Monday, January 31, 2011

Cargo Cult Statehood

In his 1974 CalTech address, Richard Feynman has decried the ascent of what he termed 'Cargo Cult Science'. What Dr. Feynmann was referring to is the rise of many new 'scientific' disciplines that although possessed all the superficial components of science, such as 'peer reviewed publications', white robes and fancy lingo, they lacked the central component: Scientific Integrity. The focus switched to get results published quickly, and worse, get the correct results.

I believe that this principle can be extended to other important institutions. If we analyse it properly, we will quickly see that the Palestinian Authority is working towards what could only be described as 'Cargo Cult Statehood'. They poses the superficial qualities of a nation state, such as a flag, a national anthem, diplomatic delegates, government institutions and a 'President'. But they are missing the key ingredients to stand on their own: a sense of national responsibility and political integrity.

The Palestinians, which is a modern designation for the Arabs who resided in the British mandate of Palestine pre-Israel, are perhaps the worst represented people in history. During the Second World War, they were represented by the Fuhrer's friend Hajj-amin al-Husseini, an raging advocate of the final solution. Up until recently, the face of the 'Palestinian Cause' was Yasser Arafat, to whom the title of "genocidal terrorist" is not at all a stretch. Meanwhile, the Palestinians themselves lived either under Egyptian/Jordanian military occupation or confined to refugee camps in other Arab states.

The leaders who quickly emerged, such as the PLO, were more than happy to keep their power base poor, isolated and desperate.  Setting up UNWRA administered refugee camps. Palestinians in Arab lands are the only displaced peoples who have the 'right' to pass on the title of refugee to their offsprings. The so called 'refugees' are not given many other, real rights by their host countries and their political leadership was more than happy to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, the 'struggle' for liberation of Palestine required a sense of being 'Palestinian'. A national ideology and a sense of history, that has thus far never existed.

Nowadays, Palestinians who never saw life outside their cramped refugee camp are reminiscing about a 'Palestine' that never existed. They dream of a past were they lived as hard working but joyful farmers on some idealic land. No coherent national ideology has emerged except for what can only be described as anti-Zionism, i.e. the utter disdain for the Jewish nation. A national ideology based on hate for another is unsustainable. It is no accident that all pro-Palestinian campaigns are not concerned with improving the lives of Palestinians or help them become a modern democratic nation state, it is all concerned with how to bring on suffering to Israeli Jews (even though such tactics often disrupts the lives of Palestinians).

Now, when talk of 'the soon to be declared' Palestinian state feels the airwaves, we find that their economy largely relies on foreign aid. Their state bureaucracy is extremely corrupt and is mostly based on family connections. The political establishment is divided into two territorial enclaves that hate each other more than they hate Israel.

Based on that, we cannot expect a viable, modern, democratic state to emerge. What will probably come to being is a fractured autocracy, with a failing economy that will probably resort to war with its much more powerful neighbor for the gazzilionth time in a century.

So why do so many people insist that such a strange creature can somehow help stabilize the Middle East? Why is Israel expected to make so many concessions without much of a guarantee for peace and regional cooperation?

The Palestinians have been very effective at raising national flags, writing a national anthem, creating a state bureaucracy and begging the world for aid and for pieces of paper that gives them the recognition of some faraway government. But they haven't been able to accept the responsibility of managing their own affairs.


Mid-afternoon Coffee Snack

Arik Einstein - Amru Lo

Revolution Until Bankruptcy!

Despite of its large size, Egypt is not a very wealthy country. Israel, its next door neighbor possesses an economy of comparable size while having about 10% of Egypt's population. Additionally, much of the rest of its income comes either due to its ties with Israel and the West or due to its Faux democratic moderate autocracy.

About 10% of Egypt's incomes comes from direct trade with the states. A lot more is due to various free trade agreements with the West, which Egypt has access to due its peace agreement with Israel. And then there is the big elephant in the room: tourism!

If an anti-American regime takes hold in Egypt, you can be sure that the Americans will cease selling the Egyptians modern weapons and cut military aid, which is second only to Israel (though the Obama administration has been rather unpredictable with things like that). The powerful Egyptian army will not like that. Whomever takes over in Egypt is going to have a tough time maintaining a modern army.

Additionally, you can assume that trade between Egypt and the states is going to diminish immensely. Egypt might be able to find alternative markets, but they will probably be compelled to use more competitive prices. That's before we consider the number of foreign companies with production facilities in Egypt that will pull out. The very successful Israeli underwear manufacturer, 'Delta', has already ceased production in Egypt, temporarily. If things do not become stable, temporary is sure to become permanent.

Then there is the issue of foreign and local investment. Foreign investors have been fleeing the Middle East in the last few days. Egypt's bond rating has already been cut. It has also been reported that some Egypt's uber rich have been fleeing the country with their cash. This is not good for the economy.

And then there is the little issue of tourism, one of Egypt's most powerful sectors. Nobody is crazy about going to a country where mass riots can break any minute, accompanied by waves of looting pillaging and raping. Not to mention highway robbery. Things are bad... There has already been a break-in to Egypt's treasured national museum and some ancient artifacts have been stolen. This must be a big blow to Egypt's national pride and dignity.

So are we looking at a democratic transformation, or a big disintegration of a great nation, with its history, national treasure, dignity and wealth all being wasted away. It's international prestige and strategic interests collapsing and its food supplies running out?

Does that mean that the situation in Egypt must stabilize soon as a corrective step? Of some compromise being reached in order to return Egypt to where it was? 

Most likely not... that's what happened in Russian in 1917, or Iran in 1979. More chaos, less democracy and less freedom.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Damned if we Do, Damned if we Don't!

America is often criticized for bolstering authoritarian regimes of the most despicable type. It is frequently pointed out that America has a vested interest in its foreign policy dependencies to be repressive, brutal regimes that will strictly protect America's geopolitical aims, at whatever means.

It is true that in the past it has happened. America did help instigate coup d'etat in many cases. They supported militarily regimes of the most unsavory kind.

