Friday, September 23, 2011

The Questions Never Asked About Palestine

by Steve Feldman

As the Palestinian-Arabs and their friends make their latest push for "Palestinian" statehood at the United Nations this week, once again the wrong questions are being asked, while the pertinent questions every reporter, activist, and foreign minister should be asking never arise.

Why do "Palestinians" need a state of their own? Who are these "stateless" people? What is their history? Where have they been for all of these years?

In the spirit of "you don't know what you don't know," here are some Hansel-and-Gretel-like bread crumbs to guide journalists and others to the questions they might ask:

Where does the name "Palestine" come from and who have been the people who've lived there? Of course, it was coined by the conquering Romans to add insult to injury to a Jewish nation they sought to obliterate. The Romans conquered the land, but there was always a remnant of Jewish people living there.

While throughout the ages the land was under control of various powers, none called themselves "Palestinian," and there was never a nation with that name. It was that Jewish remnant and those Jews who joined them over time who became the "Palestinians."

In modern times, the Ottoman Turks controlled this territory and, following World War I, the British (under the auspices of the League of Nations). In this period, there were many "Palestinian" institutions, though all of them were Jewish in character and membership. The most famous of these was, perhaps, the Palestine Post, which lives on today as the Jerusalem Post. There were Palestine orchestras and chess teams and the like. But the names of the players were Jewish, not Arab.

As Jewish nationalism in the region gained strength, the Arabs and Muslims committed massacre after massacre of Jews throughout Palestine.

Meanwhile, in 1922, the British took 78% of territory that was promised for a Jewish homeland by the World War I victors and the League of Nations and gave it to the Arabs. The outcome was the heretofore nonexistent Arab nation of Transjordan. Transjordan later became simply Jordan.

This should be the end of the story, as the land of Palestine was divided (though quite unfairly) and an Arab state was created out of the Jewish homeland. "Two states for two peoples."

Being handed 78% of a territory would satisfy most people -- if their true interest were a state of their own. Instead, over the past seven decades, what the world refuses to see is the desire by the Arabs to obliterate Jewish nationalism, and later the Jewish nation that was its culmination.

Violence and terrorism by the Arabs against Jews continued, and as the Arabs stepped up their pressure on the British and the League of Nations, in an attempt to appease the Arabs, the remaining 22% of the land left for the Jews was divided further. The Arabs again got the bigger portion. The Jews accepted the offer and, when the mandate expired, declared independence as the nation of Israel.

The Arabs declared war.

Though they were unable to defeat the Israelis, the Arabs did gain more territory. The Jordanians expanded into what they renamed "the West Bank" so as to erase the Jewish connection to Judea and Samaria (as those areas were called for millennia), while Egypt grabbed the Gaza Strip.

The Arabs who lived in those areas never cried out for independence or claimed to be oppressed, nor threatened to go to the United Nations. Why? Because they were part of, rather than distinct from, the Arab Nation.

Instead, there were incessant terror attacks. In 1964, the Arabs formed the "Palestine Liberation Organization" -- three years before Israel would gain control over the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria (aka "the West Bank"). So: what were the Arabs bent on liberating, and whom were they liberating it from? Did they demand a state from Egypt and Jordan? This is the same PLO that today controls the Palestinian Authority -- and has never renounced its appetite for all of what was once dubbed "Palestine."

It was only after Israel's miraculous victory in 1967 that "the West Bank" and "Gaza Strip" suddenly had relevance to their Arab inhabitants, and it was then that the Arab propaganda machine revved up. It eventually inverted much of the world's perception of the Middle East: transforming tiny Israel from its natural role of "David" against the massive Arab population and lands, to one of "Goliath" against the "stateless," "oppressed," and "occupied" "Palestinians." It made the notion of changing straw into gold seem like child's play. And it worked.

That the Palestinian-Arabs have spilled much innocent blood to get their "cause" out there -- murdered Olympics athletes, airline passengers, bus riders, diners -- seems to have faded from memory. But it was these headline-grabbing crimes that got them to the head of the line.

The lesson: crime pays. Terror works.

So, journalists, activists, and foreign ministers of the world: you still have time to ask yourselves and others these questions; still have time to prevent a great wrong from being done; still have time to save untold lives; still have time to avoid a terrible precedent; still have time to prevent the creation of another terrorist state. Will you?

Steve Feldman is executive director of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America and was a reporter for more than 20 years.


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

Only Israel West of the River

by Jamie Glazov

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Dr. Mordechai Nisan, a retired lecturer in Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He continues to teach in other educational institutions on topics ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict, Islam, Israel, Lebanon, and Minorities in the Mideast. He is the author of the new book, Only Israel West of the River.

FP: Dr. Mordechai Nisan, welcome to Frontpage Interview

Thank you for having me.

Congratulations on your new book. What inspired you to write it and why did you write it now in 2011?

Nisan: Thanks Jamie.

There is a significant erosion in the world and in Israel itself of belief in the justice of Zionism and Israel as a legitimate Jewish state. I felt that the charges of racism and illegal occupation had to be met in a reasoned fashion, so I mobilized arguments on behalf of Israel’s cause. In 2011, we witness the Palestinian diplomatic campaign for statehood, and this idea focused on the territories of Judea and Samaria – what the world calls the West Bank. It is a grave threat to Israel’s welfare. My response is a timely and I hope effective defense of Israel’s national rights and explanation of her political and security predicament.

FP: What is the major theme of the book?

Nisan: The predominant theme is that Israel is justifiably in control of all of Jerusalem and the territories as a historical homeland and national space for fulfilling Israel’s development and growth. This converges with my argument against a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River, a state that would destabilize the situation on the ground, catalyze tension and terrorism, radicalize the Arabs in Israel, demoralize Israel’s population, and raise doubts about the country’s stamina to face the Palestinian push to the sea. It is the Palestinian state idea that will excite popular Palestinian passions that Israel is on the way down and that the future is with the Palestinians.

FP: How does this book fit into the range of your other research and writing concerns?

Nisan: I have written on Israel from the start of my research with a focus on the Arab challenge to the Jewish state. So this book is a continuation and application of my thinking given the present circumstances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But my broader research concerns and writings, like minority peoples and Lebanon, have sensitized me to the fragility of small peoples in the Muslim/Arab dominated Middle East. As a small people in an Arab sea, the Jews of Israel will always face demanding challenges to preserve their identity and cultivate their resourcefulness in pursuing the modern Israel national venture.

FP: What do you make of Abbas? How is he different from the leaders of Hamas?

Nisan: Coming after the passing of flamboyant and legendary Fatah-founder Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas has to try and make his individual political mark. He has adopted the political discourse of peace-making with Israel, but without ever abandoning the essential Palestinian demands, like refugee return, which are designed to destroy Israel from within. Without any doubt, leading the Fatah movement, the PLO, and the Palestinian Authority, Abbas shares with Hamas the long-term Palestinian goal to destroy Israel. Hamas uses an Islamic idiom and a Sharia-based policy agenda, while the Abbas-run PLO/PA apparatus plays to the Western audience, media outlets, and the Israeli public. The deceiving and pugnacious Abbas is a far greater danger and threat to Israel than Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, a transparent enemy of Israel.

