Friday, February 17, 2012

Barry Rubin: What to Do About Syria

by Barry Rubin

There is a strong case that can be made for doing nothing about the Syrian civil war, but a stronger case can be made for doing something relatively low-cost and ineffective, indeed, precisely what the Syrian opposition is requesting.

Forget about major military intervention, which would be dangerous, costly, and above the level of available resources.

I’m also not enthusiastic about a major U.S. effort at regime change, since the Turkish regime wants an Islamist government in Damascus that might even be worse than what exists now. The less the Obama Administration is involved the more likely things are to go better.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration doesn’t seem able to tell the difference between moderates and anti-American Islamists in Syria. Come to think about it, the Obama Administration isn’t too good at making such a distinction between such people in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, or Turkey either. Indeed, the U.S. government is taking the Muslim Brotherhood line on Syria.

Russia and China block UN action. The Arab League is talking about an international peacekeeping force but it’s hard to believe either that they would ever accept any non-Arab forces or they would send in their own armies to fight the Syrian military. Most likely this will all amount to nothing. Meanwhile, Syrian documents show that Tehran has provided $1 billion so far to back the regime against the rebels.

And will the Obama Administration shrug its shoulders — so to speak — and do nothing? Yes, quite probably.

There’s also an interesting political dynamic within Syria. I can’t say this with full confidence but there is evidence for the following thesis: The “official” (that is, U.S.-Turkish chosen) opposition leadership doesn’t want armed struggle and indeed seems to prefer a deal with the Assad regime.

Why? Because they feel they aren’t going to win and can make some arrangement with the government that would lead to them coming to power at some time in the future when they have built a stronger political base. The opposition — despite all the Western observers confidently predicting Assad’s imminent fall — know they can’t win without outside help.

The strongest factor in the opposition are what might be called traditional, socially conservative Sunni Muslims. They might swing behind the Islamists; they are far less likely to back liberals. What might best be hoped for if the opposition wins is an Iraqi-style approach in which sectarian tensions and identities are heightened, the priority is put on getting things right at home, and they want to get along with the West without being “pro-Western.”

Now we can understand the debate in the Syrian opposition. The liberals and traditionalists are more likely to back armed struggle, overthrowing Assad, and getting foreign help. The Islamists are more likely to oppose these three goals and want a deal with Assad. Why? Because a deal that let them operate freely, they believe, would eventually lead to them taking over the country.

But to return to the question of what the West or world should do: Listen to the democratic opposition. It wants two things, obviously taken from the Iraqi case: a no-fly zone for Syrian military aircraft and the creation of a safe zone — presumably near the Turkish border — for refugees, fugitives, and the Free Syrian Army.

When I mention the “no-fly” zone to people they ask, “But the Syrian air force isn’t bombing the rebels, right? So what good is this?” The answer is that we’re not talking about fighters or bombers but about helicopter gunships and transport planes. With Syria rushing troops around the country to counter the uprisings, the point is to make it harder for them to do so.

If any plan is going to be considered for intervention this one seems to be the best starting point. Its virtues and shortcomings should be thoroughly discussed so as to decide whether this is a good thing to do. This would be preferable to the current debate that lurches between total passivity and adventurous intervention.

At the same time, the Syria issue shows how the Obama Administration has tied itself up into a hundred knots. For centuries, diplomats of powerful countries have known that you don’t enter into a coalition unless you absolutely cannot avoid it or, even better, you control it. Otherwise, your interests get ground down by those of others.

Multilateralism has its costs. With the Obama Administration leading from behind and stressing the need for a UN consensus to do anything, it is now stuck with a passive stance on the Syrian civil war. On the Iran sanctions issue, it bought off Russian and Chinese opposition by the simple expedient of, in practice, exempting them from observing the sanctions. That won’t work on Syria. Hence, deadlock. America can’t be a great power if the Russians, Chinese, and others (notably Turkey) are able to yank out the power plug any time they want.

Also read my article, “With “Friends” Like This Who Needs Enemies? With Enemies Like This Who Needs Friends?”

Barry Rubin


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“Friends of Syria” to Secure International Support for Arab Initiative

by Sawsan Abu-Husain

Hat Tip to imra for this post

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat-Informed Arab sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the friends of Syria conference, scheduled for the 24th of February, aims to secure international support for the Arab initiative after the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution because of the Russian and Chinese veto. The sources said that the conference, which is expected to be attended by a large number of Arab and international parties, will be held under a French-Turkish-Tunisian chairmanship. The sources added: "We expect a change in the Russian stand" on the veto that blocks a UN resolution to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

Meanwhile, Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmad Bin-Hilli said the Arab League is not the organizer of the conference of the friends of Syria and that the league received an invitation only to attend, just like any other Arab or regional organization.

Tunisian sources said the friends of Syria conference will discuss three key moves, securing full international backing for the Arab solution plan, complete solidarity with the Syrian people, ending the fighting and violence, and taking the Syrian armed forces out of the equation in order to reach the stage of political settlement, in addition to denouncing all forms of violence that led to the destruction of residential neighborhoods in Syria.

The sources added that the conference also aims to take a decision toward the Syrian opposition or recognize the Syrian National Council. There is strong inclination toward this move, they noted. The sources expected more than 100 states to take part in the conference at a time when some people said the number will range from 70 to 90.

Other Arab sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the friends of Syria conference comes after a competition between the Turks and French when the idea of holding an international conference was proposed after the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution adopting the Arab initiative.

The sources explained that the idea was proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. After discussions, the sources said, it was decided to reach a compromise solution by holding a conference of the friends of Syria, to be hosted by Tunisia. It was also decided that the conference will be held under a French-Turkish-Tunisian chairmanship and that Arab, Islamic, and European states will take part in it, the sources added.

The sources believe that this conference is part of stepped up international efforts to support the Arab initiative and recognize the legitimate interlocutor. With regard to peacekeeping forces, the sources doubt that this action will be taken. They regard it as a kind of pressure on the Syrian regime. Other sources, meanwhile, say the move may be modelled on the UN forces in Darfur that were deployed there to achieve and monitor a ceasefire and intervene on a small scale if the situation and developments on the ground require such intervention.

Member of the Syrian Transitional Council Abdul-Basit Sida said that agreement to establish peacekeeping forces was reached at more than one meeting with the Arab League as a move that would help hold dialogue and implement the Arab initiative that requires a ceasefire. Then action will be taken to implement the initiative that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and delegate the vice president to run the country's affairs. Afterward, he added, preparations will be made to hold elections in which all Syrian forces will participate.

Earlier, the Arab foreign ministers decided at their meeting to call on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to establish Arab-UN peacekeeping forces to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire. They also decided to ask the Arab group at the United Nations to present as soon as possible to the UN General Assembly a draft resolution containing the Arab initiative and other resolutions that have been passed by the Arab League in this respect. In addition, they decided to ask the Arab League secretary general to name a special envoy to follow the proposed political process as part of the Arab initiative.