But is this some foreign policy conspiracy to keep other nations down while America dictates the terms?

I don't think so...

Let's look at some of America's closest allies:

Canada, UK, Australia - Westminster style parliamentary democracy. By all counts, freedom and personal liberties are fairly high.

Germany, Japan - A brutal dictatorship that was transformed under American military occupation into a very free and liberal democratic state.

And of course I can add many more... For example, Israel's typical government survival rate is probably shorter than the president's Press Secretary's typical tenure. 

So why is America of bolstering dictators at the expense of the liberties of its people?

I think the answer is pretty simple... American bolsters cooperative dictators in countries where liberty and democracy are not happening, anyway. I think most would agree that the Shah's autocratic rule is much preferable to the current Islamic Republic. In fact it seems most Iranians would agree!

In the current situation, America is in a position of 'damned if we do, damned if we don't'. If they help Mubarak stay in power, they are accused of supporting an autocrat. If they don't, they will be shamed for dumping their staunchest ally in the region (Israel aside), as our favourite 'liberal democrat' Hugo Chavez did very recently.

Whichever way this revolution goes, it will be bad for Israel, bad for America and probably very bad for Egyptians.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Revolution Until Victory!

Today I stumbled into the Egyptian solidarity demonstration that took place at Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.

The liberty lover that I am, I cannot help but being curious... so I looked around. I honestly wish will for the people of Egypt. I long for a day where Israel, my birthplace, will one day be surrounded by truly liberal Arab democracies. Since events in Tunisia and Egypt started to unfold, I developed a weird sense of optimism that perhaps the Arab World is ready for a shakedown in the right direction. 

I think my observation today has brought me back to the reality of the Middle East, which is quite far removed from the mushy, touchy-feely reality of Canada. 

I think the following encounter illustrates the situation well:

After leaving the protest, I got on the Dundas streetcar and overheard a young woman telling her mother on the phone "Sorry I am running a little late, there was some protest at Dundas Square... it was Egypt or Palestine (?!) I am not quiiiiite sure which one it was". "Egypt", I informed her.

"I don't know... there seemed to be a lot of Palestine stuff over there..." She answered me, still midconversation with whomever is on the other side of the line, she added: "There were lots of strange signs in the protest, 'Mossad did 9/11' was my favourite, I couldn't help it, it cracked me up!"

I think this summarizes the entire screwed up mentality that unfortunately prevails in the Arab world. First of all... why the hell is the 'Palestinian Cause' hijacking everything? Unlike the Palestinians, the Egyptians are a people with a long and proud history of self governance... there are almost 90 million of them, with many issues of their on... many of them are significantly worse than that of Palestinians that ever head to endure the Israeli presence. No wonder the Palestinians are treated like crap by the rest of the Arab world, every time Arabs wish to deal with their own very real social and political issues, it's the Palestine Problem that jumps to the front of the line. It's quite ludicrous.

Second of all, for a group of people that are supposedly fighting for freedom and democracy in their homeland, getting their civic education in perhaps the most tolerant and civil democracy in the world; Canada, much of what appeared on the surface seemed quite far removed from the democracy as Americans, Canadians, Brits, Western Europeans and Israelis see it.

That's what we need... a democracy at the hands of group of vehemently antisemitic 9/11 truthers? Is this going to bring peace, liberty and stability to the Middle East? Is this what's going to turn Egyptians into free and proud people, ready to face their modern problems?

I don't think so...

Frankly I think that a much longer period of transition is needed... Currently the best non Islamist opposition group in Egypt is quite radically antisemitic and anti-American. The best real opposition group is a radical Islamist group that believes in creating something analogous to the Taliban in Egypt as the ideal state for the country.

With the best of intentions, the current revolution in Egypt is likely to lead into a Taliban style Muslim Brotherhood theocracy, if let run its full course.

No Thank You!


Shavua Tov!

Gidi Gov - Ne'ehaz B'avir

Friday, January 28, 2011

Barry Rubin: Palestine Papers: We Know the Real Story

By Barry Rubin

We now know what actually happened in the negotiations mischaracterized by the "Palestine Papers," but before I tell you the true story, let me say some words about how it has been distorted.

Maybe it's just me out of step with the rest of the world, but someone tell me where the following paragraph is wrong:

The world is judging and condemning Israel on the basis of incomplete notes taken by people many of whom are not fluent English-speakers (of statements made by people who are not native-speakers of English) and who are passionate partisans of the Palestinian cause and who hate Israel; documents that have not been authenticated by anyone and whose translation has not been checked; documents that leave out much of what the Israelis said and leave out the concessions they made; then are filtered through the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, anti-Palestinian Authority (PA) al-Jazira (whose record of reportage is marked by some amazing lies) and the anti-Israel, pro-Hamas, anti-PA Guardian (which is more  radical sect than newspaper); which then misinterpret them in ways that seem deliberate to make Israel and the PA look bad; and then are quoted by journalists around the world who know little or nothing about the issues, haven't read the documents, have never seriously considered the possibility that they aren't 100 percent accurate, and ignore every other previous negotiation and public statement by Israel and the PA that contradict the claims being made; and who then add on even more claims that are neither in the documents nor in al-Jazira and the Guardian!

Sorry that paragraph was so long but it had to be to cover everything. Now have I missed something here?

The reaction to all of this in an age supposedly fixated on tolerance is more like that of a lynch mob than anything else. And have no doubt that before this is over there will be people who are lynched.

And now what actually did happen? The story is told here from interviews with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the papers came out. Briefly, Israel offered concessions; the Palestinian side talked about concessions. Olmert suggested they make a deal. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas hesitated and said he needed a few days, and then never responded, making public statements rejecting Israel's position.

So this does not prove that the PA made a generous offer of peace and Israel rejected it, the spin put on it by the media and by selective release of badly flawed documents. The PA rejected peace, as usual. Of course, a big reason for doing so was the fact that they knew they could not sell it to their people (who would denounce it as a sell-out), or Hamas, or even the Fatah Central Committee.

