Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Seeking imaginary peace while a Sunni-Shia civil war rages (& Al-Jazeera apologizes – sort of)

May 23, 2013

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).



(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.



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: Please also press “Like” on that page.



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: 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!

Erdogan’s Kurdish gambit: Will it change the Mideast? (& a note on Richard Beeston)

May 20, 2013

Richard Beeston, reporting from Al-Fasher, Darfur, Sudan, in 2005



[Note by Tom Gross]

Below, I attach an important article about the Kurds, “Erdogan’s Great Gamble,” by John Hannah (who was national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney from 2005 to 2009, and is a subscriber to this email list).

Before that, I would like to add a note to all those other journalists expressing their sadness at the death yesterday of Richard Beeston, the foreign editor of the Times of London, who has died at the age of 50 after a long battle with cancer.

Rick was funny, warm and engaging company, and he was a very accomplished foreign correspondent. He reported with great courage from war zones in Lebanon, Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Darfur. And when he was Jerusalem correspondent of The Times, he was much fairer to Israel than many other British journalists.

Besides being a friend in life, and a subscriber to this email list, Rick was also a friend on Facebook and I find it fitting that it turns out that his last post on Facebook was to recommend an article about the 25th anniversary of Halabja, titled “Whatever you think of the Iraq War, for the Kurds it was a liberation.”

25 years ago, Richard Beeston was one of the few reporters to make their way to Halabja, the Kurdish town in northern Iraq where Saddam Hussein, in an act of unspeakable cruelty, ordered the bombing of the civilian population with chemical weapons, killing 5,000 people – mostly women and children – in a matter of seconds. Thousands more were disfigured. The overwhelming majority of them were civilians. They had attacked no one. Their only “crime” was to be Kurdish.

The attack was part of the wider genocidal Al-Anfal campaign, initiated by Saddam’s Ba’ath party (the sister party of Assad’s Ba’ath party in Syria), which claimed over 182,000 lives. Out of 4,655 villages roughly 90% were destroyed and between April 1987 and August 1988, 250 towns and villages were exposed to chemical weapons.

As Richard Beeston later wrote about Halabja: “On the ground, the scale of the slaughter became clear. Entire families had been killed by the poison chemicals. Some died together huddled in makeshift shelters that offered no protection against the gas. One family was killed in their garden along with their pets.

“Another succumbed as they tried to escape by car. We found the vehicle crashed into a wall with the driver and all occupants dead and the keys in the ignition. The most poignant memory of that day was a father in traditional Kurdish dress lying dead at the entrance to his home cradling a baby. Those who survived were arguably worse off. Hundreds had been hit by mustard gas that burnt their eyes and lungs but did not kill them. Victims of this slow and painful poison are still dying of their injuries to this day.

“Even by Saddam’s ruthless standards the massacre broke new boundaries. Yet what was more shocking was the cynical response of the West. The U.S. attempted to blame this crime on Iran. Britain carried on business as usual with the regime in Baghdad. Saddam was shielded from any meaningful punishment.”


I attach one article below, about Turkey and the Kurds.

-- Tom Gross


Halabja, 1988

* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.


Erdogan’s Great Gamble
Will embracing the Kurds make Turkey’s prime minister the country’s most influential figure since Ataturk?
By John Hannah
May 14, 2013

Something quite extraordinary -- perhaps even historic -- is afoot in Turkey. The country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is engaged in a colossal roll of the political dice, an act of statesmanship, ambition, and hubris largely without parallel on the current world stage. At one and the same time, Erdogan appears set on a course that could result not only in redefining the very nature of the modern Turkish nation-state, but in a radical revision of the Turkish Republic’s core national security tenets as well. How the gambit plays out could have momentous implications for the future of Turkey, for sure, but also for the broader Middle East region and even the United States.

At the center of Erdogan’s play is an effort to resolve Turkey’s “Kurdish problem” -- the chronic, often bloody conflict that has torn at the fabric of the Turkish state since its founding 90 years ago. On one side: the highly exclusive Kemalist conception of Turkish citizenship that all but denied the existence of Kurdish ethnicity (no Kurds here, only “mountain Turks”) and effectively banned Kurdish language, history, and culture from the nation’s public life. On the other: a fiercely proud and distinct people, the Kurds, whose decades-long struggle for recognition and self-determination has -- not surprisingly -- regularly found expression in demands for independent nationhood, an ever-present separatist dagger pointed at the heart of Turkey’s territorial integrity and unity. Since 1984, this clash of competing nationalisms has manifested itself most virulently in the brutal war waged against the Turkish state by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Leninist organization that both the United States and the European Union have officially designated as a terrorist group.