It is recalled that Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby did indeed contact former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib to ask him to serve as a "special envoy." However, no decision has been taken to date, but a decision may be passed after El-Araby returns from his visit to Germany and ahead of the friends of Syria conference, which is due to be held in Tunisia before the end of this month. This is because the ministers emphasized the importance of all Arab states attending this conference, as was indicated in a speech that the Tunisian delegation leader delivered at the Arab Ministerial Council meeting.

El-Araby left for Germany yesterday evening to meet and brief German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the Arab League resolutions regarding the Syrian crisis and the Palestinian issue.

For his part, Bin-Hilli said the Arab League is not the party that is organizing the friends of Syria conference and added that the league only received an invitation to attend the conference, just like any other Arab or regional organization. He noted that EU and UN Security Council members and Arab states will attend.

In reply to a question as to whether the conference will discuss only the issue of supporting the Arab initiative, Bin-Hilli said: "There may be other means to help emerge from the crisis, halt the violence, and stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people."

Answering a question on the establishment of forces to achieve a ceasefire, he said: "Such action requires Syrian approval and a UN Security Council resolution because it will involve logistical and security obligations."

Sawsan Abu-Husain


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Wash. Post assigns more credibility to Iran than to Israel

by Leo Rennert

As Iran and the West ratcheted up tensions in recent weeks over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, mainstream media reports continued to cling to an even-handed parallelism when it comes each side's credibility. The context for rising tensions usually has it that the West believes Tehran is on a course to develop nuclear weapons, while the Iranians insist that their nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

Readers and listeners thus are left to ponder a he-said-versus-he-said enigma without guidance as to which side might have more credibility. Western and Iranian versions are given equal weight.

What tends to be missing, however, is that there is a third party to this equation -- the latest report from the UN nuclear watchdog which tilts the credibility scales against Iran by concluding that there are indeed worrisome signs that Tehran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability. More often than not, Western journalists find it easier or more politically correct to overlook the UN findings and thus fail to differentiate as to whose version is really believable.

A similar neglectful approach can be found in recent days in Washington Post articles by Jerusalem correspondent Joel Greenberg about Iranian attacks aimed at Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia, and Thailand. Regardless of fairly conclusive forensic evidence, Greenberg not only still relies on a he-said-versus-he-said formula, but actually tends to be more skeptical about Israeli pronouncements than Iranian ones.

Take for example his Feb. 16 dispatch about Israel pointing a finger at explosive devices found in Bangkok with similar ones in New Delhi and in Tbilsi, Georgia. ("Israeli cites more links to Iran in bombings -- Devices in Thailand said to resemble those used in India and Georgia" page A12).

As far as Greenberg is concerned this is all just Israel's version and he spares no ink in matching it with stout Iranian denials. Here is his second paragraph:

"(Israeli) officials, citing findings of local investigations, said the forensic evidence buttressed earlier Israeli assertions that Iran was behind the attacks. Iran, which had threatened to retaliate for the killings of several of its nuclear scientists in similar bombings, has denied any involvement in the explosions, calling them Israeli provocations."

Greenberg's bottom line: Here is what the Israelis claim and here's what the Iranians claim, so don't ask him who's telling the truth. But in giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, Greenberg stumbles about actual evidence that ought to be fairly conclusive that Tehran was behind these attacks.

In his third paragraph, Greenberg writes: "Indian and Thai authorities have said they still do not have evidence that would indicate who was responsible for the blasts." But then he contradicts himself in the seventh paragraph when he writes: "Thai police arrested two of three Iranian men who fled the house after the blast." So Thai authorities do after all have evidence that Iran was involved. But Post readers are left to decide whether to believe the third paragraph or the seventh one. Greenberg won't help them make that decision.

Throughout the article, Greenberg remains determined to help Iran befog the situation. As he does in his fifth paragraph when he starts by quoting an Israeli official that the bombs were of the same make in all three countries -- the way they were assembled, their electronic elements and other findings pointing to an Iranian connection. But is Greenberg persuaded? Not at all. He immediately shoots down this Israeli explanation by warning readers that the Israeli official "did not elaborate." Israel, according to Greenberg, just hasn't made its case.

When it comes to Iranian accounts, however, Greenberg is less picky. Farther down in his 13th paragraph, he writes that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman "accused Israel of orchestrating the string of explosions this week to conceal its real essence in carrying out terrorist acts, particularly assassinating Iran's scientists." So Israel bombed its own diplomats, but in this instance, Greenberg doesn't bother to caution readers that the Iranian spokesman failed to elaborate. It's easier for Iran to get un-rebutted claims in Greenberg's copy than for Israel to get such gentle treatment.

While being softer on Iran than on Israel, Greenberg omits a key finding that Iran has been behind these bombings -- Thai police recovered Iranian passports from two of the Iranians apprehended in Bangkok. No mention of this by Greenberg. But in probability, if Greenberg had reported the passports angle, he probably would have coupled it with word from some expert that passports can be faked.

As for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's public statement that the bombing attacks "exposed Iranian terrorist acts for all to see" and that "Iran undermines stability in the world, harms innocent diplomats, and the world must draw "red lines against the Iranian aggression." All that is relegated to the last couple of paragraphs in Greenberg's dispatch.

Not the first time that Israel gets back-of-the-bus treatment in the Washington Post.

Leo Rennert


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UK: Islamist Intimidation Shuts Down Free Speech

by Shiraz Maher

"We are not to blame for 'provoking' the Islamists; they need no such provocation."

These have not been good times for free speech in the UK. Islamist students and cowardly student bodies – which, ironically, would identify themselves as liberal and progressive – have clamped down on the right of secular and atheist societies to voice their opposition to Islam (as they do to other religions too).

An event organized by the "One Law for All" campaign group at Queen Mary University in London was cancelled at the last minute after an Islamist made death threats against everyone attending. Anne Marie Waters, a spokeswoman for the National Secular Society had been due to address the room on Shariah law [Muslim religious law] and human rights. The room filled with students, but shortly before Waters was due to begin, a man entered the lecture theatre and filmed everyone in the audience. He then told them he could identify them all and knew where they lived – and that if anything insulting about the Prophet Mohammed was said, he would "track down" the audience members. Other students were also told that they, along with their families, would be murdered if any insult was perceived.

The event was cancelled and the police were called. The President of Queen Mary's Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society, who had organized the event, later commented:

This event was supposed to be an opportunity for people of different religions and perspectives to debate at a university that is supposed to be a beacon of free speech and debate.

Only two complaints had been made to the Union prior to the event, and the majority of the Muslim students at the event were incredibly supportive of it going ahead. These threats were an aggressive assault on freedom of speech and the fact that they led to the cancellation of our talk was severely disappointing for all of the religious and non-religious students in the room who wanted to engage in debate.

This was not an isolated incident. A few days earlier the Atheist Secular Humanist group at University College London (UCLASH) had been asked by the Students Union to remove an advertisement which depicted Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed sharing a beer. As ever, threats were made; the Students Union caved to pressure after several students protested.

