Monday, August 31, 2009

The Palestinian Movement, Iran, Hizballah, and arms smuggling

By Barry Rubin

It is because the Middle East’s history—even most recent history—is continually ignored does Western policy tend to go in a cycle, the same mistakes are repeated, and disasters occur predictably.

Consider, for example, the Palestinian Authority's Iran connection and lust for war rather than peace.

Fuad Shubaki, one of Arafat’s closest aides, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Israeli military court for weapons’ smuggling. This is not a new issue and the details are what’s interesting. Shubaki, whose office was practically next to that of the PLO, Fatah and Palestinian Authority (PA) leader, financed the shipment of arms on the Karine-A cargo ship—including 50 tons of Katyusha rockets, ammunition, and explosives--which Israeli forces seized in 2002. Shubaki testified he was only carrying out (Arafat’s) orders.

Lessons of the Shubaki case:

--Arafat had forged close relations with the Islamist regime in Iran which was to supply the weapons, showing the cooperation between the Palestinian movement and the Iranians.

--The middle man in the deal was Hizballah special operations’ chief Imad Mugniyah, since assassinated. So Hizballah was brokering Iran-PA relations and the PA was working closely with a terrorist responsible for attacks on Americans and the deaths of U.S. soldiers.

--The large amount of weapons would have greatly escalated the Second Intifada fighting, resulting in thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties. It is a wonderful example of how the Palestinian side tries to foment bloody wars even though it will lose, have its infrastructure destroyed, and suffer so many casualties  (which can then be blamed on Israel).

--The incident persuaded the Bush administration that Arafat was not a partner for peace and thus played a key role in setting U.S. government policy. If the Bush administration is criticized for not doing more on Arab-Israeli negotiations during its term, that was because the White House was convinced that the Palestinians wanted war not peace. The longer-term factor was the U.S. government's viewing Arafat's rejection of compromise peace at the 2000 Camp David summit but the arms' deal with Iran was the decisive event in convincing the Bush administration that it was hopeless trying to work with the PA or broker a peace deal.

--The PA, Fatah, and the PLO is currently run by Arafat’s lieutenants, the same people who were in power in 2002.

--In recent weeks, several leading Fatah officials have spoken about the idea of turning toward an alliance with Iran against, among others, the United States.

--Fatah is now moving into a more radical phase, with its designated next leader being more extreme than Arafat.

--If a Palestinian state were to be established, it might well invite in Hizballah and Iranian forces, import large amounts of arms, and renew the war with Israel.

These are all serious points which must be taken into account--but are only rarely so--in understanding the regional sitaution and the futility of an effort to obtain a comprehensive agreement at this time.

Take the one-minute test proving Syria is an Ally of al-Qaida & see How This Fact is Kept Hidden

By Barry Rubin

It is an open secret that Syria is behind most of the terrorism in Iraq. The Syrian regime let’s in would-be Sunni terrorists, arms them, trains them, serves as a supply base, and then helps them cross the border. They murder Iraqi civilians and American soldiers alike.

But here’s something else that’s an open secret: Syria is cooperating with Usama bin Ladin’s al-Qaida organization to do so. I can prove that to you within one minute. Ready? Check your watch and read on.

Terrorists get into Iraq almost exclusively through Syria. Syria provides assistance to the terrorists. The U.S. government provides statistics of how many terrorists infiltrate across the Syria-Iraq border every month.

Oh, yes, and the terrorists belong to al-Qaida, the leading organization in the anti-Shia, anti-American insurgency in Iraq.

Therefore: Syria works with the terrorists, the terrorists are al-Qaida, Syria works with al-Qaida.

Beat my deadline by 15 seconds! And no one can refute the previous paragraphs two linkages.

Here’s another logical progression that doesn’t work out so well

The United States says it is at war with al-Qaida and its partners, Syria is a partner of al-Qaida, therefore Washington perceives Syria as part of its war against al-Qaida? No, on the contrary, the United States is seeking engagement with Syria.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s government played a videotape of a captured al-Qaida terrorist, Muhammad Hassan al-Shemari, a Saudi arrested in Iraq as a leader of al-Qaida. He describes an al-Qaida training camp in Syria, headed by a well-known Syrian intelligence agent.

But there's another element to this story that tells all too much about the current sad state of academia and intellectual exchange. A student at American university who I know and is very credible, after reading the article you've just finished, wrote me as follows:

"I made the argument you presented in Middle East class; The retort by my pro-Syrian professor, `well it's much more complicated than that. This sounds a bit neo-conservative to me.'"

Note that, as so often happens nowadays, the response is not a series of well-honed arguments with proof provided but a slogan, an insult.

There are sectors in Western democratic society--including areas of academia, social enclaves, journalism, and publishing--where norms of discussion increasingly seem to resemble those of a Stalinist state. One need merely respond with such well-chosen names as "racist," "imperialist," "Islamophobic," "Zionist," "conservative," or "pro-American" to claim triumphantly to have won the argument.

Yet this methodology must be used precisely because of the weakness of the arguments purveyed by the newly imposed conventional wisdom from the far left disguised as liberalism, enthusiasts for dictatorships concealed as the friends of the masses who those dictatorships repress, and apologists of anti-democratic ideologies who pretend to be the champions of an even higher freedom.

There is no better response to this sad state of affairs than that made by George Orwell, a man of both the left and the Enlightenment, both socialism and democracy, in 1944:

“The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is...that it attacks the concept of objective truth….There is some hope…that the liberal habit of mind, which thinks of truth as something outside yourself, something to be discovered, and not as something you can make up as you go along, will survive....A certain degree of truthfulness was possible so long as it was admitted that a fact may be true even if you don't like it."

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Friday, August 28, 2009

To the Media: Higher Standard for Israel? Then Higher Standard for Coverage of Israel

By Barry Rubin

A friend who deals professionally with the media says that when he complains about coverage of Israel in the media he is told: ""We expect more from the Jews and Israel."

I suggested he respond like this:

You are saying that because of historical factors you have higher expectations from Jews and Israel. Ok. But there are other historical factors to take into account: antisemitism, deliberate slander and honest misunderstanding of Jews, and deliberate slander and misunderstanding of Israel. You should also have higher standards on how Jews and Israel should be treated fairly.

For most of history people have held mistaken concepts--Jews killed the guy from Nazareth, Jews killed the guy from Mecca, Jews poisoned wells, Jews sought to destroy Christianity, Jews were behind capitalism and communism, Jews were disloyal citizens, and so on. Incidentally, these all are not only ideas common in the Muslim majority world today but are once again spreading quickly into the West, in part due to your coverage.

So if you say that you hold Jews and Israel to higher standards remember equally that they have been treated, misexplained, misunderstood and lied about to lower standards. That there are people--often the main supposed witnesses to the things you denounce Israel for--who have a vested interest in making Israel look bad and who are willing to lie, along with reporters and others who have an antagonism to Israel. What are you doing to correct that side of the balance?

I'm going to hold you to a higher standard in your coverage of Israel  and of Jews for the same reason.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Key Saudi Prince Injured in Terror Attack: Shaking Up the Kingdom

By Barry Rubin

Of Saudi Arabia it has been said that a bird doesn’t move without the royal family’s permission. That a suicide bomber was able to get close enough to wound the Saudi Assistant Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef is a very worrisome development that will shake up the kingdom.

This is not just anybody nor even just any Saudi prince but the man whose father leads the regime’s intelligence and counterterrorist operations, and who himself plays an important role in this campaign. The government knew he was a high-priority target and provided the best security possible. The—presumably al-Qaida linked—terrorists knew it also and thus calculated that making such a hit would show their strength and effectiveness.

As a traditional tribal leadership, Saudi royals frequently hold open meetings, secure in their forces’ tight security control. The terrorist was thus able to approach closely, though the prince was not seriously wounded and no one was killed.

But this is a message: the insurgency against the Saudi regime is not dead, despite many arrests and executions. It is also a reminder that Saudi security can be pretty lax, as has been seen in past attacks where seemingly secure areas were penetrated by terrorists.

The likely response is an escalated campaign against terrorists combined with an increased measure of caution regarding the kind of initiatives which might anger domestic opinion and spur more people to join the insurgents. Like what? Like cooperating with the United States or taking any steps toward peace with Israel.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Here's Your Story: No Engagement Game Because Iran Burned Down

 By Barry Rubin

Gerald Seib’s article in the Wall Street Journal is worth responding to because it symbolizes the curious mentality about Iran prevailing in American policymaking and opinion-making circles. The article is entitled, "Iran Collapse Complicates U.S. Moves."

On the contrary! I think it makes things much simpler and clearer.

But first a story told to me many years ago by famed radio host Barry Farber:

A reporter is dispatched to cover a high school basketball game but doesn’t file a story. As deadline approaches the editor irritably calls the journalist into his office and asks where is the story?

“There isn’t any story,” says the reporter.

“Why not?” asks the editor.

“There wasn’t any game,” the journalist replies.

“Why not?” asks the editor.

“The gym burned down.”

For those of you who are journalists with certain mass media outlets, I should explain the point of the anecdote: The gym burning down was the story.

Now back to Seib.

He explains there is an alleged irony in the fact that, “America's most vexing enemy is plagued by growing internal dissension, a vocal opposition movement that won't die and a crisis of legitimacy.”

What is it?

