By now most of us have heard the big numbers involved in gun violence in this country. Given the anguished cries of protest following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it’s time we started paying attention to some of the smaller numbers.
In 2010 there were 31,672 deaths from firearms in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control figures cited in a Pew Research Center report this past May. Just under two-thirds (19,392) were suicides, and just over one-third (11,078) were homicides. No surprise so far, right?
Here’s a shocking fact you may not know: Of those 11,078 gun homicide victims, 55% were black, although blacks comprise about 13% of the nation’s population. Whites were 25% of the homicide victims, although they are 65% of the population. Hispanics were 17% of the victims, and 16% of the population. Relative to their share of the population, black Americans are about 11 times more likely to be shot to death than white Americans.
There’s something even more shocking: Fully 94% of black victims were killed by blacks, while 86% of white victims were killed by whites. That’s according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics figures cited in a Wall Street Journal article last August. Of the black victims, 85% were men, mostly between ages 18 and 40.
Put differently, some 6,092 black people were shot to death in 2010, including 5,178 men and 914 women. Of those victims, 5,726 were killed by other blacks and 366 by whites, Hispanics or Asians. At the same time, 2,769 white people were shot to death that year, of whom 2,381 were killed by other whites and 388 by non-whites.
What do those numbers teach us? First, whatever the precise circumstances under which Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin — and we will probably never know exactly what happened, which is why “reasonable doubt” was the necessary verdict — it was rare. The claim by protesters across the country since the verdict that the shooting of young Martin was the typical black experience in America is statistically untrue.
On the other hand, so is the widespread white fear of victimization by young black men that leads to the suspicion and profiling experienced by so many black Americans. Killing of whites by blacks is as rare as killing of blacks by whites in absolute numbers. Proportional to their total population numbers, it’s even more rare: the killing of a black person by a white person, as rare as it is, is about five times more likely than the reverse. Either way, though, racial killings are a tiny proportion of the slaughter.
There is an epidemic of murder in this country. It’s killing young black men at a horrifying rate. Americans, including black Americans, have hardened their hearts to that terrible reality. We’re all glued to our television sets, taking sides in a symbolic drama that’s supposed to prove who is the greater victim.
The race for Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel keeps getting uglier. The lead contender, Safed’s municipal Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is the subject of a legal investigation by state attorney general Yehuda Weinstein. Weinstein’s action comes in response to a formal complaint by Labor Party lawmaker Eitan Cabel over Eliyahu’s 2010 ban on sale or rent of homes to Arabs, as well as certain statements about gays that may have broken laws on incitement.
Now Eliyahu’s chief opponent, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, may be headed for his own legal troubles. Maariv reports that, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has asked Weinstein to examine possible legal responses to a variety of Yosef’s controversial statements and rulings. (For a rundown of statements by Eliyahu and Yosef, see my blog post from last week, here.) Yosef is the eldest son of former Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual mentor of the opposition Shas Party.
Six organizations, including the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and several women’s groups, have written to Weinstein to request that he summon Yosef for questioning and bar his candidacy for chief rabbi, Maariv reports. The paper quotes unnamed legal authorities saying that the request means Weinstein will be barred from defending Yosef if his case is appealed to the Supreme Court.
The race for chief rabbi of Israel has been getting ugly since the collapse of a proposed deal between Shas and Jewish Home to elect their respective favorites. The deal would have amended the Chief Rabbinate laws to permit a second term for the incumbent Sephardic chief rabbi, a Shas favorite, and eliminated the age limit to permit the election of a favorite of the hardline, pro-settler of Jewish Home. The deal collapsed over liberal support for a more moderate Ashkenazi contender, as well as opposition to anything that benefits Shas.
The leading candidate for Sephardic chief rabbi is now Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed and son of the late Mordechai Eliyahu, former chief rabbi and longtime spiritual mentor of the National Religious Party. The younger Eliyahu is currently the subject of furious behind-the-scenes politicking by liberals who want to stop his candidacy, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Labor Party lawmaker Eitan Cabel. The reason: a long record of extreme racism, including his notorious 2010 dictum forbidding the sale or rental of homes to Arabs.
Livni, whose Justice Ministry would be in charge of Chief Rabbi Eliyahu (since the Sephardic chief rabbi is the head of the rabbinical court system, which is under the Justice Ministry), met with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last month to look for legal ways to block Eliyahu. Weinstein was dubious about the legal grounds, according to Nahum Barnea in today’s Yediot Ahronot. Barnea quoted Livni as insisting: “This is intolerable. After all, we’re talking about the position of chief rabbi. What will his election do to Israel’s image abroad? He mustn’t be elected.”
