Friday, June 29, 2012

In A Few Years China Will LIkely Be the Second-Most Important Country for Israel'

By Barry Rubin
                                                                                                                                Shanghai, China

                There is a remarkable amount of interest in China about Israel and Jews, as I discovered during a trip to China sponsored by SIGNAL, the Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership.
                The most obvious reason is that the Chinese--one important official called it the "little superpower--perceive that Israel in particular and the Jewish people in general have been success stories. Ten or twenty years ago this would have been less unique in the world.  But now, sad to say, it stands out more because the United States and Europe, perhaps only temporarily, are not working very well.
                Of course, on a strategic level, Israel and China have some differing interests but these are less important than they may appear to be. China wants to have commerce with everyone, including Iran, and is protecting Syria in the international framework.
                 Yet China has significantly reduced energy imports from Iran in order to show support for the international efforts against Iran’s nuclear drive and clear signals have been sent to Tehran. Clearly, Chinese interests don’t benefit from Tehran having a nuclear arsenal and being a destabilizing force in the region. As for Syria, Israel’s position on whether the current regime should be overthrown has not been unambiguous. The Chinese argue that a radical Islamist government worse than the current one in Damascus may well come to power. That is not clear but the concern is a reasonable one, especially because U.S. policy is supporting the Islamists in Syria.
                Israel and China also have many parallel interests, among them the desire for stability in the Middle East and the hope that revolutionary Islamism doesn’t spread. And China’s policy of dealing with all other countries has another side, since it will not let its relationships with Israel be interfered with by any possible Arab or Iranian demands. Indeed, if China decides to become the main customer for Israeli natural gas and oil exports, the Jerusalem-Beijing relationship may be Israel's most important link, second only to the one with the United States.
                Another factor which should not be underestimated is the lack of Chinese prejudice toward Jews and prejudgment against Israel that has become such a huge obstacle for Israel’s dealing with the West. 
                Most important of all, is China's emphasis on economic and social development, the priority on raising living standards and achieving national success rather than such typically regrettable goals of expanding their territory, getting revenge for past grievances, and preferring pragmatic solutions to imposing ideological rigidity on problems.

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                There is a huge amount of cooperation, far more than many people realize, on joint projects. While hi-technology is the most obvious area of such activity, there are many others as well. Energy issues are equally paramount. China shares with Israel a great interest in finding alternative energy sources, not so much due to environmental considerations but to financial and security ones. Some impressive ideas and pilot programs are underway that seem more imaginative and likely to succeed than what I’ve seen in the American debate.
                Several Israel and Jewish programs have opened in different universities; students are studying Hebrew and other relevant topics; Chinese bookstores contain multiple volumes about Jewish and Israeli achievements without—unlike some other Asian countries--exhibiting antisemitism. Obviously, those interested in these things is proportionately tiny in the world’s most populous country. But this sector has reached a size significant enough to sustain itself and to influence the broader society.
                On a humorous level, when a Chinese colleague told me, whether accurately or otherwise, that his people’s culture entailed always being optimistic and believing in a better future, I responded that the Israeli and Jewish characteristic was to be pessimistic and then make jokes about it.
                Seriously, though, there are a number of important points—certainly seen as such by those Chinese who think about it—in common.  Among the points that figure on this list are a mutual experience of a long history of civilization, wide dispersion, emphasis on the importance of education, readiness to work hard, focus on family, and suffering of persecution. If contemporary Jews and Israelis have lost some of these values, perhaps renewing them might learn something from China.
                Of course, we can have criticisms of contemporary Chinese politics and policies but it is also important not to cling to outdated notions.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on China—though I once thought seriously of pursuing that career path—but my visits to the country go back to 1974, when the word totalitarian could accurately have been applied.
                But China is no longer the country of the Cultural Revolution and the time of great repression. It has turned toward capitalism and opened up a much wider margin of freedom. The real power of personal initiative has been unleashed and the results have been awesome. I doubt whether any country has made such rapid progress in social and economic development so fast in history.       
                But here’s an equally important point. While these changes are theoretically reversible, I—and a lot of Chinese people—don’t think this is going to happen. A course seems set in which freedoms will continue to expand in the decades to come. Equally, there seems to be a genuine appreciation—as there has been in the West but there certainly hasn’t been in the Middle East—that the old strategies of war to seize territory and empire-building abroad are obsolete.
                An Egyptian friend visited China a few years ago and asked a counterpart, “China has been the victim of so much oppression and imperialism. How do you deal with that?”
                The response was, “We got over it.” The Egyptian was astonished, but as a liberal Arab he realized that his own society would be far better off if it eschewed the politics of revenge, bitter hatred, and the angry assertion of superiority on the basis of an inferiority complex. Of course, the Arabic-speaking world has unfortunately been moving in the opposite direction with predictably terrible results. In contrast, Israel and China focus on positive national construction, raising living standards, and seeking peace. 
                What’s important for Israel, then, is to work with this process of events in China rather than to underestimate it isn’t happening or focus only on a negative side that is becoming smaller over time. Given Europe’s regrettable decline and hostility—which should not be overestimated but must be seriously evaluated—looking east seems the sensible global strategy for Israel in the coming decades.

