In advance of President Obama’s scheduled March 20 visit, Israeli society at every level is waging an unprecedented, all-out public effort to press for the release of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. The past month has seen figures as diverse as President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, far-right Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin and former Hamas hostage Gilad Shalit calling on Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served and set him free. So has the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the massive international Jewish charity. More than 150,000 Israelis have signed an online petition calling for his release. The Knesset held a special debate in his honor on March 6.
Pollard’s case has been a cause celebre in Israel and the organized Jewish world since his arrest in 1985. A civilian analyst with U.S. Naval Intelligence, he had volunteered his information services to Israel in June 1984, believing, as he later claimed, that America was withholding data vital to Israel’s security. Arrested 17 months later, he pleaded guilty in return for leniency, but received a life sentence for reasons that remain murky and hotly contested. Some activist American Jews began calling in the early 1990s for his sentence to be reduced, claiming life imprisonment for spying for an ally was unprecedented and unjustified. Israel, after initially calling it a “rogue operation,” admitted in 1998 that Pollard had worked for a little-known intelligence agency and asked for his release. Every president since then has been asked and refused.
Israeli protesters hold portraits of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Jewish-American spy Jonathan Pollard during a protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv on July 17, 2012 to call for the release of the spy. (JACK GUEZ / AFP / Getty Images)
Pollard’s advocates are a sometimes-uneasy coalition of far-rightists who view him as a Jewish martyr, if not a hero, and moderates who see his severe sentence as unfair. Opponents of his release say that while only a handful of American spies have received life sentences, few have ever compromised so vast a trove of highly sensitive information. The two sides also argue back and forth over whether he was motivated by ideals or money.
Last week Haaretz corrected its reporting of a story I covered in these pages: Ethiopian-Israeli women have been saying for years that they’ve been injected with Depo-Provera (long-acting birth control) by state-mandated health providers without their informed consent. That story—recently investigated by Israeli television and carried by many other sources in addition to Haaretz—led to global controversy, including scattered and unfounded accusations of sterilization and/or genocide.
Under a headline that read “Israel admits Ethiopian women were given birth control shots,” Haaretz wrote on January 27 that:
A government official has for the first time acknowledged the practice of injecting women of Ethiopian origin with the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera. Health Ministry Director General Prof. Roni Gamzu has instructed the four health maintenance organizations to stop the practice as a matter of course.
The next day, I wrote, “On Sunday it was reported that Israel has finally admitted to systematically depressing the fertility of the Ethiopian immigrant community…”
Haaretz followed up on February 28, reporting that the Health Ministry was launching an investigation into the practice, and last Wednesday appended a correction to that piece:
The hundreds of Jews who packed the pews of Manhattan’s Town and Village Synagogue on Tuesday morning all had very different relationships to Judaism. Some of the women had wrapped themselves in traditionally male religious garments like tallit and tefillin, and others had not. Some wore long skirts, and others wore rain-soaked jeans. There were white-haired women leaning on walking sticks, students from a nearby elementary school, and infants strapped to their fathers’ chests. But they all had the same huge smile plastered to their faces.
According to Hallel Silverman—comedian Sarah Silverman’s teenaged niece, who made headlines last month when Jerusalem police arrested her for praying in a tallit with Women of the Wall—that’s because they were all united by a common goal. “This was hundreds of people with different beliefs coming together to fight for one thing they all have in common—Jewish equality,” she told me after the service. She and the other participants had come to pray in solidarity with Women of the Wall, who have been engaged in a decades-long battle with the Israeli government over whether and how they are allowed to pray at the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.
Israeli women of the Women of the Wall organization hold a Torah scroll during a prayer just outside the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's old city, on Dec. 14, 2012. (Dan Balilty/AP)
The most striking thing about today’s service wasn’t just its size—over 450 people—nor its location—New York City instead of Jerusalem—but the new way people were talking about Women of the Wall’s activities. After years of shying away from their critics’ charge of willful provocation, it seems these women have finally stopped viewing “provocation” as a dirty word. They’re wearing it as a badge of honor—literally, in the case of those who donned buttons proclaiming that “women should be seen and heard”—and they’re accepting their status as activists, embracing the narrative of civil disobedience, and making an effort to attract the star support and media attention they need to further their goals.
