UN Human Rights gone astray


Has the UN Human Rights Council become Frankenstein?

By HILLEL NEUER \Jerusalem Post, May 19, 2016

Seventy years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Nazi atrocities, Eleanor Roosevelt and French legal philosopher René Cassin assembled for the first meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The founders had a dream: to reaffirm the principle of human dignity, and to guarantee fundamental freedoms for all.

Over time, in contrast to the commission’s breathtaking surroundings on the shores of Lake Geneva, things turned ugly. Dictatorships hijacked the world body. In 2003, they elected the murderous regime of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi as chair.

This final straw prompted UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to call for scrapping the commission, which he said was plagued with “politicization”, “selectivity” and a “credibility deficit” – all of which “cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”

At Annan’s initiative, the UN in June 2006 replaced it with the Human Rights Council, promising a reformed body of members committed to human rights, which would address the world’s most severe abuses.

Ahead of the council’s celebration next month of its 10th anniversary, we ask: Is the new body living up to the promises of reform? Consider its record in responding to gross violations. Over 50 sessions, only 14 of 193 countries have been condemned – less than what even the discredited commission accomplished.

The majority of abusers enjoy impunity. In China, 1.3 billion people are denied freedoms of speech, assembly and religion.

Tibetans are tortured. The council’s response? Silence.

On the contrary, in violation of the criteria guaranteed in the council’s 2006 charter, China was elected as a member.

In Russia, dissidents are harassed, arrested, even assassinated.

Vladimir Putin’s regime wages bloody wars, invading Ukraine and swallowing Crimea. The council’s response? Silence. On the contrary: Russia, too, was elected a member.

In Saudi Arabia, women are subjugated, and beheadings are at an all-time high. The council’s response? Silence. A recent attempt to investigate Saudi Arabia’s carpet bombing of Yemeni civilians was quashed. On the contrary: Saudi Arabia, too, was elected a member.

And faced with reports of torture in Algeria, forced child labor in Congo, attacks on dissidents in Cuba, abuse of foreign workers in Qatar, incommunicado detentions in the United Arab Emirates, the imprisonment of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and other democracy leaders in Venezuela, and arbitrary arrests in Vietnam, what has the council done, over its 10 years, to protect these victims? Absolutely nothing. On the contrary: The UN elected every single one of these abusers as a council member. With 62 percent non-democracies, the council’s 2016 membership is the worst ever.

Defenders cite the council’s new Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which purports to examine every country. Yet those doing the examining are their peers. China praises Saudi Arabia for respecting religious freedom, and the next day Saudi Arabia praises China for respecting minority rights.

By contrast, consider where the 47-nation body is active.

The council’s pathological obsession with demonizing Israelis, and denying their human rights, has never been worse.

It has adopted 67 resolutions condemning Israel – six more than for the rest of the world combined.

The texts on Israel are uniquely suffused with the suppression of any countervailing facts that might provide balance.

Because if something is to be portrayed as evil, which is the sole purpose of the council’s special agenda item targeting Israel, nothing good can ever be said of it.

Its commissions of inquiry like that which produced the Goldstone Report in 2009, excoriating Israel while exonerating Hamas, initiated an era whereby a terrorist group has come to rely on the council as an effective international tool to achieve its deadly goals.

Hamas is given an incentive by the UN to fire attacks at Israeli civilians while placing its own civilian population in harm’s way.

And just now, the council instituted – without any legal basis – a UN blacklist of Israeli companies doing business across the Green Line. By implementing the anti-Israel boycott campaign, the world body seeks to strangle the economic life of Israeli citizens.

Finally, consider the experts appointed by the council. A number do important work. But far too many are wolves in sheep’s clothing, picked by dictatorships to do their bidding in the name of human rights.

• In 2008, they appointed Richard Falk, who promotes the 9/11 conspiracy theory and backs Hamas.

• In 2013, they reelected Jean Ziegler, co-founder of the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize, an award given to Hugo Chavez, Louis Farrakhan and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.

• In 2015, the council made Idriss Jazairy a UN human rights expert – even though in his former post as Algeria’s ambassador, he was the one who led the aggressive campaign of non-democracies to muzzle UN rights experts.

Who selects this rogues’ gallery? Last year, the head of the council panel that shortlists candidates was the representative of Saudi Arabia, Faisal bin Hassan Trad.

We are actually about to mark a third anniversary. Next month, Geneva will celebrate 200 years since Mary Shelley and her husband, the great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, joined Lord Byron and a few others at Villa Diodati, nestled in the beautiful hills of Cologny, just above Lake Geneva.

In that cold and dark June of 1816, amid storms of thunder and lightning, they exchanged ghost stories. Mary Shelley then had a nightmare, which she famously published: the story of an idealistic student who tried to create life, only to be horrified by the result – the story of Frankenstein.

When I walk past Villa Diodati, gazing across Lake Geneva to see the majestic UN building that houses the council, I cannot help but wonder: If Eleanor Roosevelt and René Cassin were alive today, and beheld a body that grotesquely legitimizes murderers, dictators and anti-Semites, would they not be revolted by what has become of their creation? Would they not conclude that today’s UN Human Rights Council has become Frankenstein’s monster, and their dream become a nightmare?

This column is based on testimony to the US Congress this week by Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch in Geneva.


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Palestinians should teach kindness


The Anti-Israel Poisoning Starts Young

As long as Palestinian leaders nurture a culture of hate, encouraging school children to go out and kill, more violence is inevitable. By encouraging hatred, they distance all of us from the love and belief in peaceful coexistence for which my father stood.