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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Egypt: A Muslim Brotherhood President Does Not Prove That We Are All ‘Chimps’

"I just can’t do what I done before
I just can’t beg you anymore
I’m gonna let you pass
And I’ll go last
Then time will tell just who fell
And who’s been left behind
When you go your way and I go mine."
Bob Dylan, "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine"

By Barry Rubin

Muhammad al-Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, has become president of Egypt. But what does it mean to be president of Egypt? That’s the current question. Let me divide the discussion into two parts: What does this tell about “us” and what does this tell about Egypt and its future?

First, what does it tell about the West? The answer is that there are things that can be learned and understood, leading to some predictive power, but unfortunately the current hegemonic elite and its worldview refuses to learn.

What could be more revealing of that fact then the words off Jacqueline Stevens in the New York Times: “Chimps randomly throwing darts at the possible outcomes would have done almost as well as the experts.” Well, it depends on which experts. Martin Kramer, one of those who was right all along about Egypt, has a choice selection of quotes from a certain kind of Middle East expert who was dead wrong. A near-infinite number of such quotes can be gathered from the pages of America's most august newspapers.

These people all share the current left-wing ideology; the refusal to understand the menace of revolutionary Islamism, the general belief that President Barack Obama is doing a great job; and the tendency to blame either Israel or America for the regions problems.  So if a big mistake has been made it is that approach that has proven to be in the chimp category.

Having written about the Middle East for almost forty years, I’ve seen the power of the “chimps” that repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over again. Their power has waxed and waned, falling to the lowest points, for example, just after the 1991 Kuwait war and just after September 11, 2001. But they keep making comebacks and in the last two years their influence has been at an all-time high.

In early October 2010 I wrote an article based on actually reading what the Muslim Brotherhood leaders were saying. It was entitled, “The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is Declaring Jihad on America; Will Anyone in America Notice?” And they were signaling a change in their traditionally cautious strategy to go for revolution. Why? They told us: President Husni Mubarak was on his last legs, the regime seemed uncertain, America was weak, and their assessment was that the revolutionary Islamist forces were advancing everywhere....

If we assess honestly what has happened since, it would require us to conclude that the aggressiveness of revolutionary Islamism and the weakness of the U.S. response to this challenge were the principal problems and must be addressed. But if we are all chimps one can ignore all of the lessons of the last eighteen months and, thus, continue to make more terrible errors in the months to come.

But what should we make specifically of this most recent event, the certification of al-Mursi’s victory?

To read the entire article click here:

Friday, June 22, 2012

If You Don’t Stand Up for Western Civilization It Will Fall: A Case Study

A small incident in an obscure court case in Minnesota shows why we need to understand properly the debate over Islam, Islamism, and Islamophobia.

First, let me convey the basic facts as laid out in an article in the local newspaper. A woman named Amina Farah Ali, originally from Somalia, was on trial (she was later convicted) for raising money for a radical Islamist terrorist group, al-Shabaab. This group has committed hundreds of murders, setting off a war that has led to starvation in Somalia and then blocking relief supplies from Western agencies.