The Palestinians have been offered a state many times — on many generous conditions. Why do they reject all the offers?

Nisan: The Palestinians rejected a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the past because they considered it a capitulation to Israel’s existence and a refutation of getting all of Palestine. The revolutionary campaign in principle sets its political sights on Israel’s elimination more than on Palestinian statehood. Yet, in the 1980′s, Palestinians began to murmur sweet nothings that they would settle for a state alongside Israel rather than in place of Israel. It is all sand in the world’s eyes. The Palestinians believe in a staged-process to get Israel to withdraw and suffer domestic demoralization, while the Palestinian flag will arouse Arab nationalist and Islamic religious arrogance, gushing with visceral contempt for the Jews wherever the Palestinians wander around Israeli society – in the streets, the universities, and shopping malls. This Israeli-Palestinian conflict contains powerful cultural undertones that arm the Palestinians with the indomitable drive toward victory – not compromise or reconciliation at all.

FP: What do you think of the vote for an independent Palestinian state that might be coming up at the U.N.? What are the possibilities?

Nisan: A declaration by the UN General Assembly for an independent Palestinian state is assured; getting a vote through the Security Council is not in the political arithmetic of its composition. But it is important to appreciate the historic occasion when the broad international community is essentially united behind the idea of a Palestinian state – jihadist, Islamic, irredentist – in the heart of the Jewish people’s homeland. This world community – Europeans, Africans, Asians, and others – supports the peace-and-war strategy that the Palestinians conduct against the small state of Israel.

In reality, the world community is knowingly determined to undermine the territorial integrity and national resilience of the besieged Jewish state. The mantra of “Palestinian statehood” should not fool any decent person, government, or country. The world has basically gone sour on Israel, tattered and feathered as illegitimate and criminal in its essence and policy. I only hope Israel will have, beyond the requisite resources, the wisdom to do all that its interests demand, and against anyone who threatens its welfare.

FP: Does this book offer a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Nisan: It is somewhat presumptuous to confidently offer a solution, so I prefer to talk of a resolution or containment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The locus for some kind of conflict-resolution, perhaps not peace as an idealistic notion, is in Jordan, east of the river. There the majority Palestinian population has the right to affirm their national rights against the alien-origin and minority-based Hashemite monarchy. Kings have fallen in modern Mid-eastern history, like Egypt and Iraq, and the collapse of the regime in Jordan would be part of a historical process. This would not be a national calamity and it would, rather, offer the Palestinians in Jordan and elsewhere the opportunity for statehood. The river should be the border and the two-state solution — Israel west of the river and Palestine east of the river – can be implemented in a strategically sound fashion.

FP: Dr. Mordechai Nisan, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

Jamie Glazov


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

The Diplomacy of September

by Frank Gaffney, Jr.

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman chronicled how a cascading series of seemingly minor developments led inexorably to World War I and the worst carnage known to man up to that time. In the future, historians may point to the present diplomacy of September as the catalysts for the next horrific conflict now in the offing in the Middle East, and potentially beyond.

I am thinking specifically of three agenda items slated to take place in the United Nations or on the margins of its meetings in coming days:

The first is a portentous move by the Palestinians with the strong backing of the 57-member bloc now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The idea is to secure international recognition of Palestinian statehood by, if possible, the UN Security Council and - failing that, in the event of a U.S. veto - by the General Assembly.

The true purpose of this gambit as the Wall Street Journal called it in an editorial on Monday could not be more invidious:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered a hint of his real ambition when he wrote, in the New York Times in May, that ‘Palestine's admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only as a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Criminal Court.'

That means not the usual feckless resolutions at the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, but travel bans and international arrest warrants for Israeli soldiers involved in the ‘occupation' of a supposedly sovereign state. In other words, what Palestinians seek out of a U.N. vote isn't an affirmation of their right to a state, but rather another tool in their perpetual campaign to harass, delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel.

Secondly, the UN will shortly be hosting the third in a series of gabfests aimed at furthering this campaign - the so-called "Durban III" Conference. It is absolutely predictable that, like its predecessors in Durban, South Africa in 2001 and in Geneva, Switzerland in 2009, this event will amount to an international anti-semitic and anti-Israel hate-fest. One clue: The stated purpose of Durban III is to memorialize Durban I, which was so toxic towards the Jewish State and its friends that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell directed the U.S. delegation to walk out.

The Durban trilogy serves to reinforce and legitimate the hostility towards Israel that will, when combined with the recognition - de facto if not dejure - of "Palestine" as a UN member state occupied by another member state, encourage military action to rectify this "injustice."

Third, it appears that meetings of OIC representatives with U.S. government officials - possibly including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - will occur in conjunction with the UN's September follies. The purpose will be to try to "bridge" differences between the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's 10-year campaign to prohibit expression that offends Muslims and the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Now, it is unclear how shariah blasphemy law can be squared with freedom of speech. But, Mrs. Clinton seems to be pushing forward with the idea that, by focusing on the "consequences" of expression, one can find a basis for meeting the OIC's demands for prohibiting and criminalizing of what some call "Islamophobic hate speech."

Lest anyone think that shariah blasphemy laws cannot come to the United States even if Hillary Clinton wants them to, consider the case of Fred Grandy. Mr. Grandy, a former Member of Congress from Iowa and past president of the billion-dollar charity Goodwill Industries, was the host of the top-rated morning drive talk show in Washington, D.C. Until, that is, he ran afoul of shariah activists who were "offended" by the reporting about that doctrine that he and his wife, Catherine (a.k.a. "Mrs. Fred") provided each week.

Not content with denying Mr. Grandy gainful employment, proponents of shariah have enlisted the leadership of the Democratic Party in Maryland's legislature and Montgomery County to denounce publicly as a "divisive" figure and to object to him addressing a private meeting of Republicans in the Washington suburbs. Such conduct by people who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States is a scandal. It should be strenuously denounced by their fellow Democrats, as well as by Americans of every other stripe.

The effect of the Clinton-OIC exercise, like the others at the UN this week, will be to reinforce the perception on the part of freedom's Islamist enemies that the Israel, the West and the United States are in retreat and in decline. By recognizing Palestine, excoriating Israel and restricting free expression will seen by such enemies for what they are: acts of submission. And, according to the threat doctrine they call shariah, its adherents are required in the face of submissive behavior to redouble their efforts to make, in the words of the Koran, the infidels "feel subdued."

When combined with the ascendancy throughout the Middle East and North Africa of Islamist organizations and regimes that make no secret of their determination to wipe Israel off the map, we stand at the precipice. Tragically, the weapons with which the next war will be fought - an avoidable war brought on by the Diplomacy of September - will make the lethal Guns of August seem like pop-guns by comparison.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is President of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for the Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program, Secure Freedom Radio, heard in Washington weeknights at 9:00 p.m. on WRC 1260 AM.