The circumstances could not be more ironic. University College London (UCL) was founded in 1826 as a secular alternative to the strictly religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It was the first institution of higher education in England to accept students of any race or religious or political belief, and was described by Thomas Arnold as as "that Godless institution in Gower Street." That religious intolerance should now threaten its student societies marks a staggering turns of events. UCLASH was forced to remove its publicity material, and the President of UCLASH noted:

That student representatives of the country's first secular university should attempt such an act of censorship is disheartening.

In the past, atheist groups have caused controversy also at Warwick University, with a poster showing religious symbols being put in a bin; while students at Leeds and Southampton have experienced intimidation when they proposed showing material that to which some Muslim students took offense.

Maryam Namazie, who leads the "One Law for All" campaign, explains:

This is not about lacking cultural sensitivity or discrimination…It is not about racism and 'Islamophobia'. It is not our fault for raising the issues. We are not to blame for 'provoking' the Islamists; they need no such provocation…

It's about being able to criticize and speak out against that which is taboo and the barbarism of our century. Free expression is all we have at our disposal.

That very principle may now be under threat on some campuses. The London School of Economics (LSE) has passed a motion effectively making it impossible for students on campus to criticise Islam. The motion denounced "Islamophobia," which it defined in broad brush strokes as:

A form of racism expressed through the hatred or fear of Islam, Muslims, or Islamic culture, and the stereotyping, demonization or harassment of Muslims, including but not limited to portraying Muslims as barbarians or terrorists, or attacking the Qur'an as a manual of hatred.

The linguistic ambiguities in the wording of the motion and its broad construction make it prone to misuse. Indeed, some critics have denounced it as a "blasphemy law." The director of Student Rights, a pressure group which fights extremism on campus, has denounced the move:

This is an extremely worrying day for the London School of Economics. Shutting out people from voting online, effectively leaving the Union in the hands of political extremists who turn out day-in day-out, and passing what is a flimsy motion on Islamophobia means that freedom of speech, expression and effective representation is being curtailed on campus by those with a distinct political agenda.

A rally was to be held on February 11 to push back against rise of reactionary group and the curtailment of free speech on campus. Hailed as "a day to defend free expression," protesters will rally opposite the House of Lords. A remarkable coalition has come together to lend their support to the movement including progressive and liberal Muslims who are working with atheists, Jews, Christians, and others to ensure that the most important guarantee of religious freedoms – secularism – is not irreparably eroded in Britain.

Shiraz Maher


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Freedom of Expression, UN Human Rights Council

by Gerald M. Steinberg

The history of reporting by UN frameworks on human rights in Israel has been characterized by biased mandates, false and unverifiable allegations, double standards and hypocrisy.

Part 1: Overview and Background:

1) By any objective standard, Israeli democracy is as robust and pluralistic as any in the world. There are no restrictions on any form of protest or advocacy, including very fierce and unpopular criticism of the government and military. No other democracy can claim to have greater freedom of expression, despite more than six decades of war and terrorism; threats of annihilation; and in parallel, the challenges of developing a cohesive society based on numerous divergent communities scattered for generations as Diasporas, many of which do not have traditions of pluralism and democracy.

2) Like other Israelis, I am aware that we are not a perfect society. As in others nations, we have flaws, and it is our responsibility to correct them. But aggressive campaigns to greatly exaggerate these imperfections, as part of the ongoing effort to delegitimize Israel facilitated by the soft-power of groups not subject to any democratic accountability, should not be assisted by a United Nations framework focusing on freedom of expression and freedom.

3) Israel systematically protects the rights of its minority populations to freedom of expression and to protest. For example, each year, Israeli police forces and government institutions facilitate Gay Pride parades in Jerusalem Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Eilat; marches on Human Rights Day; protests by the Islamic movement; and to mark the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

4) Mass demonstrations on socio-economic issues were held in Summer 2011, and attest to Israel's dynamic civil society and a culture of advocacy and peaceable protest. Israeli police facilitated these activities, blocking off roads and granting permits. The government responded to protestors' demands positively, in the form of a task force to address their claims.

5) During the "Arab Spring," where thousands were murdered at the hands of their own governments, protestors in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and elsewhere were quoted as taking inspiration from the peaceful social protests that took place during the summer in Israel. This highlights the Israeli commitment to free expression.

6) In contrast, the history of reporting by UN frameworks on human rights in Israel has been characterized by biased mandates, false and unverifiable allegations, double standards, and hypocrisy – from Jenin (2002) through Goldstone (2009), as well as reports by special rapporteurs Jean Ziegler, John Dugard, and Richard Falk.[1] The results have been highly counterproductive in promoting human rights. I am here today to engage with the Special Rapporteur, and to contribute to an accurate report that will not repeat the flaws and negative impacts of previous UNHRC reports related to Israel.

7) The geopolitical context resulting from over six decades of conflict and violence, including the results of the 1967 war – particularly the Israeli control of disputed territories that had been occupied in 1948 by Jordan (the West Bank), and by Egypt (Gaza) and the ongoing political stalemate, presents a unique and highly complex situation. In this context, allegations of human rights violations are part of political or soft-power warfare that accompanies the hard-power attacks and violence. Such accusations should not be accepted at face value, and must be tested against credible evidence that is independently verifiable.

8) Therefore, NGO Monitor urges the Special Rapporteur to subject accusations from organizations and individuals regarding the state of freedom of expression in Israel to careful scrutiny and independent verification, and to avoid erasing the context of these allegations.

Part 2: Israeli Civil Society, Democracy and Freedom of Expression

1) Israel has a vibrant civil society: a free and highly critical press, and an NGO sector with tens of thousands of groups across the political, social, and ideological spectrum engaging in often intense debate.

2) The Israeli public, media, government and Knesset (legislature) are conducting an intense debate on the massive and unique level of foreign government funding for highly political non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

3) This debate includes questions on and criticism of the unfair advantage gained by a very narrow group of political advocacy civil society organizations that receive massive and often secret funding from foreign (mainly European) governments. Major concerns exist regarding the lack of accountability for these organizations, their "democratic deficit," non-transparent funding processes, and impact of these resources. This political manipulation and lack of transparency is unique in the case of European government funding for a narrow group of Israeli NGOs, and constitutes a blatant violation of democratic norms.[2]

4) In and of themselves, the fierce public debate and numerous failed legislative proposals affirm the strength of Israeli democracy.

5) A concerted political campaign by a narrow group of powerful NGOs uses slogans claiming "anti-democratic behavior" to intimidate critics. This campaign, including the denunciation of the very discussion of preliminary legislative proposals as entirely illegitimate, seeks to prevent this political debate. Partisan allegations from NGOs should not be taken at face value; in a democracy, groups claiming to speak in the name of human rights have no immunity from criticism and public debate.

6) Criticism of both the false claims of "war crimes" and of the secretive processes by which they receive large European government funding does not prevent members of Israeli NGOs such as Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and many others from promoting their agendas. There is no threat to freedom of expression in this criticism of NGOs.

