A Syrian boy walks on the rubble of destroyed buildings in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
* Lee Smith: “The secretary of state prattles about imaginary treaties while the Arab world is engulfed by a Sunni-Shia civil war”
* “Secretary of State John Kerry says that’s it’s now or never for Israelis and Palestinians to reach agreement on a two-state solution. Interestingly, neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials have any idea what Kerry is talking about. With the Arab Spring uprisings tilting the Middle East status quo on behalf of Israel’s enemies, Jerusalem is not about to give up the West Bank – nor is the Palestinian Authority in any position to defend it. Little wonder then that an Israeli official recently told Ha’aretz, that Kerry ‘looks like a naive and ham-handed diplomat.’”
* “In the real world, what matters are the chips you lay on the table – and whether you are willing to bet. Having exited Iraq, packed up our gear in Afghanistan, abandoned our ‘red lines’ about Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s use of chemical weapons, America has gone from player to kibitzer.”
* As chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry was known in D.C. as the man who had Assad on his speed-dial. Now he has the unpleasant task of explaining that Assad is actually a butcher but his boss won’t do anything to stop him.
* Bruce Willis, Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman all deny fabricated claims put out by pro-Palestinian activists, and then repeated in mainstream media articles about Stephen Hawking, that they have boycotted Israel.
* Howard Jacobson: “Gather round, everybody. I bear important news. Anti-Semitism no longer exists! I first heard the news in a motion passed by the British University and College Union declaring that criticism of Israel can ‘never’ be anti-Semitic which, if ‘never’ means ‘never’, is a guarantee that Jew-hating is over, because ... Well, because it’s impossible to believe that an active anti-Semite wouldn’t – if only opportunistically – seek out somewhere to nestle in the manifold pleats of Israel-bashing, whether in generally diffuse anti-Zionism, or in more specific Boycott and Divestment Campaigns, Israeli Apartheid Weeks, End the Occupation movements and the like. Of course, you don’t have to hate Jews to hate Israel, but tell me that not a single Jew-hater finds the activity congenial, that criticizing Israel can ‘never’ be an expression of Jew-hating, not even when it takes the form of accusing Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs, then it follows that there’s no Jew-hating left.”
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach two articles below. The first by Lee Smith, who is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, writing in the American online magazine Tablet. And the second by the award-winning British novelist Howard Jacobson, writing in the left-of-center British paper, The Independent (a paper which is often hostile to Israel and employs Robert Fisk as its chief Middle East correspondent).
EXTRA NOTE 1: AL-JAZEERA APOLOGIZES – SORT OF
(This is a follow-up to the fourth note in one of last week’s dispatches.)
Al Jazeera apologized for running the anti-Semitic piece by Professor Joseph Massad, who teaches at Columbia University in New York.
Then Al-Jazeera took down its apology from its website
Now it has put up a semi-apology here.
EXTRA NOTE 2: FILMS STARS STILL LIKE GOING TO ISRAEL
As the worldwide media coverage of Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel continues, the Toronto Star has published an apology for wrongly claiming that film star Bruce Willis had boycotted Israel.
There are also fabrications being put out by pro-Palestinian websites, which have been repeated by some gullible journalists, that Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman have participated in boycotts against Israel. These have prompted the publicists for those actors to put out press statements this week denying the claims.
-- Tom Gross
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
KERRY’S LOVE OF THEATER
John Kerry’s Silly Play
The secretary of state prattles about imaginary treaties while the Arab world is engulfed by a Sunni-Shia civil war
By Lee Smith
May 22, 2013
Secretary of State John Kerry says that’s it’s now or never for Israelis and Palestinians to reach agreement on a two-state solution. Interestingly, neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials have any idea what Kerry is talking about. With the Arab Spring uprisings tilting the Middle East status quo on behalf of Israel’s enemies, Jerusalem is not about to give up the West Bank – nor is the Palestinian Authority in any position to defend it. Little wonder then that an Israeli official recently told Ha’aretz, that Kerry “looks like a naive and ham-handed diplomat.”
But of course, Kerry’s public statements have little connection to workable diplomacy. Rather, the secretary of state is the leading man in a theatrical production about American Middle East policy whose only audience members, at this point, are Beltway pundits. In the real world, what matters are the chips you lay on the table – and whether you are willing to bet. Having exited Iraq, packed up our gear in Afghanistan, abandoned our “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s use of chemical weapons, America has gone from player to kibitzer.
Consider Kerry’s other regional initiative: yet another peace process that seems entirely detached from realities on the ground. Kerry wants to convene an intra-Syrian peace conference, in tandem with Russia, sometime in June – with the goal of putting representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s regime together at the same table with the opposition forces determined to topple him. Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, more than 70,000 people have been killed, according to conservative estimates. To spectators in the balcony seats, the nauseating extent of the bloodshed might signal that the Syrians have had enough of death and want to get back to their lives.
But there are other, perhaps more instructive metrics. Last week, a video was released showing a rebel commander named Abu Sakkar eating what he believed to be the heart – it was actually the lung – of a regime loyalist. This gesture, apparently the first recorded act of ritual cannibalism in the Syrian civil war, suggests that the country’s sectarian furies are only now starting to reach a fever pitch – one that may well burn for many years to come. It is only when people tire of slaughtering their neighbors and eating them, and others are in turn tired of being slaughtered by their neighbors and being eaten, that they are ready to sit down and talk about peace.
Kerry’s efforts to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the Assad regime and its opponents, will obviously come to nothing. Being an experienced politician, Kerry may even have some inkling that his plans have no connection to reality. The reality in which he moves is too grim to present as the public face of American diplomacy: President Barack Obama is not obviously prepared to invest his own prestige in an Israel-Palestinian peace process that is doomed to fail. Nor is Obama any more inclined now than he was two years ago, when the Syrian uprising began, to throw his weight behind any policy that will actually bring about Assad’s fall. Under the circumstances, Kerry’s love of theater may actually be the least bad option for a man with the misfortune to have his lifelong ambition for higher office gratified at exactly the wrong time.
* * *
But Kerry’s fate is worth considering more closely for what it tells us about the current state of America’s Middle East policy and, more specifically, what it tells us about the job of secretary of state, which over the last few administrations has become less about implementing policy than about burnishing the intellectual and policy credentials of political celebrities who for whatever reason require a larger stage, but who then find themselves stuck knee-deep in the Big Muddy of America’s failed attempts to change the Middle East.
George W. Bush’s two secretaries of state distinguished themselves only by distancing themselves from the president’s major foreign-policy initiative, the Iraq War. Instead of resigning from Bush’s Cabinet in protest against a war he now says he thinks was a mistake, Colin Powell bit his tongue – until he left the administration and tried to clean the mud off his boots by taking shots at his former colleagues, who couldn’t answer back. Condoleezza Rice convened an Arab-Israeli peace conference at Annapolis in order to distract attention from the fact that she was now the one who was supposed to be in charge of Iraq. Hillary Clinton – who undoubtedly remembered what happened to her peace-maker husband at Camp David – eschewed Israeli-Palestinian peace conferences and other rote American diplomatic stagecraft for the pleasures of being garlanded with flowers at a record number of international airports.
As chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry was known in D.C. as the man who had Assad on his speed-dial. Now he has the unpleasant task of explaining that Assad is actually a butcher but his boss won’t do anything to stop him. So, what should he do with the rest of his term in office that might be more rewarding? At the very least, a secretary of state should be able to give both the president and the American public a clear picture of what is happening in the world and where American interests may lie. At present, Kerry might instruct us that this picture looks something like this:
The Middle East is currently being torn apart by the Sunni-Shia conflict, a bloody religiously inflected war for regional dominance. This war is not an ideological construct of the kind that political scientists like to use in order to group a variety of disparate phenomena under a single subject heading. It’s a deadly shooting war, whose many campaigns include not only Iraq’s ongoing civil war, but the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, which pitted the Sunni standard-bearer, Saddam Hussein, against the self-styled Persian revolutionaries of Shiite Iran. Today, the main theater of this conflict is Syria, where Assad’s minority regime, drawn from a heterodox Shia sect known as the Alawites, has called in reinforcements from Hezbollah, a Shiite militia in Lebanon, as well as Iran, all together comprising a bloc vying for regional hegemony with the Sunni powers – especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey.
In turn, the Sunni states are backing the Sunni Arab majority in Syria, pouring in money and arms. If some of their assets are unsavory characters affiliated with al-Qaida, the reality is that, absent the United States, the Gulf Arabs have no other security pillar to protect and advance their interests.
The Sunnis are of two minds about the conflict: They both welcome it insofar as they see it as the realization of a historical dream to put down the upstart Shia once and for all. The Sunnis also fear the conflict. They believe that the Syria campaign may be even more dangerous and destabilizing than the Iran-Iraq war, which – terror attacks aside – was largely restricted to a relatively limited field of battle between the borders of those two countries. The current enactment of the Sunni-Shia war, on the other hand, threatens to extend to everywhere in the Middle East where the two sects live in close proximity to each other. Sectarian violence in Iraq has picked up as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki further consolidates his power and the Sunnis are fighting back. Earlier in the week, 70 people were killed in car bombings and shootings in Baghdad in a round of violence that may augur a return to the worst sectarian fighting since the country’s barely averted civil war under the American military occupation. Now that the Americans are gone, communal violence between Sunnis and Shia is likely to escalate.
In Lebanon it seems that neither the Iranians nor the Saudis have an interest at present in opening another front. Tehran believes that Hezbollah firmly controls Lebanon and there is no reason to risk that control while Hezbollah fighters are pouring into Syria to give Assad’s depleted forces a breather. Riyadh also wishes to focus its efforts on Syria. But who knows how long the Lebanese will continue to cross the border to fight each other when they can save on car and bus fare, sleep in their own beds, and fire RPGs at each other at home?
So, what does any of this have to do with America, besides the fact that no one likes seeing footage of dead babies on YouTube? Why not, as some argue, let the Sunni and Shia kill each other until they get tired of killing? For the United States, the gravest danger of the Sunni-Shia war is that it might spread to the Persian Gulf, which remains a fulcrum of the global economy.
The possibility that the fires that are burning in Syria and Iraq might spread to the Gulf gets more real by the day. Bahrain, an oil-rich country ruled by Sunnis, has a restive Shiite majority. Saudi Arabia’s Shiite majority inhabits the country’s oil-rich eastern province. The Sunni rulers of the Gulf States appear to relish the opportunity to take on Iran and the Shia, especially in Syria, the historical homeland of the first Arab empire, the Umayyad dynasty. Without Washington on the spot to rein in Arab triumphalism, the Saudis are likely to over-estimate their power, causing damage not only to themselves, but also the global economy and therefore vital American interests.
Obama might not see the Iranian nuclear program as a very big problem – it’s not the Soviet Union after all. His apparent focus on al-Qaida rather than on Iran as America’s major strategic threat may suggest he believes that, in the long-run, the Shia, as a regional minority, are a better match for American values and interests than the Sunni majority, whose millennia-long domination of the Shia has given rise to the sectarian supremacism that in turn gave rise to al-Qaida. There are good reasons, in other words, for America to stay out of the Sunni-Shia civil war. What a good secretary of state should be telling the president right now is that such a course of action, while perhaps preferable, may not be possible.
IT’S OFFICIAL: ANTI-SEMITISM IS NO MORE
It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking’s Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more
By Howard Jacobson
The Independent (London)
Friday 17 May 2013
Why is Israel alone of all offending countries to be boycotted? Perhaps because it’s that offending country which also just happens to be Jewish?
Gather round, everybody. I bear important news. Anti-Semitism no longer exists! Ring out, ye bells, the longest hatred has ceased to be. It’s kaput, kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. It’s a stiff, ladies and gentlemen. An EX-PREJUDICE!
I first heard the news in a motion passed by the University and College Union declaring that criticism of Israel can “never” be anti-Semitic which, if “never” means “never”, is a guarantee that Jew-hating is over, because ... Well, because it’s impossible to believe that an active anti-Semite wouldn’t – if only opportunistically – seek out somewhere to nestle in the manifold pleats of Israel-bashing, whether in generally diffuse anti-Zionism, or in more specific Boycott and Divestment Campaigns, Israeli Apartheid Weeks, End the Occupation movements and the like. Of course, you don’t have to hate Jews to hate Israel, but tell me that not a single Jew-hater finds the activity congenial, that criticising Israel can “never” be an expression of Jew-hating, not even when it takes the form of accusing Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs, then it follows that there’s no Jew-hating left.
These tidings would seem to be confirmed by Judge Anthony Snelson who, investigating a complaint that the Union was institutionally anti-Semitic, encountered not a trace of any such beast, no suggestion it had lurked or was lurking, not the faintest rustle of its cerements, not so much as a frozen shadow on a wall. Indeed, so squeaky-clean was the union in all its anti-Israel motions and redefinitions of anti-Semitism to suit itself, that Judge Snelson berated the Jewish complainants, a) for wasting his time with evidence, b) for irresponsibly raiding the public purse, and c) for trying to silence debate, which is, of course, the rightful province of the Boycott and Divestment movement.
It was this same Judge Snelson, reader, who ruled in favour of a Muslim woman claiming the cocktail dress she was expected to wear, while working as a cocktail waitress in Mayfair, “violated her dignity”. Not for him the cheap shot of wondering what in that case she was doing working as a cocktail waitress in a cocktail bar in Mayfair. If she felt she was working in a “hostile environment”, then she was working in a “hostile environment”, which is not to be confused with a Jew feeling he is working in a hostile environment since with the abolition of anti-Semitism there is no such thing as an environment that’s hostile to a Jew. My point being that Judge Snelson’s credentials as a man who knows a bigot from a barmcake are impeccable.
And now, with Stephen Hawking announcing, by means of an Israeli-made device, that he no longer wants to talk to the scientists who invented it, or to Israeli scientists who invented or might invent anything else, or indeed to Israeli historians, critics, biologists, physicists of any complexion, no matter what their relations to Palestinian scholars whom he does want to talk to, we are reminded that the cultural boycott with which he has suddenly decided to throw in his lot is entirely unJew-related, which is more good news. “Peace”, that is all Professor Hawking seeks, a word that was left out of his statement as reproduced on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website, presumably on the grounds that everyone already knows that peace is all the PSC has ever wanted too.
To those who ask why Israel alone of all offending countries is to be boycotted, the answer comes back loud and clear from boycotters that because they cannot change the whole world, that is no reason not to try to change some small part of it, in this case the part where they feel they have the most chance of success, which also just happens to be the part that’s Jewish. That this is, in fact, a “back-handed compliment” to Jews, John MacGabhann, general secretary of the pro-boycott Teachers’ Union of Ireland, made clear when he talked of “expecting more of the Israeli government, precisely because we would anticipate that Israeli governments would act in all instances and ways to better uphold the rights of other”, which implies that he expects less of other governments, and does not anticipate them to act in all instances and ways better to uphold the rights of others. And why? He can only mean, reader, because those other governments are not Jewish.
I’d call this implicit racism if I were a citizen of those circumambient Muslim countries that aren’t being boycotted – a tacit assumption that nothing can ever be done, say, about the persecution of women, the bombing of minorities, discrimination against Christians, the hanging of adulterers and homosexuals, and so on, because such things are intrinsic to their cultures – but at least now that we have got rid of anti-Semitism, tackling Islamophobia should not be slow to follow.
It’s heartening, anyway, after so many years of hearing Israel described as intractable and pitiless, to learn that activists feel it’s worth pushing at Israel’s door because there is a good chance of its giving way. It’s further proof of our new abrogation of anti-Semitism that we should now see Israel as a soft touch, the one country in the world which, despite its annihilationist ambitions, will feel the pain when actors, musicians, and secretaries of Irish Teachers’ Unions stop exchanging views with it. All we need to do now is recognise that those who would isolate Israel, silence it and maybe even persuade it to accept its own illegitimacy intend nothing more by it than love.
Can the day be far away when Israel no longer exists, when the remaining rights-upholding, peace-loving countries of the region come together in tolerance and amity, and it won’t even be necessary to speak of anti-Semitism’s demise because we will have forgotten it ever existed? That’s when Jews will know they’re finally safe. Ring out, ye bells!