Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Imaginary Interview with Theodor Herzl

On November 16, 2008, the Jerusalem Post published this hypothetical interview with Theodor Herzl, written by David Breakstone, the "founding chairman of the WZO's Herzl Center and a member of the Zionist Executive, where he represents MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist arm of the Conservative movement."

Here is that interview, in its entirety:

Q: It is 60 years since the Jewish state you dreamed of came into being. Given...

Herzl: Excuse me. This is not the Jewish state I dreamed of.

Q: Pardon me?

Herzl: More than a century ago I declared, "Those of us prepared to hazard our lives for the cause would regret having raised a finger if we were able to organize only a new social system and not a more righteous one."

Q: We haven't done that?

Herzl: Please. Long ago I charged the Jewish people: "Fashion your state in such a manner that the stranger will feel comfortable among you." The recent riots in Acre, your treatment of foreign workers...

Q: But look at what we have managed to do. The technology, the desert in bloom...

Herzl: Listen to my leaders in Altneuland. "All you have cultivated will be worthless and your fields will again be barren, unless you also cultivate freedom of thought and expression, generosity of spirit, and love for humanity. These are the things you must cherish and nurture."

Q: I understood you only wanted a safe haven...

Herzl: Absolutely not! My vision was much nobler. "I truly believe," I wrote, "that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal, for Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of promised land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfillment." I expected a great deal more from you.

Q: Are you suggesting the Zionist undertaking was a failure? Jews from across the Diaspora are in Israel this week for meetings of the same World Zionist Organization you founded more than a century ago. Would you have them disband it?

Herzl: God forbid! I may be disappointed, but I'm not a defeatist. This is not the time to forsake the ideal, but to embrace it, to inspire the next generation to take up the task of their forebears. I have said it before but I will say it again, "A community must have an ideal, for it is that which drives us. The ideal is for the community what bread and water are for the individual. And our Zionism, which led us hither and which will lead us still further to yet unknown heights, is but an ideal, an infinite endless ideal."

Q: You believe we are capable of regaining that sense of vision?

Herzl: The leaders of the WZO seem to think so. I remind you that on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of my death they adopted a new Jerusalem Program, an up-to-date revision of my Zionist manifesto from 1897. It calls for "strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multifaceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world." Is that not vision?

Q: Fantasy might be more accurate. Are we really up to the challenge?

Herzl: "All the deeds of man have begun with a dream, and dreams shall they become."

Q: Was that an answer to my question?

Herzl: Look around you, all these accomplishments you take such pride in. A vibrant, full-color rendition of my black-and-white dream. But as deeds, they will ultimately amount to nothing if they do not become the foundation of dreams of your own.

Q: We have dreams all right, but not the sort you're talking about. Ours are a nightmare, filled with scandals, corruption, the machinations of...

Herzl: "That objectionable class of person, the professional politician" that the people of Altneuland eschewed entirely.

Q: Actually, the new mayor of Jerusalem claims to come from another mold. What advice have you for him?

Herzl: He should begin by reading my diary: "If Jerusalem were ever ours," I wrote, "I would begin by cleaning it up." But I went far beyond that, and I suggest he do the same. In my Jerusalem's Old City, "all the buildings were devoted to religious and benevolent purposes. Muslim, Jewish and Christian welfare institutions, hospitals, clinics stood side by side. And in the middle of a great square was the splendid Peace Palace, where international congresses of peace-lovers and scientists were held, for Jerusalem was now a home for all the best strivings of the human spirit: for faith, love, knowledge."

Q: Rather universalistic, no?

Herzl: But also very Jewish. Not many people know it, but alongside the Peace Palace, I also rebuilt the Temple, and even made sure it was well attended! What did my hero experience on his first Friday evening in Jerusalem? "The streets which at noon had been alive with traffic were now suddenly stilled. Very few motor cars were to be seen; all the shops were closed. Slowly and peacefully the Sabbath fell upon the bustling city. Throngs of worshipers wended their way to the Temple and to the many synagogues in the Old City and the New..."

Q: And suggestions for those hoping to be Israel's next prime minister?