Now, in a bold and risky effort to cut through this Gordian knot, Erdogan has launched a new peace process in which his main partner is none other than Abdullah Ocalan, the infamous PKK leader who has been imprisoned on the Turkish island of Imrali since 1999. Revered by many (though by no means all) Kurds, Ocalan is reviled by the majority of ethnic Turks, condemned as a murderous enemy of the republic, a master terrorist whose hands are covered in the blood of innocents.

After months of secret negotiations with Erdogan’s intelligence chief, Ocalan issued a dramatic cease-fire declaration from his jail cell on March 21, the Kurdish new year. The statement was presented publicly in Diyarbakir, a Kurdish-majority city in southeastern Turkey, where it was read out by Kurdish parliamentarians to a massive crowd waving Kurdish flags and portraits of the PKK leader. According to Ocalan, “A new era is beginning; arms are silencing; politics are gaining momentum. It is time for our [PKK] armed entities to withdraw [from Turkey].” Ocalan condemned as “an inhuman invention” past efforts to form states “on a single ethnicity and nation.” Today, he stated, “everybody is responsible for the creation of a free, democratic, and egalitarian country that suits well with the history of Kurdistan and Anatolia.”

Addressing the people of Turkey directly, Ocalan claimed that “their coexistence with Kurdish people dates back to a historical agreement of fraternity and solidarity under the flag of Islam.... This spirit of solidarity does not and must not contain conquest, denial, forced assimilation, and annihilation.” Instead, Ocalan invited Turks and Kurds “to build the democratic modernity together, as two prominent strategic powers in the Middle East ... to emancipate ourselves from the vicious cycle of cruelty which [contradicts] our history and fraternity agreement. It is time not for opposition, conflict, or contempt towards each other; it is time for cooperation, unity, embracing, and mutual blessing.”

PKK fighters quickly fell into line with Ocalan’s command. The cease-fire took effect. And on May 8, several thousand PKK forces inside Turkey announced that they had officially commenced their withdrawal to mountain bases across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan -- a slow retreat by foot that they suggested would be completed by the fall.

Beyond the cease-fire and withdrawal, however, details of the Erdogan-Ocalan peace process remain shrouded in mystery. At some point, of course, the PKK will also need to disarm and disband its fighting units. But in exchange for what exactly? That’s the big question. What has Erdogan promised? How far is he prepared to go in his search for a settlement? At this point, no one outside Erdogan and his inner circle really seems to know.

What we do have some idea about are long-standing Kurdish demands. The release of thousands imprisoned for links to the PKK. Amnesty for PKK fighters and their reintegration into Turkish society. And almost certainly, the release from prison of Ocalan himself and, most probably, an eventual place for him in Turkish political life.

But it doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot. More fundamentally, the Kurds are seeking a radical and formal upgrade to their status in the Turkish body politic. They want a new constitution that recognizes the Kurdish people, alongside Turks, as an equal and essential component of the republic. They want the right to fully express their culture, including the right to educate their children in the Kurdish language. And, at a minimum, they want to see Turkish politics decentralized in a way that will allow Kurdish communities to exercise an unspecified degree of control over their local affairs.

It would be a gross understatement to say that this package, or even some subset of it, represents a very tall order. Indeed, most experts on Turkey whom I’ve canvassed tell me that it’s damn close to impossible -- well beyond what the traffic of Turkish politics can bear. They note that over the past 25 years there have been more than a half dozen such efforts, all of which have crashed and burned. Some see Erdogan as badly overreaching, far too cocky in his ability to manipulate Turkey’s political system and buy off Kurdish demands without making major concessions.

Many others see much greater cynicism at work. They don’t believe Erdogan is seriously engaged in a peace process at all. One minority view suggests that his central motivation is simply to create the appearance of calm in order to convince the International Olympic Committee to award the 2020 games to Istanbul -- a decision due this September that, once made, will quickly be followed by Erdogan’s scuttling of the peace process. A more prevalent take is that Erdogan is not out to solve the Kurdish problem per se, but only the PKK problem by doing just enough to fracture and fatally weaken the group, a divide-and-conquer strategy that will leave it isolated and maximally vulnerable to military defeat -- and Erdogan with maximum public support.