“The upheaval there actually is making the job of crafting an American strategy more difficult.”


Because, you see, it is harder to engage Iran when it is so busy with domestic matters and in disarray. I’ve heard this from others in Washington as well. And Seib gives us the likely Obama administration conclusion:

“And here's the most likely outcome: The U.S. will leave the door open to engagement with Iran, but won't be trying as hard as before to coax the Iranians into walking through it.”

Well, why are we even talking about this? It is time for a new view of Iran and U.S. policy. Memo to Obama: The situation has changed big-time.

Why engage a country where the most extreme of the extreme have seized power and anyone prepared to make compromises has been kicked out or put on trial (not that they were so moderate either)? There can be no illusion--which Obama himself said he believed--that while the president of Iran is a loudmouth the spiritual guide is a secret moderate.

Why engage a country which has ignored every effort to do so and has gone full speed ahead on nuclear weapons?

Why engage a regime which has just appointed a wanted terrorist involved in killing Americans as its defense minister, who will have control over nuclear weapons?

Why engage a country whose ambitions are clearly regional hegemony and is making gains in that direction precisely because of perceived U.S. weakness?

What the United States needs now is not an engagement policy or even a sanctions' plan (though that is a part of it) but a strategy to compete with Iran and its allies throughout the region and defeat their ambitions. (Just because George W. Bush thought that way does not mean it's wrong, a concept it is vital for the Obama administration to grasp.)

What comes next? The United States gets increased sanctions in September and the regime ignores or circumvents them. Iran goes further and further down the road to nuclear weapons and in implementing its regional ambitions.

It is time for the debate to get beyond engagement. Of course, there’s a reason that isn’t happening: because then the problem of what to do and its costs becomes more serious and expensive and dangerous.

But that debate better begin.

I’ve got news for you. There is a story: Iran burned down.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Obama Administration’s Arab-Israeli Policy Adjustment: Out of the Frying Pan Into the…Saucepan

By Barry Rubin

The Obama Administration is slowly adjusting its policy on Arab-Israeli issues but doing so in a way that ensures it still won't work. They understand they were doing it wrong, they still don’t understand what they were doing wrong.

Briefly, in phase one the administration demanded Israel unilaterally stop construction on settlements in the West Bank, activity which not only all previous U.S. presidents in practice accepted but so did the Palestinians. By accepted, I don’t mean the Palestinians didn’t complain about it but that fact never stopped the negotiations’ process for 15 years. Obama has now achieved a full stop to the bilateral talks.

Once the United States raised the bar, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states could do no less. Now negotiations are frozen while construction isn’t.

In phase 2, U.S. policy did more unintentional damage, even though the shift was in the right direction. It asked Arab states and the Palestinians to give some confidence-building measure to Israel. They said “no,” and probably they would have done so under any conditions. That was predictable but it leads to an interesting and extremely important point.

Everyone speaks of how popular President Barack Obama is, and when it comes to the Middle East this is exaggerated. But the key word here isn’t “popular” but “credible.”

“I like you but I’m not going to bet on you,” is the way it could be expressed. If you are perceived as weak, it doesn’t matter if they think you’re a nice guy. In Middle East politics, nice guys really do finish last.

Once the whole Arab world plus Iran plus Israel defies you and you just smile and nod and don’t do anything about it, you’re credibility is even lower. Perhaps it will stay that way for four or eight years.

Now we are in Phase 3, characterized by bubbly optimism from Washington—everything’s going well, everyone’s cooperating—but still quite out of tune with reality. I have noted that false optimism--pretending progress is being made when it isn’t--can in part be a good strategy. But the administration is going about it in a way that ensures failure.

How? In the “Godfather,” Don Vito Corleone made people an offer they couldn’t refuse. If they do, they know he will back up his proposals with power. Obama makes people offers they’ll never accept. Not only do they know they'll get away with it but they can expect he will offer them even more afterward.

Don Corleone said, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Obama says, in effect, treat your friends badly and your enemies well. As a result, friends are going to think about moving into a less close relationship.

In addition, you don’t set preconditions on Arab-Israeli negotiations if you ever want them to get started. Since both sides aren’t eager to negotiate they will seize on the preconditions as excuses or use them to demand more. Successful negotiations--the first Camp David meeting, the 1991 Madrid conference--were held without any serious preconditions.

And so it sends the wrong signal when State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said August 27 that the United States would be flexible on pre-negotiation conditions for the parties because it is signalling that conditions can exist.

Middle East translation: I can use the fact that there are pre-conditions to say “no” and I can use the fact that you are flexible to ask for more.

President Obama, if you want negotiations, get rid of preconditions and bring the parties together. (It wouldn’t work any way but you’re the one who wants talks so make them happen.)

Crowley also said:

"We put forward our ideas, publicly and privately, about what it will take for negotiations to be restarted, but ultimately it'll be up to the parties themselves, with our help, to determine whether that threshold has been met."

Ah, so the administration is leaving it in Palestinian hands to decide if they’ve gotten enough to talk? That’s an open invitation to get all sorts of demands from them. The problem that Obama hasn’t understood yet is that when you basically renounce force and threats, apologize, and say that the United States is just another partner in the world, you’ve given away the power you need to get things done.

Finally, the administration has no idea that even if Israel were to give a partial freeze, the Palestinians would demand a full one. If Israel gave a full one, the Palestinians would make up stories about construction or add in a demand for no remodeling or renovations on existing apartments.

The situation regarding the Obama administration in the Middle East today is something like putting a child who is still learning the rules up against the world’s greatest poker players. For the first six months of a new president that is an understandable problem but if it continues longer the feeble condition of this administration's foreign policy starts to seem permanent.

Reportedly, the administration wants a breakthrough in September. Why? It will look good during the UN General Assembly session and, more important, it will be in place when Obama asks for tougher sanctions against Iran.

Good luck.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Iran’s Regime Chooses A Terrorist Who Has killed Americans as Defense Minister; Still Want to Engage Them, President Obama?

By Barry Rubin

It is beyond belief: Iran’s government has named a wanted terrorist, Ahmad Vahidi, as its defense minister. Parliament has enthusastically endorsed him. 

And even that’s not all: Vahidi ran the Qods force in the 1980s and 1990s, making him responsible for liaison between Iran and foreign terrorist groups, you know, the people to whom a nuclear device might be given, exploded somewhere, and then Iran can disclaim responsibility.

And there’s more: he was also involved in the June 25, 2006, car bombing attack on the Khobar Towers which killed 19 American soldiers and a Saudi civilian. More than 400 were wounded.

Even the European Union has him on their “no-talk” list.

Can you imagine all the terrorist operations he ordered and planned that we don’t know about?

So please forgive me if I use capital letters:


This is the man who would have control over Iran’s nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

And the United States has said…. And the Western reaction is….

I can’t hear you!

Right, that’s precisely the problem, and neither can Tehran.

But let's consider this development for a moment. In all other countries, the defense minister's job is to run the armed forces. He has to decide what weapons to buy, how to use resources, and how to conduct operations of regular soldiers.

In contrast, in Iran, the "military" forces being used are terrorists. Therefore, a background in terrorism is the best credential for defense minister. Terrorism is the projection of military force by Iran, to destroy its foes, expand its influence, spread revolution, and subordinate other countries to its will (and perhaps even rule).

Institutionally, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the extremely radical and highly ideological parallel force to the regular military, is the base of power for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To a large extent, it has become the ruler of Iran, that is with the permission of the leading figure, Spiritual Guide Ali Khamenei. Therefore, being a high-level IRGC operative is the best credential for being defense minister.

On July 18, 1994, the Jewish community center building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was attacked. Eighty-five people were killed, over 240 were wounded.

After an extensive investigation, the Argentinian government concluded in its October 2006 report that this attack was ordered by Iran’s government and carried out by Lebanese Hizballah. Vahidi was one of five Iranian officials mentioned by name as having planned the attack. One of his tasks was to coordinate with Hizballah on the operation.  Interpol put him on its wanted list.

(A side note: You can often read in Western media and even European government statements that Hizballah is never involved in terrorist attacks outside Lebanon. Indeed, President Barack Obama’s advisor on terrorism, John Brennan, portrays Hizballah as a moderate group. Remember this the next time you hear that nonsense. There is increasing eagerness in top British circles for engaging Hizballah, too. Soon Hizballah will enter into the Lebanese government and both Europe and probably the U.S. government will have some dealings with that terrorist group.)

One might think that the United States and its European allies would declare that they refuse to meet with any Iranian government official, allow any investment, block any trade, try to stop Iran from participating in any international event as long as it was openly and directly involved in terrorism.

I'm not talking about some type of crackpot or irresponsible response but rather the reaction which calm, responsible, seasoned policymakers and diplomats should make under the circumstances.

Note that since the Obama administration began talking about engagement with Iran, the regime has become more and more extremist. It is true that the U.S. government is increasingly coming to the conclusion that engagement with Iran is a waste of time, but this is a very slow process and the conclusion seems based more on the idea that Iran won't respond than to observing the steady radicalization of an already extremist regime.

Instead, the Western governments should be calculating that things are going to get a lot worse. Ahmadinejad has achieved a much higher level of control than before, the supreme guide is behind him, his IRGC allies are filling dozens of high posts, the election was stolen, the opposition (even within the ruling establishment) repressed, and show trials are being held.

