Sunday, March 31, 2013

If Holland is Becoming Antisemitic Where Else is it Safe?

By Barry Rubin

A few years ago in Amsterdam I was shown the most popular manual published in the Netherlands, in Dutch, on how to raise one’s children as proper Muslims. The book included virulently anti-Semitic passages, based on Muslim holy texts. After the Jewish community objected, the authorities forced the publisher to put white tape over the offending passages. The tape could easily be peeled off by purchases so that these words could be read.

Or consider what has just happened. A Turkish-Dutch researcher publicized systematic anti-Semitism among other Muslims in the Netherlands, including a dramatic video that showed teenage boys calling for genocide and praising Hitler.

What happened? The researcher, Mehmet Sahin, had to go into hiding after being accused by others of being a Jew and a Zionist.

The growing anti-Semitism in Western Europe is like that. The European Union, governments, and the media paste a white tape over the problem to conceal it or pretend to do something about it. But when one peels back the tape the hatred is revealed as growing and being passed onto the next generation.

While one doesn’t want to exaggerate rising anti-Semitism in Europe – mostly from Muslim immigrants and their children but facilitated and even reflected by the increasingly intellectually hegemonic Left – the growth of anti-Jewish hatred is enormous. Some people view this as fear-mongering, pointing to other developments that show the glass to be half full. Indeed, the hostility of European governments toward Israel has often been exaggerated. The situation is actually better than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Yet the broader question is one of social trends and the behavior of institutions, especially the mass media and universities, which are generally becoming not just critical but viciously so of Israel and periodically Jews generally.

Take the Netherlands, a mild-mannered country that prides itself on moderation in all things. Traditionally, the Netherlands was friendly to Israel and while it has always had its anti-Semites and even, historically, fascists, it had far less proportionately than other European countries during the last half-century. In other words, if things are bad in the Netherlands, they’re really bad.

Last year, the chief rabbi of the Netherlands spoke in a published interview in which he spoke extensively about his love for the country, the good treatment of Jews there, and other such points. Asked at the end, however, whether there was any future for Jews in the country he said, “No,” and advised the community to move to Israel.

That doesn’t mean the Netherlands is a maelstrom of anti-Semitism. It isn’t. But there’s a growing anti-Semitic sector which consists of two parts: Muslim immigrants and their offspring, and the far left that is so often dominant in the Netherlands –as in other Western countries.

The Dutch government, unlike others in Europe, has defined Hezbollah as a terrorist group and while less favorable to Israel than its predecessor remains on good terms with Israel. Yet shocking slanders appear about Israel in the mainstream Dutch media.

To cite just one example, on March 17, 2010, NRC Handelsblad, Holland’s most prestigious newspaper, published a front-page article claiming the “Israel lobby” was threatening to defeat President Barack Obama’s health plan to blackmail him regarding his Israel policy. While statements on other matters by Israel’s government are evaluated in a cynical way, the basis for this story was a single left-wing blogger.

An observer who wants to avoid exaggerating the problem warns about: “A rising tide of anti-Semitism that the top level is unwilling to address out of a fear of being labeled a racist or out of a fear of losing the all-important Muslim vote,” which is vital for the Left in elections. There is no effective opposition in the political sphere. The center dithers; some on the right speak out but do nothing effective.

A Dutch person involved in inter-communal work adds: “I know many upstanding young Muslims who are as appalled by anti-Semitism,” and these voices should not be forgotten. It should also be remembered that there have been attacks on mosques over the years. In contrast, though, a moderate left politician described in great detail how her family was forced to leave their neighbor- hood by verbal and at times violent harassment by Muslim youths there.

The issue, then, is not just coming from Middle Eastern politics but also the tensions within Dutch society and how Muslim immigrants and their children interpret their problems. Endlessly told that the Jews are their enemy and that they control society in some way, it is easy to conclude that the Jews might also be behind the harassment or discrimination Muslims face, absurd as this is on a factual level and in countries where the Jewish population is tiny.

Here is how one observer recounted on this issue: “As a journalist I roamed the streets around high schools in Amsterdam the day after 9/11 to catch the ‘sound of the streets.’ I was totally unprepared for all the anti-Semitic remarks uttered by [Muslim] boys of 11 to 16 years. Later I spoke with teachers who told me this was an ongoing thing.

