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Don’t Give Up

Defeating the Arab Spring Syndrome of Self-Defeat

“Ben Ali fled!” This was it: An impending termination of the oppression and hardship that comprised so many of our Arab landscapes. A sense that cruelties would no longer be left unchallenged, a distinct hope injected into every prophecy about what awaited the Arab world. My mistake, in retrospect, was assuming what conclusion would immediately follow this beautiful spark. I was convinced that the struggle for freedom would be quickly realized, simply because the initial spectacle of rebellion had been so magnificent.

In the years since, it has become harder to maintain the euphoria of those early months of the Arab uprisings. The mismatch between expectations and what actually occurred seems to have instilled in even the most devout activists a sense of fatigue, an exhaustion at the utter magnitude of the task that continues to confront our societies.


Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters demonstrate in Cairo's Tahrir square on June 02, 2012. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

This is not a reflection of the failures of these movements. It is testimony to the extended processes that they require, that there are no overnight reincarnations, no instant renaissance. The American project—allowing for the conceit that it has been perfected—took hundreds of years to overcome those most basic obstacles to freedom, slavery and segregation. Similarly, most European states took centuries to unify and become liberal democracies. How can the Arab world expect, or be expected, to develop its aspirations in only a few months or years?

The News From Israel

Sperm Smuggling Creates Gaza's First 'Prison Baby'

"Some of my comrades-in-arms got combat shock, not from the battle itself, but from the burial of the (Egyptian) soldiers."
--Major (res.) Mati Chai talks about his understandings of war and the enemy after he decides to return the dog tags he took from a dead Egyptian soldier 40 years ago. (Yedioth, p. 18)

  • 30 settlers attack Palestinian car near Nablus - Nasser Hamarsheh, 60, his cousin Montaser and an international guest were traveling to the former site of Homesh settlement northwest of Nablus when 30 settlers hiding behind olive trees attacked the car with stones and sticks. (Maan)
  • Revealed: Large-scale fraud halts land deals in West Bank settlement of Beit El - WZO Settlement Division takes action after discovery that 250 homes built illegally and documents forged to cover up. (Haaretz+)
  • Israeli rightists raise flag in Asqa compound - A group of 14 Israeli right-wingers raised the Israeli flag and began dancing and singing, while touring the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Monday. Some also prayed. They were arrested by police and later freed. (Maan and Israel Hayom, p. 7)
  • Tunnel discovery leaves local security squads wondering if paintball training is enough - Civilian security squads in communities near Gaza raise concerns about potential terror attacks after Israeli military cuts training. (Haaretz+)
  • Radiation experts confirm polonium on Arafat clothing - Swiss radiation experts have confirmed they found traces of polonium on clothing used by Yasser Arafat which "support the possibility" the veteran Palestinian leader was poisoned. (Maan)
  • Report: Wife of Palestinian prisoner pregnant after sperm smuggled to Gaza - Boy will be Gaza's first 'prison baby,' The Guardian reports, joining at least another three West Bank infants conceived in the same way. (Haaretz+)
  • Israel: Only sanctions can ensure a genuine diplomatic solution with Iran - Ahead of two days of talks in Geneva between the six world powers and Iran, Israel releases official statement saying that it does not object to Iran having a peaceful energy program, but says in any agreement Tehran's military nuclear program must be dismantled. (Haaretz+)
  • Khamenei: Main enemy is Zionist network - Eve of resumption of talks between Iran and West, ayatollah slams Israel, US in annual hajj speech. 'Arrogant governments, headed by the USA, deceive public opinion in different countries,' he says. (Agencies, Ynet)

For the full News from Israel.