The younger women seemed especially keen to embrace this new rhetoric. “The service had the air of a protest,” Miriam Cantor-Stone, an intern at Lilith Magazine, told me after the gathering wrapped up. “But without the hostility you usually see at protests.” She was exactly right: between the buttons, photographers, speeches, applause, and high-fives, it really did feel like a protest—but a joyful one. There were shouts of “We have been patient, and we’re done being patient!” and “The time has come!” But there was also singing and guitar strumming and—inevitably—a circle dance. And Cantor-Stone was glad, because it made her feel that, after all these years, “Women of the Wall is finally standing up. Thank God!”
"Has Israel Lost Europe?" So asked the program of this year's Herzliya security conference, in the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of the same name, of one of its panels, co-sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. European diplomats, officials from NGOs and the occasional interested participant spent three hours discussing Europe-Israel relations, under a Chatham House Rules agreement that no one would be quoted by name. To be sure, the "peace process" was mentioned again and again, much of the time because the European Union had—mistakenly, some panelists said—linked relations to an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images
But the most glaring omission were the Palestinians themselves—something a few of the participants noted with dismay after the session. From individual rights straight through to collective national ones, there was virtually no nod—not even to a vague notion of empathy—for the Palestinians. Why not? Perhaps because there were no Palestinians on the panel, or seemingly even in the room at all. (There didn't seem to be any Palestinians at the conference at all.)
Panelists and participants held varied opinions on whether Israel actually had lost Europe—no mention, of course, to whom—but almost all held a dire prognosis. "Yes," one participant answered flatly at the top of their comments, adding that relations were getting worse. Another panelist issued a warning: "For the moment, you have not lost Europe, but you will if you don't show your stances." He went on that Europe could reverse the trend by "stop(ping) that drive Israel into isolation." Those policies--of settlement expansion--were alliteratively seen as either the subject of too much focus or, by more critical panelists, through the European lens "as the biggest threat to two states." (The journalist Joseph Dana pointed out after the panel that last year the E.U. upgraded ties with Israel just weeks after issuing a scathing report on settlements.)
In the New York Times, Joseph Levine has set out to answer a question that is widely considered taboo within the mainstream, but which is increasingly heard as a mantra within anti-Zionist circles: does Israel have a right to exist? You can follow his extended reasoning (delivered in a tone that is refreshingly free of polemic) here, but the thrust of his argument comes down to this claim, a claim that also reveals a fatal flaw.
The New York Times logo is seen on the headquarters building on April 21, 2011 in New York City. (Ramin Talaie / Getty Images)
Consider this sentence: "It is a violation of a people’s right [here he means Palestinians] to self-determination to exclude them—whether by virtue of their ethnic membership, or for any other reason—from full political participation in the state under whose sovereignty they fall." One might want to grab the "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" grammar bestseller to reveal the inherent problem in meaning with Levine’s argument. But it is a problem that goes beyond grammar. Namely, Levine slides too easily between conceiving of Israel’s non-Jewish inhabitants—namely, the Palestinians—as a people versus as a collection of individuals. In other words, is the State of Israel’s existence "a violation of a people’s right to self-determination"? Or is Israel’s problem that the state “exclude[s] them,” meaning individual citizens?
There is little that is inherent in the idea of a Jewish state which should preclude equal status among Israel’s citizens. Israel’s declaration of independence enshrines this ideal. The major institutional engines of democracy in Israel are well oiled, despite not enough separation of religion and state in civil matters (an issue that may very well be rectified by the expected incoming governing coalition).
'(Pro-settler party leader Naftali) Bennett was then asked how someone who knew when to exit his (hi-tech) company to the tune of $150 million doesn’t understand the need to exit the settlements in time.'