7) In contrast, attention should be paid to the close relationships between some influential journalists, such as Akiva Eldar (Ha'aretz) and these political advocacy NGOs. This relationship may provide unfair access of these groups of NGOs to the media, in contrast to other groups that do not have similar access.[3]

8) Issues of politicization, credibility, and faulty methodology in NGO publications on human rights are particularly acute in the Israeli-Palestinian context. Additionally, some NGOs have falsely claimed to be "human rights organizations," granting them an aura of objectivity and credibility ("the halo effect").[4]

Part 3: Criticism of NGO Political Campaigns as Central to the Democratic Process

1) NGO Monitor was formed and began researching these issues after the participants in the NGO Forum of the 2001 UN Durban Conference adopted a plan of action to exploit false claims of war crimes, apartheid, and human rights violations to advance the "total international isolation of Israel," through the use of boycotts, legal frameworks, and other forms of political warfare.

2) The evidence of NGO inaccuracy, bias, and unbalanced influence in the Israeli political discourse increased significantly in the wake of the UNHRC's report on the Gaza conflict (Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict – the "Goldstone Report"), published in September 2009. Much of the content of the allegations was provided by political advocacy NGOs (while ignoring the thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza – every one a war crime). When the principal author of the report, Judge Richard Goldstone, acknowledged that the allegations were baseless, the focus on NGO biases and inaccuracy increased.[5] This criticism included a recognition of the role of foreign government funding for these NGOs in greatly amplifying their influence, while NGOs that did not enjoy such funding were at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace of ideas.[6]

3) As a result of these campaigns, in 2010 and 2011 members of the democratically elected Israeli Knesset introduced legislation designed to address the impact of the non-transparent, large-scale foreign government funding for these organizations. This political manipulation and lack of transparency is unique in the case of funding for Israeli NGOs, and violates democratic norms. Some of this proposed legislation was based on practices in other countries, such as the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act and prohibitions on discriminatory business practices (regarding anti-boycott legislation).

4) The NGOs that are recipients of this foreign government money and their supporters began a political campaign seeking to prevent this debate, charging that any criticism is inherently "undemocratic," "McCarthyite," etc. Statements by officials from Israeli political advocacy NGOs (the New Israel Fund, B'Tselem, and ACRI) quoted in U.S. government cables (published in Wikileaks) revealed their cynical manipulation of democratic processes and structures.

5) Media reports on these issues, both in Israel and outside, are often distorted and confused, including quotes and analysis based on inaccurate translations. Many of these reports fail to address basic issues related to the unique context of NGO political power in Israel, the secret foreign government funding processes, and the substance of the proposed Knesset legislation.

6) Only one law dealing with NGOs has been passed, mandating funding transparency. All of the other proposals, often condemned by the NGOs and their supporters as "anti-democratic," have either been withdrawn, defeated, or amended. Within the governing coalition, a number of MKs and ministers have also actively opposed the bills. Thus, in contrast to the self-interested claims of NGOs seeking to protect their secret foreign government funding, all the available evidence demonstrates the vibrancy and strength of Israeli democracy. (The law creating a civil right of action for economic damages caused by discriminatory boycotts does not directly address NGOs. In contrast to false NGO claims, the law does not criminalize anti-Israel boycotts.)

Part 4: Criticism of Government Policies, Minority Rights, and Freedom of Expression

1) Allegations to the contrary not withstanding, there is no censorship of Israeli civil society activities. Critical reports of the government issued by NGOs such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B'Tselem, Yesh Din, Adalah, Mossawa, and many others receive extensive press attention in Israel, including from the government-owned media. When ACRI recently released a publication criticizing alleged harassment of demonstrators, the document was widely disseminated and served as the topic in an op-ed in Haaretz, one of Israel's most influential papers.[7] This type of public debate and intense criticism of government policies would not be possible in a country without free expression.

2) Regarding the Arab minority population, while discrimination is an issue, this is often confused with impact of security requirements to protect against violence and terrorism. The facts clearly show that there are no restrictions on freedom of expression or opinion beyond those often found in other democratic societies, which do not have such ongoing conflicts. In fact, to the extent that Israel has placed any restrictions, they do not rise to the level of those imposed by democratic countries such as France, Switzerland, the UK, etc.[8] Arab representatives in the Knesset frequently deny the legitimacy and advocate the destruction of Israel as the home of Jewish nation, for which they are strongly criticized as part of the political debate.

3) Arab-sector NGO officials and MKs have participated in activities such as the so-called "Free Gaza flotilla" (2010), which deliberately provoked a violent confrontation with Israeli security forces enforcing a blockade necessary to prevent deadly weapons from reaching Hamas and other terror groups. MK Haneen Zoabi was aboard the Mavi Marmara, a boat operated by the Turkish group IHH (which is a member of the Union of Good, a U.S.-banned terror organization), from which Israeli soldiers were attacked when they attempted to board. In most cases, participation in an armed attack against one's own military forces would be considered treason, but no such charges were made against MK Zoabi. Although a Knesset committee recommended that her parliamentary immunity be revoked, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin declined to submit this to the full Knesset. Instead, on July 13, 2010, she was stripped of three parliamentary privileges. Nevertheless, Zoabi continues to freely travel around the world advocating against the State of Israel, leveling charges of "apartheid" and "war crimes." In a regime that restricted free speech, Zoabi would not be able to conduct these campaigns.

4) In January 2010, MK Tal a-Sana addressed a rally of Hamas officials and 100 members of the Free-Gaza Movement chanting, "Katyshuas on Ma'alot, Qassams on Sderot." In April of that year, a-Sana, Zoabi, and several other MKs met with Moammar Qaddafi in Libya – a country officially at war with Israel. In most other countries of the world, including many democratic states, the activities of Zoabi and a-Sana would have resulted in criminal prosecution,[9] forced removal from the legislature, or even imprisonment.[10]

Conclusion: We urge the Special Rapporteur to avoid repeating the practice of applying double standards and using false claims in order to condemn Israel, and to subject accusations from organizations and individuals regarding the state of freedom of expression in Israel to careful scrutiny and independent verification.