Note the new spin will be that if only Olmert remained in office and Netanyahu had not been elected there would have been a two-state solution. In other words, it will still be portrayed as Israel's fault. But this is ridiculous since the PA did not, and could not, agree on the conditions it had discussed. This is the structural problem with the peace process and it has not changed. The latest affair has made it worse.

No Israeli prime minister could make peace with the Palestinians when the Palestinian leadership isn't ready to make peace.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Mudar Zahran: Anti-Semitism: The New Necessity for Arab Regimes

Mudar Zahran is a Palestinian/Jordinian who currently resides in the UK. As a political dissident he faces great risks if he chooses to go back to Jordan.

I have communicated with him several times in the last few months and I am convinced that this man is operating out of the best of intentions in the world. He wants to see his people (Palestinians) no longer treated as second class citizens in their own homeland. He is an advocate of the school that Jordan is Palestine and it should exist aside Israel peacefully as the homeland of the Palestinians.

You can always count on Mr. Zahran to provide a sobering perspective on the Middle East. In his most recent article, he addresses the absurd cycle of antisemitism which I discussed in a previous post.

I think his opinions should be more widely heard and I wish more people like him will replace the current stock of decision makers in the Arab world.

by Mudar Zahran:

For more than sixty years of conflict, the carefully government-channeled hatred revolved around Zionism and Israel, rather than around Judaism and Jews.
Since 2008, however, the Jordanian printed media has been launching a fierce attack on almost everything Jewish.
Why would the supposedly-moderate Jordan adopt a strong anti-Semitic agenda?
The answer to this question is simple; Jordan's oppressed Palestinian majority has been seeking more civil rights in the last few years. Therefore, the Jordanian government has to distract them by igniting anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Arab regimes apparently needed a new method to direct their own people's anger towards someone else. The US and Europe were, of course, out of the question, and the communist "infidel" states were no longer in existence. Again, Arab regimes were stuck with Israel as "the source of all evil" with no way for regimes to revive that notion: their people have become fed up after decades of propaganda. The Arab regimes' "Plan B" was to ignite an even larger religious zeal by constantly reminding their people that the Israelis are "a part of a larger Jewish scheme of controlling the world."
Today, the message has dramatically changed; media language and definitions have been surgically altered by many Arab governments. The term "Zionist" has turned into "Jews," and, for the more moderate Arab media, "Peace talks" into "Jewish opposition to peace…or world peace."
The growing trend of anti-Semitism on Arab TV shows has been vigorously picking up momentum the last few years. Anti-Semitic-themed shows have become common on many of the 300-plus Arab satellite networks, including TV Channels and media outlets owned by theoretically pro-Western Arab governments are no exception -- crossing the line from anti-Semitism to open support for terrorism.
Examples for this are countless. In January 2010, the Jordanian state television aired an interview with former Prime Minister Faisal Al-Fayez, in which he threatened Israel with "six million Jordanian suicide bombers." Al-Fayez was a Jordanian senator at the time and has recently been appointed Speaker of the House of the Jordanian Parliament.
Also, Jordanian state and privately owned televised media have been launching a massive campaign against Israel being a Jewish state -- thus making a shameless leap from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism.
In Jordan, the government-controlled mainstream media has been promoting anti-Americanism as much as anti-Semitic propaganda. In the Jordanian media, terms like "American imperialism," "the evil American conspiracy," "The U.S. marines occupational anti-Arab ideology," and "the American-Jewish alliance to destroy the ArabUmmah [Nation]," are everyday slogans – many by writers on the government's payroll.
At the same time, anti-Semitism not only serves dictators in the Arab world to keep their oppressed people under control, it also helps them convince their Western allies that there is a serious trend of fundamentalism exhibited through anti-Semitism -- and anti-Americanism as well.
All contribute to making Western governments feel the need to support oppressive Arab regimes -- or else "face an anti-American and anti-Western public."
The Arab regimes' new-found propaganda innovation -- of deploying anti-Semitism -- also serves an old purpose: creating an enemy for their people to hate, blame, curse, protest against, and occasionally fight against -- while the Arab ruling classes can enjoy all the spoils and remain in power.
Yet, this is not easy: Arab regimes are now dealing with more informed citizens. In this age of the Internet and open space, Arab citizens have access to all information they need; it is simply not possible anymore that they will believe everything their governments tell them about "the Zionist entity," which has been a scapegoat for all failures, and -- as every criticism or peaceful opposition is immediately ruled a "Zionist plot" -- a justification to oppress Arab people,
Nonetheless, a rise in anti-Semitism, in its crude, early 20th century form, has been piercingly witnessed in the Arab media. Aside from the Hezbollah-owned and controlled al-Manar TV, the Arab media in general used to be anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, yet not particularly anti–Semitic.
It is not a secret that the Arab media is fiercely controlled by Arab governments. Despite claims of self-observed commitment to freedom of the media, several international journalism freedom bodies report that Arab countries not only systematically oppress freedom of speech but also micro-monitor most media sources -- supporting the argument that anti-Semitism in the Arab media is carefully supported and blessed by several Arab regimes.
In a recent report, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League reported several Jordanian newspapers, including those owned by the Jordanian state, as anti-Semitic. At the same time, Reporters Sans Frontières' recent report notes that Jordan's government executes a heavy censorship of the media
This time, however, the Arab regimes' rescue came from a least expected source: Osama Ben Laden.
On the second day after the US launched its attack on the Taliban of Afghanistan, after the 9-11 attacks, Ben Laden made a televised oath before millions of Arabs that "America and whoever lives there shall never see safety or security until we live it as a fact in Palestine."
Ben Laden had never mentioned "Palestine" in any of his speeches before that day. He belongs, moreover, to an ultra-orthodox school of Islamism, which views the Palestinians' fight against Israel as a fight for land, instead of for God -- and therefore not Jihad.
Ben Laden's statement was very well-thought-out and highly effective: it reached out to the hearts of those Muslims and Arabs sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and at the same time expanded his Jihad into attacking "Jews and their supporters" everywhere. He thus issued to himself an ideologically sympathetic license to hit anywhere he sees fit.
Since then, several al-Qaeda terror attacks gained dual-legitimization: from those hating the West, as well from as those hating Jews -- and even from some non-Islamic Arab groups, such as the Marxist and socialist Arab activists. This has been true whether of attacks on Israelis in Kenya, or plots to bomb synagogues in Chicago. The result has been tremendous media success for Ben Laden, who is now, to many Arabs, including many non-Islamists, "a savior of Palestine," and "a fighter against the evil Jews" -- and not a crazy bearded man.
This same concept has been expanded and executed shrewdly by several Arab governments. Jordan has been getting away with it for too long, and so have many Gulf States, who own most of Arab media networks.
Today, anti-Semitism is as necessary to several Arab regimes' survival as their brutal police forces and merciless security agencies known as "Mukhabrat."
Arab regimes playing this game do not realize that this time, their trick might cause them to disappear: political Islamism has picked up the message of anti-Semitism, which opens doors to all extremist possibilities and might cost these Arab dictators their rule if their oppressed public makes the transition from "hatred of Jews" to "love of Islamism and fundamentalism."
Meanwhile, the civilized world would do well to realize that its alliances with some oppressive Arab regimes should be re-examined and re-considered. The current regimes are not pro-Western, and obviously maintain a marriage of convince to the West; such an affair has proved very fragile, most recently in Tunisia.
Obviously, Arab regimes' recklessness and oppressiveness might end up destabilizing the entire Middle East region, only this time they are playing the very alarming game of "anti-Semitism."