“I also interviewed a Moroccan in a high position. He said two things that struck me: ‘Since the beginning of TV transmissions in Morocco the news start with news about Palestine. You in the Netherlands will never understand the degree with which Moroccans identify with Palestine.’

‘My Moroccan friends [in the Netherlands] among teachers and intellectuals agree Israel has a right to exist, but we can never say that in public because we would lose the backing of our Moroccan [community].’”

Elma Drayer is a liberal Dutch columnist and former editor of the prestigious newspaper Trouw , writing on its site. She’s also Jewish. In an article, “The Taboo Against Antisemitism has Disappeared,” she expresses shock that nobody else seems to be shocked by a recent television program, on the Netherlands 2 station, in which a group of young Muslims, whose roots are in Turkey, are inter- viewed by a researcher. (Incidentally, in Dutch discussions the Turks are considered the relative moderates compared to the supposedly more radical immigrants from Morocco.)

Only CIDI, the Jewish community’s lobbying group, noted the program, asking the minister of education in an open letter to undertake a national survey of anti- Semitic prejudice among high school students.

Drayer concludes (translation done for me): “For exactly 80 years after the greatest Jew hater of all time began, the taboo has disappeared.”

There’s a lot of evidence for this ranging from the chief rabbi’s conclusion that there was no future for Jews in the Netherlands to the wild ovations received from packed audiences for an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic film among Turkish immigrant audiences in the Netherlands.

Then, too, there’s the 2012, investigation by Lisa Nederveen in her MA thesis.

On the video, the well-intentioned interviewer tries to get the young people to tone down their criticism, a tactic which in itself shows the problem. He implies that it’s okay to kill just Jewish men. The young people disagree. He later says that many Jews disagree with Israel, implying that it is okay to kill Israelis and pro-Israel Jews. That’s still too moderate for them.

What particularly fascinates me is the young man’s quotation from Hitler. Where did he hear it? I don’t know precisely but I’ve read it repeatedly in Islamist propaganda. I’ll bet it came from there and not from neo-Nazi literature.

By knowing about Gypsies and disabled people, the boy shows clearly that he is by no means ignorant about the Nazi era, perhaps the result of instruction in school.

And, of course, completely apart from the Shoah, the Netherlands itself suffered greatly from Nazism. If genocide against the Jews was insufficient to make these young people dislike Hitler, you’d expect that some sense of Dutch patriotism might do so. Of course, that doesn’t happen.

Here’s the bottom line: Given the fact that this hatred is endemic among Dutch Muslims; and given the fact that their proportion and influence in the country is increasing; and given the fact that there are literally no countervailing forces, is this viewpoint going to increase or decrease? Obviously, the former.

Even in the Dutch mass media there are shocking things written on a regular basis about Jews and Israel. If one cannot depend on the Netherlands to defeat this trend, there’s nobody who’s going to do better.

Note: I want to thank the translators and Dutch friends who gave me helpful remarks and additional information on this article.

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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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Thirteen of his books can be read and downloaded for free at the website of the GLORIA Center including The Arab States and the Palestine ConflictThe Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East and The Truth About Syria. His blog is Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jordan's King Warns Obama; America Backs Muslim Brotherhood Agent as Syria's Next Ruler

By Barry Rubin

”Don’t scare anyone. But once you gain ground then movee ahead. You must utilize as many people as possible who may be of use to us.”
       –Joseph Stalin to future Communist dictator of Hungary Mattyas Rakosi, December 5, 1944.

It really isn't too hard to understand what is happening in the Middle East if you watch the facts.

1. Jordan's King Abdallah, who President Barack Obama just visited, is clearly telling us what's going wrong: that the Muslim Brotherhood is dangerous and so why is the United States supporting it? Presumably, this is what Abdallah told Obama.

2. U.S. policy is now escalating support for a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Syria and the Syrian rebels increasingly have open Brotherhood leadership.

3. Repression is gradually escalating in Egypt with arrests of moderates, Islamists being sent to the military academy, and many more measures.