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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Toward a Nonviolent, Pluralistic Middle East

by Amitai Etzioni

The 2001 attacks on the United States have intensified the debate that has existed since the dawn of Islam: How is the West to respond to the followers of Muhammad? Some—most famously Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington—held that the contest is between two rather monolithic civilizations that are bound to clash. In a 2007 award acceptance speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Lewis described a history of clashes between Islam and the West. He stated that at first Muslims sought to spread their nascent faith through conquest throughout the then-Christian world; then the Christians invaded the Muslim world (the Crusaders); then the Muslims pushed back into Europe (the Golden Age of Islam); then the West retaliated by colonizing the Muslim world; and now the Muslims are again rising against Christendom by terrorism and flooding Europe with immigrants.[1] Huntington argued that "Islam's borders are bloody, and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power."[2] By contrast, President George W. Bush stated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that "Islam is peace,"[3] while British prime minister Tony Blair argued that the problem was not Islam but "extremists trying to hijack it for political purposes."[4]

Illiberal but Moderate and Nonviolent

While substantial majorities—82-99 percent of Muslims in all countries polled—would like to see constitutional guarantees for freedom of speech, such notions may exist more in the abstract than in the real world. When the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a series of cartoons of Muhammad in September 2005, it ignited a furor throughout the Muslim world, which eventually left dozens dead while cartoonists and their publishers received death threats.

A careful reading of the Qur'an, Hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammad), and other texts and sermons finds that Islam, like other great religions and even major secular belief systems, can be read both as supporting violence and as rejecting it. Muslims seeking to justify the use of force quote verses in the Qur'an, such as: "Slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them."[5] They can cite the Hadith stating, "I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but God."[6] At the same time, champions of peace can quote the admittedly fewer verses of the Qur'an, such as, "There is no compulsion in matters of faith"[7] and "No human can force a change of heart over which God alone has control."[8] For some, jihad is interpreted as a holy war to subdue the nonbelievers; for others—a spiritual struggle for moral self-improvement.

Hence, to the extent that the West makes the rejection of violence its criteria as to who can be a reliable Muslim partner in building a new Middle East (and more generally a stable world order), it can readily find major Muslim texts in support of such a position. It can find highly influential Muslim authorities who strongly reject terrorism and the use of force more generally but do not and will not support a liberal form of government. These can be considered "illiberal moderates."

A key figure that fits this description is Iraq's Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who supports a state whose laws are fully compatible with Islam while calling for an end to sectarian "hatred and violence."[9] It could be noted further that he does not believe an Islamic state to be incompatible with elections and various civil liberties.[10] A similar figure is Sheikh Isa Qassem, an influential cleric among Bahrain's Shiite opposition, described in a cable released by WikiLeaks as the country's top religious leader.[11] He has called for nonviolence and spoken out against sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. He has, however, simultaneously called for Shari'a (Islamic law) rule in Bahrain[12] and endorsed Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i.[13]

Another possible, though problematic example is Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Widely regarded as one of the most influential Sunni leaders and the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, he increased his popularity through hosting an Al-Jazeera television show viewed by tens of millions of Muslims. His Friday sermon in Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 18, 2011, a few days after the fall of Egyptian president Husni Mubarak, was attended by hundreds of thousands of ecstatic Egyptians.[14] He is highly illiberal, encouraging strict adherence to the Shari'a, favoring female genital mutilation[15] and the death penalty for homosexuals.[16] At the same time, Qaradawi condemned the 9/11 attacks[17] as well as the March 11, 2004 Madrid and July 7, 2005 London bombings.[18] He was even commended by the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, for helping to secure the release of French journalists in Iraq by vigorously condemning their abduction.[19] Still, he is a highly imperfect example as he endorses terrorism when it comes to Israel and what he terms occupied Muslim territories, including support for attacks against Americans in Iraq.[20]

Perhaps the most apt example comes from Indonesia where the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, which claims tens of millions of followers, has denounced terrorism. Paul Wolfowitz described its former leader Abdurrahman Wahid, who also served as Indonesia's first democratically-elected president, as the "voice of moderate Islam."[21] Another of its former leaders, Hasyim Muzadi, endorsed the country's pluralism and pledged to take a leading role in combating terrorism in Indonesia.[22]

"Illiberal moderate" also pertains to several Islamist groups, associations, and political parties in the region, such as those parts of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan that currently reject violence even as they seek to base governance on Shari'a law, as well as the newly formed Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt. It also applies to Egypt's new party of Sufi Muslims that opposes secularism but also seeks peaceful coexistence[23] along with the recently legalized Islamist al-Nahda Party in Tunisia, which has renounced violence and waffled on the issue of whether its goal is to impose Shari'a law.[24] In Morocco, both the legal Party of Justice and Development and the illegal Justice and Spirituality Movement, qualify as nonviolent; however, they are also illiberal on several key issues.[25]

One notes in passing that many of those Muslim public intellectuals and leaders whom Washington does fully embrace because they are liberals actually live in the West and have much less of a following in the Middle East than is sometimes implied.

What the Masses Think

What about the masses? Several public opinion polls indicate that in numerous Muslim countries, only minorities hold violent beliefs. A 2006 Gallup poll of Muslims in ten predominantly Muslim countries, representing more than 80 percent of the global Muslim population, found that only 7 percent could be deemed "politically radicalized," defined as those who both claimed the 9/11 attacks were justified and held unfavorable views of the United States.[26] A 2010 Pew poll in seven largely Muslim countries—including the most populated ones in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa—found that most people did not approve of suicide bombing and other acts of violence against civilian targets. No more than 15 percent of the population in any country viewed these acts as often justified, and only in Lebanon and Nigeria did more than a third of those polled view them as at least sometimes justified. Moreover, eight in ten Muslims in Pakistan, more than three-quarters in Turkey, more than two-thirds in Indonesia, and a majority in Jordan held that such violent acts were never justified.[27]

Also, there has been a steady decline of support for these violent acts when comparing the 2010 data to that from 2002. Double-digit declines in those agreeing that acts of violence were sometimes or often justified occurred in Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Indonesia. In addition, majorities in virtually all the countries rated al-Qaeda negatively, including more than nine in ten in Lebanon, and more than seven in ten in Turkey and Egypt. Only in Nigeria did almost half (49 percent) express positive views of al-Qaeda.

Although Saudi Arabia is the most prominent supporter of Wahhabism (an extreme interpretation of Islam) and the homeland of fifteen of the nineteen terrorists who attacked New York and the Pentagon on 9/11, a 2008 study by Terror Free Tomorrow found that less than one in ten Saudis had a favorable opinion of al-Qaeda, and almost nine in ten held that the Saudi military and police should pursue its fighters. Only 13 percent said suicide bombing was sometimes or often justified.[28]

There are exceptions to these nonviolent majorities. Support for suicide attacks on U.S. forces and its allies in Iraq was higher than that for other violent acts.[29] Another exception pertains to groups that target Israel.[30] Nonetheless, even in these cases, majorities in most countries were against violence.