Ali refused to stand when the judge entered the courtroom. The judge found her guilty of contempt and sentenced her to 100 days in jail. Ali’s lawyer appealed and the higher court found that Ali’s refusal “was rooted in her sincerely held religious beliefs” and thus the judge’s decision had interfered with “the free exercise of religion.” According to the law, the higher court concluded, religious beliefs can only be overridden if there is a “compelling reason” to do so.

I want to focus on Ali’s precise reasoning as accepted by the U.S. judicial system. Ali said that she refused to stand because of her interpretation of Islamic teachings. Why? Because, as the newspaper article recounted, “The Prophet Muhammad once told a group of followers they didn’t have to honor him by standing. She said that if she didn’t have to rise for the founder of her religion, she didn’t have to rise for anybody.”

Every other Muslim in the courtroom, however, disagreed with her on what Islam requires of them. They stood up. It also appears that some Muslim clerics later advised her to stand. The judge noted that there was no discrimination against Muslims involved in the rule because everyone in a courtroom must stand. Even her own lawyer, who supported Ali’s action, admitted, “There’s just no reasonable way that [the judge] could have order in the court unless she gives up her religious beliefs.” But obviously this lawyer doesn’t care about the effective functioning of a court. So he chooses her religious belief over the importance of maintaining order in a court and equal treatment for all citizens.

Yet in this case we are not even dealing with Muslim religious tenets. This decision basically say that anyone can make up any religious belief and if deemed sincere can do whatever they want.

For example, in the Book of Esther it says that Mordechai refused to bow to the king’s prime minister. Any Jew or Christian could claim that this empowered—indeed obligated–him not to stand up in court to a judge since one bows only before God.

Read the rest here.

Fast and Furious, Middle East Style: Why Should Obama Help Bring America’s Second-Worst Enemies to Power?

Here’s still another of a series of self-serving leaks from the Obama Administration. In this case, however, different from the half-dozen previous examples, it reveals something very important about policy. Call it, “Fast and Furious, Middle East Style.”

In the Fast and Furious operation, the U.S. government funneled weapons to Mexican drug gangs. Now it is funneling weapons, at least indiscriminately, to anti-American, antisemitic, radical forces in Syria. That is, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

Suppose that there was one Mexican drug gang that was a bit more brutal. Would Fast and Furious then have been a great idea because it left that one out of the weapons’ distribution? No.

Yet that is precisely what is happening in Syria. Read closely the New York Times article on this matter because it reflects the precise information leaked by “American officials and Arab intelligence officers.”

“A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly [not any more!—BR] in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government….”

What does this mean? Read on

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Too Bad Obama Didn’t Listen to His Rabbi About Political Islam

President Barack Obama’s view of Judaism, Zionism, and Israel was very much shaped by his liberal and left-wing Jewish contacts in Chicago, some of whom became key members of his entourage. Among these influential acquaintances was Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf.

Wolf was of a type familiar in American Jewish circles. While in principle pro-Israel, he had certain views that made him highly critical. As what I would call a moral perfectionist, Wolf could not view Israel as good enough to live up to Jewish values that had been honed during a long galut during which Jews had no political responsibility and did not have to meet the real world demands of political power. At the same time, he was more attuned to Israel’s reputedly more idealistic era of Labor Party hegemony.

For Wolf, Israel was arrogant, not nice to the Palestinian Arabs, obsessed with the Holocaust, and thus simultaneously paranoid and over-confident. Not understanding the realities of Israel’s strategic situation, the compromises necessary in having a state, the actual facts on the ground, and other factors, Wolf thought that he and those who thought as he did knew better how to protect and morally improve Israel more than did its voters and leaders. One can glimpse many of these themes in Obama’s thinking today.        

I’m not writing this article, however, to criticize Wolf, who was a serious and sincere thinker who tried to apply his standards consistently and does not deserve to be stereotyped in a negative fashion. Indeed, Wolf had some fascinating insights that deserve to be recalled today. Indeed, it would be wonderful if his most famous non-Jewish “disciple” was to understand them.