Regarding Jordan, Jeffrey Goldberg's has done an extremely valuable profile of Abdullah. The Jordanian monarch is telling Western visitors that their countries are making a big mistake by supporting the Islamists. He complains that the U.S. State Department is ignoring his complaints and that U.S. officials are telling him, “The only way you can have democracy is through the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He responds that the Brotherhood wants to impose anti-American reactionary governments and that his "major fight" is to stop them. No margin may be left for relative moderate and pro-American states between a Sunni Islamist alliance led by Egypt and including Turkey versus a Shia Islamist alliance led by Iran says Abdallah and he's right. The only difference, Abdallah explains, between the Turkish and Egyptian regimes are their timetables for installing dictatorships. Egypt's new president, says the king, is obsessed with a hostile view of Israel.

Here's the delicious irony! Last August the Jordanian Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh  launched a ferocious personal attack on me. Why? Because I said that the Sunni-Shia battle was going to replace the Arab-Israeli conflict. Well, that's what his king just said! LOL.

Meanwhile, while President Barack Obama was love-bombing Israel during his visit, U.S. policy was helping to install a Muslim Brotherhood supporter as the putative next leader of Syria. Obama’s strategy is, with appropriate adjustments to the national scene, the same as his disastrous policy in Egypt.

The new leader of the opposition coalition is Ghassan Hitto, an obscure figure who has been long-resident in the United States. His actual election contained two hints:

--He only received 35 votes from 63 members of the Syrian National Coalition. That show of support matches the number of Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters there.

--Only 48 out of the 63 even cast a ballot at all, showing lack of enthusiasm and possible U.S. pressure on groups to abstain rather than oppose Hitto.

During the Cold War, American policy toward Third World countries frequently looked for a “third way” democratic alternative, leaders who were neither Communists nor right-wing authoritarians. Today, however, the Obama Administration doesn’t do the equivalent at all, despite pretenses to the contrary. Rather it seeks leadership from the most seemingly moderate people who represent Islamist groups. Of course, this moderation is largely deceptive.

That was the pattern in Egypt; now it is the same failed strategy in Syria.  Hitto is a typical example of such a person. He has lived in the United States and went to university there, so presumably knows America and has become more moderate by living there. He is involved in hi-tech enterprises so supposedly he is a modern type of guy. Remember how now-dictator of Syria Bashar al-Assad was lavishly praised because he studied and lived in London and was supposedly interested in Internet?

In addition, nobody has (yet) come up with an outrageous Hitto statement. His ties to the Brotherhood are not so blatant—even though they are obvious—that the Obama Administration and the mass media cannot deny and ignore them.

Yet the connections between Hitto and the Muslim Brotherhood—and those are only the ones documented quickly following his election—are extensive.

--He is founder of the Muslim Legal Fund of America, largely directed by Muslim Brotherhood people..
--He was a secretary-treasurer of the American Middle Eastern League for Palestine (AMELP), which is closely linked to the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP), which supports Hamas and terrorism against Israel.

--Hitto was vice president of the CAIR Dallas/Fort Worth chapter and director of the Muslim American Society (MAS) Youth Center of Dallas which was a Muslim Brotherhood front group.

The list goes on and on.

As if to sum up the situation, Hassan Hassan of the United Arab Emirates newspaper The National, wrote an article entitled “How the Muslim Brotherhood Hijacked Syria’s Revolution.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Obama Didn't Say: Peace Requires More than Israeli Willpower

By Barry Rubin

I don’t have big problems with what President Barack Obama said in his lecture to Israeli students. He said that peace is good, that peace is good for Israel, that peace is possible, and that people should work for peace and conciliation.

All fine sentiments. The students applauded wildly because they didn't think he was attacking Israel but voicing the sentiments they already hold, indeed that most Israelis and their leaders have held for decades. The only problem is that Obama doesn't seem to understand this fact.

Young people tend to think that the world is completely changeable. They look at current reality and see foolishness and suffering and contradictions in it. They think it possible to re-imagine the world.

Of course, change is often desirable, as long as it is a change for the better, and possible. Many things have happened—the fall of the regime in Egypt; the Syrian civil war, etc.—that would be previously thought improbable. 