Does this not signify that the regime is becoming bolder, less concerned about the costs, totally indifferent to restraining voices? From the pure standpoint of political analysis, alarm bells should be going off, strategies altered.

Beyond this, where is the shock and outrage? For the Iranian regime knows precisely what it is doing. Iran’s government is “sticking it” to the West, “dissing” America and Europe, and you can find your own word for it. This is a test to how far they can go in terms of open aggression and threats. Such is the challenge not being met.

The Iranian regime might as well run up the skull-and-crossbones flag (the traditional flag of pirates) on the mast, put a parrot on their shoulders, and begin each sentence with, "Arghh!". In fact that’s precisely what they’re doing, in twenty-first century, Islamist terms.

Lest you think this article is strident, not at all. It’s the facts and events which have become so far out, Western media and government reactions so out-of-phase.

To see the wanted poster for Vahidi, go here

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Open Secret: Syria Daily Sponsors and Aids Terrorists Murdering Iraqi Civilians and Americans: Doesn’t This Require Action?

By Barry Rubin

One of the world’s biggest open “secrets” is this: Syria is arming, helping, training, financing, and giving access across the border into Iraq for terrorists who are murdering Iraqi civilians and American soldiers or civilian workers.

Everyone knows it, statistics are kept on it. Yet this fact simply doesn’t seem to figure in U.S. policy. If it were known that a foreign country was waging covert war against America, that Americans were dying because of its direct involvement in terrorist attacks, don’t you think there would be some tough response (and I don’t mean an invasion)?

Yet this is precisely what’s happening. Naturally, the Iraqi government is angry about it. In fact, Baghdad just recalled its ambassador after two terrorists--Mohammad Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan--who it says are operating from within Syria just carried out bombings which killed more than 100 people.

Syria is a dictatorship. Nothing happens inside its territory without government approval. A U.S. official told me that the bus taking terrorists from Damascus to the border left from a place that can be seen from the U.S. embassy there.

Iraq also asked Syria to throw out the terrorist groups. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said,

“We…demand that Syria hand over every person wanted for committing murders and crimes against Iraqis and to kick out all terrorist organizations that use Syria as a base to launch and plan such operations against Iraqi people.”

The United States has been trying to get Syria to do this for other groups—Hamas, Hizballah, and many smaller organizations—for decades with no success.

But obviously the Iraqis are getting nowhere, so Dabbagh got angrier:

"Our relations with Syria have reached a crossroads of whether they choose to have good relations with Iraq, or whether they choose to protect persons who attack Iraq."

But what can Iraq do about it without serious Western support? Nothing. And so the terrorists are safe in Syria, laughing at their victims, continuing to attack. 

Meanwhile, despite strenuous U.S. efforts, the Syrian regime's position has become even more intransigent.

Is Syria an enemy of the United States which is only emboldened by American inaction and concessions? What do you think?

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).
To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books:
To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports:

If Everyone Else was Jumping off a Cliff, Would You do it? Middle East Answer: Yes, if Israel Didn’t Like It

By Barry Rubin

Who won that Lebanese election again?

True, Hizballah doesn’t control the majority, but with a president who is pretty submissive to Syria and Hizballah having a veto, the next government of Lebanon won’t be too independent-minded. Forget about condemning Syria for its involvement in past (and future?) terror attacks against Lebanese leaders, journalists, and judges. Forget about stopping massive arms’ smuggling to Hizballah or keeping Hizballah from treating the south of the country as its own private estate.

Saad Hariri, who will probably be the next prime minister and whose father was assassinated by Syria says:

"The national unity government will include the [Hariri’s] March 14 alliance, and I also want to assure the Israeli enemy that Hezbollah will be in this government whether it likes it or not because Lebanon's interests require all parties be involved in this cabinet.”

Wow, sounds like a real tough guy. But the problem, as Hariri well knows, is not that Israel won’t like it but also that he and most Lebanese won’t like it. If Hizballah again provokes Israel into a war, as happened in 2006, Lebanon’s interests will be once again smashed because of the interests of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah, using Lebanon as a battlefield to achieve regional hegemony and spread Islamism.

And this also points the way to a deeper problem: the Israel excuse can be used to justify and maintain everything preventing progress, democracy, human rights, higher living standards, freedom, and just about every other positive development in the Arabic-speaking world.

If Israel doesn’t like it, well then it must be good. Iraq invades Kuwait? Hizballah drags Lebanon into war? Hamas seizes the Gaza Strip? The Palestinian Authority doesn’t make peace?

Whatever it is: “Israel doesn’t like it” is the justification for every failed policy, action leading to stagnation, and stampede to disaster that happens in Arabic-speaking countries.

It’s like your mother used to tell you when you justified doing something on the basis that everyone else was doing it.

“If everyone else was jumping off a cliff would you do that?”

Answer in the Middle East: Yes!

By the way, though, sometimes the situation becomes too intolerable for average people to accept. Here video of villagers in Merwakhin, Lebanon, chasing out a Hizballah force which had arrived to store weapons and rockets in their homes. They didn't want to become a military target.

Usually, of course, Lebanese (or Palestinian) citizens have no choice. Hizballah (or Hamas or Fatah) turns their homes into weapons' dumps, rocket-launching sites, or firing posts. If Israel fires back, they then run to the UN, human rights' groups, the media, and Western governments and yell about war crimes. It's a very good strategy if you have enough suckers or ideologically motivated people violating professional ethics to play along with it.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books:
To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports:

Let’s Pretend We’re Making Arab-Israeli, Israel-Palestinian Peace

By Barry Rubin

Here’s one of my favorite stories explaining how the Middle East works. It was told by Muhammad Hussanein Heikal, the famed Egyptian journalist. Like all Heikal’s stories, it may or may not be true, which is also part of the lesson being taught.

When Muammar Qadhafi first became Libya’s dictator, Heikal was dispatched to meet and evaluate him by Egypt’s ruler, Gamal Abdel Nasser. After returning to Cairo, Heikal was quickly ushered into the president’s office.

“Well,” said Egypt’s president, “what do you think of Qadhafi?”

“He’s a disaster! A catastrophe!”

“Why,” asked the president, “is he against us?”

“Oh no, far worse than that,” Heikal claims to have replied. “He’s for us and he really believes all the stuff we are saying!”

The point was that the Egyptian regime took the propaganda line out of self-interest that all Arabs should be united into one state under its leadership, all the Arab monarchies overthrown, Israel wiped off the map immediately, and Western influence expelled, but it knew itself incapable of achieving these goals and to try to do so would bring disaster. Indeed, when Nasser had tried to implement part of this program in 1967, he provoked Israel into attacking and suffered his worst disaster.

Come to think of it, Arab regimes are still playing this game of systematically purveying radicalism, hatred, and unachievable goals to distract their populace, excuse their own failings, focus antagonism against foreign scapegoats and seek regional ambitions.

Western governments do this kind of thing a bit differently.

In this regard, recent statements by a number of leaders including President Barack Obama, prime ministers Gordon Brown and Benjamin Netanyahu, and others, establish an important principle:

Actually achieving Middle East peace is of no importance. The only thing that is important is saying that progress is being made and that peace will come soon.

I don’t mean that as a statement of cynicism but as an accurate analysis of what goes on in international affairs at present. What’s achieved by pretending there is progress and there will be success? Some very real and—in their way—important things:

--World leaders are saying that they are doing a great job, doing the right things, remaining active and achieving success.

--By saying peace is near, the issue is defused. Why fight if you are about to make a deal?

--Israel (and anyone else from the region who joins in—see below) shows that it is cooperating so others should be patient and not put on pressure.

--Since the West is taking care of business, Arab states supposedly will feel comfortable working with it on other issues, like Iran for example.

I want to stress that this behavior is not as silly as it might seem. Often this is how indeed politics do work. Moreover, pretending is better than a sense of desperation which would lead to very bad mistakes being made by energetically doing stupid and dangerous things. Certainly, it inhibits strong pressure or sanctions against Israel.

The freeze on construction within settlements is a scam. If Israel gives something on this issue, the Western governments declare victory and go home, so to speak. That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons for not doing so, but the virtually open cynicism of the U.S. and European strategy is striking.

When the U.S. president portrays the possibility of two tiny states, Oman and Qatar, letting one-man Israeli trade offices re-open as a major triumph in confidence-building , despite being his sole achievement after months of top-level diplomacy, what can one do but snicker?

Finally, since Israel-Palestinian peace is not within reach, pretending it is while knowing the truth is not such a bad alternative. It is certainly progress since the Obama administration came into office and originally pursued a policy based on the idea that it could achieve peace in a matter of months.

What is the downside here?

There are three problems. The first is if Western leaders believe their own propaganda. Because if peace is “within reach” but isn’t actually grasped, then someone must be blamed. That someone will, of course, be Israel.

Why? Because if the West blames the Palestinians, leaders presume that Arabs and Muslims will be angry and not cooperate on other matters. There could be more terrorism and fewer profitable deals and investments. They gain nothing.

But if they insist that everything is going well there is no need to blame anyone. This is the phase we are now entering.

The second problem, however, is that neither the Palestinians nor Arab regimes will join in the optimism. Their line is: The Palestinians are suffering! The situation is intolerable! Something must be done! And since we will make no concessions or compromises, the only solution is for the West to pressure Israel to give more and more while getting nothing in return.