While the Pew poll data show clearly that the vast majority of Muslims reject violence, support for democracy and human rights is much more complicated. It often seems that there is a considerable difference between what is favored in the abstract and what concrete measures are supported. This ought to be familiar to Americans though in a rather different context. Most Americans abstractly favor cutting the size of the government but oppose most, if not all, actual cuts in spending. Most are said to be philosophically conservative but operationally liberal. Similarly, many Muslims seem to favor human rights and democracy abstractly but oppose many specific rights especially when they conflict with Shari'a, tradition, and local culture. They also seek increased influence of religion and religious authorities in their public and political lives, a long way from separating religion and state.

Substantial majorities—82-99 percent of Muslims in all countries polled—said that if they were drafting a new constitution for their country, they would guarantee freedom of speech, defined as "allowing all citizens to express their opinions on political, social, and economic issues of the day."[31] (Note that religious freedom is not included.) The 2007 Pew poll found that majorities in all Muslim countries held that courts should treat all equally; and majorities in most of the countries held that people should be free to criticize the government; the media should be free from censorship, and honest multiparty elections should be undertaken in their country.[32]

At the same time, more than three-quarters of Egyptians and Pakistanis, a majority of Nigerians and Jordanians, and a sizable minority of Indonesians favored stoning adulterers, the death penalty for those who denounce the Islamic faith, and whipping or cutting off the hands of those who commit theft or robbery—all illiberal punishments based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Shari'a.[33]

These positions were highlighted by the furor that spread throughout the Muslim world when the fatwa calling for killing the author of The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, was issued in February 1989; when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon of Muhammad in September 2005; and when death threats emerged against Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch parliament who renounced her Islamic faith and whose writings are critical of the religion.[34] They are further illuminated by the call for the killing of any Muslim who converts to another religion or renounces the faith.

Illiberalism is particularly evident in all matters concerning gender and sexuality. The Gallup poll found that when asked what they least admire about the West, frequent replies by Muslims concerned personal freedoms involving sexuality, promiscuity, and gender mores. A plurality of Muslims in Jordan and Nigeria, and a majority in Egypt (54 percent) and Pakistan (85 percent), said they favored making gender segregation in the workplace the law in their country.[35] The 2007 Pew study found that in most of the predominantly Muslim countries in Asia and the Middle East, only minorities said a woman alone should have the right to choose her own husband. Additionally, substantial majorities in all of those countries said that society should reject homosexuality.

In a 2007 Pew poll, majorities in the five predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern countries surveyed said they preferred democracy to a strong leader (the Palestinian territories were the outlier).[36] In the 2010 Pew poll, majorities in six of seven countries polled said that democracy was always preferable to any other kind of government. Pakistan was the outlier, but a plurality (41 percent) agreed with the statement.

At the same time, vast majorities see Islam's political influence as positive, according to the 2010 Pew data, including more than nine in ten in Indonesia; more than three-quarters in Egypt, Nigeria, and Jordan; more than two-thirds in Pakistan; a majority in Lebanon, and a plurality in Turkey. Less than a third in Lebanon and Turkey, and only 2-14 percent in the five other surveyed countries held a negative view of Islam's role in politics. In the 2006 Gallup poll, majorities in eight of nine countries in which the question was asked said that the Shari'a should be at least a source of legislation in their country, and majorities in four said that it should be the only source (Turkey was the sole outlier). In a 2003 Pew poll, majorities in almost all of the predominantly Muslim countries polled held that religious leaders should play a larger role in politics, including more than nine in ten in Nigeria, and more than seven in ten in Jordan, Bangladesh, and Lebanon. Uzbekistan and Turkey were the outliers, though a sizable minority in both countries (40 percent) favored an even greater role for mullahs.[37]

The combination of support for both democracy and Islam is evident in a March/April 2011 poll of Egyptians. In this poll, 71 percent held that democracy was always preferable to any other kind of government. At the same time, almost nine in ten said they wanted law to be based on Islam with 62 percent saying law should strictly follow the Qur'an.[38]

In short, whether one focuses on leading Muslim texts, religious authorities, public intellectuals, leaders, or voters, one can find many more reliable partners in peace than partners in building liberal, democratic regimes. Another way to look at the same data is to view the illiberal moderates as the global swing vote. Those who favor liberal democracies are likely to support the United States in the first place. Those who hold violent Islamist beliefs are unlikely to line up with the U.S. agenda. Illiberal moderates are those who might be the West's allies, however, only as long as they do not have to give up their illiberal beliefs. Hence, Washington would do well to ally itself with all those who refrain from the use of force and let them develop the kind of regimes their people support. Washington could continue to promote greater democracy and liberalism abroad through nonprofit organizations, broadcasts, cultural exchanges, and other persuasive means. However, it should not make acceptance of these principles a condition for diplomatic, economic, political support for either those in power or those challenging the power-holders.

Indeed, the very question of what makes a "good" Muslim is faulty because it leads to the quest for Muslims who are like the citizens of Western nations. The West should first and foremost look for peaceful Muslims, whatever their other persuasions. Pluralism abroad, like at home, means learning to live with people who have different values, some who harbor strong religious beliefs (like the U.S. Christian Right), some who have political opinions that lean heavily to one extreme of the political spectrum (like the Tea Party and what remains of the radical Left), and so on, as long as they are committed to resolving differences in a nonviolent manner. One can aspire to win them over to what one considers the "good" regime; however, this is a second-stage goal. The Middle East is at best moving to stage one: to limit conflicts to the ballot box and political negotiation and away from massively oppressive and violent confrontations and upheavals.

Responding to the Regional Upheavals

The uprisings that roiled the Middle East as of the beginning of 2011 brought new intensity and concern to the question raised by the 2001 attacks on the United States, a question the West has faced for decades: Should it ally itself only with liberal, democratic, in effect secular groups and regimes? Should it also support illiberal but moderate ones? And what ought to be its position vis-à-vis the remaining Muslim autocracies?

The Libyan Lesson. As the U.S. military joined the fighting in Libya, a number of analysts indicated reluctance to interfere on the basis that officials did not know who the rebels were. In looking for an answer, two rather different criteria were employed and often conflated. One was whether the rebels belonged to the same Libyan groups that sent a disproportionately large number of foreign fighters to battle U.S. forces in Iraq and were members or supporters of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a militant organization that was suspected of having an "increasingly cooperative relationship" with al-Qaeda. The second was whether these were forces likely to support democracy and human rights in a post-Qaddafi Libya. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, among others, correctly complained about the lack of clarity regarding how the Obama administration viewed the rebels: "At times, his team seems to equate the rebels with democrats, then retreats to calling them protesters and revolutionaries."[39]

The intervention was initially justified as an attempt to stop massive violence, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton relied on that criterion to justify the ousting of Qaddafi: "When a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule," she stated. "The Libyan people deserve a government that is responsive to their aspirations and that protects their universally recognized human rights."[40]

Before long the goal of saving civilians from Qaddafi's attacks morphed into an outright demand for regime change. Qaddafi's calls for a ceasefire and negotiations were rejected, and Washington increasingly made the demand that he and his family give up their rule as a condition for ending hostilities; military strikes even targeted command-and-control posts in which Qaddafi might have been found, killing his son and three of his grandchildren in one such attack.[41] This is especially pertinent because the quest for regime change may have extended the hostilities and the casualties on both sides. Moreover, given that the differences between the rebels and Qaddafi's supporters reflect strong and long-standing tribal rivalries, it is rather unlikely that the overthrow of the regime will lead to a peaceful, stable, let alone liberal, democratic government.