In the April 13, 1979, issue of Sh`ma, a tiny but then influential liberal Jewish newsletter, Wolf wrote an article entitled, “Islam in Power.”  At the time, Wolf was arguing that the PLO was ready to make peace with Israel and should be engaged in dialogue. Yet his arguably na├»ve optimism in that direction—a thesis only disproven retroactively when it would be put to the test more than a dozen years later—by no means blinded him when he was directly confronted with evidence to the contrary on a related issue.

Wolf wrote in that article about his participation in an interfaith dialogue along with Professor Fazlur Rahman of the University of Chicago and Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the Muslim World League. Wolf recounted:
“They lectured us brilliantly on the world significance of the ummah (Muslim nation) and unashamedly asserted that world peace depends finally on Islam's ability to impose its system of justice on all mankind….Carefully distinguishing themselves from the Saudi [version of Islam] and from any desire to suppress other religious communities, they nevertheless gave no place to pluralist schemes or social democratic options. Islam, they said, is, of course, the only way.”

In short, they spoke about their views with far more candor than Muslim clerics employ today, especially in that kind of meeting.  

Wolf continued:

“I asked Professor Rahman, a subtle and genial scholar, if he meant, for example, that Egyptian Muslims would forever be willing to die for the return of Jerusalem to Islamic control and he answered yes. I demurred that it seems to me that President Sadat was riding a wave of pacifist sentiment from among his war-weary people and that they had no more heart to make war for Palestinians. He did not agree. He said that the Muslim view of death was still very powerful and that no Muslim fears to die in a jihad, a holy war.

“Jerusalem is and always will be, he said, such a sacred cause. Muslims, he insisted, are not really like other people.”

Note that Wolf’s reaction to hearing these things—like many Westerners today—was to assert that he knew more about Islam than did his Muslim interlocutors. Of course, Wolf was right that the example of Sadat and of Egyptian policy at that time showed that the Islamist or harder-line traditionalist interpretation was not the only one. Still, of course, the power of that radicalism so deeply rooted in normative Islam, should never be underestimated. The Islamist revolution in Iran, that achieved power only a few days before the meetings Wolf describes, proved to reignite such ideas and the world has been living—and often dying—with them ever since.

Wolf was no apologist. He reflects on what the two clerics had said as follows:  

“That sounds like racism to me, and surely would be if a Jew made the assertion. But the Muslim group was high from the successful Iranian revolution against Modernism and the West. They know that only Islam among the great religions is growing in size and prestige from year to year. They believe that they are destined for mastery, exactly as their scripture promises. By contrast, the World Council of Churches looks feeble, the Catholic Church in disarray and Gush Emunim simply ridiculous. Only Islam has both dreams of glory and the power to make their dreams come true.

“There is no reason to believe that a Muslim world would be less attractive than one under Christian hegemony, not to say Communist or Fascist. But there is something in the grim assuredness of these Muslim thinkers, learned and gifted in Western scholarship, powerful, forthright in expression and in ideal[s] that makes my blood run cold.”

That comparison of Islamic political rule to that of authoritarian Christian, Communist, and Fascist government may sound at first like the kind of moral equivalence we are used to hearing today. But remember that all of these are repugnant for Wolf. He understood the threat of radical Islam or, if you wish, political Islam far better than do his counterparts one-third of a century later, despite the fact that they’ve had far more compelling evidence to show them the truth during those years.  

It’s a pity that Obama did not learn this conclusion from Wolf. For while Obama, like Wolf, exaggerates and takes out of context Israel’s behavior he does not, unlike Wolf, deal with the real threat and problem in the region. In fact, the administration is helping Islamism toward power in Egypt and Syria, as well as not mobilizing and leading against it elsewhere. Yet for many who understand better—including a lot of Middle East Muslims as well as Israel—it makes our “blood run cold,” too. And in many cases, it makes people’s blood run in rivers.