Herzl: The social agenda must take priority. My Altneuland must become a model for your Tel Aviv, Sokolov's brilliant translation of my novel. In it, "We neither reward nor punish our children for their fathers' business transactions. All our educational institutions are free from the elementary schools to the Zion University. All the pupils wear the same kind of simple clothing... We think it unethical to single out children by their parents' wealth or social rank."

Q: Perhaps your standards are too high for us?

Herzl: Nonsense. You are still capable of grand things. I only wish I could electrify you as I did Barack Obama. We met only briefly, but I know what I said influenced him greatly.

Q: What was that?

Herzl: Im tirtzu, ayn zu aggada.

Q: Why are you convinced that impacted on him so profoundly?

Herzl: I heard the translator render the phrase into English.

Q: I don't understand.

Herzl: "Yes, we can," he said. Not a bad translation. I suggest you take it to heart.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thomas Friedman, on the Election of Barack Obama as President

by Hersch Bernkovsky

Thomas L. Friedman starts his column, “Show Me the Money” (published in the New York Times on November 9, 2008) in the fashion of a puff piece: “It is ... a blessing that so many people in so many places [the whole wide world over] see something of themselves reflected in Obama, whether in the color of his skin, the religion of his father, his African heritage, his being raised by a single mother or his childhood of poverty. And that ensures that Obama will probably have a longer than usual honeymoon with the world.”

But he immediately dashes what seems to be uncontained exuberance with a quick dose of, can call for a moment of, reality: “But I wouldn’t exaggerate it. The minute Obama has to exercise U.S. military power somewhere in the world, you can be sure that he will get blowback.” Mr. Friedman points out that, due to “... his biography, demeanor and willingness to at least test a regime like Iran’s with diplomacy ...” Mr. Obama will be “... more difficult to demonize than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.” In support of this, Mr. Friedman quotes Mr. Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment who asks, “How are you going to implore crowds to chant ‘Death to Barack Hussein Obama’?” (That question makes reference to the famous Iranian chant from the time of the seizure and holding of hostages from the US Embassy in Iran, “Carter, Carter nabudas.”)

But Mr. Friedman knows that eventually, it will be possible. Addressing the world, he says, “Show me the money!” He again bursts the celebratory balloon, “Don’t just show me the love. Don’t just give me the smiles. Your love is fickle and, as I said, it will last about as long as the first Obama airstrike against an Al Qaeda position in Pakistan.” Knowing that Russia, China, Venezuela, the Taliban, Iran, and others are not going to forestall testing President Obama, his resolve and his foreign policy.

And he calls on America’s allies, “... show me the money. Show me that you are ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders — stakeholders in what will be expensive and difficult initiatives by the Obama administration to keep the world stable and free at a time when we have fewer resources.”

Then, perhaps naively, he states that “... surely everyone in the world has an interest in helping Obama, who opposed the [invasion of Iraq], bring it to a decent and stable end, especially now that there is a chance that Iraq could emerge as the first democracy, albeit messy, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.” Yet there is no proof whatsoever that “everyone in the world” has such an interest. Does Iran have such an interest, or does it have an interest in instability in that area? Does Iran really have an interest in seeing the establishment of a stable democracy on its borders?

In closing, he again admonishes America’s allies, “... thanks for your applause for our new president.... If you want Obama to succeed, though, don’t just show us the love, show us the money. Show us the troops. Show us the diplomatic effort. Show us the economic partnership. Show us something more than a fresh smile. Because freedom is not free and your excuse for doing less than you could is leaving town in January.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I found some great new news sources ...

... on the Middle East.

The first is the TIME Middle East Blog by Tim McGirk, Scott MacLeod, Andrew Lee Butters, and Phil Zabriskie. On the first article I saw this,
"[Rahm] Emanuel was Bill Clinton's scrappy White House political director--he taught that president the Hebrew word for balls, baytzim--and has served three terms in congress."
So there is some humor, as well as some good blog articles on the Middle East - stuff that you don't usually see in the World Section of your local American newspaper.

The other source is the Los Angeles Times Middle East blog "Babylon and Beyond". There are some great pictures on there. If you scroll down a bit and look on the right side of the page, you can find a list of Middle East blogs from Morocco to Afghanistan.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Arab Bloggers Size Up Obama

The New York Times website has compiled the reaction of several Arab bloggers from the Middle East to the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency.