Mid-afternoon Coffee Snack

Kaveret - Natati la Hayay

Latma: Tribal Update

Good as always, enjoy :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Great Interview with Noted Scholar Fouad Ajami

An excellent interview with Fouad Ajami:
The recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen represent an “avalanche on the autocracies of the Arab world,'' according to renowned Middle East expert and Johns Hopkins University Professor . Fouad Ajami. 
“I think now the Arabs are expressing this incredible moment of liberty,” said Prof. Ajami, in  an interview with the Jerusalem Post's Mordechai Twersky and broadcast Jan. 27 on
What particularly caught my intention was him likening the current wave of exuberance in the Arab world to the great revolution of 1848 much as I did in an earlier post.


Democracy in the Middle East: a Double Edged Sword

In order to follow events in the Middle East, one must have a great stomach for irony...

One of the more disturbing developments around the recent uprisings in the Arab world, Egypt in particular, is the somewhat frequent regurgitation that Israel supports/pampers/operate Arab dictators and their apparatus of oppression.

The great irony is that Arab dictators establish Israel Bashing an virulent antisemitism as their raison  d'etre. Conspiracy theories blaming the 'Zionists' for every imaginable malady of living in a poor oppressive state are constantly pandered by official state media.

Meanwhile the hypocrite dictators are more than happy to collaborate with Israel behind closed doors. After all, Israel is a fairly wealthy country, with great trade connections, which is good for business. Israel is happy because finally they are getting some positive response from neighboring countries, so they play a long with Arab dictatorial regimes. Let's be honest for a minute, it's not that there are any perfectly democratic/liberal regimes for Israel to deal with, so hey! we take what we get.

Now that Egypt is under crisis, I have heard the claim that Israel desperately prefers Mubarak to stick around rather than see a democratic, consensual government form. This is not the case. Interestingly enough it's a popular rallying cry!

Israel would love to see democratic neighbours. Really, it would. But unfortunately, we have seen multitude of popular revolts against relatively mild autocrats that resulted in a brutal theocratic dictatorship being established. This article from JPost highlights the Israeli fear:
While no analysts here predict any immediate ramifications for Israel’s national security, some said mass protest movements that begin as pro-democracy uprisings could easily be hijacked by Islamists.
“We need to understand that we are living on a volcano,” said Maj.- Gen. (res.) Ya’acov Amidror, former head of the IDF’s Research and Assessment Directorate.
“Conditions can change from today until tomorrow. We must ask ourselves, what is the worst case scenario,” he said. “We are on thick ice, but even that melts eventually."
“Advice we have heard from certain countries inWestern Europe [suggesting that the uprisings could lead to a wave of democratic revolutions] should not be followed,” he said. “There’s no immediate fear of any security escalation. The main question is: In the long term, will we be ready for all scenarios?” Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said, “There’s a reasonable chance that if a revolution takes place in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would rise to power. That would be bad not just for Israel but for all democracies.
While one would hope for a true bloodless democratic revolution to take place in Egypt, one has to be a realist. Israel merely operates under the notion of "better the devil we know".


Great Video from Egypt

Do Israelis Support the Mubarak Regime?

The Arabist has brought to my attention that there is a widespread perception among Egyptians that Israel and Israelis actively support the Mubarak regime. This reenforced by statements of people such as Ben-Eliezer:

Israeli parliamentarian Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of Israel’s Knesset, expressed support on Wednesday for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to Israel's daily The Jerusalem Post.
"I don't think it is possible [for there to be a revolution in Egypt]," Ben-Eliezer was reported as telling Army Radio. "I see things calming down soon. Israel cannot do anything about what is happening there. All we can do is express our support for Mubarak and hope the riots pass quietly."
The paper also reported that Ben-Eliezer, a member of Israel’s Labor party, met  with senior Egyptian officials on Tuesday.
At times like these, I think it's important to emphasize that Ben-Eliezer does not  represent the average Israeli. In fact, he is widely unpopular at the moment, has been recently relegated back to the opposition and his political party is on the verge of disappearance. He was able to formant his position atop the security establishment by developing close, warm relationship with key figures in the Muslim/Arab world. Unfortunately, he also has the tendency to insist on pampering his 'connections' even when it is at odds with his country's strategic interests. One instance, that has cost him dearly in popularity, is his insistence to continue selling the Turkish military high tech weaponry, despite of the many signs that indicated that the two states are at odds.

One may say: OK, but collaboration between Israel and Mubarak has been increasing! 