News from Israel

Pope and Rabbi Planning Joint Pilgrimage

"... if you observe American Jews, you know full well that young American Jews are much less disposed to tolerate the cognitive dissonance that results from the clash between their values and some Israeli policies."
—Americans for Peace Now spokesman, Ori Nir, analyzes recent polls showing a new American Jewish generation that is alienated from an intransigent Israel

  • West Bank village inhabited for 3,000 years faces eviction - The High Court prepares to hand down a ruling that will seal the fate of the 130 residents of the village of Zanuta, an archaeological site in the West Bank. (Haaretz+)
  • PM nixes controversial bill applying Israeli labor laws to West Bank women - Bill that would have applied Israeli law protecting pregnant women to Palestinians as well as settlers could have been interpreted as annexation, critics warned; military order issued instead. (Haaretz+)
  • Two Palestinians confess to murdering retired Israeli colonel - Seraiah Ofer was bludgeoned to death by his home in the Jordan Valley (West Bank); Three arrested, one not identified, motive still unclear. (Haaretz+,Ynet+PHOTOS and Maan)
  • Tennis: Tunisian ordered not to play Israeli - Israel's Amir Weintraub advances to semifinals of Tashkent tournament after Malek Jaziri instructed to withdraw from match by Tunisia's tennis federation. (Agencies, Ynet)
  • Pope sets March date for joint pilgrimage with rabbi - Planned visit with friend, the Argentine rabbi and biophysicist Abraham Skorka, is to bring message of reconciliation, says Channel 2. (Haaretz)
  • Lebanese director risks jail to film in Israel - Describing production of his award-winning movie 'The Attack' in Jewish state as 'crazy trip,' Ziad Doueiri says it still bothers him movie has been banned in Arab world. (Agencies, Ynet)
  • Egypt not expected to be hit hard by U.S. aid cuts - The U.S. State Department did not say how much of the $1.5 billion in annual military and economic aid to Egypt will be affected; spare parts from U.S. manufacturers will continue to be delivered. (Agencies, Haaretz)

For the full News from Israel

This is what occupation looks like:

An Israeli judge at a Jerusalem Magistrate's court ruled Wednesday that the parents of young Palestinian detainees can attend police interrogation sessions with their children, the Palestinian Prisoners' Society said.

…Israeli police interrogate Palestinian children repeatedly without the presence of their parents and often force minors to confess to crimes using illegal methods, [Mufid al-Hajj, a lawyer with the Palestinian Prisoners Society], said.

The decision will be circulated to Israeli police stations in Jerusalem, the lawyer added.

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An Israeli soldier prevents a Palestinian boy from riding his bicycle in the streets that are blocked to Palestinian residents, in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 20, 2012. (Hazem Bader /AFP / GettyImages)

Just in case it needs spelling out, what the foregoing means is that heretofore, Palestinian children have routinely not been allowed to have their parents with them when questioned by Israel’s security forces―and lest you think by “children,” I’m just talking about teenaged ruffians (who, it should be noted, also have a right to have their parents present when detained by police), I actually mean children as young as 12, 10, 8. Children as young as 5.

Israel may be part of the Middle East regional dynamic, but one particularly noticeable trend in its foreign policy over the past few years has been the government’s overtures across the Mediterranean Sea in Eurasia. Two of Tel Aviv’s foreign policy and national security priorities—containing Iran and ensuring a hospitable environment for future natural gas exports—essentially depend on cooperation with states all over the continent, from Cyprus to Turkmenistan. Between official exchanges, partnerships, and agreements, Israel has certainly upped the ante on Eurasian relations in order to further its own interests.

The new darling of Israeli foreign policy is, without a doubt, Cyprus. Its offshore territory is part of the hydrocarbon-rich Levant Basin. Like Israel, it is seeking to exploit its own natural gas discoveries, seen as the government in Nicosia’s way out of the Euro crisis. In order to make the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) financially lucrative, however, Cyprus also needs to receive gas from Israel’s Leviathan field. Nicosia has been aggressively courting Tel Aviv to this end. As an export option, Cyprus is a strategic ally not only because of its availability, but also because it would serve as a gateway to Europe.


Former Cypriot President Demetris Christofias (L) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Andreas Lazarou / AFP / Getty Images)

The discoveries of the Tamar offshore field in 2009 and Leviathan in 2010 prompted the two countries to sign the Agreement on the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Official foreign exchanges began in 2011 and have become regular. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres have each been to Cyprus twice, and Tel Aviv has hosted former Cypriot President Demetris Christofias as well as current President Nicos Anastasiades, when he was still leader of the opposition. The energy ministers from both countries have also engaged in several exchanges.

Breaking the Silence

J Street U Rejected for Standing Behind IDF Soldiers

UC Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union (JSU) voted Wednesday to deny membership to J Street U. Apparently, the main reason is J Street U’s relationship with Breaking the Silence, an organization of which I am a member.