After reading several segments of this New York Times article, I feel that the Arabs of the Middle East are experiencing a great sense of hope -- a hope for a change in the United State' policy toward Arabs and Muslims, though they retain some reservations. All of the commentators in the Times article had viewed President-elect Barack Obama's speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference and had viewed Vice-President-elect Joseph Biden state that he is a Zionist. Some reservations had also been expressed about the appointment of US Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois) as Obama's Chief-of-Staff.

Overall, they have expressed positive feeling about Obama. If Obama follows-through on his promises to gradually withdraw US troops from Iraq, I believe the Arab world will continue to admire him. I hope Obama will be able to use and credibility that he may establish with the Arab/Muslim world to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

I am uncertain if their attitude revolves around happiness that the Bush Administration is about to end, and that it won't be followed by a new one led by Senator John McCain, who they seem to perceive as either a continuation of Bush policy, or a new type of 'hard-line' American policy (unfavorable to their supposed interests and favorable to those of Israel). However, they all recognize the historical significance of Obama's election.

Their hope recalls a segment from Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem, in which large segments of the Lebanese population were overjoyed that the Americans were trying to bring peace and prosperity to Lebanon. America obviously failed there, but since that part of the world once viewed the US as a beacon of hope, freedom and democracy, it seems that they are beginning to so regard it again. There is a glimmer of hope that the Arabs (along with other peoples of the world) won't be afraid to call themselves friends of the US.

Realistically speaking, before Obama can begin to focus on the Middle East, he'll have to deal with the American economy. So those that express a hope in his policies will need to be patient. I have high hopes for him (perhaps unreasonably so, I admit). So we all will need to be patient. The wheels of progress, like those of history, turn slowly.

One of the blogs the NY Times presented a portion of is MideastYouth.com. I took a quick look at it -- it seems to be a good source for news about the Middle East. It also seems as if a vibrant community gathers there to discuss that region.

(edited by Hersch Bernkovsky)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama nominates Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff

A day after being elected by the American people as the 44th president, Barack Obama nominated Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois)as his chief of staff.
Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the fourth-ranking House Democrat and a close friend of Mr. Obama’s from Chicago ....
His father was born in Jerusalem and was a member of the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist organization that fought the British occupation of Palestine during the 30's and 40's. I don't think this is particularly important except that it is obvious that he's a Zionist. I don't know yet if he's a hawkish or a dovish Zionist but if he does accept the position as the president's right hand man, he will have a lot of influence on foreign policy.

In a 2005 interview with the Rolling Stone he said,
We're the party of change. We're the party of a new direction -- a break from rampant cronyism and the status quo. Period.
Doesn't that sound familiar? He was the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and his task was to regain control of the House and Senate. It looks like he put Obama in the White House as well.
On the Haaretz article, one of the commenters had this to say,
Since rich Jews have always financed Obama`s runs for office (in Chicago they were known by the code word, "University of Chicago", why not. Jews are for abortion even though we are a diminishing people. Jews are for higher taxes on the successful, even though we are thought to own the US and have 60% of the money. Jews are for civil rights, even though we are hired last and fired first. Jews are for closing down GITMO, even though every terrorist targeted us first. Jews are for talking and engaging with our enemies, including Iran, No. Korea, Cuba, Venezuela..and Syria..and considering the grievances of Hamas and Hezbollah, while thousands demonstrated in Tehran today shouting, "Death to Israel". Jews are leftists by nature, while Russia is deploying nukes around Polant. Go for it Emanuel.
I thought it was a good summary of Jewish political stances in the US.

In this very long NYTimes piece from 1997, it talks about the Emanuel brothers. One brother is a biomedical ethicist, and the other is a big shot Hollywood agent. The Emanuel in Hollywood inspired the Ari Gold character in the HBO series Entourage, my favorite character on TV by far.

Our first co-contributor

I'd like to introduce you to H.L.B. He's going to tell you about himself soon.

We haven't decided on what to call him yet.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Michael waits in line to vote....