This is correct, but one must also remember that Israel, as a lone Jewish state in this rather difficult neighborhood, is not in a position to pick and choose their friends. Nor are they in a position to pass judgment on the leader of the epicenter of the Arab world. As the only legitimate leader of Egypt, Israel has no choice but to collaborate with Hosni Mubarak. The fondness and respect with which he is treated stems out of Israel's desire to have close and respectful relationship with its neighbour to the south.

The situation is even further complicated by the fact that Hosni Mubarak has actively requested the support of Israel in securing the nomination of his son. In turn General Omar Suleiman has also requested support. If there is one thing that Israel cannot afford is to support the losing side.

While the state treats Mubarak with respect, the people generally see him as just another Arab autocrat. If having our Prime Minister fly down to Sharm every few months to kiss his ass is what it takes to have Egypt on our good side, well so be it. However, privately, Israelis are not at all fond of him. This will be highlighted when he passes criticism on Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, which is perceived as hypocritical due to his treatment of his own people.

There is another reason why Israelis would be afraid of change: The Islamic Brotherhood.

The only option right now is for Israel to sit nervously on the fence and hope for the best. Regardless of the outcome, both people have to recognize that they are neighbours and their destinies are not entirely separate, despite of the occasional disagreements.

With that being said, I send my sincere wishes for Egyptians to establish a consensual government on democratic values!


Mid-afternoon Coffee Snack

I usually prefer not to go with the same artist two days in a row... but it took me a while to find this particular version on YouTube and I finally did! The song is very different than yesterday's though
Ariel Zilber - Ve'Eikh She'Lo

Changing Focus in the Middle East

What should one take from what's going on in the Arab world?

The Arab world is in stasis. The Tunisian strongman has been deposed, Egypt is on the brink, Algeria is simmering, so is Yemen and Jordan. Syria is also weary of an attempt at Islamic revolt. The Palestinians, ever divided, are exchanging journalistic fire with Qatar over the recent document leak in Al-Jazeera. And of course, Hizballah's coup in Lebanon.

Quite the few days we are having over there, no?

The most interesting new development at least from my perspective as an Israeli is that for the first time to my knowledge, there is an all encompassing crisis in the Middle East and Israel is not at the centre of it all.Of course the theme of the 'Palestine Papers' is the peace negotiations from the Palestinian perspective, but it's almost secondary to the message conveyed.

The stasis in the Arab world is a result of a deep divide between the people (that is to say, the emerging middle class) and their small clique of rulers who have been regarding the country as their own 'Hawillah'. While the mechanisms of state power in Israel are far from perfect, they are light-years ahead of what's going on with our next door neighbours.

Despite my worries, despite the uncertainties, I cannot help but hope that Israel's Arab neighbours succeed in establishing consensual governments based on true democratic values. And I will wish the people on the street all the luck in the world!

With that being said, I am also a bit of a cynic... I do not recall many revolution that persisted free of blood. There was the American revolution, the Glorious Revolution, and that's almost it I believe. There is nothing to suggest that  an Arab world revolution will not be bloody, will give rise to nationalism of the ugliest kind and instability.

But then I am also an optimist :)


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Egyptian Revolution

A year or so a go I read the excellent book "Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of Revolution", by John R. Bradley who lived in Egypt for a few years during the last decade. Not only does the book provide an excellent historical perspective into modern Egypt, it is filled with the authors personal stories, based on encounters with tourists, students and officials.

The picture Bradley paints is that of mass discontent with the corruption, censorship and torture, which dominate Mubarak's autocratic regime. The discontent is most severe among Egypt's youth. Much like Tunisia's youth, young Egyptians find that despite of investment into education and hard work, good jobs are hard to come by and apartments are almost unaffordable. Unless of course you are well connected.

While a lot of people are quick to point out to the 'Muslim Brotherhood', this is not necessarily the only source of opposition. While their strength cannot be ignored, they have been often used by the Mubarak regime as a counter balance to demands of westerners to see more democracy. Much of their popularity stems from the fact that they are visibly opposing the regime, while handing out 'candy' via their charitable activities.

The true source of discontent is a lot more similar to that which drove Tunisians to topple their regime of some 54 years, which was ran by a president who just eclipsed his 30th year in office. The parallels cannot be ignored...

Many Egyptians have a much more pragmatic view of Islam. Their historical flirts with Shi'ism has left them many traditions that are actively opposed by the dominant Sunni clergy, as well as by the radical Islamist brotherhood. I do not see the Brotherhood becoming popular with the same people that are on the streets right now.

As the name of the book suggests, a revolution is forthcoming. Even if Mubarak's Mukhabarat (Egypt infamous state security) is able to bust the current round of discontent, it's only a question of time until this happens again. Perhaps under Mubarak's successor...

While the current events are going on, much of the world is sitting on the fence somewhat nervously. The Americans are not in a position to defend Mubarak, but rather to hope that somehow the situation resolves itself (Obama's Favourite pastime). Mubarak has been a very reliable ally to the US and much of American geopolitical strategy in the Middle East relies on his very person. What if a new flavour of Egyptian nationalism, or worse Radical Islam wins the day? This will not be good for the Americans (nor to anyone else for that matter).

As for my much beloved native land, Israel, it's a lose lose situation I am afraid. While the Mubarak administration and a few very high ranking officials have been very helpful as of recent, and the countries have a formal peace agreement, the state media is full of rampant Antisemitism and pure disdain for anything remotely connected to Israel. Any replacement regime is likely to be unfriendly.

While a small number of Israeli officials and businessmen have a direct stake in Mubarak staying in power, most Israelis don't particularly care for him. Any Egyptian government will do if it keeps the peace and maintains the border quite, while abiding by the peace treaty... Everything on top of that is considered a bonus.


Major Protest Planned for Friday in Egypt

What has been labeled as Egypt's 1 Million March is planned for the coming Friday. This of course, unless the Mukhabarat is able to contain the wave of demonstrations tomorrow.

The next few days are going to be extremely interesting.