Micah Lakin Avni

My father, Richard Lakin, a 76-year-old retired elementary-school principal from Connecticut, was on a bus in Jerusalem last October when two young Palestinian men boarded and began shooting and stabbing passengers indiscriminately. Two passengers were killed that awful day and 16 injured, including my father. Despite the efforts of first responders and the nurses and doctors at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, my father died two weeks later. He had been shot in the head and stabbed multiple times in the head, face, chest and stomach.

Over the past seven months I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what would cause two educated Palestinian men in their early 20s to board a public bus and butcher a group of innocent civilians, many of them senior citizens. I’m sorry to report that the Palestinian reaction to the attack has led me to believe that the “peace process” is more one-sided than ever.

My father grew up a fighter for civil rights in America. He took those values with him in 1984 when he emigrated to Jerusalem, where he taught English to Arabs and Jews. He was a kind, gentle-hearted man who dedicated his life to education and promoting peaceful coexistence.

Yet Palestinian newspapers praised Baha Alyan, one of the terrorists who murdered my father, as a “martyr and intellectual.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has met with the families of the attackers and praised them as “martyrs.” A Palestinian scout leader said Baha Alyan, who was shot and killed by a security guard before he could kill more innocent passengers, was “an example for every scout.”

Muhammad Alyan, the father of Baha Alyan, has been invited to speak at Palestinian schools and universities about his son the “martyr.” He recently spoke to children at Jabel Mukaber Elementary School in East Jerusalem, about a half a mile from where my father lived. Tragically, many Palestinian children, perhaps most, are still taught to honor terrorists and fight for the destruction of Israel.

All of this would break my father’s heart. In 2007 he published a book called “Teaching as an Act of Love” summarizing his life’s work and educational philosophy. The message of his book is that every child is a miracle that should be nurtured with love. After Baha Alyan’s father visited Jabel Mukaber Elementary School, I asked school officials if I could come and share my father’s message of peace and coexistence. My offer was rejected.

As long as Palestinian leaders nurture a culture of hate, encouraging school children to go out and kill, more violence is inevitable. By encouraging hatred, they distance all of us from the love and belief in peaceful coexistence for which my father stood.

My father’s book begins with a quote from William Penn: “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

My father lived by those words. If only his murderers had as well.

Mr. Avni is the CEO of Peninsula Group Ltd., a publicly traded Israeli commercial finance institution.

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Israel is 68

What a place, Israel at 68


By ROBERT SARNER \ Jeerusalem Post, May 12, 2016

In the mid-1980s, the Paris magazine I was editing published an article titled “50 Reasons to Love the French.” The writer, originally from Philadelphia, had lived in France for 30 years. His piece was a response to the dubious standing of the French in the eyes of many people that continues to this day.

This week, in the spirit of fairness, as it celebrates the 68th anniversary of its hard-fought independence, it’s worth celebrating the unlikely success story of this embattled little country, amid all its imperfections.

Show me another country on the planet that, within such a relatively short time and against such daunting odds, has achieved what Israel has since its inception in 1948. So, in honor of its 68th birthday, here are 68 reasons to respect, if not love, the world’s one and only Jewish country.

1. Israel’s Save A Heart organization performs life-saving heart operations for children from around the globe (including many Palestinians) free of charge.

2. With its freedom of worship, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the number of Christians is increasing.

3. Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees today than it had 50 years ago.

4. Israeli banknotes have braille on them for the sight-impaired.

5. Israel has more museums per capita than any other country, including the world’s only underwater museum.

6. Israel has its own day-long festival of love, called Tu Be’av 7. Relative to its population, Israel has absorbed more immigrants than any other country, with newcomers from over 100 countries.

8. Voice-mail technology was developed in Israel.

9. The IDF is a leader in saving people trapped by natural and man-made disasters.

On short notice, its search and rescue unit has operated in many countries (including Mexico, Kenya, India, Turkey and the US) following earthquakes, train wrecks, collapsed buildings and terrorist attacks.

10. Israel is home to the world’s only theater company comprised entirely of deaf and blind actors.

11. Life expectancy in Israel is among the highest in the world at 82 years.

12. Coffee and cafés are so good in Israel that it’s the only country where Starbucks failed to break into the local market.

13. On a per capita basis, Israel tops the list of countries when it comes to the annual production of scientific papers.

14. The long-running TV show Eretz Nehederet (“It’s a Wonderful Country”) features Israeli humor and satire at its best, with a no-holds barred view of current affairs and public figures. Skewering sacred cows, it’s hugely popular.

15. Israel has won more Nobel Prizes than all other Middle East countries combined.

16. Israel regularly offers free medical care to Syrians wounded in the Syrian civil war.

At physical risk to its own personnel, the IDF has rescued over 2,000 people (including many fighters who are sworn enemies of Israel) on its northeastern border and transferred them to Israeli hospitals.

17. Israel is the only country that revived an ancient, unspoken language, Hebrew, to be its national tongue.

18. One of the holiest sites and international centers of the Baha’i faith is located in Haifa in northern Israel.

19. In a region where homosexuals are persecuted, Israel is the only country where gays live freely with full civil rights and without fear.

20. In Israeli hospitals, Jewish and Arab doctors work together, treating patients of all faiths who share the same rooms.

21. Over 90 percent of Israeli homes use solar power to heat their water.

22. On Yom Kippur, almost the entire country shuts down for 24 hours. All stores, cafés, restaurants and other places of entertainment close. Traffic is halted, and children take over the streets on their bicycles.

