelis with personal or family ties to Morocco (some 10-15% of Israel’s Jewish population) maintain an affectionate relationship with the country and freely travel there—which is unique to Israelis with roots in MENA lands (and despite the fact that the status of Jews in Morocco to the early 20th century was not significantly better than in Eastern Europe). For this reason alone, it makes total sense that the two states would have diplomatic and commercial relations, with tourism, direct flights, and all.

As for the Palestinians, I argued in a social media exchange (with Algerians) that the Israel-Morocco rapprochement won’t change a thing one way or another, though it was observed in a very good 40-minute International Crisis Group podcast conversation—with Rob Malley, Richard Atwood, Dahlia Scheindlin, and Riccardo Fabiani—on “Trump’s Morocco-Israel transaction,” that this will further comfort Netanyahu & Co in their calculation that Israel can normalize with Arab states—as it already has with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan—without conceding a thing to the Palestinians. Good point. It is increasingly evident, however, that no state—even a powerful one like the USA—or coalition of states can compel Israel to make substantial concessions to the Palestinians that it doesn’t want to make—that it believes will compromise its security and/or be rejected by Israeli pubic opinion. E.g. when I visited the Beit El settlement on the West Bank in 2009 and talked to a few people there, it became clear to me that no Israeli government will ever get those settlers out of there were it to try, that there would be refusal and resistance, and that such would be the case with just about every settlement in the occupied territories. Israel is content with the status quo—which I argued over eight years ago—as are most Arab states in regard to the Palestinians, alas.

N.B. The normalization with Israel by Arab states may not only not prejudice the Palestinians but even work to their benefit, with the UAE and other Gulf states financially supporting the Palestinian Authority, investing, and the like (and which may be part of the deal with the Israelis, who will have an interest in that).

The American aspect of the Morocco-Israel deal is another matter. Not only was the US role superfluous—it was thoroughly unnecessary—but the US got nothing whatever out of it. No tangible US interest is advanced in the two states reopening liaison offices and establishing direct flights. Trump was simply doing Netanyahu’s bidding, to reinforce the latter’s election prospects and further solidify Trump’s evangelical base as he tries to stage an autogolpe before January 20th. Not only can this not be considered a foreign policy triumph for Trump—and it’s likewise with the UAE-Bahrain-Sudan deals—but, in recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, it’s a big foreign policy blunder and setback for the US. The US thus becomes the first Western state (Albania excepted, if that counts) to recognize Morocco’s annexation of the Western Sahara.

À propos, one notes with interest the left-right consensus on Trump’s action among the handful of US academic and policy specialists of the Western Sahara question. E.g. on the left, the engagé University of San Francisco political scientist (and friend), Stephen Zunes—who’s co-authored a book on the subject—fired off a Washington Post op-ed arguing that “Trump’s deal on Morocco’s Western Sahara annexation risks more global conflict.” Human Rights Watch—which is not stricto sensu on the left (though I’d be most surprised if a single one of its American staff members did not vote for Biden-Harris)—issued a communiqué (in which acting HRW-MENA director and good friend Eric Goldstein is quoted) stating that “US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty doesn’t change territory’s status.” And FWIW, in the Uber-gauchiste Jacobin, Madrid-based writer Eoghan Gilmartin asserted that “Donald Trump has just traded Western Sahara like a Victorian colonialist.”

The left-leaning Scholars’ Circle Interviews has a worthwhile one-hour podcast conservation on the “Western Sahara conflict towards peaceful resolution,” with academics R. Joey Huddleston, Randi Irwin, Stephen Zunes, and Jacob Mundy.

Particularly interesting are the reactions from Republicans. James A. Baker III, who was the UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy for Western Sahara from 1997 to 2004, penned a Washington Post op-ed bluntly stating that “Trump’s recognition of Western Sahara is a serious blow to diplomacy and international law.” And then there’s John Bolton, who knows the WS dossier comme sa poche, with a strongly worded piece in Foreign Policy, “Biden must reverse course on Western Sahara: Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty dangerously undermines decades of carefully crafted U.S. policy.”

Accompanying Bolton on the GOP right-wing is the ultra-conservative Oklahoma senator James Inhofe, who has long felt strongly about the Western Sahara and been a strong supporter of Polisario, and who pronounced Trump’s action “shocking and deeply disappointing,” declaring himself “saddened that the rights of the Western Sahara people have been traded away.” As one learns in an informative dispatch in Axios by Tel Aviv-based reporter Barak Ravid, it appears that a recent dispute between Trump and Inhofe—who otherwise 100% supports the SOB—paved the way for Trump’s gift to Morocco.

Another Western Sahara/Polisario supporter way out there on the Republican right-wing is the longtime Washington conservative operative David Keene—who also happens to be Algeria’s well-remunerated Washington lobbyist—who ran an op-ed in the Washington Times (which is read exclusively on the right) explaining “Why Trump’s deal with Morocco is immoral and shamefully cynical: The people of the Western Sahara had no say in it’s making, another blow against self-determination.”

I find it intriguing that these right-wing Republicans are so harshly critical of Morocco—which has always been such a faithful ally of the United States and the West—favorable toward Algeria—which has had correct to good relations with the US but, while a leader of the non-aligned movement, tilted toward the Eastern bloc during the Cold War—and supportive of Polisario, which has otherwise been a Third World movement of national liberation and identified with the tiersmondiste camp (and with an always large stand at the French Communist Party’s annual Fête de l’Humanité; for pics of the stand, go here and scroll way down). And that these America-firster conservatives should care so much about a sparsely, exclusively Muslim-populated patch of desert in Africa—and as they have not objected to land-grabs elsewhere (e.g. Israel and its neighbors). There is not a single right-wing person in France who would break ranks with Morocco on this question or touch Polisario with a ten-foot pole. Perhaps Polisario has had an effective US lobbying operation (for the anecdote, I was acquainted with Polisario’s Washington representative back in the mid-80s, who was romantically involved with a college friend of mine; he must have been doing a good job).

The most reliable establishment commentary on Trump’s action IMHO is by Christopher Ross, who served as the UN Secretary General’s personal envoy on Western Sahara from 2009 to 2017. Ross was a US Foreign Service officer, spending most of his career in the Arab world (he’s a fluent Arabic-speaker), including as US ambassador to Algeria from 1988 to 1991. Those were my years in Algiers and I saw him a number of times (I was on a Fulbright grant but otherwise had no relationship with the US embassy), at events and dinners, plus a few tête-à-têtes, at the residence and in his office, with him inviting me in to discuss the political situation in Algeria (we were much on the same page, particularly in regard to the rise of the Islamist FIS). Chris Ross represented the best of the US Foreign Service. Voilà his commentary on Trump’s action, posted by Stephen Zunes (Dec. 13th) on his Facebook page:

This foolish and ill-considered decision flies in the face of the US commitment to the principles of the non-acquisition of territory by force and the right of peoples to self-determination, both enshrined in the UN Charter. It’s true that we have ignored these principles when it comes to Israel and others, but this does not excuse ignoring them in Western Sahara and incurring significant costs to ourselves in terms of regional stability and security and our relations with Algeria.

The argument that some in Washington have been making for decades to the effect that an independent state in Western Sahara would be another failed mini-state is false. Western Sahara is as large as Great Britain and has ample resources of phosphates, fisheries, precious metals, and tourism based on wind surfing and desert excursions. It is much better off than many mini-states whose establishment the US has supported. The Polisario Liberation Front of Western Sahara has demonstrated in setting up a government-in-exile in the Western Saharan refugee camps in southwestern Algeria that it is capable of running a government in an organized and semi-democratic way. The referendum proposal that the Polisario put forward in 2007 foresees very close privileged relations with Morocco in the event of independence. It has answered the claim that it could not possibly defend the vast territory of Western Sahara from terrorist or other threats by stating that it would request the help of others until its own forces were fully in place.

It is true that the US has always expressed support for both for the UN facilitated negotiating process and, since 2007, for Morocco’s autonomy plan as ONE possible basis for negotiation. The word ONE is crucial because it implies that other outcomes might emerge and thus ensures that the Polisario stays in the negotiating process instead of retreating into a resumption of the open warfare that prevailed from 1976 to 1991. It was in that year that Morocco and the Polisario agreed to a UN settlement plan that promised a referendum in exchange for a ceasefire. Thirteen years were spent trying to reach agreement on a list of eligible voters, the last seven of them under the supervision of James Baker. In the end, these efforts failed because Morocco decided that a referendum was contrary to its (claims of) sovereignty and, in doing so, got no push back from the Security Council. In 2004, this caused Baker to resign.

The Security Council then substituted direct negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario as an alternative approach. Chaired by three successive UN envoys from the Netherlands (van Walsum), the U.S. (yours truly), and Germany (Kohler), thirteen rounds of face-to-face talks in the presence of Algeria and Mauritania took place from 2007 to 2019. To date, these efforts have also failed because neither party has been prepared to alter its position in the name of compromise. With the resignation of the most recent envoy in 2019 “for health reasons” but more likely out of disgust for Morocco’s lack of respect and efforts to impede his work (as they did with me), the UN Secretary-General is looking for yet another envoy. Those approached to date have demurred, probably because they recognize that Morocco wants someone who will in effect become its advocate instead of remaining neutral and that, as a result, they would be embarking on ‘mission impossible.’

If we are ever to arrive at a settlement, it will be through a drawn-out negotiating process of some kind. President Trump’s decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty destroys any incentive for the Polisario to remain in that process. It also threatens US relations with Algeria, which supports the right of Western Saharans to decide their own future through a referendum, and undercuts the growth of our existing ties in energy, trade, and security and military cooperation. In sum, President Trump’s decision ensures continued tension, instability, and disunion in North Africa.

Pour l’info, my principal source of knowledge on the Western Sahara is Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War, by Tony Hodges (Lawrence Hill Books, 1983). It’s a terrific book (reviewed here in the NYRB), the first one to read on the subject, in which one learns, among many other things, that Morocco has no legitimate claim to the WS—historically or legally—and that the Sahraoui people, historically mostly pastoral nomads, were largely sedentarized by the early 1970s, had developed a national consciousness under Spanish colonialism, and possessed all the attributes of a nation deserving self-determination. Whether or not Morocco will ever surrender the WS—I have my doubts—is another matter, but the conflict remains,

The parallel between the Moroccan occupation of the WS and the Israelis in the West Bank-Gaza is evident (Moroccans naturally go ballistic over the comparison). There are similarities and clear differences (e.g. the cultural proximity of Moroccans and Sahraouis is obviously closer), but on the level of human rights violations, Stephen Zunes, whose left-wing credentials are ironclad, asserted on his Facebook page last week that these are “much worse” in the Western Sahara than in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Returning to the subject of Moroccan Jews and Israel, I want to briefly mention two feature-length films I’ve seen on the subject over the past several years. One is the 2010 ‘Où vas-tu Moshé?’ (Where Are You Going, Moshe?), directed by Hassan Benjelloun, who recounts-reenacts the sudden, literally overnight exodus in 1963 of the Jewish community in his town in the Atlas mountains, which he witnessed as a boy. There was no particular problem between the communities, which co-existed cordially, but the deeply religious Jews dreamed of aliyah to the ‘land of Zion’, of which they concretely knew little, and as emigration to Israel was not authorized at the time, the collective departure was organized clandestinely by the Jewish Agency. So one day the townspeople woke up to find that the local Jews were all gone and with their shops shuttered, having slipped out of town en masse in buses in the middle of the night. It’s an interesting, original film, needless to say.

I read about the film when it opened—it came and went—but heard more about it in 2011 from a former Franco-Moroccan student of mine, who happened to be in Israel-Palestine (working with a Palestinian-oriented NGO), who was so impressed with the film (which she had seen in Canada, where it was co-produced) that she took the initiative to promote it in Israel and organize screenings, particularly in localities with sizable Moroccan communities. It received an enthusiastic reception and showed at the 2011 Maghreb film festival in Ashdod, which saw a good turnout.