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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thoughts on Iran, Nuclear Weapons, and Tehran's Regional Role

By Barry Rubin

"Hitler's primary task was to put himself over as a misunderstood moderate....Trotsky summed it up neatly: 'Anyone who expects to meet a lunatic brandishing a hatchet and instead finds a man hiding a revolver in his trouser-pocket is bound to feel relieved. But that doesn't prevent a revolver from being more dangerous than a hatchet.'"" --Joel Carmichael, Trotsky: An Appreciation of his Life, p. 396.

Months ago, when it was at its height, I wrote that the hysteria about Israel allegedly being about to attack Iran and the argument by some that Israel should do so were nonsense. Now it is clear that there was never any chance that such a thing would happen. And that idea was a bad one expressed by non-Israelis who didn't know what they were talking about.

Now former Mossad head Meir Dagan, identified, along with former Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin, as the main critic of any such preemptive attack, has made some interesting remarks.

Dagan explained that he agreed that the international community wasn't doing enough to stop the Iranian nuclear project. Israeli threats were made to prompt more action, not as a signal of an imminent attack.

While sanctions are high against Iran, the Obama Administration is also granting exemptions to key countries like China, Russia, and Turkey. While the burden on Iran's economy remains onerous, a regime like that in Tehran is not going to buckle to such pressure, especially since it believes that once it has nuclear weapons that will secure the government's safety from foreign threats. The ongoing negotiations,, which seem eternally able to trigger naive hopes in Western circles, will go nowhere.

For his part, Dagan correctly noted, "The military option must always be on the table with regards to Iran,but it must also always be a last option." Israel always retains such a choice even if Tehran does get some deliverable nuclear capability. And such an outcome is still years away. The idea of a crazy Iranian government eager to launch nuclear missiles against Israel at the first opportunity is not realistic, though the Tehran regime is bad enough. At any rate, if and when Iran actually has a small number of weapons and if Israeli leaders feel there is sufficient danger, they can preempt then. And a wide variety of Israeli defensive measures--ranging from sabotage to computer viruses, to electronic countermeasures and to planes and missiles--should not be underestimated either.

The Israeli position is clearly explained by President Shimon Peres in an interview:

"The problem is the following: If we would say only economic sanctions [will be imposed], then the Iranians will say, `Okay, we will wait until it will be over.' Now what the Americans and Europeans and Israelis are saying is, `If you won’t answer the economic challenge, all other options are on the table.' It will not end there. Without that, there is no chance that the sanctions will [work]....The Iranians must be convinced [the threat of a military attack] is not just a tactic."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Muslim Brotherhood (Probably) Wins Presidency; Egyptian-Islamist/Hamas Jihad Against Israel (Apparently) Begins

By Barry Rubin

A well-organized, well-equipped group of terrorists has attacked Israel from Egyptian territory Monday morning, possibly the second such Egyptian-assisted assault in a week.

As for the presidential election, the Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad al-Mursi, seems the likely winner. His rival, Ahmad Shafiq, won Cairo by a big margin but it was not enough to overcome al-Mursi's lead in the countryside. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salfists are claiming victory. Official results will be released on June 21.

Al-Mursi has openly declared his support for Hamas and priority on battling Israel on some level. Those campaigning for him, in his presence, have said that the Brotherhood is seeking a Sharia state in Egypt and a caliphate over the whole Middle East whose capital will be in a conquered Jerusalem. The Salafists--a coalition of many hardline Islamist groups--gave the Brotherhood candidate full support.

An armed squad of two men—said to be Hamas, though this is not confirmed—crossed the border after travelling 30 miles from the Gaza Strip through Egyptian territory. They wore flak jackets, camouflaged uniforms, and carried a large amounts of explosives. Members of their support team remained on the Egyptian side of the border. The two men hid by Israel's highway 12, near an area called White River Lake.

When two vehicles came by, carrying workers finishing up a security fence to guard against just such attacks, they set off a bomb that had been placed on the roadway and fired a rocket-propelled grenade. Both missed but bullets from a Kalashnikov hit one of the vehicles which flipped over. One Israeli, an ethnic Arab labor contractor, was killed, two or three terrorists have been shot dead.

Within minutes, Israeli soldiers arrived and fired on the terrorists. Their bullets blew up a suicide vest being worn by one of them, killing two of the attackers.