23. The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind assists all citizens, regardless of race or creed, with 24/7 canine accompaniment, at no cost, to help the sight-impaired gain independence, mobility and self-worth.

24. First launched in Israel in 2011, busstop mini-libraries, offering books free of charge, have inspired similar initiatives in other countries.

25. Israel has the highest proportion of water used for irrigation that comes from recycled wastewater.

26. Two professors at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University created the first cherry tomatoes.

27. UNESCO declared Tel Aviv a heritage site for its 4,000 surviving Bauhaus buildings, erected in the 1930s and ‘40s.

28. Beersheba has the largest number of chess grandmasters per capita of any city in the world.

29. In 2012, Israel became the first country to prohibit the use of underweight models in fashion shows.

30. Security measures (many of them unseen) at Ben Gurion Airport are the best in the world.

31. Such is the strength of family values in Israel that Friday night dinners with extended family are near-sacred and a welcome weekly fixture.

32. An Israeli start-up invented a nontouch, radiation-free device, Babysense, that prevents crib death by monitoring a baby’s breathing and movement during sleep.

33. Israel’s unofficial national sport is a popular paddle ball beach game called matkot. It’s played by men and women of all ages and fitness levels. There are no winners or losers, just two people trying to sustain a rally.

34. Israel has the world’s highest per capita rate of university degrees.

35. Bob Dylan’s official 2013 video for his iconic 1965 song “Like A Rolling Stone” was hailed as revolutionary. The interactive clip, which allows viewers to switch through 16 channels on a virtual TV, is the work of a Tel Aviv start-up called Interlude.

36. Israel developed the technology that allowed for the original cell phone.

37. The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is the world’s oldest continuously used cemetery.

38. There’s no capital punishment, even for terrorists who carry out premeditated mass murder of unarmed civilians.

39. Israel has more orchestras per capita than any other country.

40. Two Israelis at Tel Aviv University invented an “anti-date rape straw” which detects the two most common date rape drugs and alerts intended victims.

41. Israel’s most recent victory in the Eurovision song contest was by a transgender pop star.

42. Israel has taken great risks – often in covert, dangerous operations – to rescue Jews in distress around the world, such as in Yemen, Ethiopia and Iraq.

43. Despite a high cost of living, there are relatively few beggars and homeless individuals on Israeli streets.

44. Israel’s dairy cows are unrivaled in their annual production of milk.

45. An Israeli company developed the first ingestible video camera, that helps doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders.

46. Israel places such a high value on the lives of its citizens it goes to extraordinary lengths to win their freedom. It has engaged in wildly lopsided deals, exchanging up to 1,500 Palestinian security prisoners (many of them mass murderers) for a few soldiers and to retrieve the bodies of others.

47. Many popular US TV shows originated in Israel. Homeland, In Treatment and Rising Star, among others, were based on Israeli programs.

48. Salim Joubran, an Israeli-Arab judge, became a permanent member of the country’s Supreme Court in 2004. He was the first Arab to chair the Central Elections Committee.

49. Israel has more in-vitro fertilization per capita than any other country, and it’s free.

50. Numerous studies show Israel as one of the best countries in which to raise children.

51. Israelis are famous for being argumentative and yelling at each other in disputes but relatively few throw punches or threaten to sue.

52. There’s only one significant freshwater lake in Israel, known abroad as the Sea of Galilee and locally as Lake Kinneret. It’s the world’s lowest freshwater lake and provides most of the country’s drinking water.

53. Israeli engineers invented a new form of drip irrigation that minimizes the amount of water needed to grow crops.

54. Given its tiny size and small population, Israel sometimes feels like one big family. A collective spirit reigns, like in few other places.

55. A Jerusalem high-tech company specializing in artificial vision has invented a tiny camera to help drivers navigate more safely. The device, called Mobile Eye, is being built into most new cars around the world.

56. The Weizmann Institute has developed treatment that offers new hope for prostate cancer patients in 2016. Targeting tumors without damaging a man’s genitalia, urinary tract or quality of life, the treatment has so far proven effective.

57. You can’t escape the news in Israel.

Everyone talks about it and bus drivers play the radio for all to hear, including the hourly newscasts.

58. A device developed in Israel is providing people suffering from glaucoma with relief and an effective alternative to traditional surgery.

59. Every year, Israelis, wherever they are, stand for two minutes in silence in memory of Holocaust victims as sirens wail on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Likewise on Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars Israelis stand for two minutes to honor the country’s fallen soldiers.

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Antisemitism in camouflage


Taking down BDS

 Reuven Rivlin, March 28, 2016, YNet news

 President Rivlin argues that while criticism of Israel is fair, when it comes under the guise of BDS and used as a camouflage for anti-Semitism, it crosses a line. Israel must stand together in order to overcome the BDS threat.

Since its establishment in this hostile region, Israel has had to heal with geo-political isolation.

In order to compensate for this isolation, throughout the generations, Israel’s leadership signed a number of strategic alliances with Western powers. These alliances not only guaranteed Israel’s military supremacy, but also ensured the free flow of Israeli culture, trade, and science to the most advanced countries in the world. These friendships and alliances with the West are a large part of the reason that Israel is as strong, prosperous, and advanced as it is today.