Perhaps. Yet I wonder. The fact is that Erdogan may have a very deep personal stake in currying Kurdish favor at this time. Because he is term-limited as prime minister, it is widely known that Erdogan wants to be elected president of Turkey in 2014 -- but only after securing a new constitution that would grant the presidency dramatic new powers, transforming it from today’s largely ceremonial post into the preeminent authority in the Turkish political system. If not the new sultan, Erdogan certainly fancies himself at least the Turkish de Gaulle, the founder of what would effectively be the Second Turkish Republic -- a perch from which he could serve two five-year terms as head of state, triumphantly preside over Turkey’s centennial celebrations in 2023, and write the final chapter of a remarkable political career whose legacy by the end of his two-decade tenure at the top of Turkish politics in 2024 could very well read: the most influential and transformative Turkish leader since Ataturk, if not ever, as well as one of the most significant world figures of the 21st century.

But Erdogan’s ambitions face substantial resistance within Turkey -- including, perhaps, within his own party -- from quarters who are extremely wary about putting even greater power into the hands of a man whose authoritarian reflex and Islamist agenda have been well documented over the past decade. Kurdish support (solid statistics are hard to come by, but Kurds probably represent at least 20 percent of Turkey’s population), both within parliament and, if necessary, in a popular referendum for a new constitution, could be essential if Erdogan’s broader visions of grandeur are to be realized. In that context, going above and beyond to meet Kurdish requirements, including via the constitution, could be essential for Erdogan’s own future.

Experts have certainly underestimated Erdogan before. Few would have predicted that in the space of only a few years he would have so thoroughly browbeaten the Turkish military into submission and all but neutered its once-commanding role as the ultimate arbiter of the country’s political course. Indeed, with hundreds of the country’s most senior military officers behind bars for alleged plots against the state, it’s now fairly easy to imagine the trump card that Erdogan might play to grease the skids for the reintegration of PKK fighters, and even Ocalan himself, back into Turkish political life: amnesty and pardons for all, both the military and the PKK, in the name of a historic national reconciliation.

It’s also worth noting that when it comes to defying the experts, Erdogan has already proved his mettle on the Kurdish issue, specifically. As recently as a few years ago, almost no one could have believed that Turkey would go from being the most ardent opponent of autonomy for Iraq’s Kurds to its most staunch defender. Yet that is more or less the situation that we find today. Erdogan has turned the traditional Turkish paradigm toward Iraqi Kurdistan on its head. Once deemed a potential casus bellibecause of the separatist threat it might trigger in Turkey’s own Kurdish population, a stable, oil-rich, and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan is now perceived by Erdogan as an important ally, a vital trading partner and energy source, a crucial buffer zone against Iranian ambitions and the turmoil raging in the rest of the Middle East, and a major contributor to both Turkey’s economic prosperity and national security.

Indeed, it’s almost certainly the case that the success Erdogan has enjoyed in transforming Turkey’s relations with Iraq’s Kurds has greatly influenced his thinking with respect to what may be possible with Turkey’s own Kurds. For sure, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), along with other KRG officials, has played a key behind-the-scenes role counseling Erdogan, encouraging and facilitating his outreach to the PKK as well as Turkey’s Kurds more generally. If acknowledgement and recognition of Kurdish identity in Iraq are proving such a boon to Turkish strategic interests, is it really that far-fetched to think that Erdogan may increasingly believe that an equally bold shift in approach toward his own Kurdish population could pay similar, if not even greater dividends?

The profound implications extend not only to Turkey domestically, but to Ankara’s policies in the broader region as well. The dramatic change in relations with Iraqi Kurdistan is obviously Exhibit A. But the Kurdish areas of Syria could be next. As the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime intensified last year, Turkish officials reacted harshly as forces from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, took control of hundreds of villages near Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq. Both Erdogan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, reflexively threatened military action and suggested that any effort to establish a Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria, especially under de facto PKK control, constituted a red line that would not be tolerated. And though direct intervention by Ankara never materialized, Turkey almost certainly backed Sunni opposition forces, including jihadi elements, that clashed with PYD forces this year.

But with the dramatic onset of Turkey’s peace process with the PKK, Ankara’s policies toward Syrian Kurdistan appear to be rapidly evolving as well. The PYD leader, Salih Muslim, expressed strong support for Ocalan’s negotiations with Erdogan and claimed that the process has already triggered an easing of Turkey’s policy toward Syria’s Kurds, including a more conciliatory attitude on Kurdish issues from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Coalition. The PYD also underscored its own eagerness to enter unconditional talks with Turkey to improve relations.