[1] Gerald M. Steinberg, "The Politics of NGOs, Human Rights and the Arab-Israel Conflict." Israel Studies 16.2 (Summer 2011): 24-54; Robert Charles Blitt, "Who Will Watch the Watchdogs? Human Rights Nongovernmental Organizations and the Case for Regulation," Buffalo Human Rights Law Review 10 (2004): 261-398; Ben-Dror Yemini, "NGOs vs. Israel," Middle East Quarterly XVIII.2 (Spring 2011): 67-71; Don A. Habibi, "Human Rights and Politicized Human Rights: A Utilitarian Critique," Journal of Human Rights 6.1 (2007): 3-35.
[2] Gerald M. Steinberg, "Europe's Hidden Hand: EU Funding for Political NGOs in the Arab Israeli conflict: Analyzing Processes and Impact," NGO Monitor Monograph Series 2, April 2008; NGO Monitor, "Foreign Government Funding for Israeli Political NGOs 2009/2010," November 15, 2011; NGO Monitor, "Analysis of UK Government funding for Israeli and Palestinian Political Advocacy NGOs: 2008-2011," April 22, 2011
[3] NGO Monitor filed a complaint with the ethics committee of the Israeli Press Association regarding highly misleading and unprofessional coverage of NGO issues in the Ha'aretz internet edition, and the committee found the complaint justified, and ordered to newspaper to publish a correction. The text of the decision (in Hebrew) is available at
[4] The Turkel Commission, established by Israel to investigate the 2010 "Free Gaza Flotilla" incident, criticized the credibility of political NGOs that present claims as if they are "completely disconnected from the activity itself" and "detach[] everything from the reality and placing it in one area without explaining why."
[5] Richard Goldstone, "Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes," The Washington Post, April 2, 2011.
[6] Gerald M. Steinberg, "The Politics of NGOs, Human Rights and the Arab-Israel Conflict," Israel Studies 16.2 Summer 2011.
[7] Gili Cohen, "ACRI report: less freedom for citizens, more harassing of demonstrators," Haaretz, December 4, 2011.
[8] In 2011, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands banned Muslim women from wearing the Burka in public. A 2009 referendum in Switzerland made minaret construction illegal. In contrast, no such restrictions are in place in Israel.
[9] See for example UK Terrorism Act (2000) and the cases of Geert Wilders (Netherlands), Jean Marie Le Pen (France), Nick Griffin (UK), and Joerg Haider (Austria).
[10] In contrast, despite his long history of incitement and inflammatory remarks, MK Azmi Bishara was only sought for police questioning after he was suspected of engaging in money laundering and providing the Hezbollah terrorist organization with information on strategic targets for rocket attacks on Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War. Bishara resigned from the Knesset on his own accord.
[11] NGO Monitor is a Jerusalem-based civil society organization that provides independent information and analysis regarding the activities, campaigns, and funding of powerful political NGOs operating in the Arab-Israeli conflict. NGO Monitor publishes systematic studies on NGO transparency, accountability, fact finding, interpretations of international law, human rights, humanitarian aid, and the laws of armed conflict.

Gerald Steinberg is a Professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and President of NGO Monitor[11]. Prepared for Roundtable discussion with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, UN Human Rights Council - December 14, 2011.

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Top Liberal Blogger Defects to Pro-Liberty/Anti-Jihadist Side

by Eric Dondero

[FrontPage Editor's note: This article is reprinted with permission from Eric Allen Bell has asked us to emphasize that he is a libertarian with liberal social values and not a "traditional" liberal. He is pro-life and anti-big government. He has told his story in his Frontpage article, which went viral around the world, The High Price of Telling the Truth About Islam. Watch him in action on The Glazov Gang, Frontpage's television program.]

“There just is no room in that culture, the liberal blogosphere, for anyone who doesn’t toe the party line.”

- Eric Allen Bell, a well-known documentary filmmaker from Tennessee.

Bio from

Eric Allen Bell is a filmmaker living in Murfreesboro, TN. His short film was placed on Film Threat’s list “Top 10 Shorts” of 2004. He went on to direct his first feature, “The Bondage” which premired at the South By South West Film Festival and went on to secure theatrical distribution. His current project, a documentary entitled “Not Welcome” shows the backlash concerning the bulding of a mosque in Murfreesboro, TN – chronicalling events from the 4th of July to 9/11 in 2010.

Bell wrote in 2010:

The documentary is tentatively titled “Not Welcome” and chronicles events in Murfreesboro concerning the backlash against the Mosque from the 4th of July to 9/11 of 2010. I have interviewed nearly everyone on all sides of this issue here. And along the way I have been threatened repeatedly but I have also made many new friends. I have learned a lot about how my own ridiculous prejudices about the South have distorted my point of view. I have been surprised repeatedly at how often the most unlikely of people can defy their stereotype with acts of kindness, courage and compassion. I have come to know many members of the Islamic community here, known them as friends, broken bread with them and watched as they faced persecution without striking back, without getting consumed with anger…

Well, something happened along the way. Bell started investigating Islam, and started to ask questions about the growing American Islamic movement and their agenda.

Bell had been a longtime blogger at the Daily Kos. He wrote three articles questioning Islam, which caught the attention of conservative and anti-Jihadist bloggers.

Just two weeks ago he was finally “banned by popular consensus” from the site.

Now he is speaking out.

From the Glazov Report:

I had written three articles… why is a terrroist spin control network… and a third one Do you support human rights? And that finished me off.

What really caused people to be up in arms calling me an Islamo-phobe, ya know, was information about who is Mohammed. How many people has he killed, beheaded, tortured, ordered stoned, the raping of a 9-year old girl? Is this a holy man? Is this somebody you should follow and say I belong to the religion of peace? That was probably the most damning.

I referenced numerous examples from the Quran, the Islamic texts. Which apparently those are Islamo-phobic.

Now Bell is doing interviews on rightist sites and anti-Jihadist television shows. He still describes himself as a “liberal” on his Facbook page. But notably on the top of his page, he has a photo line of some libertarian/free speech advocates including Ayaan Hirsi Alli, Geert Wilders and (deceased, killed by a Muslim assasin) Theo van Gogh.

Eric Dondero


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Muslim Brothers Get Paid to Threaten America

by Bruce Thornton

Remember last year’s giddy bipartisan enthusiasm over the “Arab Spring”? President Obama claimed that Egyptians merely wanted “a government that is fair and just and responsive,” Senator John McCain asserted that Libyans were aiming for “lasting peace, dignity, and justice,” while Senator Joseph Lieberman wrote in Foreign Affairs that the Arab Spring was a struggle for “democracy, dignity, economic opportunity, and involvement in the modern world.” Every day that passes shows these assessments to be not just delusional, but dangerous to America’s interests and security.

The most recent repudiation of the “democracy delusion” is the arrogant threat made by a member of the Muslim Brothers, who control almost 50% of the new Egyptian parliament, to abrogate their treaty with Israel if the U.S. cuts off $1.5 billion in annual aid over the indictment of 16 American NGO workers, and the detention of 6 of them. In this the Brothers are in accord with the interim military government, whose prime minister Kamal el- Ganzouri told reporters last week that the Egyptians “won’t change course because of some aid.”

These are the same Muslim Brothers, remember, anointed as “moderates” and “largely secular” by Obama’s director of intelligence, foreign policy wonks, and New York Times columnists, an opinion based solely on propaganda and wishful thinking. Ignored are the many mosque sermons that vow to “kill all the Jews,” or that assert, as Muslim Brothers spiritual leader Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb has, “In order to build Egypt, we must be one. Politics is insufficient. Faith in Allah is the basis for everything.” This advice is seconded by Brothers’ Supreme Guide Muhammad al-Badi’, who finds “a practical role model in Allah’s Messenger, [the Prophet Muhammad] . . . who clarified how to implement the values of the [Koran] and the Sunna at every time and in every place,” and who advises that the “improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.” If you want more specifics about what sort of Egypt the Muslim Brothers will build, consult the speeches of the Brothers’ Grand Mufti Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who commands a global audience of millions. Qaradawi has approved of suicide bombing, wife-beating, death for homosexuals, support for Hezbollah, and the righteousness of the Holocaust.