The other film is a 2012 documentary, Tinghir-Jerusalem, Echoes from the Mellah, by Kamal Hachkar, a Franco-Moroccan public school teacher in Paris, whose family hailed from Tinghir, a town in southern Morocco, from which Kamal’s parents emigrated to France shortly after his birth in 1979 but which he regularly visited on family vacations while growing up. On one visit he learned, to his surprise, that Tinghir had had a Jewish community but which suddenly departed in the 1960s, to Israel, and which the younger generation in the town knew almost nothing about. Fascinated by the discovery, Hachkar decided to research his ancestral town’s Jewish past and make a documentary—he talked about it at a screening I attended in 2013 and heavily promoted the film on Facebook—which involved interviewing inhabitants of Tinghir about their memories of the town’s Jews, then tracking down the latter in Israel and traveling there to meet them. This part is quite interesting. The Tinghir Jews imagined they were going to a mythical Jerusalem in the mythical land of Zion but when they arrived in Israel they were settled in apartment blocks in soulless development towns. It wasn’t what they were expecting. When Hachkar met the Tinghir old-timers in Israel, who spoke with him in Tamazight, they welcomed him like a long-lost member of the family (watch the moving segment here of one of them on a Skype conversation with Hachkar’s father). It’s too bad it’s not likewise with other Israeli MENA Jews and their countries of origin.

Hachkar’s film was shown on Moroccan television in 2012 and screened publicly, provoking a firestorm, with Hachkar and the film denounced by Islamists and others in the anti-normalization crowd, and which was perhaps stoked by Hachkar’s rather manifest philo-semitism. Jamal Bahmad, who teaches at Mohammed V University in Rabat, has an informative post on this from February 2013 in Africultures, “Tinghir-Jerusalem-Tangier: The Jew, the imam and the camera in Morocco.” But that’s all in the past, so says Hachkar—who now lives in Morocco—in an interview last week in the Moroccan Le 360 website, with the film and its message of fraternity no longer arousing controversy. C’est bien.

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Je recommande la lecture de cette fascinante, étonnante et gratifiante série en six volets, intitulée “Sarajevo-Jérusalem” et publiée dans Le Monde du 13 au 19 août, sur la communauté juive de Sarajevo, présent et passé, de son histoire de bonne entente avec les musulmans bosniaques de la ville – ville où il n’y a jamais eu de ghetto et où l’antisémitisme était quasi inexistant. Il y a eu une douzaine de milliers de juifs à Sarajevo avant la Deuxième guerre mondiale – 20% de sa population, majoritairement séfarade – dont plus de 80% ont été exterminés pendant l’occupation nazie, avec le concours des Oustachis croates. Un certain nombre des rescapés est parti en Israël après 1948, et surtout pendant le siège de Sarajevo par l’armée yougoslave serbe (1992-95) – quoique les juifs de Bosnie-Herzégovine étaient, dans leur majorité, peu pratiquant et pas très sioniste.

Ce qui reste aujourd’hui est une vibrante communauté d’un millier d’âmes qui fait partie intégrante de la ville. L’expérience sarajévienne réfute-t-elle la notion d’une Bosnie historiquement divisée en communautés vivant à couteaux tirés – et s’inscrit en faux plus généralement contre le nationalisme ambiant de notre époque. Comme on peut lire dans le sixième volet, “contrairement au mythe brandi par les nationalistes des trois dernières décennies, la coexistence ne fut pas limitée à une Yougoslavie de Tito condamnée à disparaître après sa mort, mais qu’elle fut ancrée dans l’histoire de la ville durant des siècles, répondant à un sincère besoin de bon voisinage et d’humanité des Sarajéviens.”

L’expérience sarajévienne allait au-delà du bon voisinage. Il y a eu une véritable solidarité entre juifs et musulmans (avec des mariages mixtes). À ce titre, le Jérusalem d’aujourd’hui – l’exacte contraire du vivre-ensemble, où une communauté (en l’occurrence, juive) domine les autres par la force – est implicitement posé en contre-modèle, et pour cause.

L’auteur de cette remarquable série, Rémy Ourdan, connait bien le sujet. Grand reporter au journal Le Monde, il a couvert le siège de Sarajevo durant quatre ans (et a co-réalisé un documentaire dessus) et a fait maints reportages en Israël-Palestine au fil des années.

Voilà les volets de la série:

  1. Juifs de Sarajevo: les héros ordinaires de la ‘Jérusalem de l’Europe’. —— A travers l’histoire des juifs de Sarajevo, voyage dans ces deux villes en quête d’universalité, symboles des peuples du Livre, épicentres des conflits modernes, sur les traces d’une certaine idée, réelle ou imaginaire, de la coexistence…
  2. La saga du sauvetage de la Haggadah de Sarajevo, le manuscrit sépharade le plus précieux au monde. —— Convoité par les nazis en 1942 puis menacé pendant la guerre de Bosnie, le fameux manuscrit enluminé du XIVe siècle a dû être caché à plusieurs reprises.
  3. Les mousquetaires juifs du siège de Sarajevo. —— La communauté juive a, pendant la guerre de Bosnie, lancé une incroyable opération humanitaire, organisant l’évacuation de 2 500 Sarajéviens et portant assistance aux assiégés. Israël a de son côté vu débarquer des centaines de ‘juifs sarajéviens’ très peu juifs…
  4. Les étonnantes coutumes des rabbins sarajéviens. —— A l’instar du dernier rabbin yougoslave, Cadik Danon, c’est toute une lignée de religieux, représentée aujourd’hui par Eliezer Papo et Igor Kozemjakin, qui prend des libertés avec les lois et traditions juives. Une vision du judaïsme proche de l’esprit de Sarajevo.
  5. De l’’éducation sarajévienne’ à la cause palestinienne. —— Fille d’une survivante sarajévienne de Bergen-Belsen, Amira Hass vit depuis vingt-cinq ans en Cisjordanie. Cette reporter et éditorialiste au quotidien ‘Haaretz’ défend sans relâche la cause palestinienne dans les colonnes de son journal.
  6. Sarajevo-Jérusalem, deux villes, deux destins. —— Contrairement à Sarajevo, qui a résisté avec l’énergie du désespoir à la division ethnique de la ville, les habitants de Jérusalem vivent aujourd’hui séparés et la ville sainte est plus fracturée que jamais.

Here’s a related article in Haaretz, dated 19 July 2017, by Sarajevo-based journalist Kate Bartlett: “Why Sarajevo’s tiny Jewish community believes it’s in the safest place in Europe for Jews: In a country where ethnic hatreds run deep, the Jewish community in the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ says it is not subject to anti-Semitic acts and is even enjoying a ‘baby boom’.”

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This is an utterly frivolous post that would not have occurred to me even two hours ago. Turning on the idiot box this evening and zapping with the remote, I came across the Eurovision contest on France 2, which I have no recollection of having ever watched in the past but decided to linger on, in view of the controversy over it taking place in Israel (which, not being a BDSer, I could not care less about myself). The pop songs of the different national contestants not being bad at all, one watches, and along the way there was the popular Israeli singer Idan Raichel, who performed an interval act. I hadn’t heard of him. His song is terrific (here). He is apparently of Eastern European heritage but his music has a lot of Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, and Roma influence. Such has been the case with Israeli music for decades now.

One may deplore Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and the right-wing lurch of the electorate there but Israel remains a strikingly multiracial, multicultural society, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Then there was the Swedish singer John Lundvik, who narrowly missed winning. Really nice song (here). As for his ethnic origins, they’re uncertain (he’s adopted), but he’s the face of Sweden today.

Likewise with Italy’s contestant, Alessandro Mahmood (half Egyptian)—simply known as Mahmood—whose song (here) almost won.

The Washington Post’s fine Paris correspondant, James McAuley, had a dispatch dated March 12th on France’s Eurovision nominee, Bilal Hassani, a gay 19-year-old of Moroccan origin.

As for who won: Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands (here). Pourquoi pas?

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That’s the title of an excellent commentary in the LRB Online by my dear friend Adam Shatz on the aftermath of the April 9th Israeli election. Adam touches on a number of issues on which I have things to say myself, e.g. the salutary debate underway in the Democratic Party over Israel-Palestine. I will take this up, plus the BDS issue (on which I had a post a few years back), à l’occasion.

If one missed it, Adam had a must-read review essay in the August 30, 2018, issue of the LRB on Anshel Pfeffer’s biography, Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Of the numerous analyses of the Israeli election I’ve come across, two merit posting here. One is by Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev, “13 lessons from Netanyahu’s victory for Democrats hoping to beat Trump in 2020.” The lede: “Israel and the United States may be oceans apart, but both are led by wily nationalists-populists who stop at nothing.”

The other is by Haggai Matar of the indispensable +972 website, “Five reasons why voting for Netanyahu was a rational choice for Jewish Israelis.” The lede: “Yes, Netanyahu is facing corruption probes and is practically annexing the West Bank. But for many Jewish Israelis, he has also provided relative security, a better economy, and growing international legitimacy — which makes the unknown alternative much worse.”

To these may be added a pertinent piece by The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff, “For Hamas, Netanyahu’s reelection offers prospects of long-term deal.” The lede: “Prior to the vote, Egyptian mediators made it clear to Gaza’s rulers that if Netanyahu won, an arrangement would be forthcoming — but the calm still faces many pitfalls.”

Issacharoff, who is the best Israeli journalist on the Palestinian beat, is, as one may know, the co-creator of the Israeli TV series ‘Fauda’, whose two seasons I recently binged-watched on Netflix. It’s a very good series, which I will have a post on soon.

À suivre.

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Amos Oz, R.I.P.

He died six days ago but the remembrances and obituaries continue to come in, the latest by Tom Segev—one of the first of Israel’s “New Historians”—in Foreign Policy. One nice tribute is by Gideon Levy, whom I normally find tiresome, in Haaretz. N.B. Between Oz’s unceasing support for the two-state solution malgré tout and Levy’s one-statism, I entirely adhere to Oz’s position.

The main thing I’ll say about Amos Oz, apart from a general sympathy for his left-wing Zionism, is how much I enjoyed his autobiographical novel Tales of Love and Darkness, which is as beautifully translated as translated books can get. I’ve heard likewise about the French translation.

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[update below] [2nd update below]

Subtitle: “The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia.” This is the latest book by journalist and writer Craig Unger, whose previous ones include the 2004 House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties. I’ve been following the Trump-Putin/Russia link like everyone, though haven’t been as riveted to the story as have others. Reading the recent enquêtes by Jonathan Chait, Julia Ioffe, and Blake Hounshell was more than enough to convince me that Trump’s engagement with the Russians is deep and long-standing, and that Vladimir Putin does indeed have the goods on him.

Unger seems to push the story to a whole new level, though. Now I have admittedly not yet seen the book, though did read the article (August 28th) in The Times of Israel, by founding editor David Horovitz, and which is followed by an interview with Unger, “Bestselling US author: ‘Russian asset’ Trump doesn’t truly care for Israel, Jews.” The lede: “Craig Unger, author of ‘House of Trump, House of Putin,’ urges Israel to be wary of dangerous, unprincipled US president, and even more so of Russian leader who helped install him.” It’s an amazing piece, an absolute must-read. Unger details the deep relationship of Trump with the Russian Mafia, whose oligarchs have laundered billions of dollars in Trump’s real estate empire—the American real estate industry being “virtually unregulated,” in Unger’s words. There is, in addition, an important Israel link. Quoting Horovitz:

Unger’s revelations directly impact Israel as well. About half of those 59 named “Russia Connections” are Jewish, and about a dozen of the 59 are Israeli citizens and/or have deep connections to Israel. (Several of those he names, such as Lev Leviev, Alexander Mashkevich and Mikhail Chernoy, are very wealthy and prominent businessmen with direct access to the highest levels of Israel’s elected leadership.)

Those numbers necessarily raise questions about whether Israel too is being compromised by Putin’s Russia — about whether unsavory characters are exploiting Israel’s Law of Return to gain Israeli citizenship and by extension access to the West; about whether Israel, with its own lax financial regulations and inadequate law enforcement, is serving as a conduit for money laundering by Moscow-linked individuals and companies; and about whether Moscow is building strategic relationships with Israeli politicians — as Unger charges it has done to such phenomenal effect with the president of the United States — in order to influence and if necessary subvert Israeli policies in its interest.

Israel is not the focus of the book and Unger says he doesn’t have all the answers, but it’s pretty clear that Bibi Netanyahu is knee-deep—if not higher—in the muck and that Israel is a pretty corrupt place. As is the United States—except that in the US, corruption, a.k.a. K Street, is mainly legal. Also, Vladimir Putin is indeed a danger, and particularly to Europe. Just read the piece, right now.

UPDATE: Specifically on the “House of Trump,” lots of people have been (rhetorically) asking over the past three years if the S.O.B. is a fascist. The real thing. The most recent are journalists Talia Lavin—presently a researcher of far-right extremism and the alt-right at Media Matters—and Andrew Stuttaford—a contributing editor at the National Review—who debated the question, “Is it right to call Trump a fascist?,” in the September issue of Prospect magazine, with Lavin saying ‘yes’, the branleur is indeed one (small f), and Stuttaford ‘no’, that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago may be a lot of things but he’s not that. I agree wholeheartedly with Lavin, ça va de soi, as would, I am sure, my favorite “neocon” intellectual Robert Kagan, whose column from May 2016, “This is how fascism comes to America,” may be reread with profit.

