Friday, April 28, 2006

The Showdown: Dershowitz vs. Walt and Mearsheimer

My recent post on “Why Is The US And Israel Jumping In To Bed Together?” discusses the controversial paper released by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of the University of Chicago and Harvard University respectively. The paper came under great scrutiny from the academic community which criticized the paper as ‘unacademic’ and based on fallacious myths and opinions from anti-Israelis such as David Duke and Noam Chomsky. Adam Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard as well as an adamant Israeli supporter and Jew took the dais in debunking their arguments.

What is peculiar to his rebuttal was that he was gravely concerned with the professors’ motive behind their publication of a ‘sub-standard’ piece of work. Dershowitz stated that neither professor have so far had the courage to refute this rebuttal or engage in a live debate.

So what is really their motive?

On behalf of Walt and Mearsheimer, their motive (in my opinion) was to open a can of worms for a subject which seeks to take a historical position similar to that of the Holocaust. In today’s societies, it is absurd to deny the Holocaust and for those who do (such as British Historian David Irving) end up being persecuted, tried and jailed.

The legitimacy of the Israeli State as well as the way in which it was formed continues to be a matter of heated discussion. Similar to the historiography of the Holocaust, contemporary ardent Israeli supporters would very well wish to have a majority consensus (from Americans, Europeans, Asians and possibly even Arabs) that the country has a right to exist; that it was ‘correct’ to force the Palestinians from their homes and it was ‘correct’ to strike a collusive deal to partition the land.

A paper like that of Mearsheimer and Walt is completely counterproductive to such a goal. In essence, it encourages readers to critically ‘question’ the right of the existence of Israel and ultimately sway their opinions. Thus, to have readers question the existence of Israel, it was necessary for Mearsheimer and Walt to present hard-line arguments since (naturally) those would be the ones to instigate a debate as well as stir thoughts.

Based on purely personal experience (no surveys), there seems to be a strong sense of public animosity against the US and Israel. These experiences are based on travels in Europe, South America, Central America, Africa and Asia. In fact, many individuals especially Arabs tend to equate Israel and the US. The Israeli Lobby explains this very phenomenon. I recall during the 2000 Gore vs. Bush elections, many Arabs hoped for Bush’s victory because Gore opted for Joseph Liebermann (an Orthodox Jew) as Vice President. Ironically, their hope for Bush’s election (in retrospect) did not matter since Bush has infringed upon Arab sovereignty and meddled too much in their affairs.
Dershowitz’s paper raises 'seemingly' valid rebuttals which Walt and Mearsheimer need to tackle convincingly to prove him wrong and increase the credibility of their paper. However, Dershowitz’s diatribe-style rebuttal contains many bold and audacious statements (similar to those of Walt-Mearsheimer). For example he says that:
“Keep in mind too, that it was the Palestinians and surrounding Arab armies that initiated the war. There would be no refugees if, as Israel did, the Arabs had been willing to accept Partition, leading to full Palestinian state alongside a Jewish homeland.”

How would one expect a Palestinian kicked out of his home in 1948 to EVEN CONSIDER accepting a Partition? Who said the Jews had the right to live in Palestinian lands? Also the war was initiated with the occupation itself not with the counter-attack which occurred the following day (the event Dershowitz is alluding to).

This post would be too long to bring side to side the arguments posed by the authors. However, the controversial academic discussion has alluded to several important conclusions:

1) There continues to be a grand debate on the historiography of the region, the war, the cause of mass exodus as well as the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. Outside of academics, this has been an incredible hindrance to any sort of peace agreement or compromise on either side. For example, Hamas believes Israel does not have the right to exist and will not concede to any Israeli demands – this is due in part to their interpretation of the historiography of the land: Jews simply walked over Palestinian land and decided that this is their new permanent home.

2) Neither side genuinely seeks peace. Until the Israelis acknowledge that Zionism and the idea of a pure Jewish state is not compatible with peace, there will be no peaceful compromises. Similarly, Arabs need to understand this and focus their efforts with that as a baseline.