This event follows a report in Haaretz newspaper, attributed to Israeli security officials, that the Muslim Brotherhood had asked Hamas to attack Israel. According to the story, an Egyptian Bedouin unit was given the job of firing a rocket, which landed in open ground in southern Israel. This story was not picked up by other Israeli newspapers, suggesting either that it was wrong or that it had been a security leak which the army had then stopped.

So far this year, 280 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. This has prompted no international concern or action. The new fence along the Egypt-Israel border is mostly complete but due to difficult terrain the last portion will only be finished late this year.

At any rate, we are now at the beginning of Egypt’s involvement, directly or indirectly, in a new wave of terrorist assault on Israel. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt, a likelihood made less probable perhaps by the military’s dissolution of parliament, this offensive will enjoy official support. Even if the army remains in control, the Brotherhood and Salafists will use their considerable assets to back this new insurgency war.

The ultimate scenario would be if Hamas decided to renew a large-scale offensive against Israel from the Gaza Strip using rockets, mortars, and attempted cross-border attacks. Egyptian Islamists would send volunteers and money. The Egyptian army would not be scrupulous in stopping the smuggling of weapons, terrorists, and money across the border. As Egyptian fighters are killed in the Gaza Strip the hysteria in Egypt would escalate.

In such a scenario, the army would also allow Hamas to have military bases and headquarters on Egyptian territory, where Israel could not attack them. Indeed, this is already happening. And the Egypt-Israel border would not be protected from cross-border attacks.

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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Egypt: Things to Think About as We Await the Presidential Election Outcome

By Barry Rubin

While one can certainly sympathize with the idea of letting an elected parliament being allowed to take office, that's not necessarily such a clear call in strategic terms. The parliament--which will write the constitution and thus define the powers of the president--is almost 75 percent rabidly anti-American and antisemitic. (I don't write that last word lightly but it is quite accurate.) Imagine if this situation had arisen in Iran in 1979 with the Iranian military refusing to turn over power to the forces led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Would it have been wise for Washington to demand that this be done as soon as possible?

Yet here is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calling on Egypt's military in a manner that “highlighted the need to move forward expeditiously with Egypt’s political transition, including conducting new legislative elections as soon as possible.” Senator Patrick J. Leahy has called for withholding U.S. aid to Egypt, saying, “I would not want to see the U.S. government write checks for contracts with Egypt’s military under the present uncertain circumstances.”

 What circumstances are more appropriate for sending U.S. arms and money? When the Muslim Brotherhood dominates parliament, the presidency, has written a constitution mandating Sharia law, and follows a policy of death to America and death to Israel? Who are you going to cheer for if Islamists rebel against the regime?

Maybe now is a good moment for the U.S. government to remain quiet.

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Is there a precedent for this? Yes..... 

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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, 

Clearest and Briefest Possible Summary of the Situation in Syria

By Barry Rubin

There are three possible outcomes to the Syrian civil war:

1. Assad continues in power. This is bad as he is allied with Iran and Hizballah and attacks Israel through Lebanon. On the plus side, however, the regime will continue to be weak and unlikely to attack Israel directly. The regime will also continue to be anti-American in every way.

2. Assad is overthrown by the Muslim Brotherhood which sets up a Sunni Islamist dominated government. This is worse. Such a regime is likely to believe--mistakenly--that it can attack U.S. interests and Israel with impunity. The positive side is that this would constitute a major defeat for Iran.

3. Assad is overthrown by forces that lead to a regime of moderates, led by Sunni liberals, allied with Druze and Kurdish nationalists and with Christians. That would be better. Remember that only 60 percent of Syrians are Sunni Muslim Arabs and the Brotherhood has always been far weaker in Syria than in Egypt.
The most likely outcome: 1, continuation of status quo.

What should West do? Try for 3.

What is the West, and especially the United States, doing? Vacillating between 1, don't give Assad too hard a time, and 3, let Turkey--which favors option 2--take the lead and support the pro-Islamist Syrian National Council (SNC).

Does saying the West should go for 3 and help the moderates do any harm? No, because the Obama Administration isn't going to pay attention and by the time the next president of the United States is inaugurated even if that is Mitt Romney it will probably be too late.