Since this is not going to happen too much if Israel resists, they fall back on their alternative approach. Ok, so since you aren’t forcing Israel to give us what we want you have to give us other things, like money and you cannot demand we help you.

The best outcome is that certain Arab states, since they have other interests at stake, will downplay the conflict altogether and focus on more pragmatic needs. The radicals—principally Iran and Syria—will never do so, of course, and will claim that the situation shows how the West cannot be trusted and must be defeated.

What’s the third problem? That certain actions which might promote regional stability, or even Arab-Israeli peace, are not taken. These include two especially important tactics:

--More energetic efforts to overthrow the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. As long as Hamas is running about half the Palestinian territories and outflanking Fatah in militancy, there won’t be any peace. Keeping Hamas from taking over the West Bank, isolating it, and maintaining sanctions against it is a good policy and can preserve the status quo. It is not, however, the best policy and the pressure on Hamas could erode over time.

--More pressure on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to moderate and compromise. The PA and its positions are the main barriers to peace. As the PA possibly becomes more radical, the likelihood of violence increases. Thus, while in the short- to medium-run the “feel good” and status quo policy may work, it also has risks and limits.

Still, it is the best that can be expected at present.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Palestinian Prime Minister: We'll Build State Institutions in Two Years. What Have You Been Doing for the last 15?

By Barry Rubin

This will never lead anywhere, but that’s the point isn’t it?

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has a new peace plan: he’s just going to create a state without reaching a peace agreement with Israel. The goal, in his words, is “to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years."

Coverage of this just sort of took his word for it:

"We must confront the whole world with the reality that Palestinians are united and steadfast in their determination to remain on their homeland, end the occupation and achieve their freedom and independence," he said.

"The world should also know that we are not prepared to continue living under a brutal occupation and siege that flouts not only the law, but also the principles of natural justice and human decency.”

If you actually examine what he says, however, all sorts of interesting things emerge:

Fayyad has been finance minister for about seven years and prime minister for two years. But the PA has been in business for 15 years. That’s a long time. And what was the business of the PA?

The first task was to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, which it has refused to do and Fayyad appears disinterested in even today, given this new program.

The second task was to—well, let’s use Fayyad’s own words here—“establish a de facto state apparatus.” So what’s it been doing all these years if the process of building that foundation hasn’t even begun?

It’s been very busy: mobilizing warfare against Israel periodically, focusing on an international public relations’ campaign, stealing donor money (though Fayyad is competent and honest almost nobody else is), and raising a new generation to believe that the battle must continue until total victory.

But establishing a de facto state apparatus? No. And that can’t be blamed on Israel. Well, they will blame Israel but there’s no basis for it.

The next point, which is generally understood, is that the Palestinians are anything but united. Not only is there the battle of Hamas versus Fatah (with Gaza and the West Bank under separate regimes and no prospect of reunification) but also that of the establishment against the “Young Guard” (though I hate that term) opposition. Oh yes, and much of the establishment hates Fayyad and wants to get rid of him. A few months ago, they forced his temporary resignation.

Next, if Palestinians are so steadfast in getting a state, why don’t they negotiate for one? If they are suffering under so much brutality doesn’t this give them an additional incentive to make a deal?

But the suffering is just used as a public relations’ gimmick. Weird as it might sound in the West, this is how Palestinian politics work. If you simultaneously suffer and bleed--through violence and intransigence you yourself induce—and reject a compromise peace, this will hopefully bring international intervention to hand you everything you want with no cost on your part.

If you truly understand the above paragraph you know everything you need to know about the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the failure to achieve peace.

Finally, whatever sins can be put on Israel’s occupation, we should note that it is an involuntary and extremely partial one. There are no Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip and very few on the West Bank. The PA runs things there and if it prevented attacks on Israel there would be even less of a presence.

Yes, there are settlements and roadblocks and an Israeli Jewish presence in Hebron. But the idea of some omnipotent occupation—certainly compared to the period before 1995 (when Palestinian towns were turned over to the PA) is largely fictional.

And everyone likes to forget that the Israeli presence has been accepted by the PA itself in a number of agreements beginning with the Israel-PLO Oslo accord of 1993. Almost everything Israel does on the West Bank takes place in the context of things the PA has agreed to happen.

This may sound counterintuitive but it is quite true and it is a point that needs emphasizing. By its own free agreement the PLO and PA accepted the existence of settlements in the West Bank until a peace agreement was signed. It is thus hypocritical to argue that the settlements are there in some "illegal" manner or against the will of the Palestinians. Detailed maps were agreed to by none other than Yasir Arafat and his then advisor, now head of the PA and PLO, Mahmoud Abbas about precisely which sections of the territory Israel would govern during the interim period.

What’s the catch? The agreements say this will continue until a peace agreement is made which results in a two-state solution. So who’s responsible for the continuation of the “occupation”? Not Israel; the PA. And who can make all the settlements go away, at least within their own independent state? The PA.

But the PA is not going to get what it wants: dismantlement of settlements, an independent state, and financial reparations unless it recognizes Israel, agrees to resettle Palestinian refugees within its own country, ends the conflict and all further claims on Israel, and provides security guarantees.

That is what the Palestinian and "pro-Palestinian" campaign is about. To get a state without binding conditions that would truly end the conflict forever, leaving the PLO and PA free to continue the battle to destroy Israel completely.

These are the issues which as many people throughout the world must be made to understand.

Iran’s Revolution Enters Its Stalinist Era

By Barry Rubin

The post-election trials of opposition activists in Tehran resemble the Soviet purge trials of the 1930s. They are one more sign that Iran is entering a new era, but one that is the exact opposite of the idea that the conflict over stolen elections will weaken the regime or lead to more active dissent.

Up to now, the regime has generally operated—or at least pretended to do so--on what in Iran is called the “Islamic Republican” philosophy which allowed a real margin of freedom. This is a combination of popular sovereignty and Islamism. The people were allowed to vote for candidates deemed to support the revolution. At times, the balloting was more honest; at times less.

The regime exercised control by deciding who could run, not by dictating everything. A second line of control was the Council of Experts, which served as a supreme court to determine whether legislation passed by the elected parliament was acceptable under the regime’s definition of Islamic law and religion.

The system’s advantage was that it gave people a greater sense of freedom and broadened the regime’s base. Different factions co-existed and competed with a fair amount of freedom. Newspapers critical of the regime were shut down but then allowed to reopen under a different name. The relatively “liberal” establishment figure Muhammad Khatami and his reform-minded supporters were even permitted to win elections. They just weren’t allowed to change anything.

But several things made the regime too nervous to continue with this system. The main one was fear of losing not only an honest election but even a “lightly” fixed one. Several years ago, the rules were tightened to favor the regime even more. Yet the last election proved even this didn’t suffice.

Compare this to Soviet history. From the time of the revolution into the 1930s, the USSR was a dictatorship which ruthlessly repressed any opposition to the Communist regime. But there was also a certain amount of freedom for different views within the context of the ruling ideology.

Then, Joseph Stalin emerged as sole dictator, with a monopoly on the legacy of the revolution’s founder Vladimir Lenin, and suppressing any other possible leader or faction. Every aspect of Soviet life was reduced to worshipping Stalin. Institutions were purged; formerly respected leaders put on trial, admitting they were fascist-capitalist agents, and being finished off with a bullet to the head.

To say this is happening in Iran now would be an exaggeration but parallels are striking.

In Iran, the new system’s key element is partnership between Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Perhaps the 70-year-old Khamenei accepts the 52-year-old Ahmadinejad as heir, the man he thinks best able, along with his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps backers, to preserve the regime.

Khamenei’s likely motivation is fear that the revolution is being eroded by what its leaders consider the endless cultural subversion of the outside world. It is also, as history shows, very hard to maintain a high level of revolutionary enthusiasm over a long period of time in any society. And the last election certainly shows that a very large number of Iranians are fed up with the regime.

That’s why the trials theme is that the opposition planned a coup, reflecting the leaders’ single greatest fear. Of course, staging a coup is precisely what the rulers are really themselves are doing. By the way, many of those being tried are reformers associated with Khatami, not the organizers of demonstrations. This makes the goal even clearer: wipe out anyone in the establishment who favors a more "liberal" regime.

Yet being thrown out of power is not the regime’s only worry. The other main concern is that external forces might moderate the regime’s policies by bringing to power less radical leaders. This government is determined to remain hard line and ideologically tight. Ahmadinejad is clearly the man for this task and that is why Khamenei is promoting him. And behind Ahmadinejad stand the revolution’s armed elite, its most fanatical upholders: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the thuggish Basij.

This is why no amount of concession or engagement will alter the Iranian government’s strategy and behavior. Iran’s ruling group is becoming more, not less, militant. In Soviet terms, Iran today is in the Stalinist 1930s, not the 1980s under Mikhail Gorbachev.

Being on the verge of getting nuclear weapons makes the regime feel stronger and able to be more aggressive, not the opposite. Those who think a nuclear Iran will be a secure, reasonable Iran are in for a big disappointment.