Yet there are those who look at these strong alliances, and yearn – for one reason or another – to isolate Israel and to weaken its standing internationally. The BDS movement includes many factions and parts, some of which have nothing to do with one another. I’m sorry to say that some parts of BDS even include factions which are connected to enemies of the State of Israel, and who work in order to eradicate Israel as a Jewish state. Some of them are even worse, and hide their anti-Semitism by calling their actions “criticism of Israeli policy.” Yet it’s important to clarify – not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism, and not all international pressure on Israel is a boycott. Criticism comes of concern and even the necessity to keep Israel strong. When friendly countries criticize us, I quite often find this criticism to be unjustified, but as a man who loves the Land of Israel, I don’t think that everyone who criticizes Israel – for instance on the matter of Judaea and Samaria – is causing de-legitimization to Israel.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are the complete opposite of criticism – they use criticism in order to reject the right of the State of Israel to exist and to reject the Jewish people’s right have their own state. I’m sorry to say that not even the West is immune to these positions. History proves that the dark and ugly scourge of anti-Semitism can spring up anywhere, even in the enlightened strongholds of Europe.

The BDS movement, as a movement which rejects Israel’s existence, has on multiple occasions spread modern-day blood libels. It doesn’t advance peace, but hatred. It is our responsibility to take apart this organization. The subject of boycott has always been a central issue in my work – as Speaker of the Knesset, and, of course, as President. I hear with concern about the damage, both visible and hidden, from academics, settlement leaders, athletes, and industrialists. At the same time, I sit and I stress to all the leaders and intellectuals I meet how dangerous the boycott is. I also stress and clarify – we are a nation familiar with debates and argumenets, a nation in which dealing with controversy and criticism is a central part of its existence. But boycott, by its very definition, is not part of debate – it silences debate. Don’t let boycotts – as I always tell world leaders – change the lively and open discussion. Boycotts, violence, and incitement only deepen divides, and don’t bring us any closer to a solution. When BDS takes over, criticism turns into camouflage for the de-legitimization of the existence of the State of Israel. We are putting our full effort into this fight.

BDS isn’t a threat which only exists at this moment, and its damage to the Israeli economy and Israeli security is still marginal. Nevertheless, we will not allow BDS to erode and denigrate the Israeli brand or the internal values of our society. Once we understand how to prove this to ourselves – while staying consistent with our values and identity – we will be able to prove this to the entire world, and BDS will no longer exist.

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Hating Israel is bizarre


‘Intersectionality’ and the Bizarre World of Hating Israel

 By , Observer.com

Have you heard of “intersectionality,” the latest strategy of Israel-haters who, like Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic, reside in a “looking-glass world,” where clocks run backwards, language is nonsensical and everything is topsy-turvy?

Have you wondered why Black Lives Matter activists carry signs “Justice From Ferguson to Palestine,” seeking to link claims of American racism and police violence with claims of Israeli brutality against Palestinians?

How about the National Women’s Studies Association endorsing a boycott of Israel to condemn the “sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated [by Israel] against Palestinians,” making a fictitious claim about the only Middle Eastern country with full gender equality and ignoring repression of women’s rights in Palestinian society?

Jewish Voice for Peace, a rabidly anti-Israel organization, links the Palestinian issue to “the struggles of students of color, student survivors of sexual assault, and all others who on campus fight against oppression, whether imperialism, racism, patriarchy, police violence, or other systemic inequities.”

At Columbia University, Students for Justice in Palestine and No Red Tape, a student group fighting sexual violence, join forces. What does opposing sexual violence have to do with Israel and the Palestinians?

At Vassar, Africana Studies offers course AFRS 383, “Transnational Solidarities: Palestinian Struggle for Self-Determination/Black Struggle for Liberation” and Jasbir Puar, a Rutgers Gender/Queer Studies professor, delivers a diatribe accusing Israel of harvesting Palestinian organs for research, experimenting on Palestinian children and targeting Palestinians for “stunting” and “maiming.”

Welcome to the world of “intersectionality,” inhabited by Israel-haters on college campuses and elsewhere.

Will they wake up from their fantasy of intersectionality, their obsession with victimization, the idolization of Palestinians and the demonization of Israelis?

Proponents of intersectionality see a world of all-encompassing oppression, where racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and ableism constitute an intersecting system. All injustices are interconnected, even if occurring in unconnected geographic, cultural and political environments. This is the rationalization for building alliances among unrelated causes like LGBTQ rights, fossil fuel divestment, prison reform, racial discrimination and immigration.

Decades ago, UCLA law professor, Kimberle Crenshaw, described intersectional theory to relate identity and power for black women. Her ideas have been vastly expanded to other so-called marginalized, victimized groups. Uniting “oppressed” groups, the theory goes, strengthens them against the dominant white power structure.

The anti-Israel BDS campaigns have successfully injected the Palestinians into this intersectional mix as victims of colonialist oppression by pro-Western Israel. The marriage of intersectionality with the Arab-Israeli conflict allows any victim group to make common cause with the Palestinians. The Palestinian struggle is linked to other “social justice” causes, no matter how disparate, in an aggressive strategy to attract supporters and speak with one unified voice.

For BDS supporter Angela Davis, intersectionality is a paradigm for “an internationalism that always urged us to make connections among freedom struggles.”

Solidarity with other supposedly “oppressed” groups compels the intersectionalist to adopt positions unrelated or even diametrically opposed to one’s cause, leading to coalitions, in this upside-down “looking-glass world,” with those actively hostile to one’s agenda.