3) Regardless of what the ‘real’ puissance of the Israeli Lobby is, the US needs to be careful with its foreign policy actions in the Middle East. The Bush administration has done a great job at spreading American animosity around the world which will eventually lead to the American peoples’ own demise abroad. Israel is certainly the US’ conduit in the Middle East and the US has been using it to justify many of its actions in the region (either outspokenly or on a more private level). However the Bush administration needs to make sure that global consensus understands that the US and Israel ARE NOT ONE per se. This message needs to reach Arabs especially, however given that Iran might be on the US’ next target list, this message will not be sent anytime soon.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Bombs In Dahab: An Icing On The Region’s Cake

A few hours ago, an orchestrated terrorist attack occurred in the small tourist Red Sea resort in Sinai, Egypt called Dahab. The resort is known for its tranquility and laid-back atmosphere, a lot less commercial than Sharm El-Sheikh, which was the victim of terrorist bombings last summer.

No organization has taken responsibility yet, but there have been a few coincidences. The bombings come during the Christian Easter celebration and moreover, they come in light of recent attacks against Coptic Christians in Alexandria when a group of fanatic Muslims entered churches and started a stabbing spree. In addition, they also come in light of a recent diatribe by Osama bin Laden against the West, arguing that the Western world has started a war against Islam. Bin Laden now groups Western citizens, their military as well as their governments as the ‘enemy’ – this is extremely troublesome to say the least as there is no differentiation between innocent civilians (i.e. tourists) and army members.

It is difficult at this point to point fingers at a specific group and as the events start unfolding, the perpetrators will surface. However, a few important conclusions can be inferred from the bombings in Taba, Sharm-El Sheikh and Dahab which have all occurred over the last 18 months.

1) The bombings are targeted against foreigners, symbols of infidelity in the eyes of the terrorists. The perpetrators are following the ‘fatwa’ issued by Osama bin Laden which calls for the jihad against the West and non-Muslims. The terrorists seek to rid Arab/Muslim lands of impurities and proliferate Islam using all means necessary.

2) The bombings and the terrorist organizations behind it are trying to instigate a social upheaval within Egypt’s borders. In fact, with the recent attacks against Coptic Christians in Alexandria, it seems that such bombings are a way of sparking a civil war. This might only be speculative at this point but in order to start a revolutionary reaction, the proletariat in Egypt is the group to target. This has certainly been the case with the recent attacks against Christians in Alexandria.

3) The whole region has become a bloodbath for terrorism, violence and absolute ignorance. Iraq has become a complete war-zone, Israel/Palestine continues to be a very unstable and a politically uncertain area (in light of the rise of Hamas and Kadima) and Iran is asking for military attacks from the United States and its allies.

The situation in the region has become extremely delicate with acts of violence sending their repercussions globally. Oil has reached a high of $75 primarily due to Iran’s uncertain and supposed malicious intentions with its nuclear enrichment program. The US-led war in Iraq has taken its toll with foreign forces unable to control and stop the rise in sectarian violence which has arguably led to a civil war and more innocent Iraqis and American soldiers continue to die. Bin Laden’s ‘invisible’ preaching has caused immense frustration for people – Muslim, non-Muslim, Westerners and Arabs – as they are reminded that threats are imminent and deadly.

Is there a threshold? Is the region waiting to implode?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

History, Trends and Future of Sectarian Violence and Civil War: What Should One Expect?

It seems that the ongoing clashes between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq have ‘inspired’ more cleavages between sects all over the Middle East.

Yesterday, 52 people were detained in Egypt for their alleged involvement of three days of religiously-motivated violence in the port city of Alexandria. These sectarian confrontations have led to the death of two people, Muslims and Coptic Christians clashed after a Coptic worshiper was stabbed to death in a church.

According to the Egyptian Ahram newspaper, Hosni Mubarak clearly condemned the clashes and stated that Egypt, ‘does not differentiate between Muslims and Christians,’ and moreover ‘such differences need to be eliminated for the sake of the country’s cohesion.’ The United States condemned the attacks and pressured Mubarak to take action. Mubarak clearly stated that the United States will not be involved in Egypt’s internal affairs but he also said that Egypt shares the same ideals of discipline, respect and civility as the US.

Sectarian violence in the Middle East and even elsewhere around the world has historically seen a number of trends:

1) History has taught its observers that minorities will always be oppressed. For example, those of non-Aryan origin (specifically Jews) were oppressed and murdered during Hitler’s reign and more recently Bosnians were oppressed by Serbs under the late Slobodan Milosevic. Currently, oppression of Shias by Sunnis in Iraq is on the rise.