So let's tell the truth about the situation that exists and call for the best policy but be totally aware that this isn't going to happen.

Note 1: If your view is, "Let them kill each other forever," aside from the moral implications of cheering the deaths of thousands of civilians and a lot of people who really want a moderate democracy, this civil war won't last forever.
Note 2: If your view is, "They're all Islamists so let Assad stay in power," you'll probably get your wish.

Note 3: If your view is that Assad is better because his regime is "secular" you are ten years out of date. Sure, Assad isn't an Islamist but his policy has been to do everything possible to support Hamas, Hizballah, Iran. He also encouraged the rise of radical Sunni Islamist preachers  at home. Read any of his speeches and they portray him as the leader of the Arab "resistance," all of whose forces nowadays outside Syria are Islamists.

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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Do So Many American Jews Support Obama?

This article was commissioned and published by the Crethi Plethi blog in Belgium.

By Barry Rubin

In the 2008 election, a remarkable 79 percent of American Jewish voters backed Barack Obama to be president of the United States. In 2012 this number is likely to fall by 20 to 25 percent but will remain a large majority.  Why is this?

In my book, Assimilation and Its Discontents, I discuss the underlying factors at far greater length and with supporting evidence. Here, I briefly present the key issues. Many of these are very long term. I am quite aware that counter-examples can be offered (e.g., Roosevelt’s failure to help Jewish refugees; the participation of some Jews in conservative movements and the Republican Party) but none of these were the principle factors shaping American Jewish consciousness.

The European Background
Seeking to assimilate or at least acculturate to European societies in the second half of the nineteenth century, the main strategy adopted by Jews was to prove to the masses that they were good people who should not be hated or oppressed. This was to be done by identifying with the people; supporting more rights and a better life for them. Jews would prove themselves to be altruistic, not putting forward their own demands. They would sacrifice themselves, when needed, for the country and its improvement. This strategy tended to make Jews liberal in Western European democratic societies and often revolutionary in Eastern European semi-feudal and dictatorial ones.

In cultural and business terms, Jews were also modernist. They introduced capitalism; new methods of organization, cultural innovation, and similar things at odds with the way life had previously been lived, going against conservative views. Jews also often fell antagonized nationalist movements, whether they stuck to their own communities (Zionism, Bundism, Orthodoxy) or were internationalist (socialist or Communist), or backed the “wrong” nationalism (i.e., German culture in the Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian lands of Austria-Hungary).

While the liberal, social democratic, and later Communist movements were open to Jewish participation, conservative movements—Christian-oriented, nationalist, and fearful of change—tended to be antisemitic. Jews were viewed as interlopers who wanted to subvert and transform the society and to destroy its traditions. Whether Jews were secular and modernizing or Orthodox and traditional, they were perceived as alien and unfriendly to conservative goals.

Thus, by the early twentieth century, the identification of Jews with liberalism or leftism was already well-entrenched. Twentieth century events—notably the rise of antisemitic fascism—reinforced these connections.

Arrival in the United States
Some of these same patterns prevailed when large numbers of Jews arrived in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most went to big cities where they were socialized by Democratic political machines. The Jewish entrance into public life both on an intellectual and political level coincided largely with the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, who became something of a secular deity in Jewish circles, especially because he led America's fight against the Nazis.

The stereotypes that developed with the majority, then, were that Democrats and liberals were seen as open, tolerant, and committed to justice, while Republicans and conservatives were perceived as a coalition of greedy, country club business moguls who didn’t like Jews and neo-peasant bigoted religious extremists who hated Jews. This remains a powerful image in the minds of otherwise-sophisticated Jews down to the present day.

Intensifying these ideas are religious-social values, intellectual romanticism, and sociological patterns prevalent among American Jews.

Religious-social values: There has been a major conflation of Jewish and liberal values in the Reform movement especially, with “social justice” themes being largely taken for granted. Rabbis, including those from the Conservative stream, often sound like liberal politicians on all of the main talking points.

Intellectual romanticism: The idea of a great Jewish revolutionary tradition extending through such historical figures as Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky—both notoriously indifferent and damaging to Jewish interests—and leftist movements is a powerful force among an important stratum of Jewish academics and others.