And yet there are reasons why things are as they are. What you want to see happen must be realistic or else it can turn out very badly. In 1979--I remember this vividly--the idea seemed undeniable to most people that the fall of Iran's shah had to produce a better outcome. That theme of revolution welcomed and then becoming a bloodbath goes back as far as the French Revolution.

Obama said:

“But for the moment, put aside the plans and the process. I ask you, instead, to think about what can be done to build trust between people.”

This is not a new idea. It is something Israelis have been thinking about and working on for decades and especially during the last twenty years. Israel’s declaration of independence, May 14, 1948,  declared:

"We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East."

During the “peace process” era of the 1990s, Israelis worked strenuously to build such bridges. I taught a course on political analysis at a Palestinian university (Yasir Arafat’s niece was one of my students) and knew that doing so was at some risk to my life. When the university's public report came out afterward, I was the only person on the teaching staff not identified by country. They could or would not admit that they had a professor from Israel. An Israeli doctor volunteering to help heal people in the Gaza Strip fared worse. He was axed to death. 

Things, however, went beyond that. The Palestinian Authority decreed that there would be no “normalization” and people or institutions were ordered and threatened against such trust-building measures. One Israeli center invited 35 Palestinians to discuss conciliation. Two came to the first meeting and only one, a non-Arab, came to the second. The resistance to such bridge-building comes from the Palestinian side, even if people want to do so but are intimidated.

Obama continued:

“Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people -- politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want, they’re not so different from what the young people here want. They want the ability to make their own decisions and to get an education, get a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married; to raise a family.”
Perhaps. But the problem is how their wants are to be interpreted. It is a miracle of self-imposed ignorance that Obama makes no mention of what has happened in those four years. In country after country radical Islamists have been taking over who define what they want as genocide against the Jews and Israel being wiped off the map. The moderate young people Obama has described are being repressed. Some have fled Egypt. Obama has done nothing to help them.
“The same is true of those young Palestinians that I met with this morning. The same is true for young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.”
Perhaps when those young people take over from that repressive, undemocratic state things will change. But won’t Israel have to wait until that change comes?  And for each one of such people there are one thousand who support violence, believe in total victory, and want Israel dead. 

Even within Israel itself, Obama was heckled by an Israeli Arab college student who was horrified by his "pro-Israel" statements and told interviewers later that he wanted Israel as a state to disappear. Guess he wasn't one of those young people. Would all Palestinians ready to live in their Arab Muslim state alongside Israel as a Jewish state please raise their hands? 
“That's where peace begins," Obama continued, "not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people.” Yet what has happened in the hearts of people on the other side? That’s where the problem is. And if they have peace in their hearts they better keep it hidden there or else.
In his 1948 book about apartheid South Africa, Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton wrote: "I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating." 
But which side in this case can make that statement? Israel? The Palestinians and other Arabs? Both? Does a mirror image exist of equivalency? If Obama really did comprehend the situation he would press a lot harder on the Palestinian side. Every time he has asked for help, Israel has said “yes”; the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have said “no.”
Obama’s view, like that of many others, disregards these realities. Imagine that with a straight face, Obama could say:
“Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see.”
Yet the people have been pushing Israeli leaders to take risks since the 1970s, the leaders have themselves initiated risk-taking for peace, and one of them even died in that quest. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  Didn't Prime Minister Ariel Sharon take big risks by a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip that was repaid by rockets from Hamas?

How has Israel been rewarded for the risks already taken? With even more risks and international criticism.

Who is pushing in Palestinian politics? The only force that counts is that which wants an even more radical and violent strategy.  Can you imagine a peace group being formed on any Palestinian campus? The idea is ridiculous. Obama cannot deliver the other side for peace--he can't even get them to negotiate at all--the president puts the job on someone else.

Yes, we want a two state solution. Yes, we put ourselves in the shoes of the Palestinians and such empathy and reportage is daily in all the Israeli newspapers. It is the opposite that is never true.
It is a slander on Israel to talk about the situation as if old folks impose hatred on young people. In 1993, the nation was overwhelmingly united by hope. By around 1999 even my conservative friends were open to a two-state solution. Israeli textbooks do not contain hate and neither does the teaching, films, or television. 
Obama says:
“Look at the young people who’ve not yet learned a reason to mistrust, or…[have] learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents, because they simply recognize that we hold more hopes in common than fears that drive us apart.”