It follows that the preferred course of action would have been to end the NATO armed intervention once Qaddafi indicated his willingness to stop military action against the rebels (as long as he lived up to this commitment) and to allow the two sides to work out the course for the future of Libya. The same applies to many other rising groups and standing regimes in the Middle East.

A Nonviolent, Pluralistic Middle East. The lesson of Libya can be generalized to serve as the basis for an approach for transforming the Middle East. For both prudential and normative reasons, the West should not make a commitment to shifting to a liberal, democratic government its litmus test for deciding to support either autocrats or new, rising political groups. Instead, it should persuade, cajole, and pressure both to refrain from resorting to violence, but otherwise let each nation develop its own form of government. This means that the autocrats will be strongly encouraged (mainly, privately) to negotiate with new claimants rather than gunning them down—and that Washington will work with all new political groups that refrain from violence, such as those that ended the authoritarian governments in Tunisia and Egypt. These may include groups that favor a religious regime, such as moderate parts of the Muslim Brotherhood, or some kind of a moderate monarchy (say in Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, or Qatar), or a civilian-military joint rule, as existed in South Korea, Chile, Turkey, and Indonesia before they became more democratic.

Washington and its allies can surely continue to welcome nations that liberalize their governments, introduce parliamentary democracies, and respect human rights. However, they should neither demand nor expect such a transformation, instead making abstention from violence the first litmus test as to who can qualify as a partner in the Middle East. That is, Washington would favor what might be called a nonviolent pluralism for the region (and for each country), in which it supports and cooperates with a variety of regimes and new political groups as long as they vie with each other within the rules of nonviolent engagement.


One major merit of the nonviolent pluralism doctrine is that it can be consistently applied to all regimes in the Middle East by providing a clear principle for identifying those groups that meet the elementary condition for partnering with Washington in the changing region. This cannot be said of ad hoc U.S. policy on the matter, which is tailor-made to each case. Throughout the Cold War, Washington positioned itself as the champion of freedom yet supported military dictatorships in South America, Asia, and elsewhere. During the recent uprisings in the Middle East, the U.S. administration fought to oust Qaddafi, urged Mubarak to step down in Egypt, and cheered the departure of Ben Ali in Tunisia while making few, delayed, and muted pleas for Saleh to step down in Yemen,[42] waffling on Syria and the Green Movement in Iran, and in effect, supporting the autocrats of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Even as Bahrain was violently suppressing protests, and just before Riyadh sent its troops to help, Secretary Clinton commended King Hamad for engaging in "meaningful outreach and efforts to try to bring about the change that will be in line with the needs of the people."[43]

U.S. leaders tried to explain away these gross inconsistencies. Most notably, Clinton, in a speech asserting Washington's commitment to "sustained democracies" in the region, argued that diverse approaches were called for given such a "fluid" situation and that "a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't make sense."[44] Moreover, President Barack Obama, in his speech at the National Defense University justifying the Libyan intervention, took pains to emphasize that it was geared only to saving civilians rather than representing a broader doctrine.[45]

These arguments, however, do little to persuade critics abroad and at home, for good reason. Nations provide rationales for their policies, interventions overseas included, because acting legitimately—that is, in line with established values and norms—helps them to advance their goals. True, as Obama stated in his speech on Libya, "I have made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests"—implicitly disregarding whether or not other people consider the act legitimate. However, Washington—like other governments—seeks most times to justify its actions in terms that speak both to the American people and the citizens of others nations. Indeed, in an age of mass communication, higher levels of education, increased attention to public affairs, and growing involvement of the masses in politics, what various people consider normatively appropriate has real consequences.

Legitimacy, in turn, thrives on consistency. Both laws and norms are expected to apply equally to one and all, without exceptions for one's allies or friends. It is on this test that current policy fails so often, in very visible ways, which evoke the ire of U.S. critics, embarrass its friends, and provide a propaganda windfall to its adversaries. The claim that Washington is hypocritical when it lectures Russia and China about human rights and then provides equipment and training to the police and secret services of Saudi Arabia and Mubarak's Egypt—and previously to the dictators of Argentina, Chile, and Indonesia, among others—is one of the numerous observations that show that inconsistent liberalism is harming the U.S. cause.

Washington can consistently employ military forces to stop genocides but not to change regimes; morally and financially support peaceful uprisings but not groups that use terror to advance their agenda. Consistency does not require relying only on one criterion. As President Obama correctly pointed out, if U.S. vital interests are directly affected—say, a foreign power is blocking the shipment of oil through the Strait of Hormuz—Washington will act based on interest considerations and not necessarily on what other nations consider the right foreign policy. However, at the end of the day, under most conditions, a government does best if it can follow clearly-stated principles that are endorsed by others in the international community.

Why Not Consistent Liberalism?

At this point, one might ask: Why not follow a policy of consistent liberalism, as advocated by numerous human rights nongovernmental organizations and analysts at respected think tanks? One reason is that Washington is much more likely to be on the side of whoever leads the change movements and the future regimes in the region if it does not limit its support only to liberal, democratic groups—which are often the weakest of the new claimants because they tend to fare less well under autocratic regimes than more radical groups—and if it supports all who refrain from the use of force. Another reason is that Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have developed a grassroots following through networks of charitable works and social services.

Several observers have referred to the 2011 wave of Middle Eastern uprisings as an "Arab Spring," a metaphor that should not be taken too seriously; one notes that springs in the Middle East are short and followed by long hot summers and then—the fall. Joe Nocera of The New York Times argues that the "Arab Spring" proves that millions of Muslims yearn for "freedom and democracy,"[46] and Secretary Clinton finds "a time of great movements toward freedom and democracy, at a time when the people across the Middle East and North Africa are rejecting the extremist narratives and charting a path of peaceful progress based on universal rights and aspirations."[47]

Actually, uprisings against a regime are often driven by tribal loyalties, religious or ideological stirrings, or merely by people who seek to throw off the yoke of oppression or to achieve economic betterment. Even when those involved mouth democratic slogans, tearing down a regime cannot be equated with building one, let alone a democratic one. If one stops looking at the shouting masses on television through romantic lenses, one often sees the mobs that greatly worried the Founding Fathers. They can pave the way—but who knows to where?

Indeed, one of the few predictions one can make with a considerable degree of assurance about the developments in the Middle East in the foreseeable future is that there will not be a grand transition from autocracies to shining, liberal democracies or even dimly lit ones. Instead, there are likely to be numerous and different kinds of upheavals and attempts to form new regimes that will fail, leading to still new attempts. Even if relatively democratic or moderate groups take control after a revolution, they may lose out to more radical ones over time. This is what happened after the French and Russian revolutions.