Elder Toons: Ethnic Cleansing


Mid-afternoon Coffee Snack

Ariel Zilber - Timhoni

Barry Rubin: Coming Soon, From Those Wonderful People Who Brought You The "Palestine Papers"

By Barry Rubin

Do you really believe that suddenly, for no apparent reason, and no big Israeli concession the Palestinian negotiators tossed away their demand for a "Right of Return" for millions of Palestinians and accepted a mere 100,000 being let into Israel? And if you don't believe it, how can you think that these papers are authentic?

Do you believe that this could have happened without the U.S. government knowing about it? And if so why didn't it factor into U.S. policy at all? Indeed, anyone who understands Israeli politics would comprehend that if given such an offer Olmert and Livni--desperate to survive politically--would have made a deal.  

Only someone who believes that Israel has no interest in peace--which is what the Guardian and al-Jazira think--could conceive that these leaders would just walk away after the PA made an offer that was light years' better than anything ever hinted at before. Only those who demonize Israel could believe that Livni was advocating expelling Arab citizens of Israel as if she were no different from Meir Kahane.

Do you not realize that this is a disaster for hopes of peace since no Palestinian negotiator in future would dare to offer any concession at all? And that's even if more radical forces don't sweep away those held responsible for "treason."?

In its defense the Guardian published an article by Jonathan Freedland entitled, "The Palestine papers have broken a taboo. Now the arguments for peace can be open. The papers show how much ground Palestinian negotiators were willing to concede. This isn't craven. It's admirable."

You might admire it but how many Palestinians are admiring it? And doesn't it matter more what they think about their own leadership? Does Hamas admire it? Does the Fatah leadership admire it? And of course, most of them will believe that this is what happened. I don't.

Don't justify this by saying it helps advance peace. It doesn't. Quite the opposite.

Incidentally, the Guardian offers neither evidence for its claims nor a response to specific issues raised about problems with the text. This makes me even more suspicious.-----------------------------

The situation demands satire:

From those wonderful people who brought you the “Palestine Papers!”:

Coming soon to a credulous, irresponsible, and/or malicious newspaper near you!

The Cold War Papers: Revealing that Stalin desperately wanted peace and offered to give up control of all the Eastern Europe countries but Roosevelt and Churchill refused. (Actually, the Guardian editors probably believe this one!)

The Iran Papers: Revealing that Iran was eager to give up its nuclear weapons project but the Obama Administration  refused because it wanted an excuse to go to war with Iran, take over the country, and steal its oil.  (Hm, they might believe that one also.) 

The Bush Papers: "And then the president said, 'Hey! Let's pretend that Iraq is a threat so we can invade them and steal all their oil!' Then Tony Blair responded, `Right, master! Whatever you say!" (Oh, no doubt they believe that one.)

The Obama Papers: "And then the president said, 'Hey! Let's seize control of the car and health industries so we can institute socialism and Death Panels!" (Okay, they don't believe that one.)

OK, Funny, I hope. But this latest example of madness should teach a lesson. Not only the acceptance of obviously false claims but then actually making it worse than the original by “creating” new Palestinian “concessions” and slanders against Israel.

Here's how a friend of mine summed up the recent period:

1) Reporters accepting as fact that a woman died of tear gas inhalation despite there being no recorded cases of such an occurrence ever happening.

2) Treating the Mavi Marmara incident as Israel said/Turkey said despite video evidence supporting Israel's version. (Not to mention a hostile witness supporting Israel's version.)

3) Taking the Palestine Papers at face value despite the fact that they came from Al Jazeera, despite past Palestinian statements to the contrary. Despite, I might add, the fact that they include alleged statements like when the Israelis say they are going to return the Golan Heights to Syria, the Palestinians reply that they will compensate Israel with more concessions.

How can one not believe that by these standards, if properly presented in modern terms, much of the media would accept as genuine the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Gaza’s government does), the claim that Jews grind up children to make Passover matzos or organ transplants (the Saudis and Sweden’s biggest newspaper do), that the Holocaust never happened (Iran), or that Israel doesn’t want peace and is responsible for all the Middle East’s problems (Oops! The Guardian, much of the New York Times, and the Fairfax newspapers in Australia, among many others, say that).

This debacle should be the last straw. Unfortunately, it won’t be.

Here's how I would explain this issue:

1. Most of the routine material comes from actual documents but not the "interesting" parts that everyone is talking about.

2. That still does not mean that these documents accurately reflect what happened since they are the version of PA officials

3. On a number of specific points and on all the points being publicized the claims made are so ridculous that these dicynebts must have been altered.  The texts read almost like a satire themselves in which someone set out to write a narrative in which the PA gave everything and got nothing in return. Indeed, the picture is so exaggerated that it should be obvious these claims are phony. But of course that assumes that people were going to use logic and know something about the issues.

There are about twenty reasons to believe this is essentially a hoax. Here's one: Do you really believe that after demanding a "Right of Return" for all Palestinians over decades as the most passionately held position, the PA leaders would give it up in exchange for only 100,000 being allowed in and get absolutely nothing in return for that concession? 

4. In addition, the Guardian and al-Jazira often distort what is in the documents to exaggerate it even more. Some of the specifics are really absurd like the legalistic-minded Tsipi Livni saying she is against international law and even saying she planned to expel Palestinians from Israel after an agreement.

5. Yet almost all of the media uncritically quote these distortions. 

6. Some even add new items that were neither in the documents nor in the original coverage. The most notorious example is the claim that the PA recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

This, for example, is a case study showing how Tzipi Livni’s words are twisted in a way that nobody who didn’t read the original would know. 

In other words, Islamist (al-Jazira) and radical pro-Islamist (Guardian) writers are being taken by the rest of the media as the definers of reality. 

The Guardian has now defended itself by ridiculing the idea that this is a hoax or a forgery. Let me be clear: I have no doubt that real documents of the PA were purloined, but the text of these includes such nonsensical material that it looks as if the "editors" overdid it. 

Finally, the statement of Nabil Shaath. As always, the Guardian's claims don't stand up to close inspection. He did say in passing they were authentic but gave no reason for this claim nor sign that he had read them. Shaath also was not involved in the talks during the time when the most sensationalist material supposedly happened. So he doesn't actually know. Moreover, he made remarks that seem to imply that he doesn't accept the idea that huge concessions were made at all. In other words he denies the content that is the subject of so much controversy.