Where? A lone Egyptian blogger who speaks for peace with Israel after 30 years of a peace agreement and faces serious threats and harassment? Let's have the names of such young people. They are almost entirely, I'm sad to say, imaginary.
Why did the Israeli students cheer? Not because they were being stirred to revolt against their own government but because they understandably want to believe that they can bring peace by simply trying to do so, regardless of what any other nation does. 
Who on the Palestinian side can be said to have done such a thing, at least publicly? Very few. How many on the Israeli side have done such a thing? Hundreds of thousands.  
One should not drown out hope. My goal is to define the conditions that offer a way forward to a hope that can be realized, not a wishful thinking that would entail terrible costs. As one in the past who spoke loudly of hope, I have found in big things and small that the only times I was wrong was when I followed Obama’s advice.

On what basis does Obama suggest that things can change? Strength, the very factor he downplays in other circumstances.
“There will be many who say this change is not possible, but remember this -- Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel is not going anywhere.”
 But did Israeli strength turn a withdrawal from most of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip into peace? How is Israel’s power affected by Islamist regimes in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Tunisia, and soon in Syria? How is that reduced if Iran gets nuclear weapons? I have no doubt Israel will win but at what costs? What additional risks can be justified in such a situation?
And how “unshakable” is U.S. support? Yes, the basic alliance is unshakable but that, of course, does not translate into support for all Israeli actions to use that strength, which therefore reduces the usefulness of that strength. Is there unshakable U.S. support, for example, to overthrow the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip and turn that territory over to the "moderate" "partner for peace" Palestinian Authority?
To say “Israel is not going anywhere” means Israelis should not be afraid of a second Holocaust or being wiped off the map. Granted. But they only need not be afraid of that if the country follows proper strategies. And, again, the costs of survival can be higher or lower.
It is one thing to make optimism and hope for peace part of the equation—which is why I have no great problem with the things he said—but what about the rest?

Yet I see no risk in what Obama said. First, it is standard U.S. policy. Second, Israel is now immunized by experience against taking foolish risks and making unrequited concessions. Third, because it does reflect Israeli preferences. If Obama wants to be patronizing that's more acceptable if he is ready to be Israel's patron rather than distancing himself.
The vast majority of Israelis know or should know they cannot unilaterally bring peace, a step already tried several times. Been there; done that. They know or should know they cannot unilaterally change the other side’s attitude by proving themselves to the Palestinians and other Arab publics to be good people. Even much of the Western elites and mass media don’t believe Israel wants peace after decades of such efforts.  
Here’s the truest thing Obama said:
“Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but -- this is in your nature -- Israel also has the courage to see the world as it should be.”
Obama voiced the part about how the world should be. He forgot the part about Israel seeing the world as it really is.

Monday, March 25, 2013

My Life’s Work (Part Three), Two Free Books on Jewish and Everyone Else's History

By Barry Rubin

This follows articles on my books about the Middle East and my books about U.S. foreign policy.

Note: Sorry, the Assimilation and Its Discontents text is down for the moment and I will repost this when it is available.

My interest in the Middle East--hence Israel, too--as well as European and U.S. history led me to a deeper exploration of some issues in Jewish history. In particular, I wanted to look at two things that I felt were fascinating but not sufficiently explained.

The first of these was a history of Jewish assimilation. While there is a massive literature about particular individuals and places, I hadn’t seen a satisfactory study of that whole process.

For the cover, I wanted a remarkable nineteenth century painting, called something like The Jewish Soldier. It showed a young Jew in his colorful, elegant army uniform coming home to visit his family dressed in very traditional clothing. The contrast was startling and it was a beautiful piece of art. Unfortunately, my editor preferred a very ugly post-modernist graffiti-like drawing with the word “Jew” drawn in an ugly way. At least, though, I can reflect on how much things have changed since my publisher was New York Times books.

Assimilation and its Discontents was entitled deliberately to reflect Sigmund Freud’s, one of the people I was writing about, book, Civilization and Its Discontents. Did obtaining the fruits of Western civilization require assimilation? Heinrich Heine had gone one step further saying that conversion was the admission ticket to Western civilization. And what were the advantages and the discontents.