Breaking the Silence is a group of Israeli combat veterans that collects, publishes, and analyzes soldiers’ testimonies in order to bring to light the policies and principles of Israel’s military rule and expose its grave moral consequences. Since 2004, over 1,000 soldiers have told us what they saw, did, and experienced during their service. More are being interviewed right now. We believe that these testimonies reveal information critical to understanding the risks Israel is facing, the mistakes it is making, and the grave wrongs it is committing.

University of California, Berkeley students march through campus. (Max Whittaker / Getty Images)

University of California, Berkeley students march through campus. (Max Whittaker / Getty Images)

JSU President Daphna Torbati explained the decision to deny membership to J Street U by pointing to the bylaws of the Jewish Student Union, which stipulate that a member organization must not host speakers who demonize Israel. Torbati added that “a lot of people have said that they want the [JSU] to stay a place they feel comfortable saying they love Israel.” Finally, Torbati expressed her concern that the work of Breaking the Silence unfairly disparages Israeli soldiers.

Earlier this week, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) issued the findings of a study it conducted among 552 American rabbis; in its report, JCPA found that “nearly half of the rabbis in this survey hold views on Israel that they won’t share publically, many for fear of endangering their reputation and their careers.” The report goes on:

The challenge is not only to sort out their own positions on complex Israel-related issues, but also to discern how to express views that may challenge, annoy, or even distress friends and people who hold influence over their careers and livelihood. They frequently find themselves fearful of or caught in the maelstrom of tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their personal views about it.


Mark Wilson / Getty Images

About 12 percent of the rabbis defined themselves as “closet hawks,” while some 18 percent could be called closet doves; less than a quarter of the hawks were found to be “very fearful” of expressing their opinions on Israel and the conflict, while 43 percent of the doves were “very fearful.” All told, in the last three years, nearly half of those surveyed reported having refrained from expressing themselves on the topic “for fear of offending” people with whom they were engaged in conversation, or anyone who might be listening.

Reporter Jesse Rosenfeld interviewed Canadian filmmaker John Greyson at a Cairo hotel on Sunday, immediately following his release from Egypt's notorious Tora Prison, where he and fellow Canadian Tarek Loubani were held for 51 days. Greyson and Loubani, a physician, were caught up in a mass arrest carried out by security forces on August 16. They were held without charge while their lawyers and Canadian diplomats struggled to have them released. This interview was embargoed pending their departure from Egypt, which was delayed when the authorities placed them on a no-fly list pending further investigation into alleged crimes. The two men were finally able to leave the country on Friday morning. 

CAIRO—Buckling under international pressure and domestic attention, Egypt’s military-backed government freed filmmaker John Greyson and medical doctor Tarek Loubani from Cairo’s Tora prison at 1:30 a.m. last Sunday. After 51 days of detention, the surprise decision to release the two Canadians seems to have come from the top. They were arrested at Cairo's Ramses Square on August 16, caught up in the dragnet of a mass arrest carried out by the military.

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John Greyson (left) and Tarek Loubani in a still from a YouTube video they recorded at Cairo's Novotel Airport Hotel after their release from Tora Prison.

Skinny and worn out from their imprisonment and 20-day hunger strike, Greyson and Loubani wandered the Novotel Airport Hotel lobby and patio, overjoyed that they could walk outside freely, basking in the sunlight.

Has Iran been signaling openness to a thaw in relations with Israel? Opinions are divided, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissing Rosh Hashana greetings from Iranian leaders on social media and delivering a hardline speech against Iran at the United Nations General Assembly. But the Iranian delegation included a Jewish member of the Iranian parliament and a number of Iran analysts see reason for cautious optimism.

1. Iran and Israel have a history of cooperation

Before Iran’s 1979 revolution, Israel sent agricultural engineers to train Iranians in irrigation systems, while Iran provided Israel with about 70 percent of its energy [oil] needs. The two countries also shared intelligence and defense information.