In short, Turkish opposition to Kurdish aspirations in Syria may fast be going the way of its onetime opposition to Kurdish aspirations in Iraq. Erdogan may again be coming to the conclusion that Turkish interests are far better served by seeking to co-opt and harness the Kurdish movement to Turkey’s advantage, rather than fighting it. As in Iraq, Kurdish areas in Syria contain important energy resources that Turkey’s fast-growing, energy-starved economy is eager to gain access to. As in Iraq, Turkish companies would be well positioned to become the major beneficiaries of reconstruction efforts in Syrian Kurdistan. And as in Iraq, a stable autonomous Kurdish region in Syria under Turkish patronage could play an important buffer role as the rest of Syria implodes in a fury of sectarian violence and extremism.

Taken as a whole, it seems entirely possible that Erdogan is engaged in an enterprise whose implications could be quite far-reaching, even revolutionary, a near 180-degree reversal from the central strategic imperative that has animated Turkish policy both at home and abroad for nearly a century. Rather than seeking to lay waste to the Kurdish national movement as a mortal threat to the Turkish state, Erdogan seems increasingly of a mind to embrace it in the belief that it can be tamed for the purpose of bolstering Turkish prosperity and security. Within Turkey, that could mean nothing less than the formal abandonment of Kemalism’s insistence on a unitary “Turkish” identity and recognition of the country’s essentially binational character, comprising both Turks and Kurds. Beyond Turkey’s borders, it suggests something like a Turkish Co-Prosperity Sphere in which Ankara shifts from being the main antagonist of the Middle East’s Kurds to their primary benefactor and protector.

Were such an effort to succeed, the payoffs for Erdogan and Turkey could be substantial, of course. Personally for Erdogan, it could be his ticket to the empowered presidency he longs for. It’s certainly the stuff of which Nobel Peace Prizes are made. Nationally, it would heal a wound in Turkish life whose cost in blood and treasure has been exceedingly high, and fully unshackle the country to reach new heights of economic power and international influence.

But the risks are great, too. With expectations raised so high, a breakdown in the Kurdish peace process now could result in greatly intensified violence and bloodletting, leaving Turkey increasingly vulnerable to the type of ethnic and sectarian conflict raging on its borders, especially in Syria. The gamble that the genie of Kurdish nationalism, once released -- not just in Iraq, but in Turkey and Syria as well -- can be successfully contained under the umbrella of Ankara’s political and economic patronage could prove badly mistaken. Erdogan could end up riding a tiger that in the end will consume both him and Turkey. That danger seems especially high having crowned Ocalan as the Kurdish kingmaker. Is a dyed-in-the-wool terrorist and revolutionary, with a dictator’s bent for ruthlessness and power, really the man you want to be relying on to help ensure the security and well-being of your country? Is Ocalan really prepared to have his historic ambitions whittled back for all time to being the mayor of Diyarbakir? The parallels are not exact, but Israel’s decision to allow an unreconstructed Yasir Arafat -- Nobel Peace Prize in tow, of course -- to enter the Palestinian territories and establish his revisionist tyranny within striking distance of Jerusalem certainly comes to mind.

However it plays out, one thing seem certain: Erdogan’s gambit to address the Kurdish issue -- both at home and abroad -- is likely to have a profound impact both on the future of Turkey as well as on the geopolitics, and maybe even the geography, of the Middle East. The fate of nations critically important to U.S. foreign policy and national security might literally hang in the balance, including Erdogan’s own. All good reasons, then, for President Barack Obama to take some time to try to divine exactly where the Turkish leader is headed and how America’s long-term interests might be affected.

Iran’s Ahmadinejad could face 74 lashes over election ‘violation’ (& World Press Photo ‘faked’)

May 15, 2013

The “doctored” 2013 World Press Photo of the Year from Gaza. The WPP association has today released a statement standing by their photo, but in many ways they have to, since their whole reputation is at stake


* 4 year-old girl from Syria undergoes successful lifesaving open-heart surgery in Israel, following successful treatment of Iraqi infants also airlifted to Israel

* Tenured Columbia University Politics Professor: All the good Jews died in the Holocaust

* You couldn’t make it up: Iran appointed to chair U.N. disarmament conference

* 2013 World Press Photo of the Year (which was from Gaza) “was faked with Photoshop”


* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. Headline of the week (or year)
2. A 4 year-old girl from Syria undergoes successful lifesaving heart surgery in Israel
3. “How the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year was faked with Photoshop”
4. Columbia University Professor: All the good Jews died in the Holocaust
5. “This is like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a women’s shelter”
6. Lord Ahmed resigns from British Labour Party days before hearing over anti-Semitism allegations

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Al Arabiya: Iran’s Ahmadinejad could face 74 lashes over election ‘violation’

Al Arabiya, a leading pan-Arab TV network, reports that after accompanying his former chief of staff to register for June’s Iranian presidential vote, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may face punishment for breaking electoral rules.