I did a huge amount of research and the book is filled with amazing anecdotes, great quotations, and colorful characters including Marx, the Marx Brothers, Freud, and Woody Allen, as well as many authors, thinkers, and doers. The first part is on Europe and the latter section is on the United States. All I can say is that I’m really proud of this book, think you will find it entertaining, and also that it is very relevant for our current era.

A central issue is the great Jewish debate of the nineteenth century that continues to echo today. Should all assimilation be rejected—as was done by the Haredim who fortified tradition—or should one pick a variety of it?
And which path to choose? The “modern Orthodox” which combined strong religiosity with modernity in everything that did not contradict it? The bourgeois which put social acceptance above all? The liberal, which tried to create an environment in which Jewish equality was possible or the radical, which sought to transform society into one worthy of dissolving one’s identity into? And then there was the “territorialist,” as in the Jewish Bund, which sought autonomy in a Yiddish-speaking culture, or the Zionist, which sought a national homeland in a Hebrew-speaking culture?

If you want to understand why Jews even today seem so allergic to conservatism, why so many of the intelligentsia are neurotically hostile to Israel, and why Jews have had such a disproportionately large impact on Western civilization you will find answers here.

The other book is a personal one but by that I mean it has personal relevance for you, too. It is called Children of Dolhinov: Our Ancestors and Ourselvesand is about my grandparents’ hometown (halfway between Minsk and Vilna on a key roadway) and my own ancestors. Again, I did years of research and interviews that took me all over the Western world.

But the book is deliberately written not to be narrow and to apply to you as well. Its central theme is the importance of knowing our ancestors in order to understand ourselves, how and why we are the way we are. I call this the need to study one’s own prehistory.

Hopefully it will inspire you to look at your own family history. Basically, there are two kinds of people: those who find such an investigatory journey fascinating and those who couldn’t be less interested. Frankly, I cannot understand the latter group. And I’d add that nowadays with such massive resources online it is remarkably easy for most people, if they use a bit of ingenuity and have some patience, to dig out a remarkable, personalized story.
Here, for example, is part of one man’s description of men departing for America in the late nineteenth century:

“All the worshippers watched them with great pity and compassion. Everyone tried to imagine what he would feel like if he were in their shoes, having to leave his beloved wife and children, and go on such a long journey…arriving at a strange land….In the homes people spoke about it the entire day. The women commiserated with the wives of the immigrants, and some broke into tears….”

There is a large section on the Holocaust which has been massively written about but far less on the Eastern Front. None of Dolhinov’s Jews ever saw a concentration camp. They were shot down by the Germans and their collaborators or fled into the forest where, if they were lucky, joined Soviet partisans and if they were not were shot down by Polish or Soviet partisans.

The book is also about how a small town plays a role in history and how individuals along with the decisions they make matter so very much. Everyone had to make choices and how they did so cannot be generalized based on religion or nationality but only on conscience and personality. Even German soldiers in the Nazi army, as the book shows, had alternative roads to take.

Again, I think this book is entertaining, or at least it tries to be. But deliberately in distinction from my usual work it is highly focused on average individuals.

Where else can you meet the granddaughter of your family’s Polish neighbors and mutually discover to your amazement, 70 years after the events that her uncle and your uncle were in the same KGB prison cell for being, respectively, a Polish nationalist freedom fighter and a Zionist? Or track down a heroic Estonian partisan’s fate and find his descendants living a ten-minute drive away?

Here’s how the book ends, with a conclusion appropriate for today:

“When my highly educated and cultured ancestral in-laws were singing the praises of Stalin on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1930s, their relatives were starving and being threatened with concentration camps; and by the early 1950s, those in the USSR were directly experiencing the threat of a new antisemitism which might well have turned into an, admittedly far milder, version of what Germany had carried out during the preceding decade.

“That is why real Jewish history and Israel are so feared and reviled by Jews--no matter how removed they are from any such identity--on the left….It is a form of kryptonite to their delusions about the nature of the world, the behavior of people, the truthfulness of nice-sounding ideologies, the realities of populist dictatorships, and the glories of rootlessness.”