Not much here, pace President Obama, that one can call “fair and just and responsive,” or that can justify the opinion of the New York Times that the Muslim Brothers “want to build a modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt’s treaty with Israel.” And why would they? As their spectacular electoral success has shown––the Brothers and the Salafists won almost 75% of the recent voting–– the Brothers merely reflect the beliefs and goals of most Egyptians. In Pew surveys from the last few years, 84% of Egyptians support the death penalty for apostates, 82% support stoning adulterers, 85% said Islam’s influence on politics is positive, 95% said that it is good that Islam plays a large role in politics, 59% identified with Islamic fundamentalists, 54% favored gender segregation in the workplace, 82% favored stoning adulterers, 77% favored whippings and cutting off the hands of thieves and robbers, 84% favored death for those leaving Islam, and 60% said that laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Koran. Those views don’t sound like a people yearning for liberal democracy.

It’s not hard, then, to see why the Brothers would want to follow the Iranian playbook from 1979 and proclaim its Islamist bona fides by publicly humiliating the infidel global hegemon, the “Great Satan” whose dominance stands in the way of Muslims’ regaining their rightful global preeminence. As Muslim Brother founder Hassan al-Banna wrote, “It is the nature of Islam to dominate not to be dominated, to impose it laws on all nations, extend its power to the entire planet.” Confronting America also will help unify the nation around shari’a law, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism, not to mention marginalizing whatever moderate remnants are left in Egypt and rallying other factions around hatred of America. The Islamist revival has always made fidelity to the creed and Muslim chauvinism the centerpiece of jihadist violence and propaganda, the ties that can bind Muslims into a powerful community.

Less clear is the appeasing behavior of the Obama administration. It seems oblivious to the damaging effects on our prestige that can follow when we allow such threats to go unpunished, particularly when our citizens have in effect been kidnapped. And such craven behavior is especially dangerous when the aggressor has been the recipient of $60 billion in U.S aid. Now the message is not only you can attack American prestige with impunity, but also get paid to do so. What is equally unclear is why Obama would pursue this tack given the utter failure of his earlier solicitous “outreach” to various regimes in the Middle East, especially Iran and Syria. Obama entered office offering to talk with the mullahs in Iran “without preconditions,” sent a letter to Khamenei calling for “co-operation in regional and bilateral relations,” and assured the regime that it “remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement.” What it got in response was contempt, insults, genocidal threats against Israel, terrorist plots in our own country, more support for the terrorists killing our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an intensified effort to acquire nuclear weapons. At some point Obama should realize that the Islamists see flattery, appeasement, foreign aid, and offers to parley as signs of weakness and fear, the expected behavior of infidels whose spiritual poverty makes them vulnerable to the spiritual strength of the faithful. And this perception of weakness is increasingly being shared not just by our enemies, but by many of our friends.

Finally, the administration’s refusal to punish the new regime in Egypt for their arrogance in kidnapping our citizens and threatening us not to stop giving them money endangers our key ally Israel. The border to the south is already more open and dangerous, even with the peace treaty supposedly still in effect. Weapons like surface-to-air missiles–– looted from Gaddafi’s arsenals in Libya by other “peace, dignity, and justice” -loving democrats––have been pouring into Gaza. Barry Rubin has drawn the obvious conclusion from such fecklessness: “If an Egyptian government is willing to risk U.S. aid and have a confrontation on this small issue, what are they going to do regarding big issues? What happens when the Egyptian government moves toward Islamism or helps Hamas fight Israel on some level? We have been told that fear of losing U.S. aid will constrain Egypt. But we are now seeing that this simply isn’t true.” Indeed, we could very soon see another war against Israel, this time fought by an Egyptian army trained and armed by the United States, its ally a Palestinian Authority force likewise trained and funded by us. Such would be the wages of this administration’s penchant for indulging delusional wishful thinking rather than facing reality.

Bruce Thornton


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Why We Need Words Like 'Islamist'

by Raymond Ibrahim

Is the problem Islam or Islamism? Muslims or Islamists?

These and related questions regularly foster debate (see the exchange between Robert Spencer and Andrew McCarthy for a recent example). The greatest obstacle on the road to consensus is what such words imply; namely, that Islamism and Islamists are "bad," and Islam and Muslims are good (or simply neutral).

Some observations in this regard:

Islamism is a distinct phenomenon and, to an extent, different from historic Islam. The staunch literalness of today's Islamists is so artificial and anachronistic that, if only in this way, it contradicts the practices of medieval Muslims, which often came natural and better fit their historical context.

More to the point, for all their talk that they are out to enact the literal example of the early Muslims, today's Islamists often permit and forbid things that their forbears did not, simply because, like it or not, they are influenced by Westernization. As Daniel Pipes observes:

Whereas traditional Islam's sacred law is a personal law, a law a Muslim must follow wherever he is, Islamism tries to apply a Western-style geographic law that depends on where one lives. Take the case of Sudan, where traditionally a Christian was perfectly entitled to drink alcohol, for he is a Christian, and Islamic law applies only to Muslims. But the current regime has banned alcohol for every Sudanese. It assumes Islamic law is territorial because that is the way a Western society is run.

That said, there is no denying that Islam's sacred law, Sharia—the backbone of mainstream Islam—is intrinsically problematic. One example: hostility for Muslim apostates—from ostracizing them to executing them—is simply a part of the religion of Islam, historically and doctrinally. The same can be said about the duty of offensive jihad and the subjugation of religious minorities and females.

Accordingly, while there is room for the word Islamism—in that it is a distinct phenomenon—that does not mean Islam proper is trouble-free. In fact, sometimes Islam's traditional teachings are more problematic than Islamist teachings. For instance, during the "Arab spring," many traditional Muslim sheikhs correctly pointed out that Sharia commands Muslims to obey their leader, even if he is unjust and tyrannical, as long as he is a Muslim, while Western-influenced Islamists were making the "humanitarian argument" against tyrants, one that had little grounding in Sharia.

At this point, one might argue that use of words like "Islamist," while valid, are ultimately academic and have the potential further to confuse the layman. However, what is often missed in this debate is the true significance of such words: they satisfy a linguistic need—the need to differentiate and be precise—without which meaningful talk becomes next to impossible.

Consider: even the severest critic of Islam will concede that not all who are labeled "Muslim"—well over a billion people—are "the enemy." Well, then, how shall we differentiate them in speech? What words shall we use?

One might insist that those whom we call "Islamists" should be called "Muslims," while the majority whom we call "Muslims"—and which often indicate "moderate Muslims"—should not even be factored in the equation: after all, if they are not upholders of Sharia, then they are not practicing "true Islam" and do not count as Muslims.

Whatever the merits of this definition, by contradicting the ingrained and widespread usage of the word "Muslim," it is impractical and counterproductive.