This explains why, in January, the National LGBTQ Task Force initially chose to ally itself with Palestinians who execute gays, rather than with Israel, the sole Middle Eastern country that protects the rights of the LGBTQ community. And why women’s rights groups champion Palestinian society, where honor killings and violence against women are commonplace. To such “identity” groups, Palestinians are noble people of color struggling against “Western imperialistic injustices.” Treating women as chattel, beating or killing gays or discriminating against blacks are merely inconvenient facts that emanate from Western colonialism. A passion for the “virtuous” Palestinians reigns supreme and all manner of Palestinian behavior is morally justified in the Israel-hater “looking-glass world.”

In the “jabberwocky” of multicultural victimhood, Western, white, wealthy, cis-male and Israel (the collective Jew) are inherently evil, while third-world people of color, women, LGBTQ and Palestinians are automatically good. Alice would be right at home here. Today, to the sanctimonious social justice warrior, Jews are part of the oppressor class. On college campuses, Jewish students are stereotyped “white privileged,” while Palestinians are glorified as innocent “non-white” victims.  And genuine historical Jewish support for the rights of minorities is now being questioned.

Jewish students involved in campus leadership are accused of “dual loyalty.” In 2015, Stanford University’s Students of Color Coalition refused to endorse senate candidate Molly Horwitz because they felt that her Judaism would impact her vote on divestment issues. The UCLA student Judicial Board asked Rachel Beyda, “Given that you are a Jewish student… how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”  Ms. Beyda was initially denied a position due to her Jewish faith.

With the advent of “intersectionality,” Jewish students must pass an Israel litmus test to prove their commitment to social justice. Jewish students are being marginalized on campuses, many feeling the need to hide their pro-Israel and Jewish identities to “get along” in this hostile environment. University of Missouri sophomore Michael Stephenson, a social justice advocate, commented, “I don’t know where I belong…. It’s hard to be a Jewish student and support these [anti-racism] groups when harsh criticism of Israel sometimes turns into criticism of the Jews.”

In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice climbs through a mirror into a world of contradictions and illogical word play, where normal rules don’t prevail, where everything is backward, where animals and flowers talk, chess pieces come to life, a world not quite right. Alice finally wakes up and the reader ponders the blurring of boundaries between reality and fantasy. I wonder, will the Israel-haters eventually wake up from the fantasy of intersectionality, their obsession with victimization, the idolization of Palestinians and the demonization of Israelis?

Ziva Dahl is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. She has a Master of Arts degree in public law and government from Columbia University and an A.B. in political science from Vassar College.

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Palestinians are destroying two state solution


The prospect of a two-state solution in Israel is drifting further away

By James Sorene 12:18PM GMT 10 Mar 2016 Comment

The attacks are hard to prevent. The perpetrators are very young Palestinians and not members of terrorist groups. Their weapons are basic and the process of radicalisation, from violent idea to violent act, is completely unique.

BICOM research examining the Facebook pages of attackers revealed that initially they were fixated with false rumours that Israel was violating the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Later, attackers were obsessed with avenging the death of martyrs who they believed had been executed by Israeli forces. Palestinian media and Hamas repeatedly lied that Palestinians, who had been killed as they launched attacks against Israelis, were in fact being executed. The Palestinian President Abbas even repeated the charge, citing the case of a young boy whom he said had been executed, but who was alive and being treated in an Israeli hospital. Palestinian groups have filled twitter feeds and Facebook pages with gruesome images and Antisemitic cartoons of Jews being stabbed.

The young Palestinians are exposed to this radicalising material not only on social media. When they interact with the official institutions of their society, far from hate being challenged, it is reinforced. At school, terrorists are treated as heroes. In the media they are told the attacks are glorious feats. Just this week, official Palestinian TV described the Jaffa attacker as a martyr carrying out a complex operation. PA salaries are paid to convicted terrorists. Palestinian President Abbas never condemns the attacks or suggests that perhaps his people should stop trying to kill Israelis. Instead he echoes the prevailing narrative. Just last week he was reported to have sent a condolence letter to a recent attacker’s family. And the really bad news is that it’s likely that UK aid money supports all this reprehensible activity.

Critics of Israel say that these young Palestinians are frustrated and the absence of a peace deal has increased humiliation. But clearly something else is also going on. They are launching these attacks because the prevailing moral code is signalling that it’s a highly honourable thing to do. As for Abbas, some say he lacks power and legitimacy. Nonsense. Every leader has a choice and Abbas and his ministers chose to ride the wave rather than challenge it. Every time he praises a martyr, the deal that we all want to see, one that establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel, will drift further into the distance.

The Israeli response to these attacks has been measured. Of the 256 attackers, more have been arrested than killed in self-defence. For all the criticism of Bibi Netanyahu, he has implemented small measures to bolster security without launching wider crackdowns and issued 30,000 extra work permits for Palestinians to work in Israel. He has offered several times to meet with President Abbas to continue negotiations without preconditions. They should meet soon. Whether they will have anything to talk about is sadly another matter.

James Sorene is CEO of BICOM, an independent British research centre producing analysis, insight and commentary to promote a greater understanding of Israel and the Middle East in the UK

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PA is never held accountable


 Ya’alon faults Obama for going easy on Abbas, warns of Iran’s hegemony

By Eric Cortellessa, March 14, 2016

WASHINGTON — Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that the Iranian nuclear deal has created the conditions for Iran to attain greater hegemony in the region and that President Barack Obama mishandled attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While maintaining gratitude to Obama for his support of Israel’s security, he faulted the president for not holding PA President Mahmoud Abbas accountable for his role in the breakdown of peace efforts, and also said the president bought into the incorrect notion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the core of Middle East problems.