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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 book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Thirteen of his books can be read and downloaded for free at the website of the GLORIA Center including The Arab States and the Palestine ConflictThe Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East and The Truth About Syria. His blog is Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mini-Guide on Different Groups' Responses to Obama's Trip to Israel

By Barry Rubin

Since President Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East was such a turning point for U.S. policy, I thought it should be summarized by showing characteristic responses of different groups. These are, of course, generalizations, and there are many variations.

One mistake that's being made is this: from being a relaitvely bad president regarding bilateral relations and attitudes toward Israel, Obama has become a fairly normal one. His statements are then being judged by people on the right as terrible when they are merely those of his predecessors.
At the same time, Obama supporters miss the continued reservations toward Israel's situation and policies and especially his continued regional policy to conclude that Obama is--as he tried to pressure Netanyahu to say--the best president ever for Israel. 

So how do different sectors react to Obama's trip? The responses are very interesting.

The Far Leftist: Why has Obama been so nice to Israel? He’s sold out and become just another typical president who backs Israel. How infuriating!

The Left-Liberal: Did you see how Obama told off the Israelis and demanded they make peace? Of course, the people love him and it is only the reactionary leaders who oppose a truly great president who is doing a great job. He hasn’t changed at all; he’s just found a clearer way to articulate his position.

The “Mainstream” Liberal (Current Version): We told you so! Of course Obama loves Israel despite all of that propaganda against him, and he really showed it this time. I’m so glad I voted for him twice.

The Moderate to Conservative: Oh, no! Obama has pulled it off again! Now the Israelis love him and we’ll never get American Jews to oppose him. How depressing!

The Militant Conservative: Ha! Did you hear what he said in this speech and that speech? Insulting Israel and just attacking it while apologizing for the Palestinian side! This is just one more proof of his enmity! How infuriating!
The Palestinian View:  Obama been so nice to Israel! He’s sold out and become just another typical president who back Israel. How infuriating! Well, we expected this, so we won’t negotiate and will try either to engage in struggle or parlay our recognition as a state into getting the 1967 borders with no concessions.

The Islamists: Of course he’s just another Christian crusader as we’ve always known. He’s never helped us but just retreated out of weakness because he’s afraid of us!  This has removed the illusions that diplomacy might work. Only armed struggle will ultimately wipe Israel off the map!

The Serious Israeli Observer: Thank goodness! After more than four years of hard work and with the help of the other side’s intransigence, we got Obama to see reality in policy if not always in rhetoric, which is far less important.  Perhaps a narrow escape from what would have been the most anti-Israel president in history by far. Look, the American people elect the president and then we have to deal with whomever they choose. Sure hope he wakes up about the Islamists and stays tough on Iran.

You can also read my article in the Ottawa Citizen on Obama's policy shift.

He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not: The Meaning of Obama's Visit

By Barry Rubin

Given the shape of Jewish history, verbal expressions of friendship that others would take as the norm are treated as overwhelming acts of wonderfulness. This tradition goes back to the days of monarchies, when Jews saw themselves as powerless people who were passive recipients of the king’s generosity. 

One reason that idea continued was because expressing the idea that Jews might have some power, some ability to shape events, was a major theme of antisemitism. Indeed, claiming that there is an all-powerful Jewish lobby or even of a Jewish-controlled media (which is laughable) remain to this day one of the main earmarks of antisemitic thinking.

What is the purpose of hasbara, that is, the effort to explain Israel’s situation, experiences, perceptions, and goals? It is not to make everyone love Israel or Jews, though that would be nice, but to create conditions so that Jews are not attacked or materially hurt by hostile neighbors and so Israel can have the environment in which it can operate with enough international support to do what it needs to do.

Let's discuss these themes in the context of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel.

From an Israeli, though not necessarily from an American, viewpoint it is absurd to be “pro-Obama” or “anti-Obama.” The issue is what Obama does in regard to Israeli interests. This is not necessarily the same criteria that American Jews would take, given their additional involvement and interest in many other issues that have nothing to do with international affairs.

In Israeli terms, for example, Richard Nixon was a good president. So were Harry Truman, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan. Note the wide differences in their domestic policies, reputations, and worldviews in an American context..