Gorbachev’s legacy is precisely what the regime fears. At the trials, the prosecution speaks of a “velvet coup” or “color revolution.” This calls to mind what has happened elsewhere: masses inspired by freedom revolted; rulers, easing up their tight fist, contributed to their own downfall. Communism’s collapse has haunted Middle East dictators, persuading them to tighten up further. One anecdote: after Romania’s dictator was executed, graffiti appeared in Syria warning that country’s dictator he was next.

According to the regime’s conspiracy theory—never in a shortage within Iranian debates—foreign money, spies, and think tanks backed locals to overthrow the regime. One might wish this to be true but it isn’t.

The alleged big plan was to claim “falsely” that the election was stolen, mobilize demonstrations, and seize state power. Precisely how this was to be done given the fact that the regime has all the guns and institutional control is not clear.

This conspiracy was supposedly coordinated by Western powers. The arrests of a string of American and European nationals, journalists and researchers, in recent years on espionage charges laid the basis for the regime’s campaign. A key figure at present is Clotilde Reiss, a French citizen whose “espionage” seems to have consisted solely of taking pictures of demonstrations, talking to people about events, and passing the publicly available information to the French embassy.

But whether or not there was Western involvement—the U.S. government and Europe leaned over backwards and denied the oppositionists the kind of verbal support they would have received if from any other dictatorship—the Iranian government was going to claim it existed.

Meanwhile, some defendants in the trial “confessed” in obsequious terms that they lied, plotted, and subverted the glorious Islamic republic. Were they tortured? Threatened with death for themselves or their families?

What all this seems to signify is not just short-term repression to enforce Ahmadinejad’s reelection but a turning point in the regime’s history. Many historians think that Stalin’s terror was motivated by his discovering that a lot of his Communist party colleagues voted for other candidates in the Central Committee elections.

The new era in Iran might well be of vastly heightened internal repression coupled with an ambitious program of expanding Iran’s influence in the region, no less than seeking to be leader of the Gulf area, Middle East, and Muslim world generally. In the face of this trend, the efforts of Western governments or of President Barrack Obama to talk, charm, or sanction Iran into more moderate behavior are hopeless.

This seems to be the start of an era characterized by Western appeasement of Iran, an unprecedented challenge by that regime to the international and regional system, or both.

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 books include Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran (Oxford University Press and Penguin); The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), To read or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

70 Years Ago: Hitler and Stalin Carve Up Europe; Today Russian Leaders Justify It

By Barry Rubin

Exactly seventy years ago, on August 23, 1939, German Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop flew to Moscow to make the deal with the USSR to carve up eastern Europe. Either ignoring orders, never getting them, or out of sheer disbelief, a Soviet antiaircraft unit near the border opened fire on Von Ribbentrop’s plane, forcing it to land until matters were cleared up. One doesn’t want to think of those soldiers’ fate.

Von Ribbentrop finally did arrive in Moscow, met Stalin, and signed the fateful agreement. Dolhinov is too small to appear on the map by name, but perhaps Stalin pressed his pen or hand down on it as he writes. At that moment, the monstrous dictator squashes the little town he’s never heard of and most of its people out of existence.

There is feasting and toasts. Stalin, with a big smile on his face—so wide as to be frightening but also showing sincere happiness—raises his glass to toast Hitler. What has just happened? Nominally, the two countries have signed a non-aggression pact. More than that, however, it is in fact an alliance. And it certainly isn’t a non-aggression pact against Poland (to be partitioned between the two); Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (to be swallowed up by the Soviets; and Finland and Romania (some of whose territory the Soviets seize). Those parts of the agreement are kept secret.

Only one week later, Germany marches into western Poland, thus setting off World War Two, in which an estimated fifty million people die. The Nazis don’t have to worry about a two-front war—until they blunder into creating one for themselves. Soviet raw materials fuel the German war machine, bypassing the British blockade. Would Hitler have gone ahead even without the pact with Stalin? Probably not.

And so the Germans invade Poland on September 1, 1939; on September 17, 1939, the USSR joins in the feast. Its share also brings Stalin control over two million more Jews.

Ten days later, Von Ribbentrop arrives back in Moscow’s airport at 6pm. After a brief rest and refreshments he meets with Stalin from 10 PM to 1 AM and then again the next day from 3 to 6:30 PM. Business concluded, there’s dinner at the Kremlin, time for one act of ‘’Swan Lake” at the Bolshoi—with the dying swans a fit prelude to the dead Poland—and back to work at midnight. The talks continue until 5 am when the agreement is signed. Von Ribbentrop takes a nap and then gets back on the plane at 12:40 pm.

The agreement signed is as brief as the visit. The two countries are “to reestablish peace and order in keeping with their national character” as they divide up Poland. For the Germans, the national character of the Jews is to die; the Slavs to be turned into slaves. For the Soviets, all are to have no more national character at all.

Stalin says that the Germans desire peace and he offers a toast: “I know how much the German nation loves its Fuhrer; I should therefore like to drink to his health.” As the German foreign minister leaves, Stalin has some words of special importance for him: “The Soviet government takes the new pact very seriously. I guarantee on my word of honor that the Soviet Union would not betray its partner.” It was one of the few promises Stalin didn’t break. It was one of the many promises that Hitler did.

Today, 70 years later, the Russian government is trying to justify this terrible deed. Says military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, "This is not about history at all."

In effect, the Russian government is asserting its sphere of influence over all these and other independent states. The implications are frightening, most directly for Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and others in Central Europe but also for Georgia and Azerbaijan, and for anyone who treasures liberty.

Russia has been putting increasing pressure on its neighbors, sometimes using its energy exports for blackmail, sometimes using money or covert operations. One remembers what the American diplomatist George F. Kennan wrote at the onset of the Cold War: To be Russia's neighbor means either to submit or to be considered an enemy.

The basic Russian historical claim about 1939 is that by itself seizing these territories, the USSR prevented Germany from using them as a staging ground for an attack. In addition, efforts to work out a security alliance with Britain and France had failed.

This is profoundly misleading. The Soviets genuinely saw Nazi Germany as an ally. They helped the German army train, they sold it materials to build up its military, and even up to the moment the Germans attacked in 1941, Stalin insisted that Hitler would not betray him. Indeed, he ordered punishment for any Soviet agents who sent warnings of an imminent attack.

(I once had the privilege of interviewing brave exiled Czech intelligence officers who detailed their efforts to warn the USSR. The issue is discussed in my book, Istanbul Intrigues.)

Moreover, given decades of Soviet efforts to subvert the Western democracies and its further record of alliance with Germany, London and Paris can be forgiven their skepticism about Stalin (though not, of course, their own appeasement).

Indeed, when Hitler’s ambassador came to present officially the declaration of war, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, the latter blurted out, “Surely we have not deserved this.”

Russia’s claim today is, as President Dmitry Medvedev put it during Russia's attack on Georgia, that Moscow had the right to intervene militarily in any country along its borders. Or as military analyst Alexander Golts wrote:

"In his understanding of Realpolitik, [Russia’s strongman] Vladimir Putin does not diverge from the line set by Josef Stalin. Military force decides everything and if there is an opportunity to grab a piece of someone else's territory then it should be taken."

Thus do the apologetics for past dictators past blend in with the aggressive plans of contemporary ones.

Note: Much of this is drawn from Barry Rubin’s forthcoming book, “Children of Dolhinov: A Town and People in the Mists of Time.”

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tell Me When to Start Worrying: A Review of the Current Ridiculous International Situation

By Barry Rubin

So let me get this straight. Iran's designated minister of defense is a wanted terrorist (for bombing the Jewish community building in Buenos Aires and, according to some sources, was also involved in attacks on Americans in Saudi Arabia) but there is no talk of boycotting Iran's government.

Farouk Hosni, Egypt's culture minister, as Raymond Stock reminds us, who will soon be the world's "culture czar" as head of UNESCO, says Israel is "inhuman," and "an aggressive, racist, and arrogant culture, based on robbing other people's rights and the denial of such rights." He says he would burn Israeli-authored books and accused Jews of "infiltrating" the world media.

Hamas, Hizballah, Syria and Iran daily attack Israel and Jews in language reminiscent of the Third Reich, but the Guardian--Britain's most prestigious newspaper--tells us that Israel is the Nazi one.

Rather than inform us that Western feminist groups have ignored the plight of Muslim women--not campaigning against things like honor killings, forced wearing of hijabs or burkas, and denial of education, to name but a few--the New York Times alerts us to a new danger. According to the once-great newspaper, there is a radical force of which we must be aware. What's that, you ask? Radical Islamists, the rise of antisemitism in "respectable quarters," Iran's nuclear weapons, Syria's sponsorship of terrorism?

No, there's a movement calling for the liberation of Muslim women by force! True, the Times can only come up with the name of only one person who advocates this and has never done anything about it, but so what? As the editor of Sweden's largest newspaper has informed us, you don't need any evidence to publish something.

Think that's far out? Okay, here's another one for you. The crazed but fashionable Naomi Klein is given ample space in the September issue of Harper's magazine--freedom of speech is great but why do editors decide to publish these things?—an article entitled, "Minority Death Match: Jews, Blacks, and the 'Post-Racial' Presidency." 

What is her thesis? That Israel and its supporters  are blocking the African quest for reparations due to the slave trade. Let me see, weren't a lot of the slavetraders Arab and Muslim? Didn't the British work hard to stop it? According to Klein, though, by complaining about the Durban conference's antisemitism, Israel and those who support it have given the Western imperialists a good excuse to avoid dealing with the issue of paying billions to Africa.