2) From an objective perspective, oppression will never have a justifiable reason, in fact the reasons are usually macabre, morbid and inhumane. More importantly, the reasons are based on pure ‘difference.’ This difference can range from religious beliefs to skin color.

3) On a micro-level, sectarian violence (i.e. manifestations, clashes, riots etc.) tends to occur between the opposing classes of the proletariat (i.e. poor Egyptian Muslims and poor Coptic Christians). However, the bourgeoisie and aristocratic classes are involved once the violence reaches political proportions.

4) Sectarian violence has been a protagonist in instigating civil war (i.e. the Zulu Civil War of 1817-1819, the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990 etc.)

The four basic trends above have been salient in the history of the world’s sectarian violence and civil wars. These trends have certainly not halted and it is not apparent whether they will ever cease to exist.

In case of Egypt, poor economic conditions as well as illiteracy, lack of education and resources have been the main culprits in instigating meaningless violence between Muslims and Christians. These factors aforementioned also breed religious extremism. In essence, as I argued before in my previous post,
‘Democracy: Does It And Will It Work In the Middle East?’ wanna-be democratic countries such as Egypt and many others in the Middle East need to first work on basic issues plaguing their societies. If Egyptians are generally wealth off, there will be less inclination to waste time and effort to harass the minorities and cause an internal raucous.

The ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq and Egypt should teach each of the country’s respective governments a lesson. The case in Egypt is much clearer: there are sporadic and futile clashes between Muslims and Christians (which are on the rise) that need to be adhered to before they are blown out of proportion. There are both short and long-term solutions.

First, on the short-term Mubarak needs to take a proactive stance and persecute perpetrators from both sects as well as call for religious unity. There needs to be a better understanding of co-existence and a need to cease any animosity. Rhetoric will not be sufficient to appease the Coptic Christians; more affirmative action needs to take place and this could be in the form of minority rights’ laws or protection laws for minorities.

Second, on the long-term Mubarak’s government (and its predecessors) needs to take a more profound effort in improving literacy rates and education levels in the country. This should be coupled with a realization that standards of living are improving. Thus, the economy needs to remove itself from stagnation and offer employment opportunities for youthful Egyptians which constitute the bulk of the population.

On the other hand, Iraq is still struggling to achieve any perceivable stability and this has led to an ongoing debate as to whether the country is in fact in civil war. Both Mubarak and the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal have declared that civil war is already under way. More importantly Iraq’s deputy interior minister as well as Prime Minister Iyad Allawi have also made similar statements stating that Iraq has been in such a state for a year.

However, the debate as to whether Iraq is in civil war has really detracted from what’s important. The current Iraqi administration should independently attempt to fill the cleavages between the Sunnis and Shias. Any further US involvement will exacerbate the situation. The Iraqi administration has acknowledged the problem (and that is the first and important step) but now it is time to take foreign-free measures to alleviate the problem.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why Is the US and Israel Jumping In To Bed Together?

The three word answer to the question posed by the article is simply “The Israeli Lobby.”

John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University recently published a paper titled “The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” The controversial paper was published in the London Review in an abridged version.

The paper clearly shows the puissance of the Israeli Lobby in the US and how they have managed to promote Israel in a variety of spheres ranging from Congress to Academia. Mearsheimer and Walt define the Israeli Lobby as “…a [compromise] of American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests.”

Their arguments are very solid and have already stirred up controversy. In fact, the opinions expressed in the paper have had Walt announce his resignation as Chair of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In essence, if there was any doubt that the arguments made in the paper were ‘right on’, this response in the New York Sun removes it.

In a nutshell these are the arguments made:

1) Israel is in fact a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.

2) Israel’s past and present conduct offers no moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians.

3) American backing of Israel is justified by the claim that Israel is a fellow democracy however the US has previously overthrown democratic governments in the past and supported dictators when it was their in self-interest.

4) The moral argument for Israel as a compensation for past crimes (i.e. the Holocaust) is fallible since the creation of Israel led to incredible crimes committed against a third innocent party – the Palestinians.

5) The Israeli Lobby’s power comes from within US ranks, members in Congress as well as pressure from Israelis.

6) The Lobby has two strategies for success:

a. It wields significant influence in Washington, pressuring both Congress and the Executive branch to support Israel down the line.

b. It strives to ensure that public discourse about Israel portrays it in a positive light, by repeating myths about Israel and its founding and by publicizing Israel’s side in the policy debates of the day. The goal is to prevent critical commentary about Israel from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing U.S. support, because a candid discussion of U.S. Israeli relations might lead Americans to favor a different policy.

7) The Israeli Lobby influences Congress, the US Executive Branch, the Media, Think Tanks and Academia.

The paper essentially portrays a very vivid image of how difficult it would be for Israel to ‘have its way’ without the aid of the US. The US, the world’s greatest power has a plethora of countries depending on its aid, its political and economic systems as well as its soft and hard power. Thus, if the US is a friend of Israel then many countries will also be friends of Israel.

Without the Israeli Lobby, Israel would be struggling to deal with neighboring regimes that the country views as dangerous: Iraq, Iran and Syria. The US has been constantly pressured from Israel to do something about Saddam’s tyrannical regime since Sharon’s argument was that Iraq poses a common terrorist threat to both Israel and the US.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken its toll and the situation has been progressively exacerbating. In order for a potential peace agreement to take place, the power of the Israeli Lobby needs to be curtailed. The US needs to consider the region very carefully and refrain from making grave military mistakes (such as Iraq) or support Israel unanimously to the extent that its support instigates more

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Look In To Steven Spielberg’s “Munich”

‘Unimpressed, very unimpressed,’ is what I thought to myself half way though the 3-hour movie about the abduction and assassination of 11 Israeli Olympiads during 1972’s Black September.

The film is sluggish and repetitive and it is too turgid and redundant to have any ‘real impact.’ It is supposed to be a thriller which doesn’t thrill and it has absolutely nothing new to say. In fact Todd McCarthy’s review stated that, “…members of the general public will be glancing at their watches rather than having epiphanies about world peace.”

Well, I am not an objective observer (in this case) and since I am Palestinian, I was reading in between the lines and really analyzing the movie’s plot, screenplay, cinematography and factual content in great depth.

I thought the movie centered too much on the plot and did not provide any sort of insight on the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Without doubt, it is entertaining to know how the ex-Mossad recruits were able to hunt down and kill almost all of the 11 Palestinian assassins however I felt that should not have been the crux of the movie per se. In fact, the end of the movie sheds disappointment and an absolute impression of hopelessness.

Is their really a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem?

For the uninformed audience, Munich fails to send a message home; in fact there was no message. Avner (played by Eric Bana) realizes that the conflict is chronic and destructive in a very self-perpetuating manner. Once his mission was almost accomplished, he had an epiphany. ‘The Palestinian men who were taken down will simply be replaced by others; more violent and deadly.’ Is this really the message Spielberg was attempting to send home? Was he trying to point the blame on Palestinian militants and terrorists?

The movie had a negative feel to it and moreover expressed grave skepticism on whether there truly is a solution. The impression I had was that Spielberg feels that there is absolutely no way out of this problem except for total Palestinian acquiescence. Violence (from both sides) will prevail and unfortunately continue to exacerbate the situation. The Israelis and Palestinians shown are aggressive, uncompromising and far from moderate.

The Palestinians have nothing to lose whereas the Israelis have everything to lose. The Palestinians will continue to fight their battle regardless of Israeli resistance – they are hoping to push the Israelis hard enough until a critical breaking point. If it takes 10, 20 or 100 years, they will still continue to do so.

Spielberg genuinely attempted to portray an ‘objective’ perspective on the events of Munich as well as the general problem. However, the movie still managed to sway towards a pro-Zionist sphere. Many Israelis and Jews were in fact arguing the opposite; however the fact that Spielberg does not mention that the ex-Mossad crew assassinated an innocent Palestinian (mistaken for one of the 11 perpetrators in Munich) in Oslo, Norway has proven to them otherwise. If he had mentioned that in the movie, he would have certainly come under anti-Semitic scrutiny.

The whole events were not quid pro quo as might have appeared from the movie. The year 1972 brought about huge antagonism from both sides and during the ex-Mossad crew’s mission to hunt down the perpetrators, other pertinent events were simultaneously occurring (such as the hijacking of the Lufthansa flight or the 1973 war with Egypt)., The World's Blog Aggregator Blog Directory & Search engine