If Obama is now going to be considered friendly toward Israel, to use his own words in a different context, he didn’t build it on his own. Indeed, if Obama had his own way, if he could do anything he wanted to do, he would have been terribly unfriendly, the most unfriendly American president in history. (Jimmy Carter's hostility came almost completely after leaving office.) And in many ways, that is how he began his presidency.

But Obama is neither a free agent nor a fanatic out to hurt Israel at any price. As president he interacts with reality, at least on this issue. There were three categories of factors that changed the strong hostility of Obama’s original position into something else.

First, internal American factors:

--A tradition seen as the norm of strong support for Israel by the United States.

--Pro-Israel public opinion.

--A largely pro-Israel Congress.

Second, regional factors:

--The lack of cooperation by the Palestinians who gave Obama zero assistance in his attempts to help them. Imagine if the Palestinian Authority had said in 2009:

“We want negotiations right away and peace as fast as possible. But we expect Obama to get us what we demand, including big Israeli concessions in exchange for very little. President Obama, you can have peace if you only bash Israel!

But they did the opposite, turning down every Obama initiative.

--Lack of cooperation by the Arab states generally, which did not take advantage of Obama’s offer to help them get major Israeli concessions through U.S. pressure.

--Iran’s intransigence.

--The fact that Islamists proved Obama wrong and became more radical.

In short, Obama discovered that distancing himself from Israel bought no gain.

Third, actions by Israel and American Jews:

--The Israeli government’s strategy of cooperating with Obama as much as possible to avoid giving him a—you can call it a reason or an excuse—for a quarrel.

--The tireless work of American Jews, both supporters and opponents of Obama, to explain the issues and mobilize support. This includes those whose strong criticism stung the administration.

It is not that Obama was nice toward Israel all along; it is that there is a new policy based on his realizing there wasn’t going to be a breakthrough to a comprehensive peace agreement.

There are, however, still two problem areas. First, the president expresses sympathy but not agreement with Israel. His view is:

I understand why you act as you do but you are wrong. You can obtain lasting peace fast if only you aren’t stubborn and suspicious.

This, however, doesn’t matter very much. The second problem is critical. How can you be so nice to a country when you help its enemies? How can you help populate Israel’s borders and neighborhood with those who openly proclaim their goal of committing genocide on its people?

If one asks: Has Obama helped or hurt Israel’s strategic situation the answer is that he has quite definitely hurt it overall. If one asks: Has Obama helped or hurt Israel's ability to deal with that strategic situation the answer is that he has been about as good--but certainly not better--as several predecessors by merely continuing past U.S. aid and other policies.

Again, though, it is not a matter of liking or disliking Obama as a person but analyzing his behavior as a president.

The day after Obama’s election in 2008, I organized a program in Tel Aviv on the result. I and everyone on the panel spoke of what a great person Obama was and how he was going to be a great friend of Israel. It was proper not to start a conflict with him.

During 2009, however, I was faced with an important question: Should I be flat-out honest as to what I thought regarding Obama’s policies or would that jeopardize the bilateral relationship. Would supporters of Obama react against Israel because of criticism of their beloved chief executive?

I decided to speak up, partly because the dangers were so great and also since the whole point of criticism is to persuade someone to change course. By 2011 it was already becoming clear that  U.S.-Israel relations as such were not the problem, U.S. Middle East policy was.

Let me summarize in this way:

--Arab behavior was the main force showing Obama that he was wrong. That parallels what happened during the Cold War when anti-American actions by radical Arab regimes and their alliance with the USSR persuaded previously unfriendly U.S. policymakers that they benefited from an alignment with Israel.

--The fact that the American people recognized the rightness of Israel’s narrative could not be ignored by leaders, especially if bashing Israel brought no strategic advantage..

--What’s significant is not whether or not Obama loves Israel but that he sees support as being in U.S. interests. Reality forced him to move from a policy of distancing himself from Israel to one of embracing Israel.

--But Obama must learn now about the dangers of Islamism or his administration will continue to be a net minus for Israel. It would be better if Obama learned to love the Arabs, Iranians, and Turks fighting for moderation and real democracy in their countries, not the totalitarians in those places.

--By truly protecting U.S. interests, Obama would do more for Israel than by making any number of friendly speeches.

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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 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.