Today, I voted for the first time. It was very exciting. The polling place was at the local York fire station between the main and west campuses of my university. The line of people waiting to vote stretched around the block. I waited for one and a half hours. Since I had finished all my classes in the morning, I wasn't worried about time issues. I brought the book "From Beirut to Jerusalem" (which I wrote about in the previous post) from the local library, so I won't get bored. The elderly couple behind me asked me what book I was reading so I showed them the front cover. Then they started telling me about the time they visited Beirut in '74. They wanted to visit before things started to blow up. They told me that they spoke with an Arab at a local restaurant who spoke perfect English and wore traditional Arab garb. He said that they were the first tourists he saw all day.

Eventually they mention something about the "turmoil in Israel." I didn't know what exactly that meant so I started talking about the coming Israeli election in January. They asked me who I like and I said I didn't know, just not Netanyahu. I told them how they he was a "hawk" and less likely to make peace with the Palestinians. Then the elderly woman told me how "God gave the land to the Jews" and how the Arabs want to kill us. "It said so in the Old Testament." I didn't want to confront her on the whole God thing so I just told her that we need to make peace with the Palestinians, they need a place to live too, and how we need to find willing peace partners from among the Palestinians. She asked me if I was Jewish, I told her I was Israeli. At this point I start to realize that she might be a Bible-believing Christian-American who supports Israel.

Eventually she spoke about how it says in Ezekiel that the Russians and Arabs are going to attack the "Land of Israel" from the north. And about how they made an alliance. She said that the signs are there and the prophecies are being fulfilled. She also said that God is going to defeat them and that the Jews are going to realize that God is protecting them (which I interpreted as Jews accept Jesus). I finally realized I'm talking to a Fundamentalist Christian, perhaps an Evangelical. I should have asked her if she knew that Israel's founders were atheists. I thought old people were supposed to be wise and smart. I no longer hold that view. Old people can be just as dumb as young people. I told her that I don't believe in prophecies after the prophet has died.

In conclusion, when you start talking about the Middle East with Americans, you just don't know how insane people are going to get. There are fanatics on both sides, Hamas/Hezbollah/Iran vs. settlers/Christian fundementalists.

Note: This was all going on while a man was playing guitar and singing about Jesus outside the polling place.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama the Diplomat

I know it's kind of late, but I'm going to officially endorse Obama here. Since the main topic of this blog is peace initiatives in Israel, I'm going to talk about his foreign policy. John McCain's policy toward Israel is just like Bush's. Not that it was bad, he was just uninvolved. Both candidates are pro-Israel but I'd like a president that will be more involved in the peace process. The Palestinians are more enthusiastic with Obama and more likely to trust him to handle peace talks. There is so much potential for him.

Two Book Recomendations

As some of you know, Thomas Friedman, is my favorite columnist/commentator/non-fiction-writer. I have been reading his column since high school. His political stance on the Middle East is like mine. Last week, I checked out From Beirut to Jerusalem from the college library. I am just amazed by the number of insights this guy has about Israel, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general. I think this book came out in the early 90's but this book is still relevant today.

One of the major themes this book is about is the myths that people in the US and Israel have about the Middle East. This reminds me of a more recent book Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East - 1776 to Present by American-Israeli historian Michael Oren. Oren's book is more like an historical narrative while Friedman's book is more about his experience in Lebanon and Israel as a NYT's foreign correspondent. Both books are really easy to read.

One of the major events Friedman covers in his book is the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 80's. While I was reading his analysis of that war, I kept thinking of how similar it is to America's war in Iraq. Oy, if only our American leaders had read this book and learned from Israel's mistakes. My dad, who served in the IDF and fought in Lebanon in the early 80's, was against the war in Iraq from the start. He used the Lebanon war as a reason not to invade Iraq. He knew that the American Armed Forces would be unprepared to deal with the different factions in Iraq and bring security to the locals, just like Israel failed in Lebanon.

I just hope we in the US can learn from our mistakes faster than Israel has learned from the first Lebanon war. We don't want to be in Iraq for another 13 years.