Also, a nonviolent pluralism approach will prevent Washington from becoming involved in still more wars in the Muslim world, which support for liberal democratic forces would call for, and has a much lower risk of jeopardizing relations with the more benevolent authoritarian regimes and essential allies. The autocrats surely would rather face a U.S. administration that urges them not to turn their guns on the new claimants and holds that peaceful give-and-take is in their mutual interests than face demands that they must transform their regimes or wonder if they will be next on the list of heads of state that Washington argues must leave to make room for change.

Two clarifications are called for at this point. First, it is arguable that all the Middle East's authoritarian regimes use some level of coercion against their own people, and that amongst those rising against their governments there are often violent elements. However, there is a world of difference between those who arrest a few protesters and even kill a few—and those who bomb cities, kill hundreds if not thousands, or rape and torture to crush an uprising. The harsh realities of social life, even in Western countries, have entailed occasional bursts of violence, for instance the shooting of students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard and periodic violent riots in Paris and recently in Greece. But it is best to tolerate violence in only very limited and rare situations.

Second, the nonviolent pluralism approach does not deny Washington the right to raise its moral voice to encourage greater liberalism and democracy in various countries. The U.S. administration can continue to laud democratic ideals in other countries through Voice of America broadcasts and to promote them in student and other cultural exchanges. Nor does it suggest that Washington should refrain from funding a host of organizations that promote these causes, such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy. However, encouraging peaceful evolution within countries is profoundly different from forced regime change.

One might ask how this approach differs from the position Washington took when urging Yemen and Bahrain to "show restraint" and "pursue peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to the use of force";[48] when President Obama said of Syria's crackdowns, "This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now";[49] and Secretary Clinton urged the Syrian government to "stop the arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture of prisoners."[50] Indeed, Obama articulated this position exceptionally well in his January 2009 inaugural speech that was introduced as his major opening to the Muslim world. He stated, "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

However, this position has been applied inconsistently, which undermines its legitimacy as has been evident in the different treatments of Qaddafi's Libya, on the one hand, of Syria, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, on the other, and of Egypt, as well as in sporadic demands to usher in liberal democratic regimes by Obama and especially Clinton. Thus, for example, the secretary of state stated in a June 2011 speech to the African Union: "[The Middle Eastern upheavals'] message is clear to us all: The status quo is broken; the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable; it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go."[51]


Aside from various pragmatic reasons to make nonviolence the first litmus test for U.S. policy toward Middle Eastern regimes, there are several strong normative reasons to favor the same basic position. The right to be free from violence—from being killed, maimed, or tortured—in short, the right of life, has a special standing because all other rights, from free speech to religious freedoms, are conditioned on it, but it, in turn, is not conditioned on these rights being observed. (Dead people lose their other rights while those who live may fight for and see the day their other rights will be realized.) The special normative standing of the right of life is further revealed insofar as the criminal codes of numerous nations place a higher penalty on taking a life than on violating other rights.

For all these reasons, if Washington limits its approval and support to the Middle East's liberal, democratic groups, it will often be left out in the cold. U.S. interests and those of people of the region are better served if Washington does not merely tolerate a variety of groups and rulers but also holds that although it hopes in the longer run they all will find their way to a liberal life, for now, moving away from oppression at home, ceasing support for terrorism, halting the building of weapons of mass destruction, and ceasing to threaten other nations and peoples—all matters concerning the use of force—suffices for becoming a reliable ally.

Indeed, Washington may be moving in this direction. On June 30, 2011, Secretary of State Clinton announced that the Obama administration will resume limited contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, allowing U.S. officials to deal directly with members of the Islamist group. The previous policy restricted contact to Brotherhood members in parliament on matters of state business. Now that the group looks to be a major force in the upcoming elections, Clinton told reporters, it is in U.S interests to engage with the nonviolent organization—while emphasizing "the importance of and support for democratic principles. … We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to nonviolence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency."[52]

A critic may argue that rather than engaging radical, Islamist groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, the West should endeavor to restrict and, if possible, exclude them from the political arena for the simple reason that their values and goals are mutually exclusive to ours. These groups seek nothing short of world domination, regardless of whether they are presently using "peaceable" means for tactical reasons.

However, even if it turns out that the Muslim Brotherhood and its like must be spurned, for this author, the basic question remains: Do we assume a priori that all Islamist groups, however moderate, say, in Morocco and Indonesia, are suspect on the face of it, or can we cooperate with some of them? And if the answer is in the affirmative, how should we determine which qualify?

[1] Bernard Lewis, "Europe and Islam," The American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., Mar. 7, 2007.
[2] Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: The Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998).
[3] "'Islam Is Peace,' Says President," The White House, Washington D.C., Sept. 17, 2001.
[4] The Telegraph (London), Nov. 2, 2001.
[5] Qur. 9:5.
[6] Hadith, Sahih Muslim 1.9.30.
[7] Qur. 2:256.
[8] Qur. 10:99-100.
[9] BBC News, July 20, 2006.
[10] Sharon Otterman, "Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani," Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Sept. 1, 2004.
[11] The Telegraph, July 8, 2008.
[12] Barry Rubin, "Top Bahrain Opposition Cleric: We Want Sharia Law State," The Rubin Report, Mar. 9, 2011.
[13] Jacques Neriah, "Could the Kingdom of Bahrain Become an Iranian Pearl Harbor?" The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Feb. 20, 2011.
[14] "Portrait of Sheikh Dr. Yusuf Abdallah al-Qaradawi, senior Sunni Muslim cleric, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood," The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Ramat Hasharon, Feb. 27, 2011.
[15] George Readings, "Female genital mutilation cannot be defended as part of Islam," The Guardian (London), Oct. 15, 2010.
[16] "The Qaradawi Fatwas," The Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2004, pp. 78-80.
[17] "Aftermath of the 9-11 Terrorist Attack: Voices of Moderate Muslims,", Kingston, Ont., Oct. 12, 2001.
[18] The Guardian, Sept. 25, 2009.
[19] Olivier Guitta, "French foreign Minister officially thanked Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi!" Counterterrorism Blog, Sept. 26, 2005.
[20] "Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi: Theologian of Terror," The Anti-Defamation League, Washington, D.C. Mar. 15, 2011.
[21] The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 6, 2010.
[22] The Jakarta Post, Mar. 15, 2010.
[23] Al-Masry al-Youm (Cairo), June 14, 2011.
[24] Rajaa Basly, "The Future of al-Nahda in Tunisia," Arab Reform Bulletin, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C., Apr. 20, 2011.
[25] Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, "Islamism, Moroccan-Style: The Ideas of Sheikh Yassine," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 43-51.
[26] Dalia Mogahed, "Islam and Democracy," The Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2006. For data that run in a different direction and critiques, see Daniel Pipes, "How Many Islamists?", Dec. 28, 2010.
[27] "Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah," Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes Project, Washington, D.C., Dec. 2, 2010.
[28] "Saudi Arabians Overwhelmingly Reject Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Saudi Fighters in Iraq, and Terrorism; Also among Most Pro-American in Muslim World," Terror Free Tomorrow, Center for Public Opinion, Washington, D.C., 2008, accessed June 22, 2011.
[29] "Islamic Extremism: Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics," Pew Global Attitudes Survey, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., July 4, 2005.
[30] "Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah," Dec. 2, 2010.
[31] Mogahed, "Islam and Democracy."
[32] "World Publics Welcome Global Trade—But Not Immigration," Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes Project, Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2007.
[33] "Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah," Dec. 2, 2010.
[34] See "Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I Will Continue to Ask Uncomfortable Questions," Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2006, pp. 67-70.
[35] "Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah," Dec. 2, 2010.
[36] "World Publics Welcome Global Trade—But Not Immigration," Oct. 4, 2007.
[37] "Views of a Changing World," Pew Research Center, June 2003.
[38] "Egyptians Embrace Revolt Leaders, Religious Parties, and Military, As Well," Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., Apr. 25, 2011.
[39] The Daily Beast, Mar. 8, 2011.
[40] USA Today, Feb. 27, 2011.
[41] The Washington Post, Apr. 20, 2011.
[42] See Howard LaFranchi, "Why Obama isn't pushing for Yemen president to go: Al Qaeda," The Christian Science Monitor (Boston), Mar. 22, 2011.
[43] "Secretary Clinton on Libya," Andrews Air Force Base, U.S. Department of State, Feb. 27, 2011.
[44] "Secretary Clinton's Remarks at the U.S. Islamic World Forum," Washington, D.C., Apr. 12, 2011.
[45] "Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Libya," The White House, Mar. 28, 2011.
[46] Joe Nocera, "Four Questions He Leaves Behind," The New York Times, May 3, 2011.
[47] NPR News, May 3, 2011.
[48] "Statement from the press secretary on violence in Yemen and Bahrain," The White House, Mar. 13, 2011.
[49] "Statement by the President on Syria," The White House, Apr. 22, 2011.
[50] Reuters, Apr. 20, 2011.
[51] "Secretary Clinton Remarks at African Union," Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, U.S. Department of State, June 13, 2011.
[52] Reuters, June 30, 2011.