“Israel also secretly sold Iran weapons that the US wouldn’t, said Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.SParsi added that, “[Israel] lobbied Washington to sell arms to Iran and ignore Iranian rhetoric on Israel” as late as 1989. This later became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

CAIRO—Commemorations for the fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Egypt-Israel war were supposed to be a high point for the military-backed government. The war, known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War and in the Arab world as the October War, is considered a victory in Egypt. This year, the traditional ceremonies were supposed to be an occasion to demonstrate national unity behind the country's newly-installed leaders. But with the army cracking down on anti-military protests even as Islamist militants continue to carry out attacks in the Sinai, the reality of a polarized population was all too apparent.

“They are trying to present that everything is fine since the coup,” Ahmed Kamal, a Muslim Brotherhood youth leader, said of the military celebrations. Active in the anti-coup alliance and organizer of the Rabaa sit-in, where supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi were massacred by security forces on August 14, Kamal says the goal of the protests are to show a new wave of mass discontent since the crackdown.

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Egyptians, one holding a poster of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, pose with soldiers as they gather on Tahrir Square to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war on October 6, 2013 in the capital Cairo. (Khaled Desouki / AFP / Getty Images)

On Tuesday, students demonstrated against the government to protest security forces killing over 6o people during anti-coup demonstrations on the weekend.

I am pleased that our survey of Jewish Americans has sparked so much discussion within the Jewish community and beyond, including the kind of examination that Emily L. Hauser undertakes in her Open Zion column “Between J Street and the Pew Survey.” Hauser correctly points out that a majority of Jews (73 percent) say “remembering the Holocaust” is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them, and that far fewer (28 percent) say “being part of a Jewish community” is essential to their Jewish identity. But she then goes on to argue that “basing our identity in dreadful narratives of death and survival, and/or an amorphous ‘caring’ about a country [Israel] that’s an ocean away…is a path to failure. Indeed, if that’s all we care about, I’d say it already has failed.”


Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather on May 20, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

The Pew Research Center is a non-advocacy organization, and as such, it is not our place to say whether remembering the Holocaust or caring about Israel should or should not be key parts of what being Jewish means to U.S. Jews. I want to point out, however, that our survey shows that the Holocaust and Israel are not all that U.S. Jews care about. Large numbers of Jews say that leading an ethical and moral life (69 percent), working for justice and equality in society (56 percent), and being intellectually curious (49 percent) are essential to what being Jewish means to them. Furthermore, three-quarters of Jews tell us they have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, and more than six in ten say they feel a special responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world. I raise this not to disagree with Hauser’s argument, but simply because it would be unfortunate if Hauser’s readers concluded that our survey shows that all U.S. Jews care about is the Holocaust and Israel; that is not what the survey shows.

Hauser also raises concerns about some of the questions included in the survey. I hope explaining the rationale for our question choices will contribute to a better understanding of what goes into designing a questionnaire.

The News From Israel

Nobel Win Shines Light on Israeli Brain Drain

Number of the day:
--Number of pupils in lock-down in their school in the village of Jalud, while Israeli settlers attacked.

  • Israelis attack school in Palestinian village, torch olive groves - Apparent "price-tag" attack likely in response to razing of nearby illegal settler outpost by security forces. Palestinian children locked in classrooms for safety, 400 olive trees burned, five cars vandalized. IDF arrests four assailants from illegal settlement near Shilo, but pupils from Jalud village say at least 20 settlers involved. (Haaretz+, Israel Hayom and Maan)
  • Israeli gunboats open fire at Gaza fishermen, locals say - Witnesses told Ma'an that Israeli navy forces fired shells at fishermen off Gaza's coast. An Israeli army spokeswoman said an IDF boat had fired "warning shots in the air" when a fishing boat deviated from the Israeli designated area. (Maan and NRG Hebrew)
  • Jerusalem cemetery attack strikes nerve with Christians - Protestant Cemetery of Mount Zion, one of city's most important historic graveyards, vandalized by Jewish settler youths. Police arrest, but release, four suspects, two of them minors. "We are striving so hard to promote dignity," says Rev. Hosam Naoum. (Israel Hayom)
  • IDF destroys Syrian cannon that fired mortars on Golan - Tamuz missile hits cannon, which fired two mortars at Golan Heights earlier in the day, lightly injuring two IDF soldiers. (Ynet)
  • Right-wing lawyer Ben-Gvir: "You (Israeli Arabs) are terrorists", Arab MK Zahalka: "Kiss my shoe" - Bitter debate in High Court over Marmara affair. In response to appeal to High Court to demand Attorney General indict MK Haneen Zouebi (Balad) for her participation in Turkish Marmara flotilla, Zouebi called for Netanyahu, Barak and Ashekenazi to be put on trial. (Maariv, p. 13/NRG Hebrew)
  • Israeli election committee asked to ban parties running 'racist’ campaigns - Labor MK protest anti-Muslim messages by Likud party ahead of the municipal elections in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. (Haaretz+)
  • Science Minister Peri: Nobel win shines light on brain drain - Peri congratulated Prof. Arieh Warshel for winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and said, "Warshel continues in the unprecedented line of Israeli Nobel Prize winners, but at the same time he shines a light on the real national challenge of reversing the brain drain." (Ynet)
  • U.S. freezes military assistance to Egypt, pending democratic progress - Military support for counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation and security in the Sinai Peninsula will continue. (Agencies, Haaretz)