While I'm at it, I recommend all of Friedman's books. I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree which is about globalism, and The World is Flat which is about the 21st century economy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

PM's last fight?

Departing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced to "halt to all direct or indirect government financing of illegal outposts."

I say - about time! I keep hearing stories in the Israeli press about settlers hurting injuring IDF soldiers. It might get worse, as Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin warned that "a government decision to evacuate more territory may lead to a large-scale violent conflict with settlers, complete with live fire."

I started reading From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman, great book by a brilliant writer, which helped me realize how we in the US and Israel have so many myths about the Middle East. We must realize that the settlers are hurting as a country and as a people.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Riz Khan talks to Thomas Friedman

Today Thomas Friedman talked to Riz Khan on Aljazeera English about his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. (Note: the link sends you to part two which is actually the beginning of the interview, then go here, and then here to follow it in order.) Thomas Friedman is my favorite columnist. His columns appear regularly on Wednesdays and Sundays in the New York Times. I don't know many columnists but I was impressed by him from the very start when his columns used to appear in the Baltimore Sun like 5 years ago.

I have many criticsms of Al Jazeera but I like Riz Khan. He's a terrific journalist and I would probably not watch Al Jazeera English (youtube channel) if he wasn't there.

Now lets talk about Friedman's book(s) and how it is related to middle east peace. I believe that engagement of debate and conversation between Israelis and Arabs is one of the keys to Middle East peace. And Friedman's book is about how the world is "Flat", how the obstacles for people to communicate and work with each other have greatly diminished. What he means (he makes the following point in the interview) is that he, an American Jew, can talk to Khan, who works for an Arab news network, and get a call from Avraham Burg, who is a former speaker of the Knessest and former head of the Jewish Agency, all on Al Jazeera, thanks to the innovation of information technology.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who wants peace?

Like I said in the 'About Me' section, I want to cover stories of the people and events that strive for peace and progress in the Middle East and in Israel more specifically. But over the last week, all I have seen is people people make threats and counter threats like those described in these articles from Haaretz, Hezbollah source: 'Big surprise' awaits Israel if it attacks Lebanon and ANALYSIS / IDF plans to use disproportionate force in next war. And then the Lebanese Industrialists Association is suing 'Israel for allegedly "taking the identity of some Lebanese foods" and thus violating a food copyright.' Thousands rally in Rabin Square ahead of Yom Kippur to ask for forgiveness from Gilad Shalit who according to the Haaretz counter, he has been in captivity for 834 days. I won't go into further detail about these articles because the last week has been really gloomy. The economy, the state of progress of Middle East peace, the rhetoric from Iran, not to mention that the Batlimore Ravens lost to the Titans on Sunday. What is there to talk about?

I usually don't read poetry but I thought this is a perfect time to read words of hope and peace, words about the future. I'm actually surprised of myself for looking for poetry. Here it is:

Peace Is a Woman and a Mother

How do you know
peace is a woman?
I know, for
I met her yesterday
on my winding way
to the world's fare.
She had such a sorrowful face
just like a golden flower faded
before her prime.

I asked her why
she was so sad?
She told me her baby
was killed in Auschwitz,
her daughter in Hiroshima
and her sons in Vietnam,
Ireland, Israel, Lebanon,
Bosnia, Rwanda and Chechnya.

All the rest of her children, she said,
are on the nuclear
black-list of the dead,
all the rest, unless
the whole world understands -
that peace is a woman. A thousand candles then lit
in her starry eyes, and I saw -
Peace is indeed a pregnant woman,
Peace is a mother.

I got it from here. There are many more poems here. Feel free to wander for we are all Bedouins going forward with evolving direction and vision hoping for a better future.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Looking Forward

The Jerusalem Post reported on the recent open debate at the UN Security Council in this piece.

I agree with Israel's UN ambassador "The important thing is not more discussions in the UN and the Security Council of the kind that we were dragged into, but what happens on the ground." She also said that direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are even more important now since the region is going through "period of transition ... as Israel awaits its new government and with the Palestinians seriously divided."