Ya’alon also bewailed the recent lifting of crippling oil and financial sanctions on Iran, which released more than $100 billion in frozen assets. The defense minister conveyed that while the deal has caused the Iranian regime to give up its “timetable” for acquiring military nuclear power, it has not given up its aspirations to eventually do so.

The more immediate concern for the next 10-15 years, Ya’alon insisted, was that the Iranians have created a “radical axis” throughout the Middle East that they are exploiting to gain greater dominance in the region.

“The regime in Tehran has become a central party in order to solve the problems of the Middle East,” he said.

Speaking before an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Ya’alon discussed his concerns regarding the Iranian regime’s regional activities and how that is informing the negotiations currently underway between US and Israeli officials to hammer out a memorandum of understanding that would increase US military aid to Israel for the next 10 years.

Ya’alon met with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other senior officials on Monday afternoon regarding the defense aid package. While Ya’alon would not comment on the state of the talks — which have been rumored to be at an impasse — he said he hoped “negotiations will be concluded very soon.”

A ballistic missile is seen in what Iran says is an underground base, in an undisclosed location in the country. The base is said to be buried 500 meters below ground. (Screen capture PressTV)

A ballistic missile is seen in what Iran says is an underground base, in an undisclosed location in the country. The base is said to be buried 500 meters below ground. (screen capture: PressTV)

Referring to Iran test-firing ballistic missiles last week that carried a Hebrew message saying “Israel must be wiped out,” Ya’alon said that the Israeli leadership believes Iran is now “more confident, more free to act in the region today with more money as a result of the sanctions relief, violating many UN resolutions, international resolutions regarding the proliferation of arms and terror.”

Last week’s episode also coincided with US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.

Ya’alon told former Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Wilson Center who moderated the forum, that he was apprehensive about President Obama allowing Iran to assert its influence over international attempts to ameliorate the Syrian crisis, as Israel borders Syria to its north along the Golan Heights. “To leave us with an Iranian-dominated Syria,” he said, “we can’t agree with it.”

Furthermore, Ya’alon highlighted differences between Washington and Jerusalem over how to make progress on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, saying that Obama did not apply sufficient pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“When [Abbas] closed the door in front of both Secretary Kerry in February 2014 and President Obama in March 2014, he wasn’t blamed. Why? He’s too weak to be accountable,” he said, referring to the president offering Abbas the principles for a plan to resolve the conflict and achieve a two-state outcome. “The most important value that is missing in the Middle East is accountability. When [Abbas] closed the door in front of President Obama, he should have been blamed. He should be accountable.”

Ya’alon also said the Obama administration embraced the “linkage” argument that maintains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main conflict in the Middle East that affects all others. “We still hear that the core of instability in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that without solving it you can’t stabilize the Middle East,” he said. “It was ridiculous in the past and it is ridiculous today. What is the linkage between the uprising in Tunisia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

US President Obama delivering his famed Cairo Speech in 2009. The president highlighted the need for social progress in his first major address to the Muslim world. (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)

US President Barack Obama speaks in Cairo on June 4, 2009. (screen capture: YouTube)

In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama addressed the linkage theory when asked about his 2009 Cairo reset speech, titled “A New Beginning,” in which he aimed to improve US relations with the Muslim World. “My argument was this: Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel,” Obama told Goldberg.

The president’s comments dismayed critics, including MK Michael Oren, who was Israel’s ambassador to the US when the speech was given, and who recalled the president saying no such thing. Oren told the Algemeiner on Thursday that the speech Obama gave in Cairo “nowhere mentions that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the core of the Middle East’s other conflicts. It actually implied the opposite.”

Despite Ya’alon telling Monday’s crowd that Israel doesn’t “want to govern the Palestinians” and that it would be “happy for them to enjoy their own political independence,” he offered a grim assessment of the future of the peace process, telling Miller “it’s not going to be solved in my lifetime.”

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America can’t save Middle East


Obama is right: America can’t fix the Middle East

Aaron David Miller, March 14, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting with his National Security Council | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As the Syrian civil war reaches its 5th anniversary this month, it’s time to face the fact that we can’t save the Arabs (or Israelis) from themselves.

I listen to the current crop of presidential candidates outline what they would do in the Middle East: carpet bomb the Islamic State, tear up the Iran accord, create a Sunni army, move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, or in the case of Hillary Clinton set up a no-fly zone in Syria, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. What’s outlined seems alternately reckless or not feasible; already being done, or not likely to make much of a difference.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent interview in the Atlantic with Barack Obama has led to a tsunami of criticism of the president’s ill-advised combination of risk aversion and aspirational words–a very bad combination in a region that now loathes the first and disdains the second.

Yet the president is right to be skeptical about American intervention in the region. The painful reality is that America is stuck in a broken and dysfunctional Middle East, trapped by its own lofty rhetoric and illusions, and tied up and befriended or opposed by tiny tribes and larger powers whose interests are not its own. We may degrade, contain, even roll back the Islamic State’s gains in Iraq and Syria, but we won’t destroy or defeat it or the forces of global jihad without filling the vacuum they exploit with Arab polities that are cohesive, well-governed and inclusive, and a Muslim world that is willing to delegitimize the extremists in its midst; we might stabilize Syria to some extent, but we won’t put either the Syrian or Iraqi Humpty Dumpties back together again on our terms; we might find a way to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from exploding, but we won’t resolve it without Israeli and Palestinian leaders being willing and able to do so. We can push a freedom and democracy agenda on the Arabs all day long; but they will determine how to govern themselves — well, badly, or not at all.