--Don Futterman writes about the entertaining Israeli satire show, 'State of the Nation' in Haaretz+
- On tape: Settler attacks Palestinian shepherd - Security officer of West Bank outpost documented attacking Palestinian shepherd; officer says he was just pushing shepherd away after latter threatened him. (Ynet)
- Settlers block Nablus road, throw stones at cars - A group of settlers blocked a main road linking Nablus and Jenin on Monday, preventing Palestinian cars from passing, a PA official said. Settlers threw stones at Palestinian cars driving in the area, causing damage to several vehicles. An Israeli army spokeswoman said that a "military exercise simulating rock hurling" was taking place near Shave Shomron settlement, without providing further details. (Maan)
- MK Tibi: Settlers training dogs to attack Palestinians - Tibi told Ma'an that he obtained a videotape which shows settlers training dogs to attack Palestinians who say Allahu Akbar, or, 'God is Great'. (Maan)
- Israel forces 'order 15 families to leave homes' - Israeli forces on Monday ordered 15 families to evacuate their homes in the southern West Bank and said the area was a "closed military zone." The families live in caves and ancient stone dwellings in an area with fruit trees and water wells. Shalalda said all the residents had land ownership deeds. (Maan)
- UN refugee agency petitions High Court to overturn ‘infiltration’ law - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concerned law will 'wrongly stigmatize and penalize' those seeking protection as refugees; parts of law violate 'international human rights.' (Haaretz+)
- Silwan's Jews subjected to repeated attacks - Trial of five Palestinians exposes regular use of homemade Molotov cocktails, stones against Jews in attempt to oust them from east Jerusalem neighborhood. (Ynet)
- UN: Palestinian rocket, not Israeli strike, killed baby during Gaza war - Previous reports indicated that the baby of a BBC reporter in Gaza was killed in an Israeli airstrike; UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says in new report that incident likely caused by errant Palestinian rocket. (Agencies, Haaretz)
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Congregation Ansche Chesed, a prominent Conservative synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, prides itself on being a “diverse community” that offers its members a “rich array of programming.” But when its leader, Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, learned that the synagogue had agreed to serve as the venue for a panel on Israel, he attempted to cancel the event lest it lead to a discussion of BDS.
The flyer for the event had billed it, simply enough, as a talk on “Jewish Perspectives: Is Israel—or can it be—a democracy? Is there—or can there be—equality in Israel? Can a Jewish state be democratic?” But in the last paragraph, the flyer stated: “Last year, at two panels on Jewish Responses to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), the questions above were among those that people asked. We are interested in continuing this discussion in the Jewish community and more broadly.”
This photograph, taken on July 2, 2010 in Paris, France, shows a closed synagogue gate. (Groume / Flickr)
In other words, this panel discussion was not meant to be about BDS at all. Instead, its only connection to BDS was the fact that its actual topic—whether Israel is or can be a Jewish and democratic state—had been raised at two previous BDS panels. But that weak connection was enough to tar the whole event for Kalmanofsky, who said in a phone call Monday that “the conversation about whether there should be an economic assault on the state of Israel, which would turn Israel into a pariah state on the scale of South Africa—that’s not a conversation that we want to explore the merits of here. It’s beyond the pale.”
Ansche Chesed had initially agreed to rent its space to the panel organizers when they approached the synagogue a few weeks ago, but Kalmanofsky, who is on sabbatical this year, was checking email sporadically and didn’t immediately get wind of it. By the time he did, the office staff had already signed a contract. Kalmanofsky told the staff he opposed hosting the panel, and on March 5 a synagogue representative emailed the organizers to cancel the contract. When co-sponsor Donna Nevel pushed back, explaining that they’d entered into a legally enforceable agreement, Kalmanofsky agreed to honor it but forbade them to use the synagogue’s name when publicizing the event. If they insisted on holding the event at Ansche Chesed—he preferred they find an alternative venue—they were to use the street address only.
By all accounts, the coalition negotiations in Israel will conclude in the next day or two, with a government in place by the end of the week. It’s been expected for some time now that the government will be composed of Likud-Beiteinu, Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua (which has already signed a coalition agreement with Benjamin Netanyahu), Yesh Atid, Jewish Home, and Kadima.
Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press during a visit to the Begin Heritage center on January 21, 2013 in Jerusalem. (Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)
With a total of 70 votes in the Knesset such a coalition would be—in theory at least—very stable. But it’s more likely that the coalition will build into itself the very conditions for its early demise.
Netanyahu could well be the only one involved in the coalition discussions who isn’t happy about leaving the haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, out in the cold. Though it might seem as though general agreement on leaving them out is a stabilizing factor, it could instead lead to a greater effort by these parties and their constituents to push hard to change the calculus of voting and politicking in the next round of elections, or even before then.
When I appealed to liberal Zionists to support the global BDS movement, I assumed that the movement called for ending Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli discrimination against non-Jewish citizens, primarily Palestinians, within Israel. I also thought that liberal Zionists accepted these goals (see Mira Sucharov here), and that the central disagreement between liberal Zionists and the global BDS movement was over the third goal, the right of return of Palestinians to Palestine in accordance with U.N. Resolution 194.
My assumptions appear to have been unwarranted. Peter Beinart, answering in the name of liberal Zionists, has problems with the language of the BDS movement’s first goal to “end Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands,” for the language could include the Golan Heights, and anything over the Green Line, including the settlement blocs that the Palestinian Authority has, under duress, agreed in principle to cede to Israel. Beinart also has a problem with the language of its second goal, the “fundamental right of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” since that could mean an end to the Law of Return.
Metal cut-out statues of soldiers are seen in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, on Feb. 4, 2010. (Photo: Ariel Schalit / AP Photo)
It’s funny how people read… When I read the global BDS statement, I was surprised to learn that it implied the recognition of the continuing existence, indeed, legitimacy, of the State of Israel. After all, the call for Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands presupposes that there are Arab lands that Israel is not occupying and colonizing—otherwise where would Israel be? And the call for the fundamental right of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality presupposes that they are citizens of the state of Israel, i.e., the state of the Jewish people, since “Israel” and the “Jewish People” are synonyms. Imagine a similar call in which the black citizens of an ethnic nationalist country called “Afrikaaner Land “ are not urged to rise up and replace the settler-state with something else, but rather to become equal Afrikaaners.
English has by far the largest vocabulary of any language, but there are still times when we have to look beyond its confines to convey a particular meaning. There is a Spanish word, desengaño, which connotes a combination of disappointment, disenchantment, disillusionment and despair, for which we have no precise English equivalent. And this, surely, best sums up the current attitude of the Hamas rulers in Gaza towards Egypt's new government.
Palestinian girls walk in front of a photograph of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shaking hands with the Palestinian Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, in Gaza City on August 29, 2012. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / GettyImages)
Many Hamas leaders were apparently convinced that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere would mean a radical transformation of its fortunes and hold the key to its eventual victory over secular nationalists for control of the Palestinian national movement. At a minimum, they expected the new government of President Mohammed Morsi would adopt a much friendlier foreign policy, ease the blockade, pressure Israel and provide Hamas with a steady stream of support.
As the months have dragged on, it's become clear that this not only isn't the case, but that the Morsi government is at least as problematic from Hamas's perspective as its much-hated Mubarak predecessor. The recent flooding of Gaza smuggling tunnels by the Egyptian military with raw sewage (in contrast to Mubarak's occasional use of tear gas), pursuant to an Egyptian court order to close all such tunnels, is only the last straw.
"...We are sowing racism and reaping hatred. Add the disregard for human life to this mixture, and it's amazing that only now we are seeing a concerning growth in the number of nationalistically-motivated acts of violence by Jews against Arabs."
--Yedioth commentator Smadar Shir writes about the origins of racism among Jews.
- Defendant in racism case: Son of a police woman - Indictment for price-tag acts was filed yesterday against Dor Oved, the son of a policewoman and a man working in security services. Oved, from Mevasseret Tsiyon, was caught while vandalizing Palestinian cars. He kicked a policeman and called him a 'Nazi.' Only six months ago, he was sentenced to two months in prison for other price-tag acts and threats against Peace Now activists. (Yedioth, p. 40) (Note: Blogger Richard Silverstein identifies his father as a Shin Bet agent.)
- Attacked Arab-Israeli woman: We'll die on this land - Nazareth woman who was spat on by Jewish teens tells Ynet incident not her first encounter with racism. (Ynet)
- Arab youth attacked female students from Yokneam - The Jewish female students were visiting the Arab town of Sakhnin as part of a co-existence exchange program. After the girls got on the bus to return home, stones were thrown at the bus. The principal of the Sakhnin school sent a letter apologizing for the "shameful incident." (Maariv, p. 16, NRG Hebrew)
- (Arab) National Service recruiter denounced as 'traitor' - Arab woman who successfully enlisted 360 Arab youths to National Service subjected to harassment, social isolation by community. (Yedioth, p. 38/Ynet)
- Yadlin: Senior U.S. officials support Pollard's release - Former Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin signs petition to free jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Says senior U.S. officials back notion sentence is "disproportionate." Over 125,000 people have signed petition to release Pollard. (Israel Hayom)
- Gallup poll: Americans least favorable toward Iran - Nearly nine in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Iran, making it the worst rated country out of 22 asked about. Israel is "above water" — although it is not at the top of the list, it engenders attitudes from Americans that are much more favorable than unfavorable, the survey found. (Israel Hayom)
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After two decades of a U.S.-led “peace process,” we are no closer to achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement today than we were in the early 1990s. Indeed, we’re probably much farther away now, as Israel took advantage of the so-called “peace process” to drastically expand its colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories (in direct violation of the spirit of Oslo), growing the settler population to more than 600,000 and making a viable two-state solution almost implausible.
Charles Dharapak / AP Photo
The best Israeli offer for a Palestinian state was given in Camp David II in 2000. Without quibbling over the details, it suffices to say that the offer fell so short of being viable that even Israel’s foreign minister at the time, Shlomo Ben-Ami, said that had he been Palestinian, he would have rejected it. That offer was made back when Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, belonged to the left-leaning Labor party, when the Palestinians had a relatively popular leader, and when the Israeli settler population in the Palestinian territories was much smaller. Today, we’re in a much worse environment, as Israel is led by the notoriously difficult right-wing Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, the Palestinian leadership lacks legitimacy and is divided, and the extent of Israel’s integration of the occupied territories has made carving out a viable Palestinian state more complicated. Furthermore, Israel’s “exclusive negotiator with the Palestinians” under Netanyahu’s emerging coalition will be Tzipi Livni, who was a right-wing Likudnik back when Likud saw Ehud Barak’s grossly insufficient offer to the Palestinians in Camp David II as too generous.
Here in the U.S., things don’t look quite as bleak, as there are some indications that the Obama administration is serious about making a meaningful push for Israeli-Palestinian peace in its second term. There are high hopes for what Obama’s message could be in his upcoming trip to Israel. Chuck Hagel, Obama’s pick for Secretary of Defense, is a Republican centrist who, while having a solid pro-Israel record, gets it and has clashed with the Israel lobby because he wasn’t big on signing blank checks for Israel at every turn. And the new Secretary of State John Kerry is said to be “determined to the point of obsession” to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement before the end of President Obama’s second term.
In his criticism of my essay, the one-nation advocate Ben White faults me for leaving out the “foundational ethnic cleansing of the Nakba.” Palestinian refugees deserve compensation but this has little bearing on whether or not today’s Israel should be labeled an apartheid state. White suggests pervasive discrimination within Israel where government policies “have notoriously been used to exclude Arabs” and promote “discrimination against and displaces minorities.” However, the only detailed example in his sources is the treatment of Negev Bedouins in the unrecognized villages. White also misrepresents the U.N. CERD Report which commends Israel for its recent affirmative action efforts and focuses its major criticisms on the Bedouin situation. I, too, have criticized these policies but White cannot hang the apartheid label on Israel if this is his only example, especially given the well-documented substantial aid to Negev Bedouin communities.
An Israeli Arab woman and her children casts their vote at a polling station during the Israeli General Election on January 22, 2013 in Abu Ghosh, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
White trivializes government affirmative action policies as “‘co-existence’ industrial parks” by ignoring the education, high tech, government employment, and infrastructure initiatives, the growing partnership of Arab mayors with government ministries, and the large share of Arabs who embrace the Israeli state. He chastises Israel for segregationist policies but it is his one-nation allies that hinder integration efforts. These forces have tried to limit cooperation with government initiatives and discourage Israeli Arabs seeking inclusion in national service or the Israeli university system.