I am happy that the "
Quartet - the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia - issued a statement calling on Israel to dismantle all outposts constructed after March 2001 and to freeze any further construction in the settlements, even to accommodate "natural growth," due to its 'damaging impact on the negotiating environment.'" But I think that this has to be part of a larger statement to encourage both sides to continue to talk rather than wait for Israel to change its stance on the settlements. I don't like the right wing settlers but I hope people realize that people in the center and left within Israeli politics have to not only negotiate with the Palestinians, but also with the right wing of Israeli politics.

At least the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in the right mindset saying,
"I will never cease to negotiate." I hope that Abbas or someone like him will be President of the PA next year even when Fatah, which controls the West Bank, forms a unity government with Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Now to the title of the blog post - Looking Forward.
"The Quartet additionally suggested holding an international summit with the Israelis and Palestinians in Moscow in the spring of 2009 - several months past the hoped-for December deadline for a deal, and after a new US administration is in place." I agree with Israeli President Shimon Peres that it is very unlikely that a peace deal will be struck this year. But hopefully, if Obama is elected President of the US, he will encourage direct talks more than Bush had. In the recent presidential debate, Obama said that part of his foreign policy is to regain America's standing in the world. If he achieves that, I hope that he will use that to pressure the world to show to the Palestinians and the Israelis that they have high hopes for them. I know, it's a lot of wishful thinking but hope and vision is what changes the world.

TIME honors Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian group for environmental work

Congratulations to Friends of the Earth - Middle East (FoEME), for being awarded the "Time Magazine's Heroes of the Environment 2008." Haaretz reports on this Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian enviromental organziation in "raising awareness of environmental issues such as preserving the Dead Sea and groundwater sources."

Here's a little bit more from the article:
Recently FoEME has been campaigning for examining alternatives to the option of funneling water from the Red Sea via a channel to save the Dead Sea. The Israeli and Jordanian governments support this alternative, but FoEME says it is ecologically hazardous to the Arava and the Dead Sea itself, and fails to solve the acute water shortage that the Jordan River also suffers from.

Every FoEME branch makes decisions appropriate to its country on the basis of a joint vision, but the three branches maintain close cooperation to protect their shared ecological heritage, and Bromberg spends much of his time in Jordan. The Jordanian and Palestinian activists compromise their safety by cooperating with their Israeli counterparts: They have been subjected to threats, and a few years ago an attempt was made to murder Mehyar in Amman.

"We believe we have to cooperate to prevent the environment's destruction," says Bromberg. "People can start looking for solutions now, rather than wait for the end of the conflict."

After working to influence decision-makers in the first years, FoEME has focused a large part of its activities in community centers on both sides of the border in recent years. The organization's flagship, "Good Water Neighbors," encourages local leaders of some 20 communities on either side of the border to cooperate to conserve water and act against pollution, overpumping and other water waste.
I admire the people involved in this organization. Reaching to the other is very hard and these people do it under great danger. Israelis have to promote more involvement in inter-faith, inter-cultural, and cross border organization.

Peace can be made in two places. One place is at the negotiating table which most of us can't take part of. The other place is at meetings such as those of
"A Slim Peace", a woman's lost weight program that brings a diverse group of Israelis and Palestinian to Jerusalem and documented by Yael Luttwak, a 36-year-old American-Israeli filmmaker, over a 6 week period, as reported by this article and video on israel21c.net.

Al Jazeera interviews Shimon Peres

Wow, talking about awkward. Ghida Fakhry of Al Jazeera English interviewed Israeli President Shimon President and they talked about several issues. Fakhry asked Peres several questions, mainly about Iran's nuclear ambitions and the status of peace talks with the Palestinians, Syrians, and the Lebanese. She also asked about Israel's alleged nukes.

This interview seemed poorly managed by the interviewer. She asked the same question several times and it seemed to annoy Peres. It looked like the interviewer was using the same Arab rhetoric. Riz Khan would have done a better interview.

I've been talking a lot lately about the Arab media. I usually like Al Jazeera English, a Qatar owned news agency, because I like Riz Khan and how they have regular debates with Israeli and Arab pundits, but that maybe because I have such low standards for them.

I do have several issues with Al Jazeera other than the obvious bias in their reporting. First, when ever they have a news report on Israel and they show a clip of Israelis, they usually show datiim or haredim which are minorities in Israel and don't truly represent the Israeli populace.