I get it that we diplomats are supposed to try. Teenagers Snapchat; beavers build dams; and U.S. secretaries of state use diplomacy to fix things. That’s what John Kerry has recently been doing in Geneva, trying to pull together a fragile cease-fire in Syria. It’s certainly better than rushing first to deploy and shoot. And as we’ve seen in the U.S.-Iranian nuclear agreement, diplomacy can actually work, however imperfectly.

Diplomacy is about remedy. And Americans’ urge to “do something” in the face of crisis, catastrophe and conflict is at times hot, relentless and all-consuming — and at times it’s understandable.

America can assist in important ways. But it cannot fix, repair or transform the Middle East — especially right now.

I come at this issue in a very personal way, as a former believer. For 20-some years I marched according to the same tune. It was an ennobling and inspiring one. I remember how moved I was by President Bill Clinton’s comment on the eve of the 2000 Camp David Summit that he’d rather try and fail than not try at all. Yet, however inspiring and quintessentially American that approach may be, it’s a more appropriate slogan for the University of Michigan football team, not a substitute for the foreign policy of the world’s most consequential power. Failure costs. Indeed, the talking cure doesn’t always work — for shrinks or diplomats. Diplomacy is a much more complicated and fraught enterprise when it comes to social and political engineering and to repairing countries torn apart by civil war in a region of the world that is itself broken and dysfunctional.

The very idea that the United States seriously believes — alone or with its partners — that it can address, much less resolve, the challenges of governance, sectarian conflict, religious divisions, hatreds, lack of respect for human rights, and the conspiratorial and irrational reasoning that afflict large parts of the Arab world is a leap of arrogance and ignorance so large that it threatens to consume what’s left of American credibility.

America can assist in important ways. But it cannot fix, repair or transform the Middle East — especially right now. And here are the reasons why.

1.) First, no comprehensive solutions. There’s not a single issue in this region — not one — that offers up an achievable end state or even a set of principles on which the locals can agree to work toward a sustainable end game. Even the administration’s pre-eminent accomplishment — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program — is at best an arms control agreement that will last for only a discrete period of time. It was neither designed to guarantee a comprehensive end to the problem of Iran’s putative quest to become a nuclear weapons threshold state or an actual nuclear power, nor can it do so. At best, there’s a hope that Iran will come to see that the benefits of joining the international nuclear club outweigh the downsides; and that it will continue to adhere to the most restrictive provisions even after they go into sunset. But there’s no inevitable or inexorable happy ending to the Iranian nuclear story.

And it doesn’t get much better from there. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 on Syria purports that its signatories agree to a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the United Nations that would establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance.” Yet the states that have the leverage on the ground — including Russia, Iran and Turkey, let alone any number of Syrian and Kurdish militias and Bashar Assad to boot — have other ideas. The current cessation of hostilities is a good thing; But it’s hard to see it as a secure and certain pathway to a stable Syria.

If there are no horizons accepted and owned by the parties themselves, how can America create them?

Or take a look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which Kerry is fond of saying that he doubts there’s anyone “who doesn’t actually know pretty much what a final status agreement actually looks like.” That may well be true for the peace process industrial complex, but such statements trivialize the difficulty of actually getting there. The reality, as Kerry’s failed 2013 initiative shows, is that neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority agree to those terms, let alone possess the capacity and will to implement them.

This absence of definitive endings or even agreed political horizons isn’t Washington’s fault. Rather, it’s emblematic of a turbulent region that hardly knows its own mind and in which common ground for comprehensive solutions to problems simply doesn’t exist. And if there are no horizons accepted and owned by the parties themselves, how can America, which can barely keep its own house in order, create them, particularly on issues that deal with sectarian, religious and national identity, and that raise existential fears?

2.) No leaders. In the space of five years, the lands of the Arabs have witnessed a virtual revolution and a veritable sweeping away of America’s traditional partners. For half a century, Washington dealt with various Arab authoritarians: either of the adversarial type (Saddam Hussein; Hafez and Bashar Assad; Muammar Qadhafi) or the acquiescent variety (Yasser Arafat; Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali; Abdullah Salah; Anwar Sadat; Hosni Mubarak) They have all gone the way of the dodo.

The Arab kings remain. But they are either too weak (Jordan); too self-interested and myopic (Saudi Arabia); or too marginalized (Morocco) to play heroic roles in finding transformative solutions to what ails the Middle East. Turkey is a consequential player; but it has scores to settle with the Kurds, limiting its cooperation with Washington. Instead, the United States confronts an Arab world whole parts of which are now off-line — fragmentation in Yemen, Libya and Syria; and extreme dysfunction in Iraq and Egypt.

America’s authoritarian partners have always been problematic. he bargains it has struck with them were bound to prove false. But even bad states are better than weak or nonexistent ones. Leaders such as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider el-Abadi or Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are too weak and constrained to command real authority; others, as in the case of Egyptian President Fattah Abdel el-Sisi, are too strong and suspicious of the U.S. to cooperate closely. And to make matters worse, nonstate actors have emerged in response to situations with bad governance or none to threaten Arab states, and, in the case of the Islamic State, to present a real challenge to global security.

3.) Few allies. And if America lacks partners on whom it can rely, how in essence can it manage problems effectively, let alone lead to resolve them? A transformed Middle East has shaken traditional relationships with former allies. Indeed, there was a time when Washington coordinated effectively with leaders like the monarchs Hussein, Hassan and Abdullah; or Sadat, Mubarak, even Arafat, who could deliver their constituencies and act on the Arab stage. No longer. The rise of Iran, largely as a result of the Arab world’s melt-down and the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement, has strained relations further. It’s not that the United States lacks partners with whom it shares many common interests, and in the case of Israel shared values, too; relations with its former friends have never been perfect. But rarely has there been a time when America’s three closest Middle East partners — Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — have been so out of step with Washington and, not surprisingly, drawn closer to one another.