From the coverage in other publications one can see that few journalists are actually reading the documents and none are seriously analyzing them. I don't think I've seen a single reference in the mass media (but I'm happy to be corrected) showing the contradictions and inconsistencies involved in these papers.

And if anything the madness is accelerating. As Christians are being driven out of the Muslim world, homosexuals are threatened with death, women are treated as property, and hate is incited there every day, the Los Angeles Times chooses to publish a long article on, well let's quote from it:

"Israeli intolerance shows up on Internet, in Knesset, on the street....Racism, homophobia and religious discrimination seem to be more prevalent, taking the form of threats and even a government motion." 

I could answer this but why bother? I'd suggest that racism and homophobia, along with intolerance in general, are less present in Israel than in any European country or the United States. I repeat: there is no sense expecting fairness from a long list of media outlets and reporters any more.

Nor is that the fault with Israeli hasbara. I once heard the great journalist Eric Severaid say that nothing can protect one from a journalist who's determined to distort your views or character.

If people in academic or journalism won't listen, or report, what you have to say, how can anyone do a better job of getting them to understand the situation and report on it accurately? We are often dealing with willing participants in a propaganda campaign for whom professional ethics has no meaning. 

Here is a brief biography of the Guardian editor who co-authored the Palestine Papers articles:

     Seumas Milne, who is the co-author of the scoop, and is likely to have been the conduit for the leaks is an interesting character. He is a Wykhamist, via Balliol, Oxford. Prior to joining the Guardian, he worked for "Straight Left", which was the newspaper of the hard line, pro-USSR, "Tankie" faction in the Communist Party of Great Britain. These were the guys who applauded the suppression of bourgeois nationalist backsliding in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. If you want a taste of Milne's current politics, try googling his articles in the Guardian along with the words "Iraq" and "resistance". You'll see pretty clearly where his sympathies lie. 

Milne was appointed Comment Editor of the Guardian just prior to September 11. In its wake, he filled the Guardian comment pages with op eds by Hamas officials and spokesmen, and their British and Middle Eastern supporters. On one occasion, they even had an op-ed by Al Faqih, Osama Bin Laden's man in Britain. 

Milne also wrote articles basically calling Fatah a bunch of Israeli stooges and puppets. He knows very well what he is doing. 

And that is his purpose here. Smearing Israel is a plus but destroying the current leadership of the PA and bringing Hamas to power is his main goal. This is the man, along with the Islamist-dominated al-Jazira whose reportage is now being taken at its word by the world media.

Note also that the Goldstone Commission consistently based its conclusions on claims by Hamas, a group that publicly announces its goal of commiting genocide against Israel's Jews.

As a Muslim friend who has seen this happen in his own country on various issues puts it, "Words mean nothing to these people... as long as they get them the desired outcome. The end justifies the means. Period."

Nor have I seen a single person in the mainstream media pointing out how disastrous this affair is for any chance of peace. Even if they were willing to make real concessions in the past--which I doubt--no PA official will ever do so in future. Granted, peace was unlikely any way but this makes the chances for a negotiated agreement pretty dead for a whole generation.

The most likely source of the material is increasingly appearing to be disgruntled hardline staffers in the PA's Negotiations Support Unit who quit, rather than some foreign, Hamas, or factional conspiracy.

But the real problem is the insanity of our current era. We live at a time when the UN's chief "expert" on the Israel-Palestine issue, the fanatical Israel-hater Prof. Richard Falk, can claim that by saying that the U.S. government is staging a cover-up on what really happened on September 11. And that's the Obama Administration he's talking about! This  is the man whose condemnations of Israel help determine the direction of UN reports. 

Many people now understand that regarding Israel and a host of other issues we are simply not dealing with professors who have any care for logic and journalists who are interested in facts. Others don't.
Here's a story a reader sent me today:

"[A person I know] gets almost all his news from CNN. So today he gave the important news that he received from CNN that the "Palestinians said they were willing to give up most of Jerusalem for peace." I tried to explain to him that the story was completely false. He just gave me a blank stare back. His mind could not comprehend how such an authority as Wolf Blitzer and CNN could report something as fact but that is in fact completely false.

"Do you ever just want to scream? I do. What can we do? What can the average person do? Does it have any effect at all if we write to the media, expressing our outrage. Does the truth matter if the official truth is all that people believe?"

Do I ever want to scream? What do you think! Does it have any effect when we complain to the media? No. 

Does the truth matter if the official truth is all that people believe? Well, that's different. Roughly two-thirds of the American people do not accept what the media tells them on this issue. In fact, support for Israel in the United States went up during the Gaza flotilla crisis. Every day, more people are waking up. New sources of information are expanding.

A lot of average people have common sense. A lot of government officials (not enough, for sure), have to deal with reality and sooner or later see through the illusions. Polls on media credibility show it to be quite low. Student sit through indoctrinating classes and don't accept what they are told.

Basically, we have to wait it out. Meanwhile, we need to tell the truth, educate as many people as possible, help build an alternate elite to replace and repair the diseased segments of society. 

Rabbi Tarfon said "It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to abstain  from it." Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2, Paragraph 16.

Or here is the Enlightenment version of that principle from Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

US, EU to Egypt's Ruling Regime: Commit Suicide

It's oh so nice, warm and fuzzy when we insist on projecting our western democratic values on an entirely different culture.

Meanwhile, we here the honorable Ms. Clinton coming out with the following statement:
Clinton on Wednesday said that the United States supports the Egyptian people's rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. She said the Obama administration was hopeful that the government would act to meet the "legitimate aspirations" of its people.
In case the stock of current American Foreign Policy makers that make the decisions under the current administration don't realize, is that although a large minority of Egyptians would like to see a western style democratic consensual government, the true 'legitimate aspirations' of the vast majority of the people is to see a radical Islamist regime that is much more similar to what's going on in Iran.