2nd UPDATE: NYT contributor Thomas B. Edsall has a must-read column (Sep. 6th), “Trump and the Koch brothers are working in concert.” The lede: “They disagree about trade, tariffs and immigration, but don’t be fooled. Neither side can get what it really wants without help from the other.”

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That’s the title (in English) of a two-hour (French) documentary on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to 1967, directed by Blanche Finger and the well-known documentary filmmaker William Karel, that aired in two parts on ARTE last week (part 1 on the 1897-1948 period, part 2 from 1948 to ’67). As Le Monde gave it a good review over three-quarters of a page, I thought I’d maybe check it out, though as I’ve seen countless documentaries on the subject, plus read a few books and generally kept up with it over the past fifty-odd years, I didn’t bother. But then I received an email from a faithful AWAV reader here in France, who asked if I had seen it and said that he had, informing me that he “was impressed beyond [his] expectations,” adding that he “thought [he] knew already ‘pas mal’ and…learned a lot.” Tiens.

So following his recommendation, I watched it on the ARTE website, where it may be viewed here (or here) through June 22nd. At a mere two hours, a documentary covering seven decades of such a complex conflict will necessarily be superficial in parts and give short-shrift to key historical moments—when not eliding them altogether—but I thought it well done, politically well-balanced, and with impressive archival footage. What is particularly good, though, is the interviews—with historians, journalists, and intellectuals—that intersperse the narrative (and with voice-over translation). It’s an A-list of interviewees. On the Israeli side are Elie Barnavi, Shlomo Sand, Gadi Taub, Hiam Gouri, Anita Shapira, Dina Porat, Nurit Peled-Elhanen, Amira Hass, and Gideon Levy. They’re somewhat skewed in political orientation, as all are liberal or mainstream Zionists, with the exception of Sand, Hass, and Levy, who are non- or anti-Zionist. No one from the revisionist Zionist camp or clearly on the political right. As for the Palestinians, one hears Sari Nusseibeh, Raja Shehadeh, Elias Sanbar, and Amneh Badran. I wasn’t familiar with the last one but the first three are well-known (and invariably impressive).

I’m not going to launch into a detailed discussion or critique of the documentary here, but will just comment on a few points that struck me. One was the underscoring of the leadership of Amin al-Husseini—the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—in the Palestinian national movement during the mandate era, and of his collaboration with the Nazis during the war. This is a well-known story, of course—though Palestinians understandably don’t like to talk about it and/or downplay the role played by the Mufti, portraying him as a secondary figure—but it was salutary of Finger and Karel to linger on it for a couple of minutes, and to specify that the Mufti’s engagement with the Nazis was not merely circumstantial but also ideological—that he identified with the Nazis’ goals, was a virulent antisemite, had a privileged relationship with Himmler and Eichmann, and was ready to participate with the latter in an implementation of the Final Solution in an eventual German occupation of Palestine. Pas glorieux pour les Palestiniens.

Second comment. In discussing the Nakba, Elias Sanbar contextualized the relative indifference of Europeans at the time to the images of Palestinian refugees in tents, correctly observing that the European continent was already coping with millions of refugees and displaced persons, not to mention the material destruction of the war, the collapse of economies, and you name it. Given what Europe had just been through—not to mention the Jews themselves—what is now called the Nakba just didn’t seem like that big of a deal (which I discussed in a previous post).

Third comment. On the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948, the narrator says that “la communauté internationale évite de s’intéresser aux réfugiés qui errent sans savoir où y aller.” Apart from the fact that the majority of Palestinian refugees were, in fact, internally displaced persons inside Palestine—and not refugees stricto sensu—this statement is untrue. The United Nations created an agency, UNRWA, in 1949 that was dedicated specifically to the Palestinians—and with an infrastructure and funding that turned the Palestinians into what was surely the most privileged refugee population in history. As for a political solution to their plight, repatriation was off the table—and particularly after the collapse of the Lausanne Conference—leaving as the only alternative integration into the countries, and with full rights of citizenship, where the refugees happened to find themselves—but which all the states, with the qualified exception of Jordan, refused. There wasn’t much the rest of the “international community” could do about this.

Fourth comment. Amneh Badran mentions the 750,000 Palestinians who were “expelled” before, during, and after 1948. This is inaccurate, as we know that the majority of Palestinians—on the order of 60-65%—who left their homes took flight—out of fear or for other reasons—and were not driven out at the point of a bayonet. But further along, Dina Porat talks about the 830,000 Jews (her number) who were “expelled” from Arab countries. One reads and hears this a lot from Israelis and their supporters but it is utterly untrue. Moreover, it’s a falsehood. In point of fact, Jews were not “expelled” from any Arab country. There were indeed anti-Jewish riots and acts of violence in certain ones but no outright expulsion. Let’s go down the list:

  • Yemen: The documentary has images of impoverished Yemeni Jews airlifted to Israel 1949—and who were viewed by Ashkenazis as being even more “backward” than the Arabs. But that’s just it: it was an airlift organized by Israel—Operation Magic Carpet—and authorized by the King of Yemen, not an expulsion.
  • Iraq: The large Jewish population—which had been subjected to pogroms and violence—was not allowed to leave in 1948. In 1951 the Iraqi state reversed itself and allowed Jews a one-way ticket out—and with the stripping of Iraqi citizenship and spoliation of their property—and that the majority understandably took in view of the circumstances, but they weren’t obliged to.
  • Syria: The small Jewish community was not allowed to leave before 1991. For the anecdote, I remember the Jewish-owned clothing and other stores in the modern center of Damascus—identifiable from the mezuzahs on the doors—on my first visit there in 1985. A couple of Jewish-American friends who visited the city in the same decade went looking for Jews in the quarter adjacent to the Souk Al-Hamidiyah, found some families, and forged friendly contact. Those families are surely now all in Israel or the US. Can’t blame them for taking that one-way ticket.
  • Lebanon: The small Jewish community in Beirut emigrated during the civil war (1975-90), along with many thousands of other Lebanese.
  • Egypt: The Jews here were particular in the Arab world, as the majority—on the order of 80%—were not indigenous to the country, having migrated to Egypt in the mid-late 19th century from lands along the Mediterranean. Jews were shown the door beginning in 1948—which was naturally stoked by anti-Israel sentiment and, not insignificantly, by the antisemitism of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an important force—but along with other diaspora populations (notably Greeks and Italians), all viewed as foreigners by Egyptians.
  • Libya: The situation of the Jews was pretty bad, so when they were allowed to emigrate in 1949, most packed their bags. But it was not an expulsion.
  • The Maghreb: Not a single Jew was expelled from Morocco, where the sizable Jewish population began religiously motivated aliyah to Israel in 1948, and which was organized surreptitiously by the Jewish Agency after 1956 and through the 1960s, as explicit departure for Israel was not allowed. Tunisia: the bulk of the Jewish population emigrated from 1956 through ’67, roughly half to France, half to Israel. In the case of Algeria, most of the 135,000 Jews, who were full French citizens—though indigenous to Algeria in their totality—left in the mass exodus of Europeans in the final chaotic months of Algérie française. They and the pieds-noirs were fearful, rightly or wrongly, and fled to France. It was their choice. No one told them to leave.

Conclusion: It would be nice if Israelis and others would stop going on about Jews having been “expelled” from Arab countries in 1948 and after, because they weren’t.

Fifth comment. In his email, the faithful AWAV reader mentioned the “six-day war hoax,” referring to the part of the documentary on 1967, which described the sabre-rattling by neighboring Arab states—particularly Egypt—the supposed fear of the Israeli government and IDF high command that Israel’s existence was threatened by the massing of Egyptian troops in the Sinai—on Israel’s “Auschwitz borders”—and that provoked the Israeli preventive strike on June 5th. But as the documentary goes on to reveal, the Israeli military and political leadership knew full well that the Arab states posed no military threat, that Nasser did not want war and tried to avoid it, and that Israel’s existence was in no way threatened, but that the Israelis decided to attack their neighbors anyway, with the aim of seizing and annexing territory.

That the Israeli leadership exaggerated the Egyptian military threat and was confident of victory in the event of war is well understood. But this does not mean the whole thing was a hoax. Nasser did, after all, order the UN troops out of the Sinai and he did close the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, which was itself a casus belli. But, above all, there was the drumbeat of blood-curdling rhetoric coming out of Egypt—some of which was broadcast in Hebrew directly to Israelis—which the documentary shows. So one sees fanaticized Egyptians chanting, as the subtitles render it, “Nasser, nous sommes tous avec toi! Nous allons tous les exterminer, les brûler, les égorger jusqu’au dernier!” The threats to “exterminate Israel,” throw the Jews into the sea, and the like were heard by all Israelis in the run-up to the war. One could hardly expect a people who had experienced genocide a mere two decades earlier to brush off such calls to mass murder. If the Egyptians were asking Israel to attack them, they couldn’t have done a better job. As Elie Barnavi—une vraie voix de sagesse—put it in speaking to the apparent confidence of the IDF on the eve of the ’67 war, “Nous ne l’avons pas vécu comme ça, ni la population, ni l’armée, et certainement pas les politiciens. Il y avait eu vraiment un moment d’angoisse. La guerre était inévitable, et elle ne s’est pas déroulée comme on imaginait, parce que Hussein est entré dans ce cercle vicieux…” Indeed, if King Hussein had not placed his army under Egyptian command and then launched an unprovoked artillery barrage on West Jerusalem, the 1967 war would have resembled the one in 1956, so Barnavi asserts, involving only Egypt; but Jordan’s entry transformed it into a regional war, resulting in the fateful occupation of the West Bank. Hélas.

ARTE also broadcast last week a one-hour documentary by Finger and Karel, “Histoires d’Israël,” consisting of interviews with ten leading Israeli writers—Amos Oz, David Grossman, Avraham B. Yehoshua, Alona Kimhi, Meir Shalev, Zeruya Shalev, Eshkol Nevo, Etgar Keret, Benny Barbash, and Ronit Matalon (who died this past December, at age 58)—reflecting on their country. My faithful AWAV reader sent a follow-up email on this one, writing: “Great people. Exemplary ethics. Lucidity and bravery. Especially the women. This film almost brought tears in my eyes.” I agree. It may be viewed on the ARTE website here (or here) through June 23rd.

On this general topic, the American-Israeli historian Martin Kramer has an article in Mosaic magazine, dated April 2nd, on “The May 1948 vote that made the State of Israel,” in which he reveals, entre autres, that the Peoples Administration—the proto-cabinet of the Israeli government-to-be, headed by David Ben Gurion—voted on May 12, 1948, i.e. two days before the proclamation of the State of Israel, not to officially recognize the borders in the 1947 UN partition plan as definitive. In other words, the Zionist leadership decided right off the bat that Israel would not have fixed borders, that its borders would be whatever territory it could conquer and subsequently annex. This would seem obvious in view of Israel’s behavior over the past seventy years but, as Kramer documents, the reason it is so is because it was explicitly debated and decided in a formal vote by the Zionist leadership.

I’ll certainly have more on all this before too long.

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By United Kingdom Government, signed by Arthur Balfour (Public Domain)

[update below] [2nd update below]

I hadn’t intended to mark yesterday’s centennial of the Balfour Declaration, as I have nothing in particular to say about it. And not being a Jew, and thus neither a Zionist nor anti-Zionist, I do not have personal or identitarian sentiments on the matter. As for the Palestinians, one may understand their collective view of Balfour, though without sympathizing with their fixation on the Declaration a century after the fact—e.g. the laughably absurd demand that the British issue an apology—as if the Balfour Declaration could possibly be abrogated or reversed—and which, in any case, did not ineluctably lead to the Nakba or other future calamities that befell the Palestinians (or which they brought upon themselves, as the case may be).

I did come across one essay, in the Financial Times, by the historian Simon Schama on Balfour and the birth of Israel, which I think is worth reading. Schama mentions, among other things, the predicament of the Jews caught between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies in the final years of the First World War, and then caught between the Whites and Red Army in the Russian civil war that followed. If there was ever an argument for the necessity of a Jewish homeland, it was then, precisely when the Declaration was issued.