In Syria, the U.S. is allied with a Turkey that shares some of its goals but is more interested in hitting Kurds than ISIL.

This situation is unlikely to change any time soon. Because no matter in which direction you turn, there seems to be another huge problem in the way: With Egypt, it’s human rights abuses and lack of political reform; with Israel, it’s the Palestinian issue and Iran; with Saudi Arabia, it’s Iran and Syria. And in Syria, the U.S. is allied with a Turkey that shares some of its goals but is more interested in hitting Kurds than ISIL, and in league with Kurds who are more interested in consolidating their own gains than actively working for a unified Syria.

4.) Serious adversaries. The problem is further compounded when the United States confronts adversaries willing and able to commit more to the fight than Washington. Some of this broken crockery with old allies might not be so bad if America’s newest frenemy — Iran — were moderating its regional ambitions. But, regardless of the results of the recent elections, Tehran isn’t doing so. And, together with Hezbollah, it’s managed to help keep the Assad regime afloat. So fixing Syria and Iraq, and preventing a new round of confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah means a growing dependence on an Iran that seems to have more, not less, leverage in the region than Washington has over it. Add to the mix ISIL — a transnational actor that has expanded to Libya, Yemen and Sinai, and into West Africa from its bases in Iraq and Syria — and you have a number of regional actors that undermine and complicate U.S. goals. Our antagonists can’t compete with U.S. military power and the U.S. is clearly making gains against ISIL in Iraq; but they compensate by their sheer will and determination to advance what they’ve identified as vital interests in their neighborhood; and they seem willing to sacrifice much more than American interests to keep the neighborhood theirs.

Finally there’s Russia. Determined to prevent the United States from overthrowing yet another Russian ally, Vladimir Putin has managed to buck up the Assad regime, keep the Sunni opposition away from key Syrian cities, secure Russians bases along the coast, and put himself in the middle of a diplomatic process over which he has leverage. The inconvenient truth is that Putin has figured out that instead of confronting Washington, it’s better to agree with Washington on this process or that resolution or framework, and then either violate them or control their pace. Just as Putin spared the president from bombing Syria in 2013 over Assad’s use of chemicals by offering up an agreement, he’s positioned to do so again in Syria should he choose. It’s a cruel reality. But there can be no settlement in Syria without Russian and Iranian cooperation, too. And that means Washington will either have to confront them or accept that each will have significant roles and influence..

5.) What about U.S. leadership? I can hear the criticism even now as I close this column: The United States isn’t some potted plant. It has agency, and it can act forcefully to project U.S. power against Russia or Iran. The problem is not lack of capacity; it’s the lack of will. The current administration has chosen simply to abdicate U.S. leadership and responsibility and lead from behind. If only it would …

And this “would/coulda/shoulda“ approach is the essence of the problem. We can assist, facilitate, even catalyze. But we seem to to believe that we have the keys to unlocking regional harmony and stability. Let’s just act: Set up a safe zone in Syria; create a no-fly zone; provide better weapons to the Syrian opposition; deploy more special forces. A decade or more of involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq should make it clear that we don’t have those keys. An even longer period of failed efforts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict just puts an exclamation point on the inconvenient truth: America has infantilized the Arabs, Iranians, Israelis — and even itself for that matter — by assuming we know what’s best, that we can get the locals to actually own and take possession of the things that need to be done, by lecturing, hectoring and offering up clever formulae; or worse, naively trying to scare them with the grim fate that awaits them if they don’t choose another, more enlightened course when their own instincts and agenda run in the opposite direction. That we—surrounded by nonpredatory powers to our north and south and fish to our east and west (our liquid assests)—seem to have freed ourselves from the forces of history and geography doesn’t mean that our friends and adversaries elsewhere have. Indeed, the Middle East is littered with the remains of great powers that wrongly believed they could impose their will by force on small tribes or persuade them to accept their plans for peace and accommodation.

The last serious and successful policy America had toward this region was that of the first President George Bush and his immensely talented secretary of state, James Baker. The policy worked largely because if was pursued skillfully and willfully; Bush and Baker correlated means and ends and could separate what was vital from what was discretionary. Their goals were transactional and doable, not transformational and unrealizable. Can we find such a balance again in a region grown infinitely more complex? Is there an effective middle ground between being not in and being all in; between too much risk-readiness and too much risk-aversion? If I had those answers today, I’d have signed up for somebody’s campaign.

Blame Bush 43 for getting into Iraq; and blame Obama for getting out too quickly, if it makes you feel better.

The painful fact is the United States is trapped in a region it can neither transform nor leave. It deserves its fair share of responsibility for making a bad situation worse. Blame Bush 43 for getting into Iraq; and blame Obama for getting out too quickly, if it makes you feel better. But this region was never America’s to win or lose. And despite the tough talk on the campaign trail, I’m betting the next Republican or Democrat — whether it’s a he or a she — will have no better or more compelling answers than their predecessors. I would think in terms of outcomes (and perhaps positive ones that America can help shape). But forget solutions, because as inconvenient or incorrect as it is to admit, especially for the solutionists, the region’s real problems and solutions are to be found not primarily in Washington, but in the largely leaderless, angry, and broken lands and hands of the Middle Easterners themselves.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.”

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