Say I am discussing Egypt, which has some 70 million Muslims, and I want to refer to those particular Muslims seeking to enforce full Sharia (the "bad guys"): with what noun shall I distinguish them from the rest of Egypt's Muslims? Or shall I simply call them "Muslims" and assume that everyone understands by "Muslim" I mean those Muslims?

Such an approach would imply that Egypt's 70 million Muslims are all out to enforce Sharia—which is not true—and push the many undecided, potential allies in the West, whose common sense rejects such an exaggerated assertion, over the wrong side of the fence into thinking that no Muslim is the enemy.

Likewise, insisting on always using "Muslim" instead of "Islamist" can actually backfire by concealing the threat. Consider this recent news headline: "Egypt's Islamists secure 75 percent of parliament." Most informed readers would gather from this that Egypt is taking a turn for the worst. But what a redundant headline it would be had it simply read "Egypt's Muslims secure 75 percent of parliament." Exactly who else is supposed to dominate the parliament of a Muslim-majority nation if not Muslims?

Same with these reports: "U.S. official meets with Egypt's Islamists" and "Islamist Named Speaker of Egypt House." Many readers will take from these titles that an American official is meeting with the "bad guys," and that one of them has become house-speaker. Think of how meaningless these headlines would be if they had simply read "U.S. official meets with Egypt's Muslims" and "Muslim Named Speaker of Egypt House." In a country that is 90% Muslim, who else are U.S. officials to meet with, and who else should be house-speaker, if not Muslims? The danger becomes altogether missed.

Is it not better, then, to utilize the accepted terms—"Islamist," "Muslim radical," "Islamic supremacist," "Islamic fundamentalist," anything other than the generic "Muslim"—simply to be understood, at least in certain contexts? The question is not how well the actions of such Muslims correspond with "true" Islam—as mentioned, that is an entirely different question, to be addressed on its own terms—but rather how we can intelligibly and practically talk about them.

Nor is a word like "Islamist"—which thrusts the name of the religion center-stage—necessarily "politically correct": consider how Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton could not even bring himself to agree that al-Qaeda is acting out "violent Islamist extremism," fearful that describing "our adversary as Islamic with any set of qualifiers" implies we are at "war with Islam."

Perhaps the greatest argument justifying use of words like "Islamist" is that Muslims themselves regularly use them to signify their more "adamant" coreligionists ("al-Islamiyin"). Indeed, even the Islamists use such words to distinguish themselves from the average Muslim, such as Egypt's "Salafis." They have no other choice—if they want to be understood.

In short, the need for words like "Islamist" is less to make a doctrinal distinction and more to make a practical, linguistic distinction. Perhaps in a more exacting world, the word "Muslim" will not be conflated with a "race," or refer to a billion people, many of whom identify with Islam only on a cultural or heritage level; perhaps "Muslim" will be reserved, literally, for those who truly submit to the dictates of Islam. But until that day comes, why insist on a language that is easily misunderstood and even has the potential to backfire?

Raymond Ibrahim, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Iran as Victim? University of San Francisco's Stephen Zunes Thinks So

by Cinnamon Stillwell and Rima Greene

A crowd of would-be revolutionaries gathered last month at Revolution Books in Berkeley to hear Stephen Zunes—chair of the program in Middle Eastern studies and professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco—speak on a panel with the improbable title, "U.S.-Israeli Assault on Iran Escalates: The Danger of War Grows." The title originated with an article by co-panelist Larry Everest, author and correspondent for Revolution, the newspaper for the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, an organization whose cult of personality revolves around well-known Stalinist Bob Avakian. Fittingly, event posters on the walls sported slogans such as "Re-visioning Socialism" and "Another World is Possible," and the shelves were filled with books by Avakian and other communists.

Revolution Books inhabits a choice retail location just blocks from the University of California, Berkeley campus, and in contrast with other events featuring left-wing academics whose talks are assigned to students, the audience in this instance was largely middle-aged to elderly. Spanish speakers provided simultaneous translations in the rear seats, producing a continuous background hum, while a very casually dressed woman entered, radio to her ear, listening to President Obama's 2012 State of the Union address.

All who entered were handed a copy of Revolution along with a flier for International A.N.S.W.E.R.'s then-forthcoming "national day of action" in San Francisco, which trumpeted the do-nothing rallying cry, "No War on Iran, No Sanctions, No Interventions, No Assassinations!" Like the rally to come, the atmosphere at Revolution Books was fiercely anti-American, anti-Israel, and apologetic towards, even supportive of, the Iranian regime.

In a nod to the setting, Zunes proclaimed at the outset, "I'm not a communist," but his repetitive references to "imperialists" demonstrated his familiarity with leftist jargon. He elaborated: "A lot of what I'm going to say overlaps, but I am coming from a slightly different angle."

Affirming the contention of the preceding speaker, Larry Everest, that the Iranian regime had allegedly given up pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003 according to a 2007—and later discredited—National Intelligence Estimate, Zunes added, "No one who is intellectually honest could disagree with your analysis." Was International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano intellectually dishonest when he stated last month that the IAEA, "has credible information that Iran is engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosives"?

Zunes reiterated a position he took in a 2009 article—on the heels of Iran's stolen election—titled, "Why U.S. Neocons Want Ahmadinejad to Win":

What's important is that Neocons and the imperialists in this country want the green revolution crushed. They need each other to justify the kinds of policies the U.S. imperialists want.

This logic, such as it is, concludes that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provides a handy excuse for so-called warmongers in the U.S. to block the Obama administration's diplomatic overtures to Iran. Such a conspiracy theory ignores the fact that Neoconservatives and others on the right were strong critics of the Obama administration's refusal to offer moral support to the green revolution at its outset.

Zunes insisted that U.S. intervention only inspires the Iranian people to side with their government:

Everyone emphasizes the Islamic characteristics of Iran, but what's really kept the regime in power is nationalism. The Iranians are the most nationalistic people in the entire world . . . it's something the regime can capitalize on when it hears these threats [of sanctions]. What we don't hear in the media is that the opposition supports the government in its conflict with the U.S. They oppose U.S. intervention.

Yet dissident voices within Iran continue to express disgust with the regime and a lack of animosity towards the U.S. For instance, a young Iranian woman who corresponds regularly with American journalist Michael Yon recently sent him the following:

To make the long story short, people in Iran, not just youth, hate the government and want to move out of the country as soon as they can. . . . The Iranians do not hate you nor do they hate ur [sic] government. This is all the media. . . . No one is against you here except for those on the government's side.

Iranian exiles who were tortured in Iran's Evin Prison provided letters and live testimony at the UN Watch-organized event, "We Have A Dream: Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution," held in September, 2011 to coincide with the United Nations 66th Session of the General Assembly. To no avail, the organizers begged the international community to intervene.

Of such voices, Zunes had nothing to say, and he casually discounted Iranian exiles living in the U.S., many of whom fear for their lives:

There have been some U.S.-funded opposition groups. Most of these are tied to exiles who have virtually no support inside the country, no impact on uprisings . . . there have been all sorts of sordid interventions . . . you have a few wannabes in the exile community, particularly in L.A.