Sociological patterns: Jewish class and geographical patterns correspond to those of liberalism generally. They live disproportionately in big cities, tend to have high levels of formal education, and are heavily concentrated in certain types of employment as professionals, academics, etc., that are characteristic of being on the left, liberal, and Democratic.

Factors Specific to Obama
All of the above points are to Obama’s advantage. But there are additional factors that explain the especially high Jewish support for Obama in 2008 and have prevented the numbers of Obama voters from falling even faster and further.

Race:  Jews generally feel that having been themselves oppressed in the past they should show that they are especially anti-racist now. This created a near-imperative to vote for the first African-American candidate and to cheer him as president.

Fear: The idea that the Republicans, conservatives, and opposition to Obama are somehow racist and reactionary Christian. Terror at the alleged anti-Jewish religiosity of conservatives and Evangelical Christians is a huge hidden factor in the thinking of hundreds of thousands of Jews. As for groups like Christians United for Israel, they are largely ignored or seen suspiciously as conversion-oriented organizations.

Propaganda: As highly educated and literate people, Jews are more heavily impacted by schools, universities, and mass media that are engaged in indoctrination or highly concerted efforts to campaign for Obama and his ideas. By the same token, Jews as a whole tend to give higher credibility to the fairness of media and academia.  

Camouflage: The concealment of Obama’s radicalism and that of those supporting his ideology as supposed liberals plays into Jewish reverence for liberalism.

Obama’s persona: While the notion of Obama as a “Jewish president” is absurd, its appeal to some does in fact have a material basis. His image as an apparently highly educated, supposedly intellectual, superficially sophisticated, cosmopolitan personality fits with majority Jewish preferences.

Obama’s reassurances: He has spent a lot of energy and effort to convince Jews that he likes them and likes Israel.

What about the other side?
There are two key answers as to why Jews have not been put off by Obama, his policies, and the broader movement that I call “leftism pretending to be liberalism” or the “New New Left.”

First, to be aware of the lies, misrepresentations, and dangers of Obama and this movement, Jews have to know about them first. The lack of balance in the media, academia, Hollywood, and other key sources of information combined with relentless endorsement of these ideas and either ignoring or demonizing critics means that a large portion of liberal Jews have no idea of any alternative vision.

By the same token, the “suspect” nature of sources providing an alternative vision makes liberal Jews ignore them completely or only note them as false and even evil without ever knowing quite what is being said.  

Second, however, even given all of the above points the amount of Jews who have changed their views is quite remarkable. A comparatively large proportion of those liberal intellectuals and Democrats who have become unhappy with Obama are Jews, as noted above at least 20 percent of the 2008 Obama supporters according to polling data.

In addition, there are a serious number of Jews who have serious doubts. Some will stay home on the November 2012 election day; others will vote against Obama but will tell all of their friends that they voted for him.

In this process, Israel is an important factor. That issue is, in effect, the most important doorway out of the conventional pro-Obama, pro-“Progressive” mindset. As polls show, American Jewish support for Israel remains very strong, despite a vocal minority that either opposes Israel altogether or thinks that its leaders are totally wrong and need to be taught how to survive by Obama and those American Jewish groups that support his views on the Middle East.  

The key reason why Jews who care about Israel support Obama regardless of his policies actual impact is that they have been persuaded that he also cares deeply about Israel’s welfare, an idea they are constantly fed by mass media and pro-Obama Jewish intellectuals and politicians. And indeed that's why they must convince themselves--whatever the mass of evidence to the contrary--that they need to convince themselves that Obama is good for Israel.   

Given all of these factors, if Obama only receives 60 to 65 percent of Jewish votes in November 2012 that will be a staggering achievement for his critics. Note some other points, though that add to this loss for Obama:

How many Jews who otherwise would have voted for Obama will decide to stay home?

How many Jews will tell all their friends that they voted for Obama when they pulled the lever for his opponent?

And how many Jews will not contribute to his reelection campaign or, because of their distress at his policies, give money to his opponent?

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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.