France was a good country for Jews at the time—Glücklich wie Gott in Frankreich—then was not twenty-five years later, and then became so again. The situation nowadays is complex. Institutionally and with the larger society, there is no problem, but for many Jews in everyday life, it is getting worse, as detailed in the headline story in Le Monde dated today: “En France, l’antisémitisme ‘du quotidien’ s’est ancré et se propage.” The lede: “Insultes, intimidations, violences physiques, tags… Des juifs racontent des agressions devenues banales et qui se multiplient depuis 2000.” Jews, particularly in the Paris banlieue, are increasingly subjected to intimidation, including physical, in public space and even in their homes, for the sole fact of being Jews. As for the perpetrators, they are, as always, lumpen youths of post-colonial immigrant origin. It is an outrageous situation, which, for the present moment at least, is overwhelming the public authorities and the Jewish community itself.

Adding to the outrage, one learns that the stele of Ilan Halimi in Bagneux—the banlieue where he was sequestered and tortured for three weeks in the winter of 2006, in the most horrific antisemitic crime in France since the Second World War to that date—was profaned in the early hours of November 1st (and not for the first time). Now I am opposed to the death penalty but would maybe make an exception for the perpetrators of such a heinous act, as they deserve no less—or, better yet, that they be subjected to the same calvaire as was Halimi at the hands of the gang des barbares.

On this subject, a feature-length film, Tout, tout de suite (in English: Everything Now), directed by the well-known actor/director/screenwriter Richard Berry, was released in May 2016. It was the second film on Ilan Halimi and the gang des barbares, the first being Alexandre Arcady’s 24 Days, which came out two years prior and on which I had a blog post at the time. Arcady’s film was recounted from the perspective of Ilan’s mother, Ruth, and focused on the police investigation. Berry’s version, though, reenacted what happened to Ilan and in excruciating detail. To call it a horror film is almost an understatement. The Youssouf Fofana character (actor Steve Achiepo) was the most terrifying sadistic psychopath I’d seen on the big screen since Javier Bardem in the Coen Brothers’ ‘No Country for Old Men’. I was originally going to include Berry’s film in my post on recent French films on terrorism, because a terrorist act it was. The pic is almost impossible to watch at points, with the violence, sadism of the gang des barbares, and knowing what is going to happen. It was no doubt for this reason that the film was an utter, total box office failure. It sold some 16,000 tickets, i.e., next to nothing, before vanishing from the salles. I saw it on the first Friday night after it opened, at the MK2 Bibliothèque multiplex. There were maybe a dozen people in the theater. Now much of the target audience would, for religious reasons, not have gone to the cinema that night, but Jews—who were traumatized by what happened to Ilan Halimi—clearly decided in their totality that they really didn’t need to spend two hours watching a nice young Jewish man be tortured to death by lowlife antisemitic dregs, and for the sole crime of being Jewish. Conclusion: Richard Berry should have never made the film in the first place.

Ilan Halimi is buried in Jerusalem, as his family knew that, in France, his tombstone would be under permanent threat of profanation. Given what happened to the stele the other day, their fears were well-founded.

UPDATE: Joann Sfar—the well-known comic artist, novelist, and film director—in linking to the Le Monde article mentioned above, offered this commentary on his Facebook page

Je ne sais pas si on se le raconte aussi clairement mais les tueries de Merah ont marqué un tournant dont la façon dont la communauté juive parle des agressions. Avant ce drame, chacun avait à coeur de faire connaître les agressions lorsqu’elles avaient lieu. Depuis, c’est l’inverse. Pour une raison simple: On a découvert que chaque attaque suscitait des vocations. Je voudrais qu’on rappelle les messages anonymes infects qu’a reçue l’école Ozar Hatorah après les massacres. Je me souviens que le carré juif du cimetière de Nice, celui où repose ma mère, a été profané quelques jours après. On se souvient, tous, enfin, que ces tueries ont été le point de départ d’une recrudescence de ces violences antijuives. Donc oui, de plus en plus, lorsqu’ils rentrent chez eux le pardessus recouvert de crachats, les juifs religieux ferment leurs gueules. Et les juifs qui n’ont pas l’air juifs ne savent plus comment se planquer. On leur a dit que les écoles publiques n’étaient plus pour eux. On ne compte plus ces réunions honteuses durant lesquelles des chefs d’établissements annoncent officieusement aux familles qu’il vaudrait mieux scolariser les enfants ailleurs. Puis il y a eu Merah et les écoles privées sont devenues elles aussi un lieu de danger. Depuis deux ans ce sont les agressions aux domiciles, qui se multiplient. Pourquoi mes mots? Pour insister sur le fait que contrairement à ce que croient trop de gens, les juifs ne passent pas leur temps à dénoncer, ou à pleurnicher. Au contraire. Sur ces affaires, la plupart des victimes ferment leurs gueules, se font le plus petites possibles, en espérant que l’orage passe, pour ne pas donner des idées à d’autres salopards. Il ne va pas passer, l’orage. Tout le monde a très bien compris. Qu’est-ce qu’on doit faire? Chaque réponse qui me vient me donne envie de me cogner la tête contre un mur. Je n’ose plus dire aux victimes que je croise que “la solution est l’éducation”. Si je dis ça je prends une baffe. Ce n’est pas aux victimes de faire quelque chose ou de trouver des solutions.

2nd UPDATE: Martin Kramer, for whom I have high regard as a historian of the Middle East, has two articles in Mosaic Magazine, dated June 5th and 28th: “The forgotten truth about the Balfour Declaration” and “The Balfour Declaration was more than the promise of one nation.”

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[update below] [2nd update below]

Emmanuel Macron gave a powerful speech last Sunday, on the 75th anniversary of the Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv, in which—following François Hollande’s equally powerful speech of 2012—he reaffirmed the responsibility of the French state in one of the greatest crimes committed on French soil on a single day in the modern era. Macron’s words were, among other things, a pointed jab at Marine Le Pen, who, in the final phase of the presidential campaign, mouthed the now thoroughly discredited notion that the French state bore no responsibility for the roundup of Jews in France during the German occupation—and which was astonishingly repeated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon—and to his discredit—in an anti-Macron broadside after the event.

Macron’s otherwise excellent speech did, however, contain one sentence—a single word, in fact—that has caused a storm of indignation and polemics on social media—and biting critiques by gauchistes and other tiersmondistes—which was the equating of anti-Zionism with antisemitism: “Alors oui, nous ne céderons rien aux messages de haine, nous ne céderons rien à l’antisionisme car il est la forme réinventée de l’antisémitisme” [emphasis on the definite article “la”]. (N.B. The official English translation of Macron’s speech does not accurately translate the phrase in question.)

Now it is incontestable that “Zionist” has become a code word for “Jew” on the far right and the gauche rouge-brune, not to mention among Arabs, Muslims, and all sorts of other people, and that those who use it as such are indeed antisemites. Ça va de soi. À propos, the Irish Marxist writer-militant Richard Seymour had a well-informed essay in the très gauchiste Jacobin webzine, dated August 8th 2014, on “The anti-Zionism of fools,” in which he wrote that “[h]owever distorted and exaggerated, antisemitism [cloaked as anti-Zionism] is a real current in France that needs to be confronted.” But to assert—as Macron appeared to do—that everyone who calls him/herself an anti-Zionist is ipso facto a Jew-hater is not only empirically false but dangerous. It is also bullshit.

Zionism needs to be defined, of course, and what it means to be opposed to it. The fact is, many, if not most, people out there who casually say they’re anti-Zionist don’t actually know what Zionism is. If the question is put to them—and I have done so on numerous occasions over the years, particularly to Maghrebi friends—the response is usually framed as opposition to the occupation and all the bad things Israel does. The understanding of the term is, to put it mildly, not informed.

As for what Zionism does in fact mean, the Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua offered, in a 2013 tribune in Haaretz, a succinct definition

A Zionist is a person who [prior to 1948] desires or supports the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which in the future will become the state of the Jewish people. This is based on what Herzl said: “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.”

The key word in this definition is “state,” and its natural location is the Land of Israel because of the Jewish people’s historical link to it. (…)

A Zionist, therefore, is a Jew who supported the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, and not necessarily one who actually settled in the land. Herzl himself and many Zionist leaders never settled in the land, yet you wouldn’t hesitate to call them Zionists.

Yehoshua specifies

Zionism is not an ideology. If the definition of ideology, according to the Hebrew Encyclopedia, is as follows − “A cohesive, systematic combination of ideas, insights, principles and imperatives that finds expression in the particular worldview of a sect, a party or a social class” − then Zionism cannot be considered an ideology, but merely a very broad platform for various ideologies that may even contradict one another.

Ever since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the definition of “Zionist” has been revised, since we don’t need to establish another state. Therefore, its definition is as follows: A Zionist is a person who accepts the principle that the State of Israel doesn’t belong solely to its citizens, but to the entire Jewish people. The practical expression of this commitment is the Law of Return. (…)

According to Yehoshua’s definition of what it means to be a “Zionist” today—to which I have no particular objection—a certain number of Jews themselves—American, French, etc, who are, for the most part, on the left—would have to call themselves anti-Zionists, as they do not consider that Israel belongs to them—at least any more than it should to a diaspora Palestinian—that Israel should indeed belong only to its citizens, but which includes the 20% of the Israeli population that is not Jewish. The suggestion that a Jew—or, say, a Palestinian citizen of Israel—who feels strongly that Israel should be a state only for its actual citizens—with all enjoying exactly the same rights and duties, regardless of confession—is, ipso facto, an antisemite is not only preposterous but also libelous. This kind of demagogic accusation only discredits the person making it.

The journalist Sylvain Cypel—formerly of Le Monde and who lived in Israel for most of his formative years, including university—has a pointed response to Macron in the Orient XXI webzine, “Non, l’antisionisme n’est pas un antisémitisme réinventé.” The key passage:

Quant au fond, l’assimilation de l’antisionisme à une nouvelle mouture de l’antisémitisme est une erreur funeste. Cette assertion est l’une des clefs de voûte depuis des décennies de la hasbara, la communication israélienne. Et plus Israël s’enfonce dans la domination coloniale d’un autre peuple, les Palestiniens, plus l’assertion «antisionisme égal antisémitisme» est répétée pour stigmatiser quiconque critique cette domination.

En soi, la méthode consistant à délégitimer la critique en démonisant son auteur est vieille comme la politique. Ainsi Joseph Staline et ses émules assimilaient-ils toute critique du communisme soviétique à du «fascisme». Si les fascistes étaient viscéralement anticommunistes, cela ne faisait pas de tous les contempteurs du régime soviétique des fascistes. Mais les staliniens continuaient à vilipender leurs adversaires, sans distinction, sous ce vocable infamant. Aujourd’hui, un Robert Mugabe, au Zimbabwe, qualifie régulièrement ses adversaires de «défenseurs de l’apartheid». Que des racistes patentés figurent parmi les dénonciateurs de l’autocrate zimbabwéen est évident. Mais que tous soient des nostalgiques de la ségrégation raciale est une accusation délirante et dérisoire. On pourrait multiplier les exemples.

Il en va de même de l’idée selon laquelle l’antisionisme serait la version moderne de l’antisémitisme. D’abord parce que l’antisionisme n’est pas une idéologie très définie. Historiquement, il a consisté à récuser l’idée d’une solution nationaliste à la question juive. Aujourd’hui, il y a en Israël des gens qui se disent antisionistes par simple hostilité à une occupation des Palestiniens menée au nom même du sionisme. D’autres se disent «post-sionistes» parce qu’à leurs yeux, l’ambition du sionisme étant la constitution d’un État juif, son existence annule d’autorité la nécessité du sionisme. Je connais enfin des Israéliens tout à fait sionistes qui sont si révulsés par la politique de Nétanyahou qu’ils se disent honorés d’être traités d’«antisionistes» par un gouvernement d’extrême droite raciste et colonialiste. Ces derniers remplissent par exemple les rangs d’une ONG comme Breaking the Silence, qui regroupe des soldats dénonçant les crimes commis par leur armée contre des Palestiniens et dont plusieurs des dirigeants sont des officiers et aussi des juifs pieux. Ils ne sont pas antisémites. Ils sont même l’honneur d’Israël. Quant à moi, je considère le sionisme comme une question philosophiquement désuète. En revanche, si le sionisme, comme le prône Nétanyahou, consiste à exiger la reconnaissance d’Israël pour mieux empêcher le droit des Palestiniens à l’autodétermination, alors je suis antisioniste. Serais-je donc antisémite?

So if Netanyahu and others on the Israeli right define Zionism as giving Jews the right to settle anywhere in Eretz Israel—i.e. in Judea and Samaria—does this mean that those who oppose such settlement are antisemites?

The Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, in a “Lettre ouverte à M. le Président de la République française,” published in Mediapart, rhetorically asked if Macron, “[l]’ancien étudiant en philosophie, l’assistant de Paul Ricœur a-t-il si peu lu de livres d’histoire, au point d’ignorer que nombre de juifs, ou de descendants de filiation juive se sont toujours opposés au sionisme sans, pour autant, être antisémites?” My dear friend Adam Shatz, in a social media commentary on Sand’s letter, remarked

on the unfortunate and tendentious conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Macron’s otherwise admirable Vel d’Hiv address. Sand eviscerates Macron’s claims, but the pièce de résistance is his remark that thanks to Israel’s self-definition as the state of the Jewish people (not of the people – even the Jews! – who live in it), the state belongs far more to diaspora Jews like BHL and Alain Finkielkraut than it does to Sand’s Israeli-Palestinian students, whose Hebrew in some cases is better than his!

To oppose such ethno-racial exclusion inside Israel, as well as the apartheid in the Occupied Territories, is hardly to engage in anti-Semitic discrimination, much less call for the “destruction” of Israel or the Jews. (This is a well known Zionist canard, which curiously asks us to imagine that without such discrimination, the state itself would crumble: so much for the dream of “normalizing” the Jews in a modern nation-state.) Rather, to critique actually existing Zionism is to oppose discrimination, racism and oppression, which, outside Israel (and among a dwindling number of Israeli Jews), has been a venerable Jewish tradition. As Sand points out, some of the finest members of this dissenting tradition have been French: Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Maxime Rodinson, Esther Benbassa, Daniel Bensaïd, Rony Brauman. If the new French president, justly praised for his intellect, thinks anti-Zionism is simply the contemporary form of anti-Semitism (which is not to say it never is), and if he thinks he’s combating anti-Semitism by cozying up to the likes of Netanyahu (who is all too happy to cover for Hungarian Jew haters sympathetic to Israel), he still has a lot of learning to do.

An AWAV friend—a secular French Jew who would no doubt refer to himself as non- or anti-Zionist—pointed to one possible unintended consequence of Macron’s words, which is its implication for France’s hate speech laws, notably the 1972 Loi Pleven:

Puisque antisionisme = antisémitisme, il sera donc désormais illégal en France de critiquer publiquement le sionisme et tout particulièrement d’émettre des réserves sur les pratiques des défenseurs du sionisme tel que mis en œuvre actuellement en marge du droit international par l’état d’Israël, au hasard et par exemple le développement constant des colonies en Cisjordanie occupée. Critiquer cela équivaut peu ou prou à tenir des propos antisémites.

Then there was the very presence of Netanyahu at the Vel’ d’Hiv commemoration. I initially chalked this up to diplomacy and realpolitik, as an astute maneuver by Macron to cultivate a relationship with the Israeli PM (as he did with Putin and Trump). But the symbolism of Bibi at the ceremony was difficult to swallow for many—president Reuven Rivlin would have been more palatable—and particularly the place of honor of the Israeli flag. The Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv is a French (and German) story, not an Israeli one. It has nothing to do with Israel (which of course did not exist at the time). There was, objectively speaking, no good reason to invite any high Israeli dignitary to the event. Now Macron could have perhaps justified the Netanyahu invitation if this would eventually yield diplomatic dividends. But as we were reminded during his visit to Hungary last week, Netanyahu couldn’t care less about France or the European Union, both of which he disdains. The notion that France can exercise any influence over Israel when it comes to the “peace process” is the height of naïveté. So rolling out the red carpet for Bibi last Sunday was ill-advised on Macron’s part.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

UPDATE: Emmanuel Macron, prior to the anti-Zionist/antisemitism brouhaha, got into hot water on social media for his words at the G20 press conference in Hamburg, on July 8th, in which he made a remark on the fertility rate in Africa that rubbed people the wrong way, including well-known specialists of the continent. Some on social media even went so far as call Macron a “racist” and with others comparing what he said in Hamburg with Nicolas Sarkozy’s notorious 2007 Dakar speech. As for the latter, it was precisely that: a text written by Sarkozy’s top political adviser and that Sarkozy presumably read over before delivering. What Macron said at the G20 was extemporaneous. He was responding to a question at a press conference from an Ivorian journalist about development aid to Africa and who mentioned the Marshall Plan, and with Macron responding as to why the Marshall Plan parallel is not an appropriate one for Africa today (watch it here, from 25:26). He would have no doubt rephrased what he said about African demography if he had had advance knowledge of the question—and perhaps not pronounced the word “civilisationnel“—but the fact of the matter is, nothing Macron said, substantively-speaking, was ill-considered or wrong. To call him “racist” is so ridiculous as to not merit a response. And what he said cannot be compared to Sarkozy’s Dakar speech. Case closed.

Watching Macron at the press conference, one is struck by how smart, knowledgeable, and well-spoken he is. The total, 180° opposite of his counterpart outre-Atlantique, ça va de soi.

2nd UPDATE: Jacobin magazine has published (August 2nd) an English translation of Shlomo Sand’s “open letter to Emmanuel Macron.”

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In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War—which is coming up in ten days—I am linking to a terrific essay I just read (h/t Michel Persitz), “The Tallest Man in Ramallah,” by the American novelist Michael Chabon, on his roaming the West Bank with the Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour. Numerous articles will be appearing over the coming weeks taking stock of Israel’s fifty-year-long stranglehold over the Palestinian territories—of its insidiousness but also absurdity—but Chabon’s will surely stand out as one of the best. It is posted here on the Literary Hub website and will appear in the book Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, edited by Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, that will be published on May 30th by Harper Collins.

UPDATE: If one missed it, Raja Shehadeh had a must-read op-ed in the NYT (May 20th), “Life behind Israel’s checkpoints.”

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shimon-peres-in-sderot-2014_photo-by-menahem-kahana-afp-getty-images

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I hadn’t intended to write an R.I.P. post on him, as I didn’t have anything in particular to say. I had a generally positive view of him during the ’80s and particularly into the ’90s and Oslo, viewing him as a man of peace and all that—I was initially taken in by his overhyped vision of a “new Middle East”—but changed my view in 1996 with Operation Grapes of Wrath and the Qana massacre. I could never have sentiments of sympathy toward Shimon Peres after that—and particularly after he blew the ’96 election, turning what should have been an easy win in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination into a defeat at the hands of the ghastly Bibi Netanyahu. Grapes of Wrath was all for naught, as was the assassination of Yahya Ayyash—which Peres ordered and for manifestly electoralist reasons—which triggered the wave of Hamas revenge terror attacks, thereby causing the Israeli electorate to lurch right. Peres could have waited for a more opportune moment to give Ayyash his just desserts. Hélas.

If Peres had won the ’96 election, would the Oslo peace process have culminated in a final status agreement? Likely not. Peres did head the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in January 2001, during which the Israelis made unprecedented concessions, but there was no follow-up and with the outlines of an agreement discussed at Taba rejected by Yasser Arafat and received coolly by Ehud Barak. The two sides were too far apart—the best deal the Israelis could have offered the Palestinians was not one they would accept—so the final status negotiations were doomed to fail, regardless of the identity of the Israeli prime minister.

In lieu of going on with my thoughts, I will link to worthwhile commentaries on Peres I’ve read over the past few days. A particularly interesting one is by Uri Avnery, “The Saga of Sisyphus,” posted on his Gush Shalom website four days before Peres’s death. Peres and Avnery were the same age—born 39 days apart—and both arrived in Israel at age 10—Avnery from Germany, Peres from Poland—and met for the first time at age 30. Avnery knew Peres well and for over sixty years. And he didn’t like him too much, though, in his telling, not many people did. Lots of good stuff in his piece.

One episode Avnery gets in to is Peres’s close relationship with France during the 1950s. This is a well-known story here, where Peres was always respected and received as a friend, and by both the left—the PS and Israeli Labor Party being fraternal members of the Socialist International—and the right. And his spoken French wasn’t bad—something that is always appreciated here—though he had forgotten how to conjugate verbs, as I noted in the early ’90s during one of his television interviews. I think he did his interviews in Hebrew after that one…

Other remembrances:

Gershom Gorenberg in The American Prospect, “The Reinventor: Which Shimon Peres will be remembered depends on what his successors do.”

Adam Garfinkle on the Foreign Policy Research Institute website, “Shimon Peres (1923-2016): A man of contradictions?”

Aaron David Miller on the CNN website, “Why Israel will miss Shimon Peres.”

And these commentaries:

Akiva Eldar in Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, “Fulfilling vision of Peres requires dismantling settlements.”

Lisa Goldman in +972, “The subtle nuances of Obama’s eulogy for Shimon Peres.”

Gideon Levy in Haaretz, “Shimon Peres, outsider who wanted so much to be loved.”

Leila Shahid offers a perspective from the Palestinian peace camp in an interview in L’Obs, “‘Shimon Peres a aussi contribué à tuer le camp de la paix’.” Curious view, as Shahid reproaches Peres for having abandoned the cause of peace by serving as Ariel Sharon’s foreign minister in 2001-02—during the Second Intifada, when it was precisely the Palestinians who were delivering body blows to the Israeli peace camp—and not Peres’s actions in 1996.

I haven’t yet seen any remembrances or good commentaries by French analysts or political actors. If I do, will post.

UPDATE: Hanan Ashrawi, who had ongoing dealings with Peres during the Oslo process, assesses his legacy a NYT op-ed (October 3rd), “Shimon Peres: The peacemaker who wasn’t.”

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Elie Wiesel at Yad Vashem, 18 December 1986 (photo: AFP/Archives/Sven Nackstrand)

Elie Wiesel at Yad Vashem, 18 December 1986 (photo: AFP/Archives/Sven Nackstrand)

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I have nothing in particular to say about him that isn’t being said by everyone else. One salutes him as a witness to the Holocaust and for the role he played in instilling the memory of this—of the greatest crime in the history of the modern world—in the collective consciousness (in Europe and North America at least). As it happens, I am presently teaching a section on the Second World War in France—in which I naturally cover the Holocaust and history of antisemitism—in a course for American undergraduates on a summer program in Paris. The day before yesterday we went to the Père Lachaise cemetery, mainly to see the steles and memorials to the wartime deportees and other victims of Nazi barbarism. We lingered for a minute at the stele to the memory of those who perished at the Auschwitz III-Monowitz Buna slave labor camp, where Elie Wiesel was deported to at age 15, before the transfer to Buchenwald in the final months of the war.

Wiesel was not without blemishes, taking regrettable positions on a number of issues, e.g. supporting the Iraq war, uncritically apologizing for Israel. As Peter Beinart, entre autres, has covered that well, I won’t. The obituary in The Forward by Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, “Elie Wiesel, the moral force who made sure we will never forget evil of Holocaust,” is worth reading. Note, in particular, Berenbaum’s discussion of Wiesel’s Francophilia

Offered French citizenship upon his arrival [in France in 1945], Wiesel did not understand the question and consequently refused the invitation. His statelessness and the intricacies of traveling without a passport was the reason he stated for becoming an American citizen a decade later. Thus, unlike many survivors who immigrated to the United States, Wiesel regarded France – and not America – as the land in which he rebuilt his life in freedom.

Those who worked with him in France remembered his intense desire to learn French and to absorb French literature and the thrills of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, the purveyors of French existentialism. He had a passion for music, and earned his meager living by leading a choir and to his final days he loved to sing. He was determined to master the language. Jack Kolbert wrote that “Wiesel chose to write in French just as a convert chooses a new religion.”

Wiesel wrote: “I owe France my secular education, my language and my career as a writer… It was in France that I found compassion and humanity. It was in France that I found generosity and friendship. It was in France that I discovered the other side, the brighter side of mankind.”

Wiesel was kinder than many French Jews – and even many contemporary Frenchmen and women – who recoil at the French cooperation with the Germans in the deportation of Jewish children and the betrayal of non-citizens and even French Jews.

Like Samuel Beckett, Wiesel chose to write in his adopted language French – neither Yiddish even though Yiddish was his native tongue, nor Hebrew, the sacred tongue in which he pursued his journalistic career. And not even English, the language of the land in which he lived for more the last three score years of his life.

Also see the obituary in The New York Times by Joseph Berger.