As for the Iranian regime's threats to annihilate Israel, Zunes blithely assured the audience that:

Iran is not going to nuke Israel. Get real. It's a repressive regime, but they are not suicidal. Israel has massive deterrents as does the US and other allies.

This would come as news to the Iranian mullahs, who are adherents to Mahdism, the apocalyptic belief in the return of the twelfth Imam who, at the end of times, will wage war against unbelievers and the forces of evil and establish a worldwide Islamic state. Might a nuclear conflict with Israel spark such a fanatical scenario? Zunes never raised the question.

Echoing a well-worn canard originated by University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, Zunes claimed:

And by the way, Ahmadinijad, he's really hardcore, he's anti-Semitic, but he never said 'Israel should be wiped off the map.' That idiom doesn't even exist in Farsi. What he's doing is quoting Ayatollah Khamenei from twenty years ago. . . . What he said was the regime occupying Jerusalem should 'vanish from the pages of time'. . . . Ahmadinejad clarified that in a later interview. He's talking about a unified Palestine. He's not talking about killing the Jews . . . he's talking about regime change.

Zunes might want to consult Nazila Fathi of the New York Times Tehran bureau, who provided a translation of Ahmadinejad's October 26, 2005 speech at "The World Without Zionism" conference in Tehran—the source of the quote in question. His exact words were: "Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement." In addition, and as noted by Iran expert Michael Rubin, "the Islamic Republic provides its own clarification. In its official translations, it headlined Ahmadinejad's call to 'wipe Israel off the map.'" The Iranian regime's genocidal incitement can been seen on propaganda billboards across the country and heard in countless statements from officials, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who recently called Israel a "'cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut." It doesn't get much clearer than that.

Zunes claimed that a potential attack on Israel is not up to Ahmadinejad because, as he put it, "He's not the commander-in-chief. It's up to the Guardian Council—a committee—and as a rule committees don't go for crazy provocative acts."

Apparently, a committee would never try to: assassinate a Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.; kill its own nuclear scientists for talking to the IAEA; use its proxy, Hezbollah, to blow up U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut; kidnap the entire U.S. embassy staff; bomb a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires; attempt to take over Lebanon; terrorize and assassinate Iranian dissidents in other countries; supply weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah; help train the 9/11 terrorists; nor order all Muslims worldwide to kill a writer for alleged blasphemy. Yet all of this was done in the name of the Khomeinist Islamic revolution.

Zunes referred to the current scenario in which Israel, according to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's recent statement to the media, could attack Iran's nuclear facilities in the spring, by asking if,

Israel [would] do something on its own? Obama has made clear he would not tolerate that. You saw Eisenhower in 1956 . . . when it comes down to real important national security issues, Israel can't change U.S. policies. But even if they don't plan to go to war, we prepare and threaten war . . . it makes it difficult to stop.

In Zunes's mind, the U.S. and Israel are always the instigators of war, rather than the bellicose Iranian regime that has terrorized not only its own population, but much of the civilized world. He would do better to direct his closing call to "prevent another war in the Middle East" to Tehran.

Cinnamon Stillwell and Rima Greene


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mordechai Kedar: The Division of Syria

by Mordechai Kedar

Syria comprises 14 administrative districts that reflect the demographic distribution of the population.

The source of the map is:

1. The 'Alawites in the West: in the districts of Latakiya and Tartus - the Mountains of Ansariyya, the mountains where the Alawites have inhabited for the past thousand years.
2. The Kurds in the North: in the district of Hasaka.
3. The Druze in the South: in the District of Suwayda'- the Mountain of the Druze (Jabal al-Druze)
4. The Bedouins in the East: in the District of Deir ez-Zor
5. The District of Aleppo in the North
6. The District of Damascus in the South, comprising the District of the City of Damascus and its outskirts.

Following the collapse of the central government, Syria is likely to be divided up according to its ethnic groups, and this division will be fairly similar to the map of administrative districts: six main districts; the rest of the districts will either become independent or autonomous, or all or some of them will join one of the groups mentioned above.

It could be that some of the districts will declare themselves to be totally independent, and others will form some sort of federation.

The Druze:
Opposite the Golan is the district of Kuneitra. This district may unite with the district of Dara'a and Damascus, so that facing Israel will be a state whose center is Damascus. It is very doubtful that the district of Suwayda' will join it, because it is likely that the Druze will declare themselves to be independent. In the year 1925, when they understood that the French Mandate wanted to bring them into the framework of a Syrian state, they began a rebellion that continued for several months, under the leadership of Sultan Basha al-Atrash, a statue of whose likeness, riding on a noble horse with his unsheathed sword in hand, adorns the squares of the Druze villages, and whose picture is hung on the wall of every Druze household.

The 'Alawites:
About two million 'Alawites live in Syria, who represent a minority of about 10 percent of the citizens of the state. Their traditional area of residence is the Mountains of Ansariyya, the topographical continuation of the Israeli Galilee and the Lebanese mountains. All these mountains are mainly settled by religious and ethnic minorities: Druze, Christians, 'Alawites and Shi'ites, because these minorities were persecuted by the Sunni Muslim majority in the area. The mountains served these minorities as a place of shelter and refuge for several reasons: the mountain caves provide convenient hiding places; it is difficult for a large army to reach them; and it's easy for the local residents to block approach roads by tumbling down boulders and trees.

The 'Alawites, who are considered heretics by Islam, were vigorously persecuted until the French Mandate rescued them from their miserable situation, when it armed and equipped them and made them into soldiers and officers. After the Ba'th revolution of 1963, and especially after Salah Jadid assumed control of the regime in 1966, many 'Alawites moved to the cities: Aleppo, Homs, Hama and principally Damascus, where they live in self-contained neighborhoods.

Following the expected fall of the 'Alawite rule, they will need to flee from their neighborhoods because of the hatred with which the Muslims regard them and the desire of Muslims to take revenge on the 'Alawites for tens of years of oppression, which reached terrible proportions during the past year. Some of them will flee abroad, but most will flee to the Ansariyya Mountains, the mountains where they lived in the past. In recent weeks the Syrian regime has been streaming great quantities of arms and ammunition to the mountains of Ansariyya so that they will be able to fortify themselves in these mountains after the great escape.

The Kurds:
The Kurds are traditionally residents of the Hasaka area in the North of Syria, however over the years many have migrated to the cities, mainly Aleppo and Damascus. The Kurds and the Arabs relate to each other with mutual hatred. The Kurds are distributed among four states: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. In Iraq they are almost totally independent. However, in Syria they are oppressed, especially since the state of Syria was established in the year 1943. Most don't have citizenship, and therefore they cannot hold government office and are not entitled to health or educational services. The regime does not recognize their language and their culture, and whatever they have achieved over the years has been as the result of demonstrations, some of which were violent, and "buying the favors" of the government.

The Kurds in Syria already sniff the scent of freedom from the Arab regime, and they are establishing contact with their brothers in Iraq who support them in their path to independence.


Dr. Mordechai Kedar ( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally.

Links to Dr. Kedar's recent articles on this blog:

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

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