White makes no efforts to compare Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority to their treatment elsewhere. Israeli Arab life expectancy, educational attainment, earnings, and positions within government are on par if not better than virtually all the Western European countries. But in his myopic view, only Israel’s shortfalls deserve the apartheid label.
Israeli settlers from Shavei Shomron have recently started dumping untreated sewage on the farmland in Sebastiya, a small Palestinian town in the West Bank just north of Nablus. Today, Sebastiya organized its first popular demonstration in 36 years specifically to draw attention to the issue of the sewage contaminating their lands.
“We want to farm our land in peace,” Ahmed Kayed, a resident of Sebastiya and the organizer of today’s protest, told me. “But the settlers are cutting our olive trees, keeping us from our land. Now their sewage is flowing through our land, poisoning it.”
Kayed hopes that today will be Sebastiya’s first of many weekly popular demonstrations like those in Bil’in, Ni’lin and Nabi Saleh. In preparation, he proudly unfurled a sign that read, “This is our land. Get the shit out of here!”
Sheep graze near ancient Roman ruins in the Palestinian West Bank village of Sebastiya, northwest of Nablus, on May 5, 2011. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP / Getty Images)
As a village, Sebastiya is known for its picturesque Roman ruins dating back to 800 BCE, making Sebastiya one of the oldest and most historic villages in the West Bank. Before 1967, these ruins were a major tourist attraction of the Middle East. However, since the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) occupied the land, tourism has plummeted with several shops being forced to close, draining the small town’s economy. Once the first Israeli settlement was built in 1975—the second Israeli settlement in the West Bank ever, preceded only by Hebron—the village became characterized by settler violence.
Last week the Obama administration announced that Phillip Gordon would step in as the White House's coordinator for Middle East policy, filling a role left vacant by Amb. Dennis Ross last year. The move from being Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs to the National Security Council fills one of the last major spots on Barack Obama's team that will deal with the Iranian nuclear crisis—an issue that may well come to a head during the President's second term. Along with newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry, at times, and certainly Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Gordon's record suggests a confluence with Obama's more cautious instincts.
Then-US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon speaks during his news conference in Tbilisi, Georgia on November 16, 2012. (Vano Shlamov / Getty Images)
Obama's Iran policies consist of various strains that emphasize different approaches. One, embraced by the right and trumpeted by the Obama administration before pro-Israel and more hawkish audiences, focuses on the threat of military force to delay Iran's progress. While the right runs with it—and downplays possible consequences—the administration itself leaves open the possibility of an attack, but has warned periodically of its potential consequences. For this reason, we're told, all conceivable efforts must be made to reach a diplomatic deal with the Iranians. Judging from his record at the Brookings Institution before joining State, Gordon seems to rest on more cautious edge of them. Far from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's dismissal of non-military means—let alone AIPAC's push for Congressional pledges of U.S. support of an Israeli strike—Gordon has for years emphasized pressure and diplomacy; his new appointment could be an indication of a priority on avoiding war.
In keeping with what one might expect from diplomat serving at the President's pleasure, Gordon's rhetoric about Iran since joining the administration has been standard boilerplate—sans the "all options" rhetoric. (In an interview last year, Gordon did mention a military strike in the context of averting one that would be carried out by Israel.) But at Brookings, Gordon was outspoken against strikes. Calling an attack against Iran "unpalatable" in Senate testimony delivered in 2008, Gordon cited several points held up today by sober analysts and opponents of an attack: the potential that strikes wouldn't work to stop Iran; the likelihood of Iran redoubling its nuclear efforts; possible "asymmetrical" retaliation; and increased support for among Iranians for the regime. Because Iran's nuclear sites are geographically spread out and heavily fortified, Gordon said strikes would need to be "widespread, sustained, and likely to kill a number of Iranian civilians." Warning of these dangers, Gordon concluded, "The costs of a U.S. attempt to thwart Iran’s nuclear program with military force could thus be very high, without necessarily being effective." (The interactions with Europeans while serving at State seem unlikely to have altered this perspective: in a 2008 article, Gordon noted Europeans "wanted to distance themselves" from the military option against Iran.)
Ali Gharib on how badly John Kerry's efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks are going.