On Sunday, the country’s electoral watchdog said Ahmadinejad may face a punishment of “74 lashes” for appearing to endorse Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie as an election candidate.

It seems that Ahmadinejad is trying to “do a Putin” and maintain influence by placing Mashaie in office, before later returning to the presidency himself.

Iranian electoral law forbids individuals from supporting candidates in an official capacity, although the Supreme leader hand picks candidates who are allowed to stand in the first place in the Islamic republic of Iran’s less than fully democratic election.

Observers say that they don’t believe Ahmadinejad would actually be lashed (though no doubt he will blame Israel if he is).



Doctors at Wolfson Medical Center in the Israeli town of Holon have saved the life of a four-year old Syrian refugee by performing successful open-heart surgery. She was operated on in Holon on Monday. The child, whose identity is not being released to keep the family safe from Syrian extremists, was airlifted to Israel with her parents from a Syrian refuge camp in Jordan last weekend. Israel has some of the world’s leading heart surgeons and her case required a complicated procedure.

The Israeli charity “Save a Child’s Heart,” founded by the late pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Amiram Cohen, has treated more than 3,000 children from 45 developing nations in Israel.

The charity, together with Holon hospital, performed the operation for free and the doctors and nurses waived fees, as they (and their colleagues at other Israeli hospitals) have done in numerous other cases when treating sick children from Gaza and elsewhere.

The Syrian girl’s mother told the Jerusalem Post that doctors in Syria discovered the girl’s heart condition when the child was six months old, but proper medical care was not available.

“We kept taking her to doctors but nothing could be done for her,” the mother said. “She couldn’t run and play like other children, and she was very sick most of the time.” The mother said after the operation that the doctors treated her family very well. At Wolfson, she met other patients and their families – many of them Palestinian and Arabic speaking – and her daughter is now recuperating in the children’s pediatric intensive care unit.


Tom Gross adds: Earlier this year, Iraqi Muslim extremists were furious when the media revealed that three Iraqi children, aged one, three and six, also underwent heart surgery at Wolfson Medical Center.

Holon hospital director-general Dr. Yitzhak Berkovich said that about 200 Iraqi children are treated in the hospital every year, but they try not to release the names of patients in order to protect their families from being attacked back home for daring to visit Israel.

As noted in previous dispatches on this list, Israeli army helicopters have on several occasions managed to pick up badly injured Syrian refugees who made it to the Syrian-Israeli border and have flown them to Israeli hospitals for treatment.



Several websites are reporting that the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year – a tear-provoking image of a father with his child in Gaza last year – was faked with Photoshop.

The World Press Photo of the Year is the largest and most prestigious press photography award.

For example, a leading photography and computer website, reported on Monday that:

“The World Press Photo association hasn’t yet stripped the photographer, Paul Hansen, of the title, but presumably it’s just a matter of time. … Hansen seemingly managed to trick a panel of experienced judges with his shooping skillz, and how a seasoned computer scientist spotted the fraudulent forgery from a mile off.

“The photo, dubbed Gaza Burial, was purportedly captured on November 20, 2012 by Paul Hansen. Hansen was in Gaza City when Israeli forces retaliated in response to Palestinian rocket fire. The photo shows two of the casualties of the Israeli attack, carried to their funeral by their uncles. Now, the event itself isn’t a fake — there are lots of other photos online that show the children being carried through the streets of Gaza — but the photo itself is almost certainly a composite of three different photos, with various regions spliced together from each of the images, and then further manipulation to illuminate the mourners’ faces.

“This revelation comes from Neal Krawetz, a forensic image analyst. There were two main stages to the analysis: First an interrogation of the JPEG’s XMP block, which details the file’s Photoshop save history, and then pixel-level error level analysis (ELA). To begin with, the XMP data shows that the original, base image was converted from Raw format and opened in Photoshop on November 20, 2012 (the same date that it was taken). Then, on January 4, 2013, the XMP block shows that a second Raw image was opened and added to the original. An hour later, a third image was spliced in. Finally, 30 minutes later the photo chimera was actually saved to disk. The January 4 date is interesting because it shows that the final photo was only edited a couple of weeks before the January 17 submission deadline, not soon after original photo was taken in Gaza — in other words, it was probably edited specifically for the contest…

“The final nail in the coffin is shadow analysis. At the time the photo was taken — 10:40 am, in the winter — the sun should be fairly low in the sky. The shadows on the left wall are consistent with a sun location that should cast deep, dark shadows on the mourners’ right sides — but, as you can see, those magical light rays seem to be at work again.”