For the full News from Israel.

The news spreads quickly through my university campus in Jerusalem. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ultra-Orthodox leader of Israel’s powerful Shas party and top arbiter of halakhah (Jewish religious law) has passed away—so we’d better head home before the city jams up. The police are expecting over half a million people to attend the funeral of the man considered a rare luminary by his followers and an influential bigot by his detractors. Supporters cite his groundbreaking rulings in favor of releasing Jewish women from the bind of marriage to a missing husband; opponents decry his anti-gay and unashamedly racist approach.

As part of the dwindling minority of secular Jewish progressives in Jerusalem, it would be easy for me to join in the camaraderie of secular complaints about the ensuing delays in public transport. Instead, I decide on the spur of the moment to cross over the strong, invisible boundary separating me from the ultra-Orthodox world, and see what I can find.


Ultra-Orthodox Jewish mourners surround the vehicle transporting the body of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, during his funeral in Jerusalem on October 7, 2013. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)

Finding the spot itself isn’t hard. I simply follow the men in black hats streaming from every corner. I didn’t come prepared, so I’m concerned that the tights I’m wearing will draw unpleasant comments or even objections to my presence. Luckily, I have a scarf to cover any errant bits of torso.

Minimum Vote

When the Right is Right

I am extremely surprised to find myself supporting right-wing Israeli Knesset members, with whom I almost always disagree, against the international press liaison of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, ACRI, an organization that I greatly admire, but I find myself in complete disagreement with Marc Grey’s argument in Open Zion against raising the threshold for Israeli parliamentary elections.

With his examples from other countries, Grey presents some interesting ideas for the reform of Israel’s electoral system, but I can’t help feeling that they are all unnecessarily complex. On the other hand, the proposal, being discussed in a parliamentary committee headed by Likud Knesset Member David Rotem, to raise the threshold to 4 percent is a simple and useful first step toward reducing the ridiculously large number of Israeli parties.


A Knesset worker holds Israeli flags ahead of a cermony marking the opening of the 19th Knesset (Israeli parliament) on February 5, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

It is true that there are important differences between the various parties representing the Arab citizens of Israel, but politics is the art of compromise, and political parties are always alliances of people with differing views who are able to unite on their most important aims.

An American in Beirut

Not the Story You Were Expecting from Lebanon

Traveling in Lebanon, near the border with Syria, at the beginning of June this year may not have been the safest decision of my life. But I was chasing a story, and that chase has made me question how far I’m willing to go—geographically, emotionally, and psychologically—to get it.

This particular story started three years earlier and continues to this day. It was 2010, in a fancy hotel in Paris with fancy wine. Off to one side were two guys who were…different. Which means, naturally, that I made a beeline for them.

Early Wine Harvest

Eric Risberg/AP

They poured me a taste of their wine in my glass, and our first conversation went something like this.

Me: So you're making wine? In, uh, Syria?

Them: Exactly!

Me: Why are you making wine in Syria?

Them: We love wine! And we think everyone should drink more of it.

Me: I agree. But…Syria?

Them (pausing, with considerably more seriousness): We want to show the world that our country is about more than its politics.

About the Editor

Author headshot

Peter Beinart

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His new book, The Crisis of Zionism, was published by Times Books in April 2012.

Open Zion's Take:

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