We see the EU taking a very similar line:
The European Union says that Egyptian authorities should listen to their people, deal with their problems and respect their right to demonstrate.
The office of EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday called on "Egyptian authorities to respect and to protect the right of Egyptian citizen to manifest their political aspirations."
Her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic says Egyptian authorities should "take note of their legitimate wish for political action to deal with the problems that are affecting their daily lives."
 Also, very nice, warm and fuzzy. The Shah of Iran was urged to listen to his people in 1979, we got the genocidal Islamic Republic. They urged the Palestinians to express their aspirations, we got Hamas.

So as we can see, aspirations go a long way in the Middle East. If Americans and Europeans encourage the Middle East to adopt an America/European style democratic system of government, they must be willing to understand the extent of their consequences.

In the case of the Egypt, giving in to protesters demands would mean increased pressure and increased likelihood of violent revolt toppling the regime. I simply no see other option.

So in a sense, what the west is telling Egypt's ruling class is: "start packing your sh*t and look for a new home, because we aren't going to support you". 

It's perfectly legitimate to express distaste of any autocratic regime such as Mubarak's. But its fall will have vast ramifications for American and European geopolitical interests, all of them are negative pretty much. Are they really aware of it, or are they really that foolish to believe that the replacement is going to be a true reflection of their own systems?


Earth Quake in Egypt: Presumed Heir Flees

Earlier today, president Hosni Mubarak's son and presumed heir has fled Egypt to London:
CAIRO: Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's son, who is considered as his successor, has fled to Britain along with his family, a US-based Arabic website reported. 
The plane with  Gamal Mubarak, his wife and daughter on board left for London Tuesday from an airport in western Cairo, the website Akhbar al-Arab said. 
The report came as violent unrest broke out in Cairo and other Egyptian cities and hundreds of thousands of people reportedly took to the streets in a Tunisia-inspired day of revolt. 
The protesters want Egyptian government to end its 30-year state of emergency and pass a law preventing a president from serving more than two terms, and want the Interior Minister Habib al-Adly to resign. 
Protests in Egypt broke out after opposition groups waged an internet campaign inspired by the Tunisian uprising. Weeks of unrest in Tunisia eventually toppled president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali earlier this month. 
A police officer was killed in clashes Tuesday in central Cairo, Egyptian daily al-Wafd reported. 
Over 30,000 protesters gathered in Cairo's Maidan al-Tahrir square to take part in the "day of anger", said the spokesman for Egypt's '6 April' opposition movement, Mohammed Adel. 
"Police used tear gas and water canon to break up our protest and they arrested 40 of us, but we don't have official figures on the numbers of arrests across Egypt," said Adel. 
Supporters of the '6 April' movement, the opposition al-Ghad party, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the al-Wafd party and supporters of former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohammed El Baradei took part in the protest. 
Al-Wafd daily said police arrested 600 people during Tuesday's protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Tantan, al-Mahala, Asiut, al-Bahira and al-Quium. More than 200,000 people took part in protests in these cities. 
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Tuesday Washington believed the Egyptian government was stable and urged restraint on both sides. (SOURCE)
It's time to prepare for the real thing. Much like Bin Ali's regime in Tunisia, Mubarak's hold on power seemed robust. Unlike Hillary Clinton, everyone, Israeli policymakers in particular should start weighing the alternatives.

By now it has become obvious that the American foreign policy is completely detached from developments. This was displayed by Lebanon's constant slide towards an Islamist pro Hizballah government.

Will Hosni Mubarak be toppled? It's a little early to tell if this will happen in the immediate term. What is obvious is that despite his old age an many ailments, Hosni was reluctant to transfer power to his son.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Carmel Fire: a Sober Reflection on a Crisis

It has been almost two months since the Carmel fire, which raged on for three days, burnt 12,000 acres and claimed the lives of 44 people. This was the deadliest forest fire in the history of the state, resulting in much media banter on the effectiveness of the government's ability to respond to crises.

Was the government reaction sufficient?

Even before the scope of the fire was well understood by the public or the media and the unfortunate death of 42 prison wardens, PM Netanyahu cancelled his daily program and rushed to the scene of the action. Shortly after, he came out with an appeal to countries of the world in request for reinforcements and firefighting aircraft, which the state is lacking. The response quickly came. The most noticeable assistance came from Russia, but the support of Greece, Italy, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan is also noteworthy.

The sad part about all of this is the media barrage Netanyahu was facing. When he rushed to the scene, there were accusations of over reaction. When he appealed for help, he was accused of degrading his own country. When the supertanker was ordered - too little too late. When it was sent into action - expensive overkill.

Truly disgusting.

Were the fatalities preventable?

Probably not, unfortunately. Most of the victims who paid their lives during the fire were prison wardens who were tasked with evacuating Palestinian prisoners from a near by facility. Unfortunately the fire spread quickly and their bus was trapped. No fire truck or supertanker could have saved them.

Is it Yishay's fault?

In Israel, the interior ministry is responsible for fire services. The current minister is Eli Yishay, the leader of the Sepharadic Religious party, Shas. It has been long claimed  that Israel's fire services are underfunded. But since the media loves to lynch a religious minister, Yishay came under a disgusting attack from the media.

As a member of the coalition, a minister gets to divert a certain discretionary budget towards his/her representative sector. In Yishay's case it's a network of Yeshiva's and religious educational centres, as well as benefits for orthodox religious scholars. While I completely disagree with public money being diverted that way, this practice is not new. Not only that, but certain pundits in the media has made it seem as if only Shas' annual discretionary funds were diverted to firefighting, everything would have been fine and dandy.

Somehow the country has managed to survive for 62 years without this extra budget. This was in a sense, the first major natural disaster to strike the state. Even if a lot more money was being invested in firefighting, it would have been probably squandered in bureaucracy and on unnecessary expenditures.

On the positive side?

The vibe in Israel during those three days was intense. The country is extremely interconnected and the type of solidarity that was felt in the entire country, I have seldom encountered anywhere else.

The response was quick and regional cooperation was solid and even surprising.