Amitai Etzioni is a university professor and professor of international relations at The George Washington University, director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, and the author of Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy (Yale University Press, 2008).


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

The Silence of American Jewish Leaders

by Isi Leibler

Traditionally, Diaspora Jewish leaders speak up on behalf of Israel, frequently even taking the lead on issues in which geopolitical considerations made it problematic for the Jewish state to be engaged. Examples abound: the plight of Soviet Jewry, the campaign to rescind the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, the World Jewish Congress exposure of Kurt Waldheim as a war criminal and, more importantly, achieving restitution for Jewish assets plundered by the Nazis from various bodies including the Swiss banks and insurance companies.

However, with the erosion of cabinet solidarity after the Rabin era, the intimate relationship which existed between Diaspora Jewish communities and the Israeli government and its ambassadors rapidly deteriorated.

In stark contrast to former charismatic leaders like David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and even Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is inclined to release trial balloons to test the waters of public opinion rather than articulate his policy in advance to the nation. This was exemplified by the contradictory rumors floated from government sources before it was resolved not to concede to the outrageous Turkish demands in the wake of the Mavi Marmara affair.

Combining the vagueness of publicly stated government policies with the dramatic upsurge in anti-Israel hostility, it is not surprising that most Diaspora Jewish leaders are now far more hesitant than in the past to criticize their host governments over Israel-related issues.

The change in behavior is especially obvious with American Jewish leaders who were formerly renowned for their feisty domestic and global initiatives on behalf of Israel.

AIPAC continues to effectively lobby the case for Israel on a bipartisan level in Congress but its role is, by definition, limited to this arena.

However, over the past six months, the principal organizations involved in public affairs – the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations (Presidents Conference), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti- Defamation League (ADL), and Bnai Brith International – while remaining unreservedly committed to Israel have generally been reluctant to explicitly challenge the Obama administration’s pressures and one-sided demands upon Israel.

AMERICAN JEWS are understandably hyper-sensitive about a further erosion in the bipartisan relationship, a crucial factor in maintaining public support for Israel. Yet reluctance to publicly criticize their president contrasts sharply with the dramatic Jewish grassroots backlash against Obama exemplified by the stunning upset in the New York’s 9th Congressional District, a largely Jewish-populated electorate – where the Democratic candidate, an Orthodox Jew, was defeated by a Roman Catholic Republican.

In addition, many Democratic congressmen have themselves uninhibitedly contradicted their president by supporting Israel.

Despite the extraordinary support which emerged when Netanyahu articulated the case for Israel in Congress, since then the Israeli government has consciously avoided airing its differences with the US administration. There are even rumors that Israeli officials encouraged Jewish leaders to remain silent to avoid further alienating the administration.

Irrespective of the merits of such an approach, it would be a major blunder for Israelis to encourage American to behave passively while the Obama administration treats Israel, its ally, in such a shabby manner.

Take for example the Turkish imbroglio and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s intense pressure on the Israeli government to apologize and concede to their outrageous demands. One can imagine how Begin or Rabin would have reacted had the US pressed them to capitulate over such an issue, but our government decided not to respond. Yet why should American Jews not express indignation at the chutzpah of their government pressuring Israel to apologize for its soldiers defending themselves against terrorists? The same applies to Obama’s statement about the 1967 borders with swaps. Israel (mistakenly, in my opinion) may feel constrained in responding to the ongoing pressure in order not to antagonize those countries wavering over the UN Palestinian statehood issue.

But surely American Jews, angered by their government’s one-sided demands, which place Israel at such a disadvantage, should not feel inhibited about protesting against such behavior.

THERE WAS a notable absence of Jewish response to the US endorsement of the despicable UN Human Rights Council resolution to criminalize religious “stereotyping” specifically as applied to Islam. The resolution proposed by the Islamic states sought to prevent any public criticism or discussion of Muslim infringements of human rights or criticism of Islam – a clear repudiation of freedom of expression. One would have even expected Jewish liberals to protest against such a policy.

In talking points for commemorating the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Obama administration listed countries which had suffered from terror. As on a previous occasion, Israel, which has endured more terrorism pro rata from Islamic fundamentalists than the other countries mentioned, was notably omitted from the list. Yet the only organization protesting this glaring omission (as other issues) was the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

The same applied to the outrageous parting shots by retiring secretary of defense Robert Gates, who castigated Netanyahu for his “ingratitude.”

Again, only ZOA protested against this boorish charge.

Public opinion in the United States is currently overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. But this should not be taken for granted and it would be shameful to rely on Christians and conservative friends of Israel to publicly protest against the double standards employed by the Obama administration in its relationship with the Jewish state.

To make matters worse, presumably in their zeal to retain their “liberal” credentials some Jewish leaders seem to compete with one another to defame evangelicals who support Israel.

This was exemplified by the vitriolic attacks leveled against Glenn Beck, who visited Israel to express solidarity with the Jewish people and launch a global movement committed to supporting the Jewish state. “If the world goes down the road of dehumanizing Jews again, then count me as a Jew and come to me first,” he said. What more could one ask from a friend? Besides, Beck’s support for Israel has had a major impact, especially in the United States.

One is not obliged to identify with all policies espoused by allies, but during such difficult times, when many of our former liberal supporters have abandoned us, to condemn someone displaying the courage to support us in this current hostile environment without imposing any reciprocal demands is simply inexplicable.