Tom Gross adds: As I have documented in dispatches and columns for over a decade, the main international news agencies have regularly doctored photos to portray Israel in a bad light, just as many journalists at respected papers have made things up (although the situation has improved recently as journalists and photographers come under more scrutiny by the public).

However, unlike for example, the infamous Reuters photo in which bombing clouds over Beirut were added in 2006, or another photo where a child’s doll was placed near some rubble to falsely allege that Israel had bombed a pre-school, Hansen’s Gaza picture didn’t attempt to change the facts as such, but he manipulated the picture in order to make it appear much more dramatic and emotional.

Hansen has previously won multiple photography awards in his native Sweden.

Hansen and his supporters deny claims that the image was manipulated by him.



In his latest outrageous statement about Jews, Joseph Massad, who is a tenured Columbia University professor of politics, published a column yesterday on the website of Al Jazeera in which he claimed that the ‘good’ Jewish people who opposed the existence of Israel died in the Holocaust.

“The Nazi genocide … killed the majority of Jewish enemies of Zionism who died precisely because they refused to heed the Zionist call,” Massad wrote, before going on to accuse America of promoting “pro-Zionist Nazi policies.”

Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted: “Congratulations, al Jazeera. You’ve just posted one of the most anti-Jewish screeds in recent memory.”

Massad has regularly espoused conspiracy theories about Jews and Nazis.

Columbia remains in some respects one of the world’s most controversial universities and has often been accused of providing a platform to anti-Semites, most infamously to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shortly after he denied the Holocaust and threatened a new one.

For more on this, please see the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh items here:

* New York Times readers’ page: “Bravo, bravo, bravo, Columbia!”

And this dispatch:

* Deny Holocaust? Get welcomed by Columbia University


Some of Massad’s colleagues at Columbia, such as Professor Paul Appelbaum, the university’s Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law, yesterday attacked Massad’s “profound ignorance of history.”



Iran has been appointed to chair the United Nations’ most important disarmament negotiating forum during the panel’s May-June session, which opened on Monday in Geneva.

“This is like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a women’s shelter,” said Hillel Neuer, who is the director of the Geneva-based group UN Watch (and a subscriber to this email list).

“Iran is an international outlaw state that illegally supplies rockets to Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas, aiding and abetting mass murder and terrorism. To make this rogue regime head of world arms control is simply an outrage. Abusers of international norms should not be the public face of the UN.”

The U.S. announced it would now boycott the session as a result of Iran being awarded the chair.



The Labour legislator Lord Ahmed, who was made a peer by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in an effort to promote “moderate Muslims”, has resigned from the Labour Party days before he was due to face a hearing over allegations that he made anti-Semitic comments in a TV interview in Pakistan.

Ahmed was due to appear before Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee today to answer accusations that he blamed a Jewish conspiracy for his dangerous driving jail term.

As a result, he will not now go before the panel, but he will remain a member of Britain’s upper chamber of parliament, the House of Lords.

In March, The Times of London reported that Lord Ahmend blamed his 2009 prison sentence – for sending text messages shortly before his car was involved in a fatal crash in which he killed a young Slovak man – on pressure placed on the courts by Jews “who own newspapers and TV channels.”

The Muslim peer allegedly told an Urdu-language broadcaster in Pakistan that the judge (who was not Jewish) who jailed him for 12 weeks was under the control of “the Jews.”

After the Times broke the story, a Jewish journalist at the Times (who had not been the author of the Times’ story) was sent what has been described as a “Jew-baiting tweet” by a journalist at The Guardian, angry with the Times for having reported on Lord Ahmed’s anti-Semitism.

For background on this, please see the second, third and fourth items in this dispatch:

Norway admits its aid went to Palestinian terrorists (& “Reward for Obama’s capture”)

And my 2011 article:

The Guardian’s readers’ editor acknowledges a degree of anti-Semitism among Guardian journalists.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]

Conference boycotted by Hawking has featured top Palestinian speakers every year

May 13, 2013

A Canadian actor plays Shylock


* The Times of London (lead editorial) : “Brilliance in one sphere does not guarantee sense in another. So it is with Professor Hawking. His conduct is obtuse, mean-spirited and ungracious. Above all, it is alien to the spirit of critical thinking on which science and academic inquiry depend.”