UPDATE: I asked Holocaust scholar and friend Marc Masurovsky for his thoughts on Elie Wiesel. His response:

Elie Wiesel? He created a persona and fell into the trap of that persona. I give him tremendous credit for having put into accessible words the trauma that he survived. But I fault him for not having done enough for the cause of restitution. In fact, he never spoke out on behalf of those who sought looted art. If he had, I believe that Holocaust educational institutions would have been placed in an uncomfortable position and would have had to choose whether or not to heed his message. That’s how influential he has been and will continue to be. I do credit him for having dissented with the pre-Holocaust museum board for having presented a more spiritual vision of what a Museum should look like. But then, that’s why we don’t put poets in charge of policy and politics.

Following up

One more point. The US Holocaust Memorial Council almost threw Elie out because he threw his support behind the first iteration of the New York-based Museum for Jewish Heritage, at a time when the USHMM was not even built. Also, he supported a competing design for the museum, proposed by Israeli architects which would have been a superb memorial, devoid of content.

2nd UPDATE: The well-known gauchiste political scientist Corey Robin, playing the empêcheur de tourner en rond, has fired off a dissenting view on Elie Wiesel on his blog.

3rd UPDATE: Another Holocaust scholar friend of mine, who asked not to be named here—as he doesn’t wish to publicly debate the issue—wrote this to me about Elie Wiesel:

I deliberately didn’t post anything on Wiesel, besides the Beinart piece from Haaretz. Weisel was blind to the nature and extent of Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, and what made this so lamentable was the fact that he was the public face of defending human rights and “never again.” The letters to Weisel by Arthur Hertzburg reveal the hypocrisy or lack of moral clarity on Weisel’s part. Regarding Holocaust Studies, among specialists Weisel was regarded as a pop culture bullshit artist, claiming he had read everything there is on the subject, while remaining pretty shallow when he appeared in academic forums. Of course, there was his personal experience on which to draw, but not much more than that (despite a huge expanse of scholarly analysis). On television, he was always predictable with that studied sad, perplexed expression. One of my close friends was on the original Holocaust Museum committee, and almost quit over how much campaigning there had been to get Weisel a Nobel prize, sometimes side tracking the work at hand. During the last Gaza war, I tried to get a few of the younger Holocaust scholars to join me in addressing an open letter to Weisel, very much along the lines that Hertzberg already had laid out. No one dared to do so, though they were embarrassed by Weisel’s silence and deflecting the crucial moral issues regarding how a Jewish state, born of the Holocaust, could act with such indifference to the taking of innocent lives. That said, before the Holocaust had become a major issue and a field of study, Weisel stood almost alone in keeping the subject from passing into oblivion like so much of what had happened to civilians during World War Two. Weisel personified and embodied Jewish suffering in Europe; he was an important symbol. Eventually, in my view, his moment had passed, but he could not accommodate himself to a place outside the limelight. I tended to switch the channel whenever he was on television, rather than endure his repetitions and posturing.

4th UPDATE: Writer, business consultant, and liberal Zionist Bernard Avishai has a remembrance of Elie Wiesel in The New Yorker. Money quote

Remarkably, however, there is not a word in the Times obituary about the occupation of the Palestinian territories. That is not an oversight. To the dismay of Israeli peace activists, and their supporters abroad, who’ve seen Wiesel’s unique international stature grow over two generations—and sought his support—he rarely if ever publicly raised his voice against any Israeli actions: not the bombings of Beirut in 1982; not the subsequent massacre, by Lebanese Phalangists, at Sabra and Shatila, within the perimeter held by the Israeli Army; not the disgraceful behavior of settlers in Hebron; not the encirclement by Israeli ministries of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood; not the obstacles placed before international efforts to restore potable water and electricity to the residents of Gaza. Many of us who admired him in our youth became increasingly impatient with his inability to see the occupation for what it was. Primo Levi, also a survivor of Auschwitz, condemned Menachem Begin’s war in Lebanon as “success achieved with an unprincipled use of arms.” For Levi, evil was too explicably human to be absolute: “I feel indignant toward those who hastily compare the Israeli generals to Nazi generals, and yet I have to admit that Begin draws such judgments on himself . . . I fear that this undertaking [in Lebanon], with its frightening cost in lives, will inflict on Judaism a degradation difficult to cure . . . I sense in myself, not without surprise, a profound emotional bond to Israel, but not to this Israel.”

5th UPDATE: Riki Lippitz, cantor of the Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange NJ—with whom I was acquainted in high school (I was, and remain, friends with her sister, Lori)—shared her personal memories of Elie Wiesel on WNYC News.

6th UPDATE: Lebanese-American writer and pundit Hussein Ibish—who is presently Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington—writes in Foreign Policy that “Elie Wiesel’s moral imagination never reached Palestine: The great writer’s humanitarianism knew no bounds — except where it met his nationalism.”

See also the op-ed in Haaretz by Simone Zimmerman and Jacob Plitman—both activists in progressive Jewish organizations—”Remembering Elie Wiesel means recognizing Palestinian suffering even if he never could.”

7th UPDATE: Two pieces on Wiesel from past years, which have been making the rounds on social media: Sara Roy, senior research scholar at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, “Response to Elie Wiesel [on his statement on Hamas],” in the gauchiste CounterPunch (September 9, 2014); and Arthur Hertzberg, “An open letter to Elie Wiesel [in regard to his declarations on the Intifada],” in The New York Review of Books (August 18, 1988) (h/t Eric Goldstein).

Père Lachaise cemetery , Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery , Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

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Ronit Elkabetz (Photo credit: Bebert Bruno/SIPA)

Ronit Elkabetz (Photo credit: Bebert Bruno/SIPA)

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She died today, at age 51. Cancer. I was shocked, as I had no idea. She was Israel’s leading actress, well-known in France, and one of my favorites (of any nationality). She was terrific. I saw her in eleven films, almost all good—with the best being the 2007 The Band’s Visit (in France: La Visite de la fanfare). I love this movie. She also co-directed (with her brother, Shlomi) three very good films—a trilogy, in which she had the lead role—two in the last decade: To Take a Wife (Prendre Femme) and The Seven Days (Les Sept jours), which, entre autres, are almost ethnographic in their depiction of Moroccan Jewish sub-culture in Israel.

The third part of the trilogy, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (in France: Le Procès de Viviane Amsalem), came out in 2014. It is entirely set in a rabbinical court room in Israel, with the protag, Viviane (Elkabetz’s character, who is loosely modeled after her own mother), seeking a divorce—gett, in Hebrew—from her husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), from whom she is separated, can no longer stand, and doesn’t want to even try patching things up with. She wants a divorce, period. But as personal status in Israel—as in majority Islamic countries, Turkey and Tunisia excepted—is governed by religious law, she has to seek the divorce in a rabbinical law court, presided by three rabbinical judges. Husband Elisha refuses the divorce—and only he can grant it—and the rabbis take his side, at least initially, so she is constrained to remain married to the man she loathes. The entire two-hour film is of Viviane’s judicial nightmare and which lasts five years, of her and her lawyer trying to persuade three rabbis, who are no more sympathetic to the woman’s plight than would be any qadi in a Shari’a law court. It’s a gripping film, though seemed interminable after a certain point—it just goes on and on—but which was certainly deliberate on the Elkabetzs’ part, for the spectator to feel the exasperation of the wife with the interminability of the divorce proceeding—Jewish halakha law, objectively speaking, being archaic and retrograde when it comes to such a matter (for an elaboration on the subject, see the interview with Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz in The New Republic, “In Israeli divorce, ‘the man has all the power’;” an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post by rabbinical court advocate and attorney Osnat Sharon, “When film and reality meet;” and an article by Adam Janofsky in Tablet on “chained wives” refused Jewish divorces by their husbands).

Le Monde’s Middle East grand reporter Christophe Ayad posted on social media today a portrait of Ronit Elkabetz he published in Libération in September 2009. And writer Ayelet Tsabari has a piece in the Forward today on “How Ronit Elkabetz gave Mizrahi women like me permission to dream big.”

UPDATE: Haaretz has a tribute to Ronit Elkabetz with this lede: “In the span of only 25 years, Elkabetz grew to become one of the most respected Israeli creators, pushing Sephardi women to the cinematic forefront.” Accompanying the tribute is a one-minute video on her life and career.

2nd UPDATE: In an interview in Le Monde in 2007, Ronit Elkabetz had this to say about Israel and Arabs:

Je fais donc partie des deux peuples, Israël et Palestine, depuis toujours et pour toujours. La culture arabe est dans nos veines, dans notre cuisine, notre musique et notre langue. Les gens qui le nient sont loin du réel.

Pour l’info, Elkabetz was opposed to the occupation. N.B. her role in Michal Aviad’s film ‘Invisible’, which I posted on three years ago.

3rd UPDATE: Le Point has an article (May 1st) by its Jerusalem correspondent, “Les Rabbins et le divorce,” in which the film ‘Gett’ is discussed.

gett the trial of viviane amsalem

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Undercover Israeli officers detain wounded Palestinian protester near Ramallah, October 7th (photo: Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

Undercover Israeli officers detain wounded Palestinian protester near Ramallah,
October 7th (photo: Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

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It’s been almost a year since my last post on the endless, insoluble Israel-Palestine conflict. I’m just so fatigued with it. Not that I have nothing more to say on the subject. I always have lots. I just haven’t felt like writing about it these past several months. With the latest explosion it does look like the conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase. In lieu of speculating about it this weekend—I will at some point, when I have the time and inclination—I will link here to one analysis I find particularly good, by journalist Noam Sheizaf in +972—Sheizaf is, IMO, the sharpest and most interesting contributor to that webzine—”Israel still holds all the cards.” The lede: “The relative quiet on the ground in recent years, enforced by the Palestinian Authority on Israel’s behalf, led Israelis to believe they can enjoy peace and prosperity without ending the occupation.” Money quote:

We have to remind ourselves over and over and over again: the occupation is the ultimate terrorist infrastructure. One must be especially blind to think that extreme inequality and more than half a century of oppression could bring about any other result. We also needn’t delude ourselves about the reverse: ending the occupation may not bring peace, certainly not in the short term, but continuing it will definitely lead to a civil war, of which we’ve gotten a small taste this week. True, it’s not Syria or Yugoslavia. Not even close. But even Syria and Yugoslavia weren’t Syria and Yugoslavia until they were, either. The situation in Israel — two mixed populations that have zero-sum outlooks, and in which one side has all the power and the rights and the other has only crumbs — is the fundamental problem.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev has a noteworthy column (October 14th) on “Why ‘occupation-denial’ impedes Israel’s war on terror.” The lede: “By ignoring the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, Netanyahu escapes the need to explain why he’s done nothing to dilute its poison.” Shalev nails it in the conclusion:

Recognizing the occupation does not justify terror, but ignoring it completely is to ensure that it will persist for a long time to come. As Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee wrote in a 2009 article on denialism “The consequences of policies based on views such as these can be fatal.”

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The ministers of foreign affairs of France, Germany, the European Union, Iran, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as Chinese and Russian diplomats announcing an Iran nuclear deal framework in Lausanne on 2 April

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I should have had this post up at least ten days ago but Greece and other things (e.g. work) got in the way. I’m not sure I have anything original to say about the Iran deal—a.k.a. the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—as, to paraphrase my friend Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, just about everything has already been said on the deal and will continue to be said over and over again. I was naturally happy when the deal was announced and think it’s a good one. Not that I possess the expertise to evaluate the technical details, as arms control agreements—and nuclear weapons in general—have never been my thing. So like most people out there, I’ve been depending on the assessments of specialists (arms control or Iran) who have followed the dossier closely and whose sensibilities on the issue I trust, e.g. Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey professor Avner Cohen—author of the leading academic works on Israel and nuclear weapons—who had an op-ed in Haaretz arguing that the JCPOA is a good deal (and particularly for Israel; which is likewise the view of members of the Israeli security establishment), and Georgetown University political science MENA specialist and friend Daniel Brumberg, who, in a Washington Examiner op-ed, asserted that failure in Vienna was not an option (for any of the parties to the negotiations). As for nuclear weapons/non-proliferation experts, e.g. Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Aaron Stein of the Royal United Services Institute, they “love the Iran deal,” say “it’s a damn good deal,” and quite simply have a “very positive” assessment of the deal. One may also take a look at the forum in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in which “top international security experts with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds [were asked] to offer their [instant] assessments of the [deal]” on the day it was announced (note in particular the contributions by Oliver Meier, Chuck Freilich, Sharon Squassoni, Lawrence Korb and Katherine Blakeley, Kingston Reif, Siegfried S. Hecker, and Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian). On the technical side of the issue, all this is good enough for me.

As for the opponents of the deal—US Republicans, the Israelis, US Democrats who unconditionally support Israel (who will side with Bibi Netanyahu, the leader of a foreign state, against their own president and from their own party), and Gulf Arab regimes—they were clearly going to be against anything that could have possibly been negotiated at Vienna, as they don’t want a deal with Iran, period (the flagrant proof: prominent Republican senators rushed to denounce the deal before they had even seen it). They want war with Iran but, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias correctly observed, cannot publicly admit that. Yglesias, in engaging a Commentary magazine pundit in debate, delved into their arguments—notably those of Elliot Abrams and Ron Dermer, which were recommended by the pundit—against the JCPOA, after which Yglesias concluded that “they’re utter nonsense.” One argument I read was a WSJ editorial which, in lambasting “Obama’s false Iran choice,” argued that a third option—between the JCPOA and war—could have been put on the table by the US, something the WSJ editorial writer called “coercive diplomacy.” As if the US, in taking an intransigent hard-line with the Iranians and making demands that the latter would never accept, could have dragooned along the rest of its E3+3 partners, and notably the Russians and Chinese, in a posture that would have resulted in certain failure in Vienna (it was and is striking how the American right and other neocons have seemed to view Vienna as a bilateral negotiation between the US and Iran, forgetting—or simply dismissing the fact—that there were other major powers at the table and with whom the Americans had to coordinate a consensus position). The Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz wrote an op-ed in much the same vein as the WSJ’s, “No, we don’t want war, and yes, there was a better deal.” This passage said it all

A country led by a regime that secretly pursued nuclear weapons, that fosters unrest across the region, that calls for the elimination of Israel, that finances, arms and trains terrorist armies in Lebanon and Gaza, that orchestrates terrorism worldwide, that works to bring Europe and North America into the range of its missiles, that criminalizes homosexuality, that discriminates against women, that jails, tortures and executes political opponents, that executes more juvenile offenders than any other country on earth… that Iran must not be allowed to become a more dominant regional power.

N.B. When it comes to mistreating political dissidents, women, homosexuals, and juvenile delinquents, in financing terrorism (i.e. groups Israel is in conflict with) and engaging in other such disreputable behavior, Iran is hardly the worst offender in the region, let alone the world (and if I were a woman, gay, dissident of any sort, or even a Jew, I would rather find myself in Iran than in Saudi Arabia—and definitely if I were a Jew!). And in any case, none of these things have anything to do with an arms control agreement. And the Vienna negotiations were about arms control, tout court.

And then there’s Michael Oren, Israel’s ex-ambassador to Washington, who wrote in Politico on “What a good Iran deal would look like.” In his view, such would have involved “intensified” US sanctions—and with foreign companies violating these barred from doing business in the US—and a “credible military threat.” In other words, by being “tough”—an American right-wing fetish word—and rattling the sabres, the US would have caused the Iranians to cry uncle, all while intimidating the US’s E3+3 partners, via the threat of economic retaliation (one smiles at the image of Washington snapping its fingers at Beijing here; China, pour mémoire, being Iran’s largest trading partner and by far, e.g. here and here), into falling in line behind the tough US position.

Sure. As any level-headed person could inform Ambassador Oren, his “good Iran deal” is a fantasy, as none of the things he advocates could or would possibly happen. And now with UNSCR 2231, cannot legally happen (sorry, Ambassador Oren, but your “good Iran deal” has been superseded by events). In point of fact, what Horovitz, Oren, and other Israeli and pro-Israel opponents of the JCPOA cannot abide is Iran’s stature as a regional power. To repeat: the Israelis and their unconditional US allies simply do not want a nuclear deal, as this will necessarily reinforce Iran’s regional position. Robert Farley—Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce—thus put it in a post on the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog

No conceivable deal could achieve what [Michael] Oren declares that he wants, but of course the point is that he doesn’t want a deal. He, and other hawks, want the constant threat of US military action, in order to reassure our allies that we will always be prepared to bomb their enemies. There is no conceivable set of nuclear concessions that could make Michael Oren (or [Michael] Doran, or [Matthew] Kroenig, or [Eli] Lake, or [William] Kristol, or [Tom] Cotton, et al ad nauseum) pleased with this deal, because they want military confrontation based on other Iranian foreign policy behaviors.

And those “other” foreign policy behaviors are things that have nothing to do with anything that could have been put on the table at Vienna.

Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic, got it exactly right as to “Why the Iran deal makes Obama’s critics so angry.” Money quote

[The Iran deal] codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism. It means recognizing that no matter how deeply Americans believe in their country’s unique virtue, the United States is subject to the same restraints that have governed great powers in the past. For the Republican right, that’s a deeply unwelcome realization. For many other Americans, it’s a relief. It’s a sign that, finally, the Bush era in American foreign policy is over.

It should be said that not all commentators on the right side of the political spectrum have denounced the JCPOA. E.g. foreign policy and MENA specialist Adam Garfinkle, who has worked for successive Republican administrations, has a not uninteresting essay—albeit complicated, verbose, and overly long: a Garfinkle trademark—in The American Interest (of which he is editor) on the day the deal was announced. Which is not to say that I’m on the same page with him across the board, e.g. his argument that the deal, which consecrates Iran’s status as an almost nuclear threshold state, will no doubt cause other regional actors—Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE—to develop or purchase nuclear weapons, thereby “making a nuclear war in the region, perhaps involving the United States and perhaps not, more likely, after approximately 15 years.” Mr. Garfinkle should know better than to be making predictions about what will or will not happen a decade down the road, let alone longer (and Abu Dhabi going nuclear? Or any of the other places Garfinkle mentions? Oy vey, GMAB!).

In fact, the best rubbishing of the arguments of opponents of the Iran deal has come from one of their (more or less) ideological kindred spirits, the paleocon Patrick Buchanan, who, writing in The American Conservative, incisively informed his erstwhile political soul mates that “Rejecting the Iran deal would be GOP suicide.” Buchanan is very good here. His TAC has indeed had a number of fine commentaries on the deal, e.g. TAC founding editor Scott McConnell on “How the Iran deal serves America” and the almost daily posts by TAC senior editor Daniel Larison, who has been taking particular aim at the reactions to the deal by GOP presidential candidates, e.g. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul, plus Mitt Romney; Larison’s subtext: on the subject of Iran—and foreign policy more generally—the Republicans are both crazy and don’t WTF they’re talking about.

One matter needs to be put to rest, which is the hostility of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to the deal, indeed to any deal with Iran. As the NYT reported ten days ago based on WikiLeaks revelations, Saudi Arabia has “an obsession with Iran” and which is driven by the Sunni-Shia divide. That is to say, the Saudi hang-up over Iran is existential. It is religious in nature. Which means that it is permanent and timeless. Let us be clear about a couple of things here. First, the United States of America has nothing whatever to do with—and must absolutely not allow itself to get caught up in—the existential angst of the fucking Saudis in regard to Shi’ism. This is not America’s problem. Second, Saudi Arabia is not a friend of the United States, nor is it an ally. Saudi Arabia is a state with which the US has an important relationship but which is based exclusively on realpolitik, i.e. on raisons d’État. America has important interests in Saudi Arabia—economic, strategic—but there is no political or cultural affinity whatever between the two countries. And there never will be, as the problem with Saudi Arabia goes well beyond the nature of its political system. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is a major source of what ails the Muslim world today—and a big source of a lot of the problems in that Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is, as I have labeled it, the Evil Kingdom. And let’s not forget the role of Saudis in 9/11—and which no doubt went well beyond the 15 of the 19 men who commandeered the four airplanes that day. So: the US, in the pursuit of its national interests, must not humor or indulge the existential fears of its interlocutors in Riyadh (or Abu Dhabi, Doha, Manama, or Kuwait).

On the Iran deal, I have been particularly interested in the reaction of the E3+3 member that took a particularly hard line against the Iranians during the long negotiating process, which was, of course, France. French policy has been consistently distrustful of the regime in Tehran, and during the Sarkozy and Hollande years both. Now there is a tenacious notion out there among Anglo-Americans who opine on the question that French foreign policy is driven primarily by base commercial considerations, of winning contracts for big French corporations (in the case of Iran, see, e.g., here). Insofar as any principles may be involved, they’re mainly about France trying to cling to the fading glory of its past as a colonial empire. This is, of course, Anglo-Saxon poppycock, and particularly in the case of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, over which the French took, as one knows, a harder line than the US and which has been explicated, entre autres, in recent Foreign Policy articles by Colin Lynch and Yochi Dreazen, and Joseph Bahout and Benjamin Haddad—and with the latter emphasizing the deep knowledge of Iran in the French foreign policy, intelligence, and defense establishments (and which is certainly greater than that of the US).

For the anecdote, some 2½ weeks ago I participated in a forum in Paris with major American politicians at the state level—and they were there from almost all 50 states plus Puerto Rico—along with corporate types, that was organized by a New York-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. The speaker who preceded me (my topic was immigration in France) was Jean-David Levitte, who spoke to the (exclusively American) audience about geopolitics. As Levitte has been a top person in the French foreign policy establishment over the years—and particularly during Sarkozy’s presidency—I took the opportunity to ask him a question about French policy toward Iran and why France has taken an even harder line than the US. His lengthy answer focused on nuclear non-proliferation as a cornerstone of French policy in the Middle East—as primordial for the French national interest—and, in regard to the negotiations in Vienna, of the need to, as he put it, “get it right,” i.e. to arrive at an agreement that would stop Iran’s nuclear capacity short of the threshold that would provoke its neighbors into trying to acquire that same capacity (he was speaking five days before the JCPOA was announced). At the forum the following day, two of France’s top academic MENA specialists—both quite brilliant and for whom I have the utmost regard—spoke on the region to the audience of Americans. Somewhat to my surprise, both gentlemen expressed deep reservations over an eventual Iran deal. One of them, who is a former diplomat and with personal experience in dealing with the Iranians in an official capacity, emphasized the nefarious role Iran has played in the region (notably in Syria) and evoked Iran’s long history as a sponsor of international terrorism (and with France and Frenchmen having been a target, particularly in the 1980s). The other specialist assured the audience that a deal with Iran that enshrined its status as a nuclear threshold state and ended the sanctions regime and diplomatic quarantine—thereby augmenting Iran’s status as a regional power—would frighten masses of Sunni Arabs into the arms of the Islamic State. No less.

Now I don’t share the views of my esteemed colleagues on this question but found them interesting, as they so closely hued to the official French position. So the fact that the French were fully on board with the JCPOA was, in my book, prima facie proof that the deal was a good one. On this, here is the reaction of François Nicoullaud, a former French ambassador to Tehran and nuclear weapons specialist, speaking to Libération on the day the deal was announced

C’est un bel accord qui doit convenir à toutes les parties et répond en particulier à tout ce que souhaitaient les Américains, dont 80% à 90% des demandes se voient satisfaites (…). Je ne crois pas que l’on aurait pu obtenir mieux. C’est le triomphe de la volonté et de la persévérance, en particulier de John Kerry (…) qui a déployé une énergie extraordinaire, de Hassan Rohani qui a su attendre son heure pendant dix ans [il était déjà le chef des négociateurs iraniens, en 2003-2004] et de Barack Obama qui avait tendu la main à Téhéran après son élection, en 2008.

See as well Nicoullaud’s “Premières leçons de l’accord nucléaire avec l’Iran,” on the Boulevard Extérieur blog. In the days following the accord, I checked out the Twitter accounts of two leading French geopolitical analysts, both Atlanticist in orientation (i.e. not out on the left or the souverainiste and/or Russia-friendly right) and exceptionally smart, to see their reaction. One, François Heisbourg, called the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231 “a remarkable achievement,” though emphasized that the deal was not likely to modify Iran’s policy in the region (see this graphic that Heisbourg retweeted, which suggests that France succeeded in Vienna in pulling the US toward its tougher position). The other, Bruno Tertrais—whose position on Iran was close to that of US neocons—tweeted an op-ed by Ariel (Eli) Levite, who was the principal deputy director general for policy at the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission from 2002 to 2007, “The good, the bad and the ugly nuclear agreement,” published in Haaretz and on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website, and with this comment: “In the maelström of reactions emerges a really thoughtful piece”…

The official French commentary on the Iran deal came from foreign minister Laurent Fabius in an interview in Le Monde, which was translated into English by the Worldcrunch website and linked to by my friend Claire Berlinski, in her Ricochet blog post on “France and the Iranian nuclear deal.”

In Claire’s post there is one little line that caused me to leap out of my chair and to which I must respond. Claire says that “France is objectively the weakest of the P5+1.” Weaker than the United Kingdom? In what respect? Military spending? On this score, France and the UK rank 5th and 6th in the world, with France higher in one ranking (SIPRI) and the UK higher in another (IISS). But the two are essentially at parity here and with comparable ability to project military force to faraway places, and which has been the case for decades. As for economic strength, France and the UK, in nominal GDP, are also ranked 5th and 6th worldwide, with France having consistently been ahead of the UK over the years but with the UK now slightly so in some rankings (mainly on account of fluctuations in the € and £ exchange rates). But again, the two countries are essentially at parity (though in country rankings of GDP at PPP, France is ahead of the UK in all). And when it comes to military strength, France is, of course, well ahead of Germany, and with the French economy being considerably stronger than Russia’s.

One thing about the Iran deal, and which seems obvious, is that, in addition to controlling Iran’s nuclear capacity, it involves a gamble on Obama’s part that the deal will influence the political dynamic in Iran and push the country in a more moderate direction, both internally and in its foreign policy choices. This will, of course, not happen right away—certainly not as long as the Ayatollah Khamenei is Supreme Leader, and Iranian regional behavior may even worsen in the immediate period—but the gamble clearly needs to be made, as, in view of the chaos in the region—of collapse and fragmentation of the core Arab states and emergence of the Islamic State—America and Europe need—or need to hope for—a stable, prosperous Iran, which has ceased financing terrorist groups (e.g. Islamic Jihad), arming non-state actors to the hilt (e.g. Hizbullah), and supporting criminal regimes (e.g. the Syrian Ba’athist), and with which America and Europe can cooperate. E.g. it is hard to see how any kind of solution can be found in Syria—if such is possible (and which I doubt)—without Iran on board. And Iran is clearly a bulwark against the advance of the Islamic State, which, ça va de soi, presents a grave threat to the region and anywhere significant numbers of Muslims are to be found.

Assertion: America and Iran have a vocation to be friends. As one knows well by now, the problem in Iran is the regime and political system, but which are seriously contested within the country and by forces in Iranian society that look favorably to America and Europe. And Iran has a vibrant, sophisticated civil society and with currents far more liberal than anything to be found in the Arab world. As for what the US can do to influence Iran internally, Adam Garfinkle, in his essay linked to above, has this to say

[I]f sanctions relief is to come, it is probably in U.S. interest to rush as much of the roughly $150 billion involved into the Iranian economy as fast as possible. It is likewise in our interest to open the economy to all manner of foreigners as quickly as possible: sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll to the max. If we want to weaken the regime—and its emetic IRGC/Qods Brigade Praetorian guard—we should do our best to serve up maximum feasible Schumpeterean “creative destruction”, the same stuff that KO’ed the Shah. The more social change we help unleash, and generate from a new baseline, the more the inability of the current Iranian regime to adjust will doom it to oblivion.

The regime fears its own people and is doubtless prepared now to crack down hard, lest melting glaciers of pent-up frustration get out of hand. How this will play out is hard to say; it may hurt Rouhani more than help him. In any event, we need to do what we can to undermine or overwhelm the crackdown, and being a little (or a lot) more voluble on Iranian human rights violations—which are massive and ongoing—is not a bad way to go about that given the limited means at our disposal to influence internal Iranian social trends.

In a similar vein, Paul Berman, whom I normally do not link to favorably, had a hopeful commentary in Tablet on “Why President Obama’s deal is not just an act of faith, but a call to arms—of the liberal sort.” Also in Tablet is a must-read article by Samuel Thorpe, a Jerusalem-based writer and translator of Persian, on Tehran University political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam, “The most dangerous man in Iran.” It begins

This past March Tehran University political science professor Sadegh Zibakalam said the unspeakable. In a wide-ranging foreign-policy debate with conservative journalist Seyed Yasser Jebraily at Islamic Azad University of Mashhad, videos of which have circulated widely on the Internet, Zibakalam blasted the Iranian government’s oft-stated goal of destroying Israel.

Sitting with Jebraily at a small, microphone-studded table, Zibakalam, dressed in an open-collared shirt and dark blue sports coat over his trademark suspenders, first argued that conservatives’ anti-American rhetoric was harming Iran’s national interest. Then he turned to Israel, saying that cries of “Death to Israel” do the same.

“Who gave the Islamic Republic of Iran the duty of destroying Israel?” he asked sarcastically to the audience’s thunderous applause. “Did the Iranian people have a referendum and say they want to destroy Israel? Did the parliament pass a law saying that we should destroy Israel?”

When hard-line hecklers tried to interrupt they were quickly shouted down by the crowd. “Twenty-four hours a day you have the radio, the television, Kayhan newspaper, the parliament, the Friday sermons,” Zibakalam boldly replied. “We have two hours here—one for me and one for Jebraily. You are so authoritarian and dictatorial that you disrupt even this.”

Watch the YouTube embedded in the article of Zibakalam pronouncing the above words and note the audience reaction. One would never see such a spectacle anywhere in the Arab world (or in Turkey, or any other Muslim majority country).

See also Zibakalam’s “Letter from Tehran” in Politico from last March (linked to in the Tablet piece), “Why Iran’s hardliners fear a deal: A nuclear pact means our regime will have to surrender its No. 1 justification for its actions: anti-Americanism.”

On the question of regime opponents—of which Zibakalam is one—and what they think, see the In These Times piece by Iran specialist Danny Postel of the University of Denver, “Iranian dissidents explain why they support the nuclear deal.” They support it to a man and woman. Of course they do. Why wouldn’t they? One would think that US opponents of the deal would be minimally interested in the views of the pro-democracy, anti-Ayatollah camp in Iran. On this, TAC’s Daniel Larison has a post, “The nuclear deal and Iranian dissidents,” in which he took apart a particularly stupid comment by the reactionary pundit Victor Davis Hanson—and with Larison concluding that the likes of VDH couldn’t care less about the Iranian opposition (reading the bit by VDH that Larison quotes, one is struck—yet again—by the alternate reality in which VDH inhabits, along with most others of his ideological ilk).

The leitmotif on the Iran deal at the moment—in the US at least—is that it has to get through Congress, which is sure to reject it, though most likely will not garner the two-thirds majority needed to override President Obama’s certain veto. If the Congress does override, however, it is being said that the deal will thus be dead, i.e. the Congress will have killed it. But will this be the case? I’ve read the relevant sections of the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231, which, unless I missed something or misunderstood what I was reading—which can happen—do not stipulate that legislative action against the JCPOA in one of the signatory states would result in the nullification of the accord. In other words, UNSCR 2231 will come into effect after ninety days—on October 20th—regardless of what the US Congress does. UN (and EU) sanctions will be lifted and if Iran scrupulously adheres to the terms of the JCPOA, the latter will be implemented, albeit without the United States. The rest of the world will trade with and invest in Iran as the JCPOA allows, and without the US being able to do a thing about it. If I am mistaken on this, please correct me.

UPDATE: Tablet magazine has a useful “Guide for the perplexed: The Iran nuclear agreement” by Thomas R. Pickering, former under secretary of state in the Clinton administration and ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, Israel, and several other countries. Pickering, in short, “defends the most complex and important treaty this century.” See his link in the article to James Walsh of MIT’s “excellent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 25, 2015.”

2nd UPDATE: Here are two smart reflections on the Iran deal I’ve come across in the past two days: Paul Pillar, “The sources of opposition to the Iran agreement,” in The National Interest; and James Fallows, “The real test of the Iran deal,” in The Atlantic.

3rd UPDATE: Suzanne Nossel writes in Foreign Policy on “What will happen if Congress blows up the Iran nuclear deal.” And Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic, rhetorically asks about “The big hole in the Iran debate,” observing that “[i]n most televised discussions of Iran, the word ‘Iraq’ never comes up, and that’s insane.”

4th UPDATE: Slate’s William Saletan, writing on the Senate testimony of John Kerry and energy secretary Ernest Monitz on the Iran deal, asserts that the GOP is “Not fit to lead.” The lede: “The Iran hearings have shown how the Republican Party can no longer be trusted with the presidency.” Read Saletan’s piece. To call the Republicans appalling is almost an understatement.

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Bibi’s triumph

Zionist Union supporters react to exit poll figures outside party HQ  Tel Aviv, March 17th (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)

Zionist Union supporters react to exit poll figures outside party HQ
Tel Aviv, March 17th (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)

[update below]

Bummer, that’s all I can say. Like everyone else (whom I know at least, minus a few) I was crossing my fingers that the branleur would lose. Not that a squishy, unstable, centrist Isaac Herzog-Tzipi Livni-led coalition would be any great shakes. But as Benjamin Netanyahu is, along with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the worst leader in the world of a country that can legitimately call itself a democracy (though for how much longer in Turkey?), the alternative was less important than just getting him out of there. Hélas. Bibi, like Erdoğan—and Vladimir Putin—will be in power for however long he wants to be. The Israeli electorate, like the Turkish, is structurally on the right. Bibi (or Erdoğan) won’t be defeated in the next election, or the one after that. Which means that we’ll have to live with the branleur for years to come.

Trying to look at the not dark side of things, Moriel Rothman-Zecher—who identifies himself as an “American-Israeli writer, activist, refusenik and poet”—has a post on his The Leftern Wall: Leftist Politics, Poetry, Prattle and Praxis from Israel-Palestine blog, in which he offers, “before we all sink into despair [after the Israeli elections,]…5 thoughts on hope.” One of these is the achievement of the Arab Joint List, with its 14 seats and status as the third largest group in the Knesset. This is amazing when you think about it. Avigdor Lieberman wanted to eliminate the Arab parties entirely and he got the exact opposite. The Israeli Palestinians—whose turnout numbers dramatically increased—will have a voice in the Knesset such that they’ve never had before. If the next Israeli government tries to reintroduce the nationhood bill—which is unlikely, I would think—the firestorm will be that much greater. And its chances of passage lessened that much more.

Another achievement of the Joint List—quoting from Times of Israel reporter Elhanan Miller—is that while it will be

limited in its ability to affect Israeli policy, [it] has nevertheless managed to heal deep rifts within Israeli Arab society, [Jack] Khoury [a political analyst for Nazareth-based A-Shams radio and Haaretz] opined. “The List has calmed things down for Arabs,” he said. “Significant fissures emerged following the municipal elections [in 2013] … but they didn’t affect this election campaign. [An Islamist candidate] like Masoud Ghanaeim could never deliver a speech at a Christian neighborhood in Nazareth on the eve of elections, nor could [secular socialist candidate] Aida Toma Sliman address women in Islamist communities in the Triangle, were it not for the Joint List.”

Merci, Monsieur Lieberman.

A second thought by blogger Rothman-Zecher is the observation that the overall vote of the right did not, in fact, increase significantly. Likud’s 30 seats came mainly at the expense of other right-wing and religious parties, notably those of Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, who, as we know, lost ground. This point has been made by others, e.g. University of Wisconsin political science prof Nadav Shelef in a post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “Why Netanyahu’s win isn’t that dramatic.” The ups and downs for lists mainly reflected movements within blocs, and with the center-left and Arabs in fact making modest gains.

Mais bon, Bibi and the right will still be in power. But what, concretely, will change? So Bibi has ruled out the two-state solution. But does anyone seriously think he would ever agree to one if push came to shove? The fact is, a final status agreement formally creating a Palestinian state is out of reach for the foreseeable future, as I’ve insisted elsewhere. The two sides are too far apart; even if Herzog-Livni had won a decisive victory they would not be capable of concluding a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority. The best that can possibly be hoped for right now is a long-term interim agreement, which would, entre autres, freeze settlement construction (with perhaps exceptions for specific settlement blocs). Bibi is probably as capable of negotiating this as anyone else, particularly given his strengthened position vis-à-vis his eventual right-wing partners.

Not that he’s likely to do so. Knowing the branleur, it’s probably only a matter of time before he announces some new housing project in East Jerusalem—including E1—or Area C. So what will be the US reaction when the resolution condemning the Israeli action comes before the UNSC? Will the US veto or abstain? Obama will do the latter, I guarantee it. He’ll tell Bibi ”make my day.” And the Congressional Republicans too.

ADDENDUM: While I’m at it, I want to recommend this must-read review essay by David Shulman in the November 20th 2014 NYRB, “Gaza: The Murderous Melodrama.” If you want to read something that will stoke your indignation over Israeli policy toward Gaza since ’67, this is it.

UPDATE: Mitchell Plitnick of the Foundation for Middle East Peace has a blog post on his “Takeaways from Israel’s election,” which focuses mainly on the impact Bibi’s triumph will have on the United States. If Bibi does not walk back his rejection of a two-state solution, there are sure to be consequences in the attitude of both the Democratic party and liberal American Jews toward Israel.

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