Besides, Beck, who passionately defends Israel against the barbarians at our gates, has an infinitely better understanding of Middle East politics than his critics and should be commended by all friends of Israel.

We return to the original question. Why are most reputable American Jewish leaders off the radar and reluctant to publicly confront the excesses of the administration? If, for purported diplomatic reasons, the Netanyahu government has asked them to remain silent, this would be scandalous. Diaspora Jews living in a democracy like the US do not require a green light from the government of Israel to speak up and protest if they believe that their government is applying double standards against Israel, its ally. If Jewish leaders persist in remaining silent, their kinsmen at a grassroots level will simply continue bypassing them.

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post

Isi Leibler


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

Obama’s UN Cowardice

by Joseph Klein

The United Nations General Assembly session kicked off today with a speech by President Barack Obama. His central theme was “peace is hard but we know it is possible.”

Before getting to the looming issue of a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, Obama lauded the Arab Spring. Pointing to Egypt in particular, he said:

One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years. But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights. We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.

Tell that to CBS correspondent Lara Logan, who was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted by an Egyptian mob during the celebrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square following the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The “President for nearly 30 years,” whom Obama kicked under the bus, had maintained a peace treaty with Israel that is now in serious jeopardy, as mobs of Egyptians have attacked the Israeli embassy, and the ascendant Muslim Brotherhood has told the Egyptian people to prepare for war with Israel.

President Obama had harsh words for Syrian President Assad. “As we meet here today, men and women and children are being tortured, detained and murdered by the Syrian regime,” Obama said. He called upon the UN Security Council to “sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.” Then again, the president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and UN Ambassador Susan Rice have been urging tough UN action against the man they once referred to as a “reformer” for weeks with no success.

At the same time, Obama skirted around the tricky issue of the crackdown on dissidents in Bahrain, where the U.S. maintains its 5th fleet and has other strategic interests, including not offending the Bahraini regime’s friends in Saudi Arabia.

And in one of the most bizarre passages in his speech, President Obama held up developments in Sudan as a positive example for reaching a peaceful resolution to aspirations for self-determination. While it is true that after years of civil war, South Sudan became an independent state, the killing goes on around its borders and in nearby areas that remain under the control of the indicted international war criminal, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir. Civilians continue to be murdered in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State, as well as in Darfur. Obama’s failure to mention this ongoing tragedy in his speech is inexcusable.

Obama also barely mentioned Iran in his General Assembly speech. Recall that he turned away from the cries of the many thousands of Iranian protesters who filled the streets in 2009 and were being beaten, tortured and thrown into prison. This time Obama weakly admonished the Iranian regime for refusing to recognize the rights of its own people. All he could say about the looming threat to regional and international peace and security posed by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear arms (ever close to being achieved) was that “the Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful” and that it “has not met its obligations.”

In addressing the Palestinian issue, President Obama reminded his audience that one year ago, he had stood at the very same General Assembly podium and called for an independent Palestine to join the UN as a member state a year later. That year is now up. And although he had couched the aspiration of Palestinian UN membership with the caveat that a genuine peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians needed to be reached first, the Palestinian leaders heard the promise and not the preconditions. They have cited Obama’s words as one of the justifications for approaching the UN now for full statehood recognition.

Obama used this year’s speech to remove the ambiguity he had created, compounded by the pressure he has exerted on Israel to freeze its settlements and make more unilateral land concessions to the Palestinians. He said that “there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades…Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”

Knowing that Jewish American voters would be listening, he referred to America’s “unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security and to its enduring friendship:

Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors.

These are comforting words, but President Obama would have done well to specifically condemn Hamas, which is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. He should have spoken directly to the Palestinian officials sitting in the General Assembly hall, telling them that they will only be ready for statehood when they assume the responsibility of firmly rejecting Hamas as a partner in a new Palestinian government as long as it persists on its violent path towards Israel. Instead of just referring back to his May 2011 proposal, which would have Israel revert to the pre-1967 lines with unspecified mutual land swaps, Obama should have used this occasion to tell the Palestinians once and for all that any such concessions from Israel are non-starters while the Palestinians persist with their bogus “right of return” claim, which would end up turning pre-1967 Israel into yet another Arab state. He also should have repeated the reference he made two years ago to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. His failure to do so in this speech was a bow to Palestinian President Abbas, who refuses to recognize Israel’s right to retain its Jewish character.

President Obama closed his speech by affirming the United States’ dedication to partnering with the United Nations to continue finding new paths to peace. But he said not a single word about holding the United Nations accountable for sponsoring anti-Semitic, anti-Western hatefests like the Durban conferences that purport to oppose racism. He said not a word about the need for serious reform at the UN, which American taxpayers are subsidizing to the tune of several billion dollars a year.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy laid out what he described as intermediate steps towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in his speech to the General Assembly. Just as he had taken over leadership in dealing with the Libyan crisis from President Obama, Sarkozy was moving to do the same with respect to restarting the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In a slap against American diplomatic efforts to date, Sarkozy said that “we must stop believing that a single country, even the largest, or a small group of countries can resolve so complex a problem. Too many crucial players have been sidelined for our efforts to succeed.”

Sarkozy proposed that France host a donor conference this fall so that the Palestinians can complete the construction of their future state.

To avoid a U.S. Security Council veto of the resolution to grant the Palestinians full UN membership rights – a veto that Sarkozy predicted would spark violence – the French president proposed the intermediate step of granting the Palestinians observer state status through the General Assembly. He envisions that such status would give the Palestinian people more hope while negotiations on a final peace agreement proceed, which would be based on the pre-1967 territorial lines with mutual land swaps that President Obama proposed last May.

“My dear colleagues,” Sarkozy said, “we have no other choice: inaction and deadlock, or an intermediate solution that would help restore hope to the Palestinians, with the status of observer state.” He continued:

At the same time, Israel must observe the same restraint—it must refrain from any actions that would jeopardize the final status. The ultimate goal is of course the mutual recognition of two nation states for two peoples, established on the basis of the 1967 borders, with agreed on and equivalent exchanges of land.

Sarkozy proposed the following timetable to reach the end state:

  • One month to resume discussions;
  • Six months to reach an agreement on borders and security; and
  • One year to reach a definitive agreement

Behind-the-scenes negotiations are reportedly underway to let the Palestinians file their application for UN membership with the Security Council this week, but not press for a vote right away. The application would be held in abeyance, perhaps by being lodged with a member admissions committee for extended consideration, while Israel and the Palestinians return to the negotiating table. In the meantime, as Sarkozy suggests, the Palestinians could be given observer state status, which would allow them to join various UN bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Council, and be heard by the International Criminal Court.

Sadly, all this maneuvering ignores the fundamental stumbling block that has prevented peaceful co-existence of a Palestinian state and Israel for 63 years. It is the Palestinians’ refusal to deal in good faith with Israel on a basis that will allow Israelis to live in peace in their own Jewish homeland, after having been persecuted in so many countries around the world for so many years, including by Arab states.

Joseph Klein


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