Meanwhile, a flunky of Muammar Qadhafi is running the UN General Assembly, the human rights' violators are ruling the UN human rights' committee, and a Lockerbie terrorist who murdered 270 people (unrepentant and failing to cooperate with the investigation) has just been released, coincidentally at the very moment when Britain and Libya seem close to concluding a huge oil deal.

I could go on, and so could you. So, are Western democratic leaders waging a campaign on any of these issues? No. Yes, I know, they are talking about higher sanctions on Iran  but in connection with the nuclear weapons' drive, not the [alleged] terrorist who'd be controlling the atomic bombs when they roll off the assembly line.

Meanwhile, we are being told that the greatest threat to world peace (ok, an exaggeration but not by much), is construction of 2500 apartments by Israel on the West Bank.

In fact, we thus face three problems simultaneously:

--A threat from radical and terrorist forces increasing in confidence and aggressiveness,

--A failure of Western leaders who not only don't seem to feel that action is vital but usually don't even admit the problem exists.

--And a dereliction of duty by institutions, like universities and media, which are supposed to warn their societies about this kind of thing rather than either cover it up or apologize it.

Tell me when I should start worrying.

Who Needs Nazis When We Have Arab Nationalists, Islamists, and Extreme Leftists?

By Barry Rubin

After running an article accusing Israel of murdering Palestinians to steal their organs and sell them, Jan Helin, the editor of the largest Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, said that it was only an opinion piece. Following criticism, though, he then published even more articles repeating this libelous accusation. In his defense, Helin explained, “I’m not a Nazi. I’m not anti-Semitic.”

I’m sure he isn’t a Nazi. Whether or not he’s an antisemite, Helin certainly has no real understanding of what that means. But the key to the problem we’re having with Helin is in the first part of the sentence.

Today, the Nazis have become the measure of evil in the world, perhaps the sole source of evil historically. If you don’t like someone for a wide variety of reasons, you call him a “Nazi.” Yet the Nazis had no monopoly one evil nor on antisemitism.

This idea of calling someone a Nazi as the ultimate political sin is used for a wide range of issues, behaviors, and opinions. Of course, the truly monstrous nature of Nazism is often wildly understated, so that if Israeli forces accidentally kill a civilian or a Palestinian family is evicted for not paying rent to a landlord, this is said to make Israel a Nazi state.

But I want to focus on the other aspect: Was anyone monstrous in the world who wasn’t a Nazi?

If you are on the left, you can claim not to be a Nazi because they were a right-wing party, albeit with populist socialist as well as nationalist overtones, correct? So if the Nazis are the sole source of evil, racism, repression, and antisemitism, you cannot be any of these things. Helin is a Swedish Social Democrat, so he isn’t a Nazi, so he can’t be an antisemite, and he can’t be responsible for doing evil, right?

We are about to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two in Europe. What happened? There was a deal between the USSR and Nazi Germany to partition Central Europe. Backing from the Soviet Union enabled Adolph Hitler to go to war. The two countries partitioned Poland; the USSR seized the Baltic states and other territories. Soviet raw materials flowed into Germany’s war machine.

And then, of course, there was the gulag with millions of prisoners, the tortures, the mass murders, the man-made famine in which hundreds of thousands of peasants starved to death, the round-up and killing of Polish officers, the massive deportations to Siberia of whole populations. So Stalinism was evil, too, and if it didn’t match up to Nazi Germany, it was in the same general league.

Even after Stalin’s death, while the pace of oppression declined, it was still considerable. And the various other Communist states also perpetrated atrocities on a small and large scale, most notably in Cambodia where genocide was carried out against its own people, or in contemporary North Korea, which has also starved its own people for political benefit.

Another category consists of left-wing, populist regimes, especially in the Middle East and in Africa. True, right-wing dictatorships, notably in Latin America, have also been oppressive and repressive, but usually on a smaller scale (which doesn’t make it excusable, of course). The left-wing regimes—for example, the Ba’th party in Syria and Iraq, or many examples in sub-Saharan Africa—copy the Communist model.

Of course, there are also Islamist states and movements which employ terrorism, torture, and repression on a mass scale. These can be said to be on the right, but let’s face it their appeal in the West for non-Muslims today is on the left.

Populist, anti-Western slogans make them seem “progressive” movements. They represent the oppressed Third World. At least, they don’t get the ire of the intelligentsia and of the left up. Helin isn’t campaigning against, say, mass killings in Sudan or the expulsion of Christians from Iraq or the stolen election in Iran. So if Hamas or Fatah carry out terrorist attacks deliberately designed to murder Israeli children, well they aren’t Nazis at least, so it doesn’t really count.

The point, then, is that you don’t need to wear a brown uniform, goose-step around, and raise your right arm at a sharp angle to be engaged in political evil, or to be an antisemite for that matter. The advantage of using the Nazis is that what they explicitly said—master race, wiping out inferior races, seizing control of Europe, etc.—sounds evil to our ears.

In contrast, the Stalinists, radical Arab nationalists, Islamists, and others have nice slogans—at least if you only listen to what they say in interviews with the Western media. They are for the victims, right? Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s revolution, stripped of theological rhetoric sounds a lot like Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of Russia’s revolution.

For decades, Arab leaders and intellectuals said: the Jews are inferior, we like the Nazis, we will throw the Jews into the sea, and we will wipe them out. Now they have learned to say, when being interviewed by Aftonbladet’s reporters or writing op-eds: the Jews act like Nazis, they want to throw us into the sea, and they want to wipe us out.

It is a master stroke of public relations’ technique.

Indeed, if you talk endlessly about Western imperialism, the welfare of the masses, revolution, the evils of Zionism, and so on nowadays, being clearly non-Nazi buys you immunity from prosecution.

But it is now 2009 and Berlin’s last bunker fell in 1945. Is the world really going to continue this game for the rest of the century? Was there no antisemitism before Hitler took power in 1933? And was there no official antisemitism in the Soviet bloc or in the Arabic-speaking world after 1945?

Helin and others—all too many others in Western media and academia—are merely channeling the poison from Communist, radical Arab nationalist, Islamist, and even Czarist sources, both against their own people and against Israel and the Jews. But by failing to understand the other sources of political and ideological evil in the world, people like Helin are their apologists and even champions, promoting hatred, repression, mass murder, dictatorship, and other evil things.

When Mr. Helin says he is neither a Nazi nor an antisemite, he is half-right.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

Exposing The J Street Fraud: Why is a "pro-Israel" Lobby Closely Cooperating with an Iranian Regime Front Group?

By Barry Rubin

Lenny Ben David has written a wonderful article on the J Street fraud, the anti-Israel lobby with the thinnest guise of being a pro-Israel lobby, extensively promoted by the media and even the White House.

He provides a lot of specific examples of why this group is being seen as hostile to the country it pretends to support. Research is only beginning into this nefarious organization and already the results are shocking.

But let me add some points. After listing support for J Street from anti-Israel individuals, including donations by them, Lenny writes:

“Why should a National Iranian American Council board member give at least $10,000 to J Street PAC? Perhaps it is because of the very close relationship between the two organizations. In June the directors of both organizations coauthored an article in the Huffington Post, `How diplomacy with Iran can Work,' arguing against imposing new tough sanctions on Iran.

“The two organizations have worked in lockstep over the last year to torpedo congressional action against Iran. Why would a supposedly pro-Israel, pro-peace organization work so hard to block legislation that would undermine the Iranian ayatollah regime? Ostensibly, any step to hinder Iran's nuclear development and aid to Hamas and Hizballah would be a step toward regional peace. Deterring Iran through sanctions would lessen the need for military action against Iran. This, as well as championing Hamas's cause, just doesn't make sense.”

But the situation is even worse than Lenny points out. The National Iranian American Council is widely viewed—and some researchers have presented evidence—as the unofficial lobby in America for the Iranian regime.

In other words, J Street is getting money and working with the group which supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the world's most powerful antisemite who seeks to wipe Israel off the map.

Does that suggest something rather phony about its aims and claims? Is this really a group that the Obama administration wants to be promoting, because to do so sends a very negative signal both to Israel and to American Jews.

But let me raise two other questions. The organization’s leader is fond of saying that his group has supported Israel in the past. Yet I have never seen a single statement made or position taken which has backed the state of Israel on any issue or made any criticism of Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, Syria, or the Palestinian Authority.

What is astonishing is that the media has not pressed for such proof or researched the organization’s actual record.

A second issue is: precisely who is connected with the organization in Israel. AIPAC is the lobby for Israel and, despite baseless criticisms; it has always supported the positions of the government in power, left or right.

The Israel Policy Forum was historically linked with the Labour party, though this connection has seemed to have weakened in recent years as that group has moved ever leftward. Peace Now is another legitimate organization, though one can certainly disagree with its positions which, at best, are badly outdated by events.

But who are J Street’s supporters in Israel? Again, no indication is given and one is suspicious that there are no credible public figures who would take such a stance.

At least it does say something about the strong, popular American support for Israel that an anti-Israel lobby can only be organized effectively in Washington if it pretends to be the opposite.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

The Trouble with Washington: The Middle East Doesn’t Exist Solely in Their Minds

By Barry Rubin
                                                                                                    Washington, DC

It is hard to convey the enormous gap between Middle East reality and Washington thinking. To try to explain here what things are actually like in the region is to invite ridicule. People in the Nation's Capital—even if they don’t read regional languages or follow events really closely—are convinced they know everything. This is an old Washington phenomenon which has over the years been applied to many issues and often ended in failure or even disaster.