Second, they held a birthday party for Samir Kuntar. I think Riz Khan and some others protested this.

Third, in May they ran this special about Yaffo/Jaffa, Palestine Street - The Lost Bride, they characterize the 1948 totally out of context. Reporting through omission. I have one thing to say about journalists in the interview and the one in the Jaffa piece. Eze chaticot.

Durban II - Anti-Racism or Jew bashing?

Al Jazeera English recently had a debate on Durban II, a controversial anti-racism conference, between Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, and Massoud Shadjareh, the Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

I'm all for an anti-racism conference but the problem is who is leading it. This conference is just a platform organized by some of the most intolerant and oppressive regimes to criticize some of the most democratic and free countries in the world in the name of Human Rights while ignoring the suffering of their own people.

I wrote earlier about the control and censorship Arab governments have over the Arab media. What is worse that even organizations such as the Islamic Human Rights Commission fail to criticize Arab governments on human rights. I went to their website and the only country they criticize on the front page is Israel, multiple times. This is alarming. The only way Arab societies will adopt a tradition of self criticism is if Arab media become independent.

The key to promote Arab liberalism, freedom, and equality

Robert F. Worth of the NY Times wrote this great this piece on how Arab television has shocked many in Arab and Muslim world.

Here are a few interesting parts from the article:

Two shows about Bedouin history were dropped because they apparently offended the sensitivities of tribal leaders in Saudi Arabia, and two Syrian shows were canceled after they treaded too close to criticizing members of the Syrian government.


Perhaps the best example is “Noor,” the popular Turkish series that ran over the summer. The show violated Arab cultural taboos in a number of ways: besides having Muslim characters who drank wine with dinner and had premarital sex, one of the male protagonist’s cousins had an abortion.

Perhaps more important, the male protagonist, called Muhannad in the Arabic version, treats his wife as an equal and supports her career as a fashion designer.


But the show appears to have been the single most popular television drama ever shown in the Arab world. The finale, broadcast on Aug. 30, drew 85 million viewers, according to surveys by the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation, the network that showed it. Of those, more than 51 million were women over 15, more than half the total number of adult women in the entire Arab world.

You can read the entire article in the link I provided above.

I was shocked about how many Arab women watched "Noor". Even in Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, they watch "Noor" as is reported in another NY Times article, Watching 'Friends' in Gaza.

Could TV be the medium for the West to sway the minds and hearts of Arab world? Unfortunately, this 60 Minutes report about the US funded Arab language TV network "Al Hurra" shows the difficulty for America to appeal to the Arab world. The US governement spent $100 million a year since 2004 on this project and reached very little success with perhaps less than 1% of the viewers tuning in to Al Hurra.

So how can the West use TV as a medium to promote freedom and equality in the Middle East? By pressuring Arab governments to give independence to Arab TV networks to cover social and politcial issues. On June 8th of this year, Al Jazeera English reported on the Egyptian governmental crackdown on independent satelite TV networks and TV shows that are critical of the Egyptian governemnt. I have been watching the Al Jazeera English channel on Youtube for months and they rarely criticize Arab governments. If they are going to criticize any country, it is mostly about Israel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Would an Israel ever have been welcomed?

Eli Kavon has contributed this piece in JPost, Beyond the Israeli-Palestinian problem. He brings up several interesting points about the cause to all the problems that plagues the Middle East.

Let us imagine that we were all to wake up tomorrow morning to the incredible news that the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority had concluded a peace treaty, including agreement by both parties on the issues of water rights, borders and the status of Jerusalem. A Jewish state and a Palestinian state would live forever, side by side, in blissful peace. The violence plaguing the Middle East would end for good; Iran would cease both beating its war drums and calling for the end of "the Zionist entity"; and calm would prevail over a united Iraq and an independent Afghanistan. One of the world's most unstable regions would be converted into an oasis of stability, with Jew, Christian and Muslim living together in felicity.

Wrong - so much for imagination.

The reality of today's Middle East is the same centuries-old one of ethnic and religious strife that extends far beyond the borders of the State of Israel. The civil war plaguing Iraq is, in part, a 1,300-year old conflict among Muslims, having nothing to do directly with the century of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians are far more afraid of an expansionist and nuclear Iran than they are of Israel. The last words of Saddam Hussein before the Iraqi government hanged him was not "Death to the Americans!" or "Death to the Zionists!" His last words were "Death to the Persians!"

THE IRAQI dictator chose to curse fellow Muslims as he prepared to die. It is apparent that even if Israel did not exist, the Middle East would be a region divided by many sorts of conflict that have nothing to do with Zionism or Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many bloody conflicts rooted in an area with a long history of religious, political and ethnic strife.

I am not claiming that the Palestinian-Israeli issue is not central to a broader peace in the Middle East. Yet, we ignore a more decisive reason than that of Palestinian refugees in attempting to understand Arab and Muslim opposition to the existence of the State of Israel. That reason is religion, specifically Islam. The obsessive hatred of Zionism and Israel, especially in the realm of fundamentalist Islam, can be traced back to the earliest years of the great Muslim conquests of much of the known world in the early to mid-seventh century.

The Muslim conquerors, while granting Jews and Christians religious freedom and autonomy, relegated these tolerated "Peoples of the Book" to the status of dhimmi, "dependent peoples." Muslim rulers forbade Jews and Christians the honor of riding a horse or camel, conducting religious ceremonies in public, carrying weapons, converting Muslims to Judaism or Christianity and building places of worship. Jews and Christians had to pay a special tax to signify their status of inferiority for rejecting Muhammad as the final prophet of Allah's revelation.

While there were certainly periods in which Muslim rulers ignored the dhimmi status and provided Jews and Christians with a modicum of power and influence - the best examples are medieval Spain and the later Ottoman Empire - the inferiority of Jews and Christians was and still is an important component of Muslim theology and identity. In Yemen and in the Iranian Safavid Empire, Jews were more harshly treated than in Muslim Spain and the empire of the Turks. Wherever Jews and Christians lived in the Muslim world, they were at a legal disadvantage that was almost always degrading and even sometimes lethal.

IT SHOULD, therefore, come as no surprise that there are some Muslims, especially those in the fundamentalist world, who cannot live in peace with Israel. The existence of Jews in a democratic state of proud independence - not the dhimmi state of humiliating dependence - poses a threat to a centuries-old Islamic theology that proclaimed the legal, social and religious superiority of Muslims over non-Muslim infidels. The fact that the State of Israel with its capital in Jerusalem resides in the heart of what was once Islam's greatest empire - that of the Ottoman Turks - is a constant reminder to Muslims that the glory days of their religion's military and political power is over.

The reality of 10,000 American companies doing business with or in the Jewish state, helping Israel forge an economy the size of a small European nation, infuriates some Muslims who are envious of a small country with its share of Nobel Prize winners and global entrepreneurs. Israel, despite its size, its crises and the plagues of war and terrorism, is no Third World nation. It is a modern success story.

Fundamentalists in Islam yearn for a return to a time when Jews knew their place. Too bad for them that the dhimmi finally tired of inferiority and humiliation, choosing independence and sovereignty. This fact will remain a factor in Muslim attitudes toward Israel whether Jews and Palestinians make peace or remain in a perpetual state of war.

The writer, based in Florida, is an adjunct lecturer on Jewish history at Broward Community College.

The Middle East is a lot more diverse than most people realize. The Middle East is not homogeneous. There are the Kurds, the Copts, the Arab Christians, Druze, Bedouins, Ba'hais, the Sunnis and Shiites, the Jews, the Persians, secular Arabs and Wahabists. All of these ethnics/religious groups have been "drawn" together by the map makers of colonist Europe. Israel stands out by the fact that even though the UN partitioned what was left of the British Mandate of Palestine to be divided up between the Jews and Arabs, the Jews had to fight for it. When some of the Middle East countries were created, they put one person to rule the country over people that they had nothing in common with except maybe that they were Muslim.

Would the Left of today and Palestinian symapthizers seek democracy for the Palestinians in the Middle East if Israel didn't exist? What about the policitcal and civil rights of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people in the Middle East?