Livni wanted to base legal action on an indictment issued against Eliyahu in 2002 on charges of racism after he called for the expulsion of the Arab population of Safed. Weinstein pointed out that the state attorney’s office dropped the charges in 2006 after Eliyahu agreed to apologize, which would undermine the legal grounds for blocking him now.
On Wednesday, however (presumably after Barnea had filed his Friday Supplement column), Haaretz reported that Weinstein had agreed to conduct a legal inquiry if Eliyahu’s name is formally put in nomination.
The Haaretz story linked above includes some of Eliyahu’s most controversial quotes. The Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has put together a longer list of Eliyahu’s most objectionable public statements.
Barnea points out, however, that stopping Eliyahu could be a mixed blessing. His main competition, Barnea reports, is Rabbi Avraham Yosef, a son of the former Sephardic chief rabbi and current Shas party mentor Ovadia Yosef. Though less prominent in the press, Barnea says, Yosef could be considered even more racist—and misogynistic and anti-democratic, to boot—than Eliyahu. In part this is a reflection of their ideological backgrounds: Eliyahu comes from the religious Zionist movement and recognizes the legitimacy of the state and its institutions, while Yosef emerges from a Haredi worldview that’s much more ambivalent on the question. It’s said, though, that Avraham Yosef is considered something of an extremist even within his own family.
To make his case, Barnea put together a list of parallel statements by the two for comparison. Here’s my translation:
Looking at Egypt’s latest earthquake from the sober distance of a few solid hours, two important takeaways, each nicely captured in an eye-catching headline. One frames a fresh column by Bloomberg Businessweek deputy editor Romesh Ratnesar: “Revolt in Egypt Marks the End of America’s Illusions About Arab Democracy.”
The other sits atop a column by the canny Bulgarian journalist Victor Kotsev in the Hong Kong-based Asia Times: “Egyptian nightmare for Erdogan.”
Erdogan, of course, is Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AIR-doo-wan), prime minister of Turkey since 2003 as head of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which fancies itself the leading edge of a new wave of moderate political Islam. Kotsev writes:
While the Turkish government spent much of the last couple of years branding itself as a paradigm for Egypt and other Arab Spring countries, the reverse is now taking place: Egypt is becoming the nightmare scenario for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It’s a nightmare in several senses. For one thing, Turkey has spent vast sums of money and political capital trying to tout itself and Egypt as leaders of the new wave. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood last year in Egypt, the Arab world’s most popular country, was Erdogan’s chance to show that his brand of democratic Islamism had graduated from test-case to movement. Now, as Wall Street Journal reporter-blogger Joe Parkinson wrote today,
Analysts said that the prospect of the fall of Egypt’s democratically-elected Islamist government, could represent a serious blow to Turkey’s aspirations of regional leadership.
“The developments in Egypt are unfortunate, but along with the situation in Syria, it appears to mark the end of whatever dreams the Turkish government previously had of playing a leading role to a series of friendly Islamist governments in the region,” said Soli Ozel, professor of International Relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Hass University.
And not just dreams of regional leadership. Turkey has been rocked by major street protests of its own for the past five weeks. The violent phase seems to have ended—with a brand-new court victory for the protesters, it’s worth noting, annulling the parkland development project that brought them into the street—the mere fact that the protests could topple his fellow Islamist to the south has to be making Erdogan a tad nervous. And on top of that, the coup de grace was delivered by the army, the institution that’s been Erdogan’s greatest bane since the beginning. Kotsev:
True, the danger of a military coup in Turkey at the moment is close to zero, if only because Erdogan has locked up an entire army college (some 330 officers) on charges of plotting against him. But the parallels between the two countries run far beyond the superficial. For the record, so too did Egyptian still-President Mohammed Morsi try to purge the army last year, although he only removed a few top generals
Most importantly, both countries are experimenting with moderate political Islam, and the experiments have produced mixed result as far as genuine democracy is concerned.
As for America’s broken dreams, they also began a decade ago, when President Bush decided to adopt the strategy of exporting democracy as the way to tame the Middle East and “defeat the terrorists.” This is where it’s gotten us. Here’s Ratnesar in Bloomberg Businessweek:
Some interesting new ideas today about inequality in America.
First, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson offers an important insight into the different kinds of inequality that exist and the differing responses. Over the past half-century, he writes, public pressure for black, women’s and gay rights has brought down barriers confronting those excluded because of their racial and sexual identities.
Changes in the law have followed the same pattern: First, a handful of generally radical activists brought attention to the existence of a legal double standard; then, a mass movement grew in support of eliminating discriminatory laws and practices; only after this did government respond with legal remedies.
It hasn’t been even. The Supreme Court’s assault on the Voting Rights Act, state attacks on abortion and other backlash measures have set back fights for equality. Still, the general direction of society has been toward equality.
But, Meyerson writes, the opposite has been true for economic equality. After nearly a half-century of government activism to reduce inequality, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, the last 30 years have seen a steady, radical rise in inequality, due in large measure to government policies like deregulating the financial industry and undercutting workers’ bargaining power. The trend not only reverses the legacies of Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, but also “makes a mockery of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of equality, which went beyond mere equality of creation” and looked to a “nation of yeoman farmers” to prevent “inequalities of wealth and power.”
He might also have mentioned Abraham Lincoln, whose freeing of the slaves served, as Andrew Zimmerman writes in today’s New York Times, as an inspiration to European radicals and helped fuel the socialist and workers’ rights movements that emerged in the decades after Lincoln.
More on economic inequality: two fascinating new studies from the Economic Policy Institute, not easy reading but well worth the slog:
In the latest climate news: heat waves and wildfires in the West, record flooding in the Northeast. But first—get this—top British and American military brass warn that climate change constitutes one of the most serious security threats (that’s the British view—the American says it’s the most serious) facing the two nations in the decades ahead.
The Brit is Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, who recently took over as the British foreign ministry’s top climate official. He says climate change is as serious a threat as terrorism or cyber-attacks, and that “governments could not afford to wait until they had all the information they might like. ‘If you wait for 100% certainty on the battlefield, you’ll be in a pretty sticky state,’ he said. The increased threat posed by climate change arises because droughts, storms and floods are exacerbating water, food, population and security tensions in conflict-prone regions.”
The American is Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. He says that changing climate is the most serious threat on the horizon to U.S. security in the Pacific—more serious than “hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China.” Worth a read.
About that heat wave: Harvard University climatologist Martin Tingley talks to National Geographic about his study, published in Nature in April, that found that the years 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011 were warmer than any year going back 600 years, to 1400.
Tingley says it’s impossible to blame anthropogenic (man-made) climate change directly for the triple-digit heatwave currently crippling the American West. What he does say, intriguingly, is that based on “the meteorological charts, it looks to be a blocking event. That happens when there’s a particular configuration of the jet stream that’s quite stable. So there’s a big high-pressure ridge on the West Coast and a low-pressure trough in the East Coast. That’s why it’s quite rainy here [in Cambridge, Massachusetts] and very hot on the West Coast.”
Alert readers will recall that I’ve written several times recently about the role of climate change in generating those jet stream-related “blocking events.”
Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid writes that Secretary of State Kerry is arriving in Israel today amid “no signs” that he’s “nearing a breakthrough” toward peace talks. The funny thing is, it’s in the middle of an article that reports clear signs of a breakthrough. Specifically, he reports on a “senior Likud minister” telling him Netanyahu is ready to withdraw from more than 90% of the West Bank “if Israel’s security concerns are met.”
Those security concerns: demilitarization of the Palestinian state (which was accepted long ago) and a long-term Israeli military presence on the Jordan River — though not necessarily the whole Jordan Valley (a big Bibi concession) and not necessarily under Israeli sovereignty (another big Bibi concession).
An even bigger sign of progress came later on Thursday: a public declaration by Netanyahu, in a high-profile speech (at the annual Theodor Herzl memorial ceremony) that peace with the Palestinians is a must — even though it won’t stop defamation of Israel. Ending the international bad-mouthing and “delegitimization” of Israel is constantly thrown up by the right, with active cooperation from the center and center-left — as a test of whether a future peace is safe enough to justify Israeli withdrawal. Saying that the two — peace agreement and civil dialogue — aren’t the same and aren’t even necessarily interdependent is a big step toward a realistic opening negotiating position.
Here’s a kind of wonderfully dopey news item that appeared in the Jerusalem Post last week and then was reposted at The Tablet. That is, the news itself was perfectly legitimate, but the reporting and headlines—that is, the part that will stick in the mind of your average reader—was something else.
The news: Israelis were polled on the question of whether or not Israel’s leaders should take into account the views of American Jews on the peace process. The responses broke down roughly in thirds: 31.9% said “not at all,” 33.6% said “to a small extent” and 31% said “to a great extent” (that last was divided into 21.6% “to a great extent” and 9.4% “to a very great extent). If I remember my 4th Grade arithmetic, that comes to roughly two-thirds (64.6%) saying “yes” and one-third (31.9%) saying “no.” Logically, then, the headline and lead paragraph should inform us that Israelis, by a two-to-one margin, want their government to take the views of American Jews into account to a greater or lesser extent. Make sense?
You’d think. In fact, the June 18 headline in the Jerusalem Post headline read: “32% of Israelis believe US Jews should stay out of peace process.” The lead paragraph read:
Most Israelis think the government should totally or mostly disregard US Jewry’s positions on the peace process and religious affairs, according to a poll released Monday.
Tablet was even better. Its June 21 headline read: “Israelis to U.S. Jews: Stay Out of Peace Process.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is said to be willing to return to direct peace negotiations with Israel, reports Arab affairs correspondent Ehud Yaari of Israel’s Channel 2 TV News, who is probably Israel’s best informed and most respected reporter on the topic. Yaari claims that’s “what he [Abbas] is explaining in the corridors in Ramallah,” the Palestinian Authority capital.
The Times of Israel reports that a Palestinian Authority spokesman is denying Yaari’s report—but the accompanying quote seems more like a refusal to confirm rather than an outright denial (“’Please refer to official Palestinian sources and not the off-the-record game,’ an aide to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.”)
Abbas will explain his intentions and discuss the terms of the negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry when he returns to the region on Thursday. According to Yaari, Abbas intends to return to the table for a limited period to test the intentions of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intentions and see if Netanyahu is serious about reaching an agreement. If Abbas concludes that Netanyahu is not serious, Yaari says, he will go back to the United Nations and say that the Palestinian Authority “cannot function under the circumstances.”
Here’s the original Ehud Yaari report (in Hebrew - the link will take you to Mako News)
As Washington and Jerusalem jockey over terms for renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman insists that his organization will continue to support Israel. But he warns that Israelis make the job harder and hurt their own cause by allowing hardline opponents of Palestinian statehood to speak for them.
He singled out Israel’s economy minister Naftali Bennett and deputy defense minister Danny Danon. Both have spoken out forcefully in recent weeks against the principle of a two-state peace agreement, contradicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated statements of support for the two-state approach.
“We say we support Israel, but you have to be credible,” Foxman said by telephone from Jerusalem on Sunday. “And with Bennett and Danon, you’re not credible.”
Foxman was describing what he said was the approach of mainstream Jewish advocacy organizations in the complicated crossfire between the State Department, the various factions within the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority as Secretary of State John Kerry seeks a formula to restart peace negotiations.
In a June 3 speech to the American Jewish Committee, Kerry appealed for American Jews to speak out in support of his effort, which focuses in part on winning Israeli concessions to woo that Palestinians back to the table. The weeks since then have seen a steadily intensifying debate among Israelis and their supporters, highlighted by remarks by Danon on June 6 and Bennett on June 17 dismissing the possibility of a two-state peace agreement.
On the other side, Israeli army chief of Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, the senior officer in charge of the West Bank, told a conservative Jerusalem think tank on June 18 that failure to restart negotiations could lead to a breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian security coordination and an eruption of unrest on the West Bank.
If you’ve been following Vladimir Putin’s image troubles over the Schneerson Library, the priceless Chabad literary trove that the Bolsheviks seized, Russia held and Crown Heights wants, you may have heard about his weird remarks last Thursday (June 13) when he handed over a batch of the treasure to the new Chabad-run museum in Moscow: “The decision to nationalize this library was made by the first Soviet government, whose composition was 80-85 percent Jewish.” He added that those Jews were blinded by “false ideological considerations,” from which we have thankfully recovered.
His point, apparently, was to explain whose fault it was that this Jewish treasure ended up in Soviet vaults. What’s scary is that he thinks he’s stating an obvious truth that nobody would object to. His appearance was meant as a friendly gesture. Why would anybody be offended if he reminded them that it was the Jews who ruined Russia? That was then. Now we’re all friends, right?
You might be tempted to think his remarks have just enough ring of truth to sound plausible. After all, weren’t the Jews in Russia back then fiercely opposed to the oppressive, pogromist tsarist regime? (Well, yeah.) Weren’t they the ones who brought all those radical ideas about socialism and trade unions to America? (Uh, sort of.) On the other hand, you might have been thinking that he was spouting some nasty conspiracy theories from the annals of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Isn’t this Jewish-reds-take-over-Mother-Russia precisely what the Protocols say? (Bingo.)
Well, it’s easy enough to check: the names of the members of the first Soviet government are quite readily available, and the individual biographies are easy enough to check. But you needn’t go the trouble: Yori Yanover over at the Jewish Press has done the job for you. He’s gone through the 16 names on the first Council of People’s Commissars under the Bolsheviks, and found precisely one Jew among them, Leon Trotsky. I trust Yori—we frequently disagree on issues, but he’s an excellent reporter (and an exceptionally fine writer). Still, I went and checked all the biographies myself, and he’s right. The proportion of Jewish members of the first Soviet government was not 85% or even 80% but 6.25%.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request by anti-abortion militant James Charles Kopp to review his conviction in the 1998 killing of Buffalo obstetrician Barnett Slepian.
Kopp is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Pennsylvania on a 2003 New York state conviction for second degree murder, as well a 2007 federal conviction for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
He claims his rights were violated by improper representation, as well as by a judge’s refusal to let him give testimony about his view of abortion. This was his second unsuccessful bid for Supreme Court review of his case.
Slepian was killed on Friday night, October 23, 1998, shortly after returning home from synagogue where he was saying Kaddish for his late father. Kopp admitted shooting him through the kitchen window from nearby woods with a high-power sniper rifle.
Canadian police consider Kopp a suspect in a series of five similar shootings of abortion providers in their homes in southern Canada and upstate New York between 1994 and 1998. Those shootings became known as the Remembrance Day shootings because they all took place within a few days of November 11, marked by Canadian anti-abortion activists as Remembrance Day for the Unborn. Slepian, the last victim, was the only fatality.
A striking aspect of the case, though seldom discussed, is the fact that four of the five victims were Jewish, and the name of fifth is sometimes described by observers as sounding Jewish (apparently based on off-the-record speculation by Canadian law enforcement officials).
Of all the startling disclosures to emerge from the unfolding NSA data-collection scandal, perhaps the most shocking is this: As the Washington Post reported on June 8, the material collected from Internet company servers is electronically “pushed” to classified FBI computers in Quantico, Virginia, and then “shared with the NSA or other authorized intelligence agencies.”
Wow. Who knew the FBI had computers that could communicate with other agencies?
The last time the topic came up, back in 2007, things didn’t work that way. That’s when we learned that the FBI and CIA had incompatible computer systems that couldn’t interface to share information or even communicate. It caused a flurry of tut-tutting and then disappeared from view.
The story of the computer glitch was contained in a pair of documents released several months apart, scrubbed versions of secret reports by the two agencies’ inspector-generals’ offices, examining the intelligence failures that led up to the September 11 attacks. The FBI report was completed in November 2004 and released in June 2006; the CIA report was completed in June 2005 and released in August 2007.
The computer disconnect was part of a larger problem described in similar terms in both reports: a deep-rooted inability of the CIA and FBI to share information. The result was that they missed clues that would have lit red lights all over Washington, long before the attacks, if somebody had managed to put two and two together. One expert, former CIA staffer Robert Baer, writing in Time magazine in 2007 about the CIA disclosures, called the communication breakdown “the smoking gun” that let the attackers slip through.
Partly the failure was a reflection of radically different organizational cultures. Things that seemed important to one agency didn’t interest the other. As one observer put it, the CIA looked for intelligence, while the FBI gathered evidence. Moreover, the CIA tracked suspects operating overseas, but dropped them when they entered the United States and became the FBI’s problem—without always telling the FBI.
Three weeks after Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid stunned his liberal base by staking out a hardline stance on peace issues, his disappointed lieutenants are coming out in open rebellion.
Lapid, the journalist-turned-politician who scored big in January elections as the champion of the center-left, told New York Times correspondent Jodi Rudoren in an interview published May 19 that he opposed freezing settlement construction, wanted Jerusalem entirely under Israeli sovereignty and—feinting to the right of Bibi Netanyahu—doubted that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was a partner for peace.
The first sign of trouble came 12 days later, in a May 31 Yediot Ahronot interview with science minister Yaakov Peri, the former Shin Bet chief who was Lapid’s first pick for his party slate last October. A longtime dove, Peri said he had been “saddened” that Yesh Atid hadn’t raised the peace process in its fall campaign, saying it was an electoral strategy recommended by Washington consultant Mark Mellman. Acknowledging that he didn’t agree with Lapid on the peace process, Peri called Abbas a “partner for talks” and endorsed a two-state peace pact based on “a return to the 1967 borders, with minor adjustments and retaining three settlement blocs.” He said he would “be making my voice heard soon on this matter.”
Last week the gloves came off. Another Lapid ally, fellow journalist Ofer Shelah, Yesh Atid’s Knesset whip, declared at a high-profile June 11 conference in Jerusalem that “the occupation is corrupting Israeli society, the Israel Defense Forces, Israeli justice, Israeli media, Israeli psyche and Israeli discourse.” He said Israel was growing increasingly isolated, facing a serious threat of international trade boycotts and “approaching the status of South Africa.”
Shelah was responding to an argument made moments earlier at the same conference by deputy transportation minister Tzipi Hotovely, a Likud hardliner. She claimed that the “entire coalition agrees that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace,” recalling Lapid’s New York Times interviews. Both lawmakers were participating in a panel discussion on the Arab Peace Initiative, sponsored by the Molad Center for Renewal of Israeli Democracy, together with the Likud and Labor student clubs at Hebrew University.
Now that the White House has officially acknowledged the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, the question is no longer whether we get involved in the Syrian civil war, but how. This represents a victory for the smallish, outspoken group of liberal interventionists who have been arguing for an American military role, while trying to shake off the stigma of their de facto alliance with neoconservatives a decade ago in supporting President Bush’s war in Iraq. President Obama’s nomination last week of Susan Rice as National Security Adviser and Samantha Power as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations seemed to signal that we’d be moving in this direction, given their records as liberal interventionists, but nobody expected it to happen so fast.
Liberal interventionists have been insisting for months that, as The New York Times’ Bill Keller and The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen argued recently, memories of Iraq shouldn’t deter America from acting in Syria, because they’re not the same thing. The scale of humanitarian disaster in Syria is genuine, immediate and overwhelming. On the contrary, the proper precedents are the shameful tragedies of our delayed intervention in Bosnia, as The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier maintains, and our abject failure to act in Rwanda, as Princeton University political scientist (and former Obama State Department aide) Anne-Marie Slaughter forcefully insists. Indeed, the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon writes that the lesson for Syria from the Bosnia experience is what went right after we did intervene.
Conservative interventionists like Elliott Abrams and, well, a host of others have been calling for months for action in Syria as a way to weaken Iran and Hezbollah. Hebrew University Middle East scholar [Moshe Maoz], perhaps Israel’s most respected Syria watcher — and an outspoken dove on the Palestinian issue—makes both arguments in a new op-ed essay in Haaretz: that the humanitarian disaster and the growing prospect of an Assad-Hezbollah-Iran victory in the civil war should stir Washington and NATO to a firm, Bosnia-style intervention. Israel has everything to gain from such an intervention, he writes, and while it can’t be part of the action, it can and “must use its good ties with the U.S. to persuade it to give strategic military support to the rebels in Syria.” As for fears that a rebel victory would install a jihadist or Al Qaeda-style regime in Damascus, he writes:
The guessing game continues: Will he or won’t he? Will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree to open peace negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative — meaning, in effect, agreeing to start from the pre-1967 armistice lines as the basis for negotiating future borders?
Netanyahu is under pressure. He very much wants to sit down to negotiate with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas — or, at least, to be seen as very much wanting to. He hasn’t accepted the Arab League plan, but he hasn’t explicitly rejected it. Most of those around him suspect that he’s leaning toward accepting some watered down version as he sees the odds of a binational state growing and the opening for a two-state solution slipping away — not to mention the international legitimacy he needs in the face of Iran.
He was seriously embarrassed last week when his deputy defense minister, rising Likud star Danny Danon, told The Times of Israel in a bombshell interview that neither the ruling Likud party nor the government as a whole would ratify a pact based on two states for two peoples. Danon said the Likud was “legally” opposed to the principle of two states for two peoples, because of formal resolutions adopted by the party about a decade ago and never rescinded. Indeed, Danon said,
there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution. If you will bring it to a vote in the government — nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”
It gets worse. Coalition whip Yariv Levin of Likud — he’s the guy in charge of rounding up Knesset votes whenever a bill comes to the floor — announced Wednesday that he would be assuming co-chairmanship of a new Lobby for the Land of Israel caucus within the Knesset to oppose any territorial concessions in the West Bank. The caucus is to be rolled out at a “celebratory” meeting of coalition hawks gathering in Tel Aviv tomorrow (June 11) to flex muscles against Netanyahu’s reputed peace plans.
Initial caucus membership is 35 lawmakers (out of 120 total), including two Yesh Atid lawmakers, Dov Lipman and Pnina Tamnu-Shata (other Yesh Atid members have joined a rival two-states caucus, initial membership 40). The Land of Israel caucus has outside support from several cabinet ministers who aren’t allowed to join caucuses, reportedly including defense minister Moshe Yaalon of Likud and Jewish Home’s economics minister Naftali Bennett and housing minister Uri Ariel. If I’m not mistaken, that comes to a majority of the 68-member coalition.
Coming to Bibi’s defense on the diplomatic front, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, currently chair of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, acknowledged today that a construction freeze is in effect in the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem across the pre-1967 Green Line, according to Galei Tzahal Radio.
Speaking of intelligence leaks, Israel had one last week that speaks volumes about the prospects for Secretary of State Kerry’s Middle East peace mission. Consider how a June 4 classified briefing to the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee was described the next day in Maariv’s lead headline: “Shin Bet chief: Abu Mazen Doesn’t Believe in an Agreement with Us.” The subheading added some intriguing detail: “Knesset members who were present yesterday at the foreign affairs and defense committee claim: Yoram Cohen said that the Palestinians are not enthusiastic to resume negotiations with Netanyahu. Shin Bet: Not true.”
The leak so infuriated committee chair Avigdor Lieberman that he distributed a letter to committee members on Thursday vowing to end the practice of classified briefings, starting with an appearance tomorrow (Monday) by the prime minister. Lieberman said he had instituted the closed meetings this year after hearing from “some members” that meetings had come to resemble “headline reviews” with no real insight into the security services’ operations.
As Maariv explained in its next-day follow-up, Lieberman’s strictly classified meetings replaced a 20-year practice in which classified briefings by top security officials would be followed by a declassified press briefing by a committee spokesman. Leaks have been commonplace both before and after the rule change.
So what came out this week that so angered Lieberman? That Abu Mazen (a.k.a. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president) isn’t interested in peace? Lieberman has been saying that for years. No, the problem was just the opposite: What Cohen actually said was that the Palestinians didn’t think talks with Bibi would go anywhere, given his backtracking from understandings reached in previous negotiating rounds. Maariv’s headline didn’t match reporter Ze’ev Kam’s story. According to Kam,
the Shin Bet chief told the committee members that there is a continuous decline on the Palestinian side in faith that any positive diplomatic process in the region will occur between the sides. …
In his words, the opening negotiating position of the present government is not even close to what was discussed in earlier rounds with [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert, and therefore from Abu Mazen’s point of view he can’t gain anything from entering negotiations with Israel. … in his view, he can only lose, given the fact that in the past he was in a much better negotiating position.
Even in a political culture as poisonous as ours is of late, there’s still something deeply disturbing about the perverse dishonesty of the right-wing attacks on Samantha Power, President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations.
There are so many layers of bad faith at work here that it’s hard to know where to begin. On the broadest level of principle, the president is taking the nation’s most articulate proponent of international action to prevent genocide and putting her in the very spot where she’s most needed. All those conservatives who rail against American lassitude in Syria, Libya and so on back to the Holocaust should be thrilled. But no. Instead, we’ve been hit with a barrage of accusations over the past 24 hours.
Far more startling is the substance of the attacks. Most of them are based entirely on two statements she made years ago, which are twisted to make her sound anti-Israel. One is an outrageous distortion, turning her response to a bizarre, hypothetical “thought experiment” during an obscure 2002 interview into a clarion call for invading Israel. The other is a flat lie – a repetition of two sentences, one about the malign influence of lobbyists, the other about our “important” alliance with Israel, and making them sound like a single thought by removing the middle of the paragraph. (A handful of attackers have dredged up a sprinkling of other statements that are more difficult to distort, though they’re trying.)
The most popular charge is that she “advocates” sending a massive U.S. invasion force into Israel and the territories to “impose a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” This is based entirely on two-minute segment in an obscure, undated 2002 interview she gave to a Berkeley professor, Harry Kreisler, now circulating on YouTube. He asks her to respond to a “thought experiment”: if she were an adviser to the president, how would she advise him to act if it looked like either Israel or the Palestinians were “moving toward genocide.” Her answer was to take the same action she recommends in other genocidal situations: send in troops to stop it.
Secretary of State Kerry may have crossed a few lines and trod on some toes in his speech to the American Jewish Committee in Washington on Monday. The first half-hour was filled with predictable declarations about his love for Israel, the urgency of peace and the beautiful view from Masada, but his ending was a zinger: a five-minute call for American Jews to weigh in as a community and “help shape the future of this process.”
Specifically, he said, “let your leaders and your neighbors alike know that you understand this will be a tough process with tough decisions, but that you’re ready to back the leaders who will make them… let them know that you stand behind negotiations that will lead to two states for two peoples living side-by-side in peace and security.”
It’s not entirely clear which leaders he had in mind. He might have been thinking of their senators and representatives or perhaps the White House and administration. On the other hand, given that he was addressing them as members of a distinct entity — the American Jewish community — it’s quite possible that he was thinking of the leaders of that community. It would make political sense, too, since that’s the group that’s most commonly described as frustrating administrations in their forays into Israeli-Arab peace-making.
[N]o one has a stronger voice in this than the American Jewish community. You can play a critical part in ensuring Israel’s long-term security. And as President Obama said in Jerusalem, leaders will take bold steps only if their people push them to. You can help shape the future of this process. And in the end, you can help Israel direct its destiny and be masters of its own fate, just as Prime Minister Meir dreamed that it would be.
So I ask you today, send the message that you are behind this hopeful vision of what can be. Let your leaders and your neighbors alike know that you understand this will be a tough process with tough decisions, but that you’re ready to back the leaders who make them. For your children, do this; for your grandchildren, do this; for Israeli children and Palestinian children and for Israel, let them know that you stand behind negotiations that will lead to two states for two peoples living side-by-side in peace and security, and that you are part of the great constituency for peace.
In addition to urging Jews to press their leaders, Kerry’s speech broke at least three other rules of standard etiquette governing public officials when addressing Jews:
Israel’s state-owned Channel 1 Television aired the first part of a five-part miniseries version of “The Gatekeepers” on Sunday night. That’s the Oscar-nominated Israeli documentary in which all six living ex-directors of the Shin Bet security service criticize the government’s West Bank policies. According to Walla! News, the miniseries will include previously unseen material from the director’s hours of interviews with the six plus new documentary footage. Each segment is to be followed by live, roundtable discussions of the issues “for balance.”
Yediot Ahronot’s respected military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai, after watching the first episode, called it “even more important than the movie.” Eyal Levi of the conservative Maariv called it “required viewing.”
One thing that’s likely to result from the screening is a serious national discussion of the ex-Shin Bet leaders’ position, shared by most of the heads of the military and the Mossad, that peace with the Palestinians is achievable and within reach on terms that would make Israel more secure, not less so. Another likely outcome is an escalation of the tension that’s been growing in recent months between the security establishment and the political right.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had vowed not to see the movie when it was released this past winter. It remains to be seen whether he’ll stand firm once the miniseries airs and the rest of the country starts talking about it. Up to now, critics on the right have mostly directed their ire at the filmmaker, Dror Moreh, on the assumption that the film’s anti-occupation viewpoint can’t possibly represent the genuine opinions of all those security professionals. It’s “hardly a film that lets Shin Bet directors speak for themselves” (Alex Joffe, Jewish Ideas Daily). They were “they were manipulated by a film maker with an agenda” (Gidon Ben-zvi, Algemeiner). Moreh “should have laid greater emphasis on the swarms of suicide bombers that targeted and murdered more than 1,100 innocent Israelis during the second intifada” (Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post). And considering the funding the government provides to Israel’s struggling film industry, “we should find a means to bring an end to the lunacy of employing Israeli taxpayer funds to promote global anti-Israeli propaganda designed to defame the nation” (Leibler again).
Once the interviews hit the small screen—on state-owned TV, noch—it won’t be possible to pretend the film’s viewpoint is leftist, anti-Israel propaganda, as opposed to standard Israeli security doctrine. The interviewees will be showing up on live television to explain themselves. I spoke to several of them in January, after I’d seen the film, and they made it clear at the time that the film fully and accurately represented their views. In fact, as former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon told me, if the film had avoided the political question of the occupation, “there would have been no point to the film.”
Another of the interviewees, Yaakov Peri, who was elected to the Knesset with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and now serves as minister of science and technology, declared in a lengthy Yediot Ahronot interview this past Friday that he’s about to launch a major campaign to win Israeli acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative. Peri has spent the last few months heading up the so-called Peri Committee, which was in charge of crafting new legislation to bring Haredi or ultra-Orthodox Jews into military service.