As a very successful lobbyist told me, “An idea in Washington is something you can express between floors on an elevator.”

And so such people—I won’t mention names but you can see it in the media as well as hear it in conversation—believe that President Barrack Obama’s approach is really great. (Come to think of it, this is where his advisors get it from in the first place and turn it into policy.) He would appeal over the heads of leaders to the people and the masses would say: “No more settlements! Peace with Israel! Two-state solution! Why didn’t we ever think of that?”

The more I hear, the more I’m reminded of how much this resembles the Bush administration’s shortcomings in this regard. It was going to show the benefits of democracy and, voila, the region would embrace it. Centuries of political culture, decades of ideology, the structure of dictatorial regimes will all melt as fast as a frozen dessert in an expensive K Street restaurant.

In turn, this mentality recycles basic elements of American elite political culture which seem to exist across the spectrum of partisan commitment and ideology:

--If history doesn't matter to us, why should it matter to them?

--If we've abandoned religion can they really take it serously?

--If war is always foolish and there's nothing worth dying for, they must be desperate for peace.

--If all that matters is material possessions and a nice life-style, let's give them that and they'll leave us alone.

And so on.

More than a half-century ago, a Republican senator from Kansas uttered the much-ridiculed line that the United States would help raise Asia up and up until it reached the level of Kansas City. That basic notion persists, though in contemporary administration parlance it would be Cambridge, Massachusetts or the Upper West Side of Manhattan, or the appropriate neighborhood in Los Angeles.

But don’t Obama and his crew believe in the celebration of differences, cultural relativity, and different strokes for different folks, all is equally valid?

Well, not really. It’s very superficial. Yes, you have the right to your forcing hijabs on women, religion, and world view. But suicide bombing is merely a career choice for those who have nothing better to do. Underneath everything all people are exactly the same, aren’t they? They all want a nice home, a good education for their kids, a chicken in the pot, and a car or two in the garage.

What multiculturalism gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. To stretch the point a bit but to convey the reality better, according to prevailing doctrine:

--If you suggest that everyone should think the same because there are universal values, that’s “racist.”

--But if you suggest that people in different parts of the world are profoundly different, that’s also “racist.”

--And if you suggest that you honestly believe your own culture is superior, that’s also…"racist.”

--If, however, you suggest that someone else’s anti-democratic, ideologically extreme, less-coinciding-----with-reality, more stagnant society or culture is superior to that of the West, that’s…really terrific.

--And if you can figure out a good way to assume they are precisely like you, want to be even more so (because after all isn't your society the epitome of everything anyone must want), and help them to do so, that's foreign policy. High-five!

Make no mistake: that sense of superiority to all the rubes out in the world’s sticks (old American slang for suburbs and small towns) is still very much there.

[Brief digression: I grew up here and know this first-hand: They have equal contempt for all those outside Washington and a few other enclaves. And the worst snobs are those who come from flyover-land and intend never to go back there. Sometimes, as with Obama's famous speech dissing small-town people as a bunch of biased gun-lovers who actually believe there's a deity--the saps--that basic loathing slips out.]

Here’s how it manifests itself in foreign policy: the belief that we can make you an offer too good to refuse. We can persuade you to do what we want by offering you so much, by showing you where you went wrong. Because we are smarter than you, more advanced, and not caught up in your stupid little details of meaningless petty quarrels. If you get a degree in it, they call that "conflict management."

To truly understand this mentality, consider how in the film “Don’t Mess with the Zohan” the deepest desire of the master terrorist (from Hizballah?) is to own a chain of fast food restaurants. The mental message is: We respect you and your culture! But of course we know you really want to be like us.

From popular culture we go to administration terrorism advisor—talk about a charlatan—John Brennan who explains that Hizballah (and probably Hamas when he isn’t speaking in public) can’t be terrorists because they are in politics and some of them are even lawyers.

They don’t really mean it, you see, and are just behaving that way because they are enraged, haven’t been treated right, or haven’t been offered enough. Since Washington political culture isn’t too much into history, all the past events disproving this thesis are neglected.

For people in this world, like Brennan, an intransigent radical Islamist who believes that he knows precisely what the deity wants and will impose it on the world with automatic weapons is simply someone who hasn’t met him yet.

Nothing is more amusing than watching people in the inside-the-Beltway elite either predict the imminent success of Obama’s Middle East program or, among those who are brighter, now start to be puzzled about why it isn’t working.

I can think of no better way to end than with a joke that perfectly illustrates this mentality. It is most often told about Henry Kissinger, but having seen Kissinger in operation first-hand he’s one of the people who succeeded in Washington who least deserves it. I’ll leave the details on that for another time but I will tell the joke in a generic fashion:

A backpacking student and a high-level foreign policymaker are on a small plane. The plane develops engine trouble and the pilot says: “I’m sorry but there are only two parachutes and one of them is mine.”

The policymaker says, “Well, since I’m the only one capable of making Middle East peace I’m too valuable to the world to lose, so I’m taking the other one.” With that, he grabs a pack and leaps from the plane.

“I’m sorry, son,” says the pilot, “but I guess you’re sunk.”

“Don’t worry about me. There’s still a parachute left. The world’s greatest policymaker just leaped out of the plane holding my backpack. “

Yep, that about sums it up.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Report.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Update on Swedish Blood Libel: A Second Story Tries to "Prove" It's True

Update (August 26) Here's a very good point on this issue by a blogger who usually follows economic issues:

"Al Roth, the Harvard economist whose work on matched-pair organ donations has started to transform the organ-transplantation scenario, told me he found the accusation unbelievable because of the logistics of organ harvesting itself. “Organs don’t last very long and have to be matched rather particularly,” he said, “so it would be hard to take them on spec for an international market. So I think black market organs must mostly be from live donors. Live donors can take blood tests well in advance and travel to where the patient is. Deceased organs have to be put on ice, and the clock starts ticking immediately and fast.”.

But the article also makes a very important general point which any Swedish or other journalist should take seriously:

"This isn’t to say that all rumors are untrue, but there is perhaps no easier trap for a journalist to fall into than to listen to the harshest accusations of one group of people that is at war with another."

Of course, this is exactly how more than 90 percent of the slanderous and inaccurate articles about Israel originate.

Update (August 23) Ilya Meyer makes two excellent points:

"There is an increasingly wide gap between the vast majority of everyday, honest, highly ethical Swedes in this country, on the one hand, and the deeply anti-Israel/often anti-Semitic politicized leadership of the Church of Sweden, the rabidly anti-Israel Left-leaning media, and politicians paralysed by blinkered dedication to political correctness, on the other."


"It never occurred to either Boström or Aftonbladet to point out the absurdity of organ-harvesting claims when the donors in question have been killed with extreme trauma – which would render their organs unusable. Not just through physical damage to the organs themselves, but through infection after bodily fluids leaked through surrounding tissue into the organs to be harvested. Organ transplantation requires the utmost clinical sterility; shooting someone dead in a dusty street and then waiting while a suitable vehicle is found to transport the corpse to a nearby facility for the necessary immediate surgery is not exactly a scenario that is set to succeed."

In proper journalism, the cultural editor of the newspaper would have said: On the face of this, it is absurd. But what is scary is not just the antisemitism but the abandonment of rationality altogether. If they can do this to Israel they can (and do) do this to the United States and others. And, again, what is important is not this particular story but the mentality and media style it demonstrates.

By Barry Rubin

The editor said it was just an op-ed piece and blamed powerful forces (i.e., the international Jewish conspiracy?) for trying to block discussion of an important topic (Israel's government making money out of organ-selling?)

Now, unintimidated by this alleged onslaught and backed up by the Swedish government, the newspaper has published a second article claiming--in fact, the newspaper no doubt would say "proving"--its case. The article is discussed here.

What are the  salient points that make this propaganda, a part of the anti-Israel campaign rather than reporting.

It consists of an interview with a Palestinian family that makes outrageous claims. No examination of the evidence, no reaction from Israel's side, no consideration of the context. Is the Israeli economy so bad off that it requires a supplement from the organ-selling business?

This is not reporting, it is called a press release.

And then there is the Swedish governmental complicity in this matter, since the original accusations were made in a book subsidized with its funds. There's also far more behind the surface. For example, there is now a whispering campaign about alleged Jewish influence in Sweden, including personal attacks on the country's ambassador to Israel for issuing a very carefully worded semi-apology.

Finally, this affair is only one of a number of such stories appearing simultaneously. In the focus on Sweden, an equally bad blood libel story in the Netherlands' leading newspaper is being ignored. It accuses Jews of being Satan-worshippers who spread the swine flu. No, that's not an exaggeration.

So here is how the system works. Palestinians or other Arabs or other Muslims, individuals or groups, tell incredible lies about Israel and then these are uncritically published in Western media. Aren't reporters supposed to examine stories for accuracy BEFORE they are published? And aren't editors supposed to critically look at what their publishing to see if it is credible?

I'm reminded of a little story from Agence-France Presse a few years ago. It reported that Israeli soldiers had seized a Palestinian television station and were broadcasting pornography to the West Bank. Naturally, the correspondent need merely turn on his television and click through the channels to see if he could find these alleged broadcasts. But no reporter bothered to do so before issuing the story. After all, a Palestinian told them that it was true.

It is also important to note that only the most ridiculous stories get this kind of debunking attention. There are plenty of seemingly more credible stories that are falsehoods. The stories about aphrodesiac chewing gum, poisoning wells (that one spread by Yasir Arafat's wife among others), Israel assassinating Arafat with germ warfare (now the official Fatah position), pornographic tv broadcasts, and perhaps even organ thefts will be laughed at by many in the West. But what about the false claims of specific atrocities, the slanders about Israel's conduct in the 2006 Hizballah and 2009 Hamas wars?

One can imagine a European sophisticate saying: "Sure, it's silly to say that Israelis eat Palestinian babies for lunch. They just deliberately bomb them."

So let's not get caught up in the narrow aspects of the Swedish story.

And what of the media's selectivity? We can make a list of dozens of articles that could be written with far more basis than this one but which a large portion of the European media (obviously there are many exceptions) ignores:

Hamas's Talibanization of the Gaza Strip; Iranian and Syrian backing for terrorism, indoctrination of children to be terrorists and suicide bombers on children's shows; incitement to murder Jews and Israelis on official Palestinian Authority media; murderous antisemitic incitement in the official media of Syria, Iran, and also the Saudi media; Israel's humanitarian efforts; Israeli medical technology and hi-tech achievements that benefit Western consumers; and so on.

For goodness sake, all one has to do is watch what's on Hamas or Palestinian television, read what's in the Syrian or Egyptian media. No extensive investigative reporting is required.

The real problem, of course, isn't so much the attacks on Israel but the decline of the Western tradition of responsible journalism. Of course, there has always been a lot of sensationalism. But focusing on the love affairs of movie stars or spectacular crime stories to sell more newspapers is not quite the same thing as what's happening now.

What is different here is not only that style's penetration into hitherto serious newspapers but also it's harnessing in a campaign of slander against specific targets. This isn't journalism, it's warfare. And the Swedish blood libel story is the least of it. The main problem is the kind of misleading regular coverage documented here and coming from Associated Press and Reuters much of the time.
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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

Understanding "progressive" Antisemitism: The West's New Israelophobia and Judeophobia

By Barry Rubin

The largest Swedish newspaper publishes an article accusing Israel of murdering Palestinians so it can sell their body parts. The largest Dutch newspaper publishes an article accusing Satan-worshipping Jews of creating swine flu and other diseases to murder large numbers of people. The newspaper of the British elite publishes an article by a well-known philosopher calling Israel a Nazi state.

How does the Swedish newspaper’s editor respond to complaints about this sort of thing? Jan Helin complains:

"It's deeply unpleasant and sad to see such a strong propaganda machine using centuries-old anti-Semitic images in an apparent attempt to get an obviously topical issue off the table."

But what is the “strong propaganda machine” that is manipulating antisemitic images as an excuse to get “obviously topical” issues off the table?

The answer is not, as Helin would have it, an Israeli-Jewish propaganda machine. Since media coverage is so extremely anti-Israel--often breaking the rules of proper journalism to smite that country--it couldn’t be all that powerful.

In fact, the propaganda machine is that of the other side: both Middle Eastern Arab nationalists and Islamists or their European leftist allies. These forces produce a constant barrage of anti-Israel stories which make big headlines and then are never proven to be accurate. During the last decade, there has been not a single proven case of any war crime by Israeli forces. Yet how many millions of people are convinced otherwise by irresponsible and propagandistic media coverage?

Actually, Helin himself reveals this situation. The first question he should ask is: Are the facts in this story correct and are the claims reasonable? But instead his response is to choose sides. The fact that both the article’s author and the editor who published it are anti-Israel activists should make him wary of whether this story was a reasonable thing to publish.

Moreover, Helin’s justification for why the story is legitimate is in itself antisemitic. Let me explain. Helin points out that an American Jewish man has been arrested in New York and is charged with illegal organ sales. There is no hint of Israeli involvement or of murder.

Helin’s chain of reasoning is this: since a Jew has been arrested, Israel can be accused of involvement without proof. If a Jew anywhere in the world has been arrested, Israel’s government can be accused of official involvement in murdering people without any evidence.

And this is also how antisemitism always worked. A Jew is accused of a crime, falsely or otherwise, and all Jews are guilty. A Jew is accused of an illegal commercial transaction and this justifies accusing what amounts to the whole Jewish community anywhere in the world of systematic murder. This is how antisemitism has worked going back to the Middle Ages.

If a Swede, or a Muslim, or an African person was accused of a crime would that justify, without evidence, accusing an entire country or people of an even worse crime? There’s a popular word for that today: it’s called “racism.”

This story is particularly personal for me because 120 years ago one of my ancestors was accused of ritual murder in Dolhinov, Russia, and a mob set out, unsuccessfully, to lynch him. A young Russian boy was found killed. My ancestor was said to have done it, using a “Jewish tool,” a barrel stuck through with nails for draining the blood to make matzoh.

Similarly, the Dutch story is an update of the Jews poisoning wells, worshipping money, and seeking world domination.

And the British story is an update of the idea that the Jews pose as victims but should be denied sympathy are really criminals equivalent to the worst evil people in the world.

Anyone who cannot see the relationship of that historical ritual murder charge of a people supposedly obsessed with money to its modern-day version is either not paying attention or is seeking the historical goal of antisemites: slandering the Jewish people in order to destroy them.

Some years ago, I did a study of the PLO and antisemitism, The PLO between Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism, which demonstrated how that group handled the issue. It simply took traditional antisemitic themes and changed the word “Jews” to “Israel.” The Islamists of Hamas didn’t even do that.

For years, the main themes of Palestinian propaganda may be described generally as: the Jews are inferior; we will never make peace with them. We must defeat them and drive them into the sea.

Not surprisingly, this never had much appeal in the West. At some point, though, this was altered to the following framework:

The Israelis say we are inferior and that they will never make peace with us. They oppress our human rights and want to drive us into the sea.

This worked better.

A massive number of stories and tales are generated daily by this, to borrow Helin’s phrase, “powerful propaganda machine” aimed through a cooperative media to Western governments and public opinion. Some of its stories are not so successful in the West, perhaps in part because they are more directed at the local audience: Israel distributing poison candy or aphrodisiac chewing gum, for example.

Many are more on theme: Jenin massacre; Gaza war crimes, the deliberate murder of Muhammad al-Dura, and so on, which succeed better.

We hear about it when one of the visibly crazy stories—Israel’s government orders Palestinian killed so it can profit on their organs—gets attention. But it’s really the more “credible” stories that do the most harm. Read the Associated Press, Reuters, or Agence-France Presse any day and you get these productions or at least the associated slant.

What should the media, governments, and human rights’ groups look for? Simply what it is supposed to look for in every story: evidence. Until there is some proof, stories shouldn’t be reported.

Here’s a little example. In Gaza, Palestinians charged Israel used white phosphorus weapons. Amnesty International had a report about the horrendous consequences. The problem is that while Palestinians claimed to have seen strange wounds, there were no medical records, no photographs, and no interviews with those who were so wounded.

The Jenin massacre, which became a huge story, was pretty much based on the claims of one hitherto unknown (and afterward never seen again) ordinary Palestinian. That was enough to set the world howling about murderous Israelis.

Why not have simple fact-checking and balance?

Of course, what fuels this kind of thing is a double standard. Not a double standard of demanding more of Israel than other countries—though that also exists—but a double standard about proof.

There are two underlying assumptions here by media, human rights’ groups, and governments. First, Israelis are capable of anything so you can believe any evil of them. This is an old staple of antisemitism. Would any other democratic government be accused of murder to obtain organs? Is it credible that instead of seeking to win a war Israeli soldiers were fixated on killing civilians for fun?

Second, due to hatred of Israel, leftist ideology, and plain old antisemitism (which has been defined out of existence when it comes to Israel), a lot of people are prone to believe things which are either unproven, illogical, or obviously propaganda plants. Thus, if you are a crackpot—like the authors of the Swedish and Dutch articles—you can get published on Israel saying things that would get you thrown out the door regarding any other subject.

Actually, its worse. A lot of the reporters on the scene, or UN officials, or supposed experts have become collaborators in fabricating and distributing such lies.

In regard to this, of course, Jews and Israelis in particular are the only people not covered in the worldwide campaign against racism, discrimination against any group, acceptance of the “other,” self-censorship to avoid offending anyone, and all the other blessings of Political Correctness.

And if you want a nice little illustration, here’s an appropriate one. The Swedish government, which now claims to be a defender of free speech when it comes to the blood libel in his country’s leading newspaper, shut down the Internet servers and tried to repress anyone in Sweden daring to publish the Danish cartoons about Islam’s founder.

Again, though, what is so horrifying is not just these extreme cases of obvious antisemitism but the daily slanders and conveying of anti-Israel propaganda that is done a bit more carefully. To put it another way, they might laugh at the forged “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as they gleefully churn out the new version of the Protocols of the Crimes of Zionism.

Note: A version of this article was published in Pajamas Media, August 23, 2009 under the title "Accuse First, Ask Questions Never: Mainstreaming Anti-Semitism"

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.