* Rod Liddle on Hawking in The Sunday Times: “I wonder what Hawking’s hero, the late mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing would have thought of this. A short while ago, Hawking was a leading signatory to a campaign for Turing to be posthumously pardoned – he had been convicted of homosexuality 60 years ago. Turing would get 10 years in prison in Gaza today, although there is a healthy penal reform lobby within the mosques who think this sentence should be non-custodial – that is, it should be changed to death by stoning.”

* Netanyahu: “Just as Hawking knows that there are many false theories in science, he should know that there are also false theories in politics, and the slandering of Israel is one of them.”

* Netanyahu’s advisor: History shows that there are people who are no less great than Hawking who believed prejudicial things about Jews, such as Voltaire and Shakespeare.

* Longtime senior Ha’aretz columnist Akiva Eldar: “One would have expected Professor Hawking to be a tad more sophisticated. Those boycotting Israel’s rich intellectual life are stupid and shallow. Hawking should have known that the results of such boycotts tend to be the exact opposite of what was intended. By boycotting Peres’ Conference, what Hawking really did was bestow an invaluable gift on all of those who claim (a group headed by Netanyahu) that the de-legitimization campaign being waged against Israel has nothing to do with the occupation, the settlements, or the moribund diplomatic talks. It challenges the very right of the Jewish state to exist as a sovereign political entity.”


* This is a follow-up to last week’s dispatch: So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?

* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. Conference boycotted by Hawking has featured Palestinian speakers every year
2. Anti-Zionist Jews behind boycott calls
3. Netanyahu: Hawking should “study the facts”
4. “A brief history of humbug” (By Rod Liddle, London Sunday Times, May 12, 2013)
5. “Abuse of Science” (Editorial, The Times of London, May 10, 2013)
6. “Chomsky was behind lobby to get Hawking to boycott Israel conference” (By Robert Booth, The Guardian, May 10, 2013)
7. “Stephen Hawking’s ‘Black Hole’ in boycotting Israel” (By Akiva Eldar, Al-Monitor, May 12, 2013)


[Notes below by Tom Gross]

The organizers of Shimon Peres’ Jerusalem Presidential Conference next month, which is being boycotted by British Professor Stephen Hawking, supposedly in solidarity with the Palestinians, tell me that in each year of its four year existence it has featured prominent Palestinian speakers, including key members of the Palestinian Authority.

This year’s conference will again include at least one leading member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Munib al-Masri.

Others who have attended and/or spoken at the conference in the last couple of years include:

* Palestinian academic Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who is professor of Political Science at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem
* Palestinian Legislative Council member and peace negotiator Ziyad Abu Zayyad
* Palestinian Authority peace negotiator Hiba Husseini
* Munther Suleiman Dajani Daoudi, the dean of the Faculty of Arts at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem and who previously served as the director general of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy and Trade
* Jibril Rajoub, the deputy secretary general of Fatah’s Central Committee, and head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee
* Bashar Masri, the man behind the development of the first ever planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, Rawabi, which is currently being built with both Israeli and Palestinian help

If Hawking studied the facts about Israel, he would know that Palestinian leaders and academics visit Israel on a regular basis. Just last week, a delegation of Palestinian officials including the Palestinian Minister of Health, paid an official visit to Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, in order to increase cooperation between the hospital and the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health. (The hospital – like all Israeli hospitals – already treats many Palestinian patients and employs Palestinian staff, including doctors.)



Hawking wrote in a letter published in the British paper The Guardian on Thursday:

“I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.”

However, like much else he has said recently about Israel, this also seems to be very disingenuous of Hawking.

For it is not Palestinian academics, but far left Jewish academics including Noam Chomsky who organized the letter writing campaign that bullied Hawking into a boycott. Several of these academics are so hostile to Jews collectively and to the Jewish state that some people might accuse them of being “self-hating Jews.”



Asked about Hawking’s boycott decision at a press conference in Beijing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on a six-day visit to China (where he met most of the senior Chinese political and business leadership) said Hawking should “study the facts.”

“He should investigate the truth, he is a scientist. He should study the facts and draw the necessary conclusions: Israel is an island of reason, moderation and a desire for peace” in the Middle East.

Netanyahu said that Hawking knows that there are many false theories in science. “There are also false theories in politics, and the slandering of Israel is one of them, maybe the foremost among them,” he said. “There is no state that yearns for peace more than Israel, nor any state that has done more for peace than Israel.”

One official in the prime minister’s entourage went further, comparing Hawking to Shakespeare and Voltaire, both of whom, he said, held anti-Semitic sentiments.

