With unanimous consent from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a revised version of a resolution that originally sought to green-light any Israeli attack on Iran will now pass to the hands of the full Senate. With backing from the influential Israel lobby group AIPAC and 79 co-sponsors, the non-binding resolution looks poised to pass the upper chamber. While the new language assuages some fears about the original bill, the trajectory of the stated push by one of its hawkish co-authors, Lindsey Graham, seems decidedly on track to ratchet up tensions between Iran, and Israel and the United States.
The most troubling clause of the resolution itself—one that pledged unconditional U.S. support, including "military" support, for an Israeli strike on Iran—was modified in a mark-up by the committee. Joel Rubin of the Ploughshares Fund noted to ThinkProgress that invoking the mark-up procedures was "relatively rare for this type of resolution"—perhaps spurred by harsh criticisms and activism by pro-peace groups. One of the latter groups, the liberal pro-Israel group Americans for Peace Now, which pressed its activists to get in touch with their representatives on the Hill, catalogued the changes in the new version in a press release:
- It refers to “legitimate” self-defense, making clear that the U.S. will judge what is and is not genuinely an act of self-defense.
- It explicitly narrows the scope of what would qualify as a legitimate act of self-defense to one taken against “Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” as opposed to any Iranian targets.
- It makes clear that support for Israel in such a case must be in accordance with U.S. law, including constitutional requirements for Congressional authorization of use of force before committing the U.S. to any military action.
The resolution was a centerpiece of AIPAC's legislative agenda coming out of its annual policy conference in March—one of the "asks" its own thousands of activists made of Members of Congress. Yesterday, the group reacted by praising the resolution's move to the full Senate and urging its passage, while never mentioning the language changes. The AIPAC press release added: "The resolution also reiterates that the policy of the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and to take such action as may be necessary to implement this policy." This is indeed the policy of Israel, and the policy of the Romney campaign, and the policy which Graham has pressed—on the same disingenuous grounds as AIPAC—upon the Obama administration, and the policy which the Congress adopted on Graham's heels. But neither Congress nor Netanyahu nor Mitt Romney set U.S. foreign policy: that's left up to the President of the United States. Barack Obama has been unequivocal that he will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon; the Iranian nuclear "capability" drawing the ire of AIPAC, Netanyahu and Congress is ill-defined, except that it surely sets a lower threshold for war.
To ignore this dynamic is precisely the point. As Scott McConnell wrote of the original version of the bill, the intent was "to broadcast the falsehood that the U.S. and Israel see the Iranian nuclear issue in exactly the same terms." It's perhaps most remarkable because it requires forgetting what happened just a few short months ago when the aforementioned forces—Congress, Netanyahu and Romeny—led respective campaigns to pressure Obama into making the shift from his own "red lines" to Bibi's, which he didn't. Papering over these lasting gaps, as Netanyahu and Obama did in Israel, doesn't make them disappear, but it does maintain for now the improbable illusion that the interests of these two nuclear-armed allies are perfectly aligned.
After agreeing to the terms of the November 2012 ceasefire, Hamas and Israel have been engaged in indirect talks, mediated by Egypt, the guarantor of the peace. These talks represent a step in the right direction. However, to save the fragile ceasefire, they must be accompanied by a real change in policy.
Gaza's Hamas government prime minister Ismail Haniya and Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal greet Palestinians as they parade the streets following Meshaal's arrival in Gaza City, on December 7, 2012. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)
Since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has dealt with the group through a strategy of non-recognition, isolation of Gaza, and military deterrence aimed at making Hamas's job of running Gaza extremely difficult, hoping to weaken them. However, this policy has not resulted in the implosion of Hamas, though it has resulted in inflicting severe harm on Gaza and its population and a dramatic deterioration in living standards. Although the situation partially improved following a “relaxation” of the restrictions since the summer of 2010, progress has been limited with extremely grim forecasts of what the future holds for Gaza. The restrictions have also greatly accelerated the social and economic disparities between the West Bank and Gaza, whose real GDP per capita dropped from 89 to 43 percent of the West Bank's between 2006 and 2009.
Lacking a political approach with respect to Hamas, Israel has invested in defending its home-front while boosting deterrence. However, as the repeated cycles of violence demonstrate, an approach that relies solely on military deterrence has delivered neither stability nor permanent security. Therefore, the current approach needs to be dramatically revised before the next escalation.
This week, while celebrating its 65th anniversary, Israel should be the toast of the world. A model “new nation,” the Jewish State may be the most successful of the post-colonial states that emerged in the twentieth-century’s wave of nation-building as the great nineteenth-century empires collapsed. Starting with little, Israel quickly developed a thriving democracy, a booming economy, and a list of impressive technological and pharmacological achievements that have made life worldwide easier, safer, happier, and longer lasting. Yet, for all its accomplishments, the start-up nation has also been the embattled state, built on contested territory, surrounded by hostile enemies many of whom seek to destroy it.
The duality of this high-tech Athens yet tough Sparta helps explain the intense, polarizing, sometimes-hysterical emotions the country often stirs. And this defining paradox also results in two different ways of periodizing its history, telling its tale. The conventional approach tells Israel’s story as the story of the Arab-Israeli conflict—going from war to war, and peace prospect to peace prospect, starting with the 1948 Independence War through 1967 and 1973, bringing in Palestinian terrorism and the Egyptian peace treaty, then reaching today’s no-real-peace-no-real-war stalemate. That narrative of war-making and peace-processing must be complemented with a happier story, showing how the society grew from the austere 1940s and 1950s to the lush and plush 2000s and 2010s.
Zoltan Kluger / GPO / Getty Images
Beyond the conflict, and despite the conflict, Israel has thrived. During the 1950s, Israel was overwhelmed with the task of absorbing 850,000 Jews from Arab countries, turning these refugees into citizens overnight—but taking much longer to help them become Israelis. By the 1960s, Israel’s economy had more than doubled in size and stabilized—by Israel’s 15th birthday in 1963, 97 percent of Israelis had running water, 93 percent had electricity—a remarkable accomplishment few of its neighbors matched. Israel was also the toast of the international community, with its communal farming settlement, the kibbutz, seen as its defining institution. Moreover, fulfilling the vision of Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, who dreamed of helping to liberate Africa once the Jewish State was established, Israelis were working on development projects in dozens of new African countries—an initiative squelched in Israel’s 25th year, when Libya and Saudi Arabia used petrodollars to bribe poor African countries into boycotting Israel.
Apparently, Steve Emerson has literally forgotten the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the scene of his own most infamous mistake—which he repeated today.
Yet the purported terrorism expert somehow retains enough of his cachet to keep getting invited to talk about terrorism at places like AIPAC's annual conference and on cable television. All this even after he's been wrong again and again when it comes to his predictions and analysis of terror incidences. Most notably, he's been wrong in pronouncements that Islamic extremists were behind terrorist attacks; the most famous example came when Emerson blamed the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on Muslims because he said the attack bore a "Middle East trait" of being "done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible." That's what makes it so stunning that he completely forgot about this example today on Fox News when the anchor asked him about what it would mean if an Al Qaeda was behind the Boston Marathon bombing yesterday:
EMERSON: Remember that those domestic extremist groups, the white extremist groups or individuals, used guns, to carry out their attacks. And then they committed suicide or were caught. But this is the first time—
HOST: Oklahoma City bombing... bombing, a truck bomb.
EMERSON: That's actually very true. But this is the first time since 9/11 that an actually bombing's occurred successfully.
Perhaps Emerson was so convinced by his own misbegotten conclusions in 1995 that he's completely internalized them. Or perhaps, like ideologues everywhere, he simply allows his view of reality to be distorted by his ideology.
Salam Fayyad has achieved what the world thought was impossible. He finally got Fatah and Hamas to agree on something: the two bitterly divided factions both happily accepted his resignation.
During the 2006 legislative elections, the American-educated Dr. Fayyad ran alongside Hanan Ashrawi as part of the Third Way party. Both won their seats. Fayyad was vocally secular and anti-corruption. In June of 2007, he was appointed Prime Minister by Mahmoud Abbas. The key word here is appointed, not elected, which means he had zero legitimate popular support. Fayyad stepped into his new role after Abbas lost control of Gaza and declared a "national emergency" that conveniently has yet to end. He is considered a technocrat, which I believe means he's a Democrat who loves glowsticks.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad (R) tastes olive-based products during the annual Olive Harvest Festival in the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem on November 3, 2012. (Musa Al-Shaer / AFP / Getty Images)
Complicating things is the fact that Hamas has its very own Prime Minister, the ever-lovable Ismail Haniyeh. This did nothing to bolster Fayyad's already shaky street credibility. It’s kind of like having two Popes minus the red shoes, and just like Pope Benedict XVI, Fayyad never caught on with the flock. The Palestinian streets’ number one beef with him was that they believed he was America’s puppet. This shouldn't have been a deal-breaker, though, since rumor has it the entire leadership is bought and paid for by the U.S. So what made Fayyad so special that he didn't get a pass and was, instead, the target of such wrath?
The social and political impact in the United States of the outcome of the investigation into the bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon is almost impossible to overestimate. It will, in all likelihood, define several key cultural markers for the next generation of Americans.
Although the country has been awash with violence of many different kinds, including various terrorist acts, this is by far the most culturally and politically significant since the 9/11 atrocities. Like 9/11, and the Oklahoma City bombing before it, the attack on the Boston Marathon has profound and national symbolic resonance. Nothing since September 11, 2001 compares in this regard.
Medical workers aid an injured woman at the scene of a bomb blast near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston on April 15, 2013. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Few facts are known and authorities say no suspects are identified or in custody. Therefore, a huge range of potential perpetrators with widely divergent motivations remains potentially culpable.
But within the wide range of possible scenarios, three obviously stand out. The culprits could be right-wing, anti-government American extremists. They might be some other kind of domestic extremists, or even a lone madman. But there is also the distinct possibility that the bombings may prove to be linked to some group of Muslim extremists, either foreign or domestic.
It is this last category that would have most impact.
Every spring brings a whipsaw of emotion to the American-Israeli peace-advocate Jew living in self-imposed exile (me, in this case, but I’m guessing I’m not alone).
Every year, I launch my Passover cleaning with a combined loathing of cleaning, a general-all-purpose laziness, and an overwhelming longing for home—and anger at the Israeli policies that inspired my Jerusalemite husband and me to choose the Diaspora over home, for the sake of our children. This invariably crests on the day of the Seder, as I get weepy over boxes of matzah and the recipes of beloved Tel Aviv friends, and then it passes, more or less, as the trial of the cleaning fades, and my little family revels in our little Pesach traditions. I engage with the Divine, I feel a special joy. A week later it’s back to the everyday—and every year I think that the roller coaster is behind me.
The Palestinian flag flies from the building housing the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington on January 18, 2011. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
Then another week passes, and suddenly it’s Holocaust Day. Almost without noticing, I sink into a kind of numb horror, a boundless grief, listening to Israeli radio and reading the memories of the millions lost, weeping off and on all day it seems, slowly emerging as the sun sets and our yahrzeit candle burns low. Again, I long to be with my people, and internally rage at the reasons that I find myself a stranger in a strange land. And again I think it’s passed.
And then a week later it’s the eve of Israeli Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, which is, in turn, the lead-in to Israeli Independence Day, Yom HaAtzmaut. And as much as I don’t know how to process the emotions of Passover and Holocaust Day, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut bring with them an entirely different degree of difficulty.
The United States likes to think of itself as a benevolent force in the world, a view held by the range of political persuasions from liberal internationalists to neoconservatives. But the latest political drama to grip Palestine—the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—gives a window into just how skewed this self-image can be when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There's no push there for international partners to adhere to the rule of law; instead, the U.S. is asking Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the opposite. Secretary of State John Kerry, amid shuttling back and forth to the Middle East, reportedly asked the Palestinians to ignore their own laws and retain Fayyad as long as possible (with my emphasis):
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on April 7, 2013 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Thaer Ganaim / PPO via Getty Images)
"It looks like the president will wait to see the result of the two months that Kerry has asked for before he nominates a new prime minister," said a senior official close to Abbas who declined to be named. Palestinian law stipulates that Abbas should appoint a successor within two weeks. However, the president himself has overstayed his own mandate by four years and parliament has not met for six, indicating flexibility in the rulebook.
Fayyad, of course, rose to the role of prime minister only when the office was vacated by Hamas. That abdication came thanks to the civil war that bifurcated the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories into distinct parts: the West Bank under the P.A. and the Gaza Strip in the hands of Hamas. The schism—which erupted in 2007, after Hamas won parliamentary elections the year before, with the group's violent takeover of Gaza—came in the form of a pre-emptive counter-coup against a U.S.-backed plan to oust Hamas from power. That's when Fayyad, a technocrat, was appointed to be a prime minister with not even the shred of democratic legitimacy enjoyed by the man who appointed him.
Israel turns 65 today, old enough to know better; and if life begins at conception, the state and I are exactly the same age. So forgive me for going all meta. I can imagine pretty much what I'll be, if at all, in 20 years. But Israel?
I ask because the conflict with the Palestinians seems headed to something bad, yet the peace process has become a great bore. Presumably, everybody knows the arguments and grievances and indignations. They know that two states have been preempted by Tel Aviv's complacency, or settler momentum, or Ramallah's nostalgia, or Gaza's missiles; that we're too afraid and they're too angry; that you can care about "Jewish," or about refugees, but not both; that the occupation has created one state anyway, and seriousness about human rights means demanding one-person, one-vote, a notional prelude to a political dream palace, which actually means a prelude to Bosnia, but never mind.
Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty
But wait: isn't John Kerry serious and hasn't President Obama inspired? Won't a renewal of Palestinian insurgency, with Syria in chaos and the Egyptian economy collapsing, lead to regional violence? Even if Israel has the power to win any war, don't Palestinians have the power to make them despise any victory? Boring. Everybody also knows that in restarting negotiations over restarting negotiations, Kerry's in denial about how far apart the sides are, or the limited power of American diplomacy to force them closer, or (the same thing) the limited power of the president to defy the Israel lobby.
“The test of every nation is the nation that comes next,” Michael Walzer announced. Israel's test remains incomplete: how will it deal with the Palestinians and their own quest for statehood?
That question was one of several that went entertained, if not quite answered, at a sold-out event Sunday afternoon at the JCC in Manhattan. The crowd was there for a conversation between Moshe Halbertal, the Israeli philosopher, and Walzer, the writer, political philosopher, and outgoing editor of Dissent. Their debate, moderated by Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner, was to address, in Eisner's formulation, “whether or not we can hold Zionism and liberalism in the same place.”
That tenuous wording presaged what would be a rote affair, with the two philosophers maundering down the lane of liberal bromides while never straying into the other's path. For their hour-plus-long conversation, they seemed to agree on everything. And besides a couple typical remarks directed against the settlement enterprise or religious influence in Israeli government, they evinced little passion or righteous anger, either of which would have been welcome additions to a discourse that lately seems bogged down in sectarian political fighting (are you J Street or AIPAC?) and pale-eyed laments over the supposed death of the two-state solution.
Both men laid out a vision of Israel as a pluralistic home for the Jewish people, providing an opportunity for self-determination and the perpetuation of the Jewish nation and Jewish culture. “As a Jewish state, Israel has a particular responsibility to the Jewish people as a whole,” Halbertal said. It's this designation that—per the event's title—would seem to serve up some conflict, not least of the existential variety. Can this Jewishness be compatible with democratic government and just treatment of minorities?
When one synagogue in the affluent New York suburb of Great Neck, just outside Queens on Long Island, revoked its invitation to Pamela Geller, another was quick to step up and give the anti-Muslim activist a soap box. Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky, head of the Great Neck chapter of the Orthodox Jewish group Chabad, where Geller spoke on Sunday, extended the invitation because “everyone should have the option to speak, as long as they do not speak hatred." Likewise, Geller called attempts to block her talk a "war on free speech." But if these self-proclaimed defenders of the Constitution were making this day about freedom of speech, they apparently forgot about the next clause in the first amendment: that which ensures the freedom of the press.
In this Sept. 11, 2012 photo, anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Geller, speaks at a conference she organized entitled; “Stop Islamization of America,” in New York. (David Karp / AP Photo )
When I arrived to the Great Neck Chabad house at 9 o'clock in the morning, an hour before the talk, attendees were already streaming in past the plastic tables set up for security. Three enormous flags rose in front of the Chabad house: the Israeli flag flew highest, followed by the American, and lastly a big, yellow Tea Party flag. As I moved to the table at the right, for registering as press, a tall, balding man with a dark suit and sunglasses asked me who I was writing for. "The Daily Beast," I replied. The man, Jeffrey Weisenfeld, didn't miss a beat before waving his hand dismissively and blurting out, "Not interested." I told him the Daily Beast was a reputable national news site, and he responded that he was familiar with the website, and unmoved by my appeal. "Usually, the press controls us," he told me. "Today, we control the press." Wiesenfeld added: "We only want the outlets here that we want here," and urged me to read about the event in the local paper Newsday like everyone else.
Geller's talk at Chabad was slated to be closely moderated to keep it from venturing off the topics of freedom of speech and terrorism, and preventing any of the sort of hate speech Geisinsky said had no place there. But Geller's anti-Muslim record have gotten her labeled at a hate-monger by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others, including, notably, many American Jewish groups. The outrages are far too frequent to catalogue, but her work has repeatedly gotten her in hot water for intolerant statements about Muslims in general, not just the purported extremist targets of her ire.
“We don’t listen to what you say,” a friend from Ramallah told me a while back. “We see what you do.” Poor Salam Fayyad, who resigned this weekend as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. He put his faith in what America and Israel say.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks during an interview in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 28, 2011. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)
American and Israeli officials say they want Palestinian leaders to champion nonviolence, fiscal integrity, and the two state solution. Judged by those criteria, Fayyad was a dream come true. In 2010, Israeli President Shimon Peres compared him to Israel’s own revered founder, David Ben Gurion. In 2011, the International Monetary Fund declared that the Palestinian Authority was “now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state.” In 2012, in part because of improved Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, reported that for the first time in almost 40 years, not a single Israeli had died from Palestinian terrorism from the West Bank.
But if Fayyad delivered, Israel and America did not. Logic would suggest that faced with a West Bank prime minister who makes the IMF swoon and a Hamas leadership in Gaza that calls Osama Bin Laden a “holy warrior,” the Israeli and American governments would have gone to great lengths to help Fayyad succeed. To the contrary, they helped seal his doom.
The streets of Manhattan’s Upper West Side thrummed with excitement on Sunday. What was supposed to be a holiday had turned into a political drama. Barely 24 hours had passed since Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned from the Palestinian Authority and left the Middle East with another corner of stunned uncertainty. How can you celebrate with street fairs and Bamba stalls when Israel is marking its 65th year with another blow to its political future?
Okay, so that’s not exactly how it was. If any of the people who had come to celebrate Independence Day on the Upper West Side had read the news about Fayyad’s resignation in the morning, they’d managed to forget about it by afternoon, when Israeli street fairs—at least, that’s how they were advertised—began to hatch in the neighborhood streets in honor of Israel’s 65th birthday. The fair promised a sophisticated taste of Israeliness. But it was a Sunday, after all, and something had to be done to entertain the kids.
A child waves an Israeli flag as she watches the Salute to Israel Parade on May 31, 2009 in New York City. (Hiroko Masuike / Getty Images)
As soon as I entered West 100th Street, I understood that this experience was going to involve time travel. When I was a kid, maybe seven years old, I used to imagine that Moses had come back to life, and of all the people in the world he’d chosen me to lead him through the depths of Jerusalem in the late seventies. I was primarily concerned with my limited ability to provide technological explanations. What is a car? How does a toilet work? What is a zipper? And what did we do to deserve to see the day when, finally, we had our own country, the State of Israel? At the age of seven, I didn’t skimp on the pathos.
This weekend, at the Upper West Side fair, I got Jewish New York’s 2013 version of that journey of Moses. It was a journey on which I encountered their Israel. The Israel that exists only as a romantic fantasy in their minds. The Israel that exists as a remnant of yellowing photographs from an old album, from that time they walked up Ben Yehuda Street or down Nahalat Binyamin, when everyone was still beautiful and thin and very Zionist.
Salam Fayyad’s resignation is most unfortunate. The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority since 2007, this American-educated technocrat has been the most constructive, most visionary, Palestinian leader and the one most associated with state-building, ever—with, I regret to say, very few rivals in those realms. His departure is a blow to peace—and to Palestinian hopes for national independence.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad (R) tastes olive-based products during the annual Olive Harvest Festival in the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem on November 3, 2012. (Musa Al-Shaer / AFP / Getty Images)
Fayyad brought “transparency, accountability and stability” to the often chaotic PA, in the words of the New York Times. He was, in many ways, the un-Arafat. Fayyad was honest, whereas the longtime PLO leader Yasir Arafat was corrupt; Fayyad sought order, while Arafat thrived on chaos; Fayyad focused his energies on building a Palestinian national entity, Arafat ultimately preferred focusing on trying to destroy the Jewish State.
Ironically, Fayyad ended up bearing the brunt of the blame for the continuing bedlam and economic distress on the West Bank. This distortion is the political equivalent of firing a doctor who has alleviated but not yet eliminated the symptoms of a chronic illness—then blaming the doctor as the cause of the affliction rather than part of the cure.
When the late Carmen Weinstein asked "Why do they hate us?" a few days ago on the pages of the Jewish Community in Cairo website, she was not referring to her fellow Egyptian compatriots, as one might suspect, but to her co-religionists abroad. Spurred on by the publication of an article in an Israeli newspaper, which recycled a number of clichés about Egyptian Jews, Weinstein argued back with characteristic passion against those who "find untold satisfaction in characterizing the Alexandria and Cairo Jewish communities as finished and done with, and that the state forbids us from celebrating our high holidays!"
An Egyptian worker uses chemicals to restore detail on a marble piece of the Moses Ben Maimon synagogue in the el-Gamaliya area in old Cairo on August 20, 2009. (Cris Bouroncle / AFP / Getty Images)
This was not the first time Carmen, as she was known to everyone, wrote such an article, nor was it the first time that members of the diaspora had sought to recycle the lachrymose "Out of Egypt" tale of the community’s demise. For much of her life Carmen Weinstein fought the pernicious misperception that there were no Jews left in Egypt.
Never shy of controversy, Carmen, who inherited from her mother her politics and position as president of the community, long insisted that the historic artifacts of the community in Egypt must remain in Egypt. Diaspora groups such as the French Association International Nabi Daniel and the Brooklyn-based Historical Society of Jews From Egypt continue to lobby for the removal of sefarim, or holy books, from Egyptian synagogues and have them exported abroad. But for Weinstein this would amount to no less than the erasure of a chapter of Egyptian and Jewish history. As her mother, Esther, once wrote, "Taking the Jewish sefarims, books, records... out of Egypt because there are very few of us left is tantamount to saying Egypt should demolish the Pyramids and the Temple of Luxor because there are no pharaohs left."
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.