“History shows that there are people who are no less great than Hawking who believed things about Jews that it was impossible to imagine they actually believed,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “I am talking about Voltaire, or Shakespeare. How do you explain that someone with the encyclopedic knowledge of Voltaire believed what he did about the Jews. How can you explain it? But it is a fact.”

Apparently, the official continued, “intelligence and achievements are no guarantee for understanding the truth about Jews or their state. What was true regarding Jews for generations, is now true about the state of the Jews.”


Tom Gross adds: Voltaire and Shakespeare worked in completely different historical periods so I am not sure the comparison is that helpful, and in the case of Shakespeare it’s not even a clear cut matter as to whether he was anti-Semitic. (Those interested in the subject may wish to read my father’s book, Shylock by John Gross, a masterful study of 400 years of the uses and misuses of one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters – exploring how Shylock was viewed by everyone from Freud and Marx to the Nazis.)

A masterful study of 400 years of the uses and misuses of Shylock, by John Gross


I attach four articles below.




Professor Hawking’s protest is a brief history of humbug
By Rod Liddle (columnist)
(London) Sunday Times
May 12, 2013

The behaviour of Stephen Hawking has become as confusing as that of those fairly small particles he gets so excited about, muons and bosons and the like. Perhaps he, too, is capable of being in two places at the same time; one where he is a brilliant and compelling communicator, then the other where he is nothing but a shallow conduit for the hysterical and fascistic academic left.

A statement issued on his behalf explained that he was persuaded by Palestinian colleagues to boycott an academic conference taking place in Israel, because of its policies towards the Palestinians. Right on, Stevie!

I wonder what Hawking’s hero, the late mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing would have thought of this. A short while ago, Hawking was a leading signatory to a campaign for Turing to be posthumously pardoned – he had been convicted of homosexuality 60 years ago.

Turing would get 10 years in prison in Gaza today, although there is a healthy penal reform lobby within the mosques who think this sentence should be non-custodial – that is, it should be changed to death by stoning followed by being doused in Allah’s cleansing fires for eternity. Indeed, Hawking is boycotting one of the only states in the region where Turing would not have been imprisoned on account of his sexuality. Peculiar, isn’t it? Unless on that occasion – as on this – Hawking was just grandstanding for a fashionable cause.

Or perhaps it’s this: maybe Hawking, who has motor neurone disease and uses a wheelchair, finds Hamas’s non-discriminatory jihadist spirit amenable. The group is determined to afford mentally disabled Palestinians a certain prominence in the fight against the Zionist entity by strapping Semtex to their bodies and cheerfully pointing them in the direction of the Israelis. Hamas will use children and women for the same purpose.

Professor Hawking has a problem, mind. He uses an astonishing speech-generation device that has made his voice recognisable the world over. Its most important component is a fiendishly clever silicon chip that was designed in . . . yes, Israel. It is not clear how Hawking will square this problem. Perhaps he will protest against himself.

The Boycott Israel crowd are gaining ground, there’s no doubt about that. A few years ago, a loathsome woman called Mona Baker, then head of translation studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, sacked two contributors to an academic journal because they were Israeli. She explained that they could no longer be employed seeing what beastly Israel was doing to the brave, democratic and liberal Palestinians.

There was widespread revulsion at this act, which seemed an example of infantile leftism mixed with a hefty dose of anti-semitism. But since then, partly through bullying and partly because academics are even more gullible than the rest of us, the movement has enjoyed a certain respectability.

It shouldn’t. It is foul, cruel and illogical. And why boycott Israel and not Iran, or North Korea, or Saudi Arabia, or Zimbabwe? Why persecute Israeli academics who may well themselves object to their government’s policies in the West Bank? Professor Hawking – still brilliant, and still loved, just about – should be deeply ashamed of himself.



Abuse of Science: Hawking’s boycott of Israel is intellectually and morally disreputable
The Times of London
May 10, 2013

Stephen Hawking ranks among the most famous scientists of the past century for his personal as well as intellectual achievements. A mind that has expanded knowledge of the origins of the Universe has also imbued its possessor with a mental resilience capable of surviving a debilitating disease. But brilliance in one sphere does not guarantee sense in another.

So it is with Professor Hawking, who revealed this week that he had withdrawn from a conference in Israel after being lobbied by Palestinian groups. His conduct is obtuse, mean-spirited and ungracious. Above all, it is alien to the spirit of critical thinking on which science and academic inquiry depend.

It is notable that Professor Hawking’s computer-based communication system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. Whereas Israeli technology literally provides him with a voice, Professor Hawking supports a boycott campaign that seeks to penalise and isolate Israeli academics. But that modest irony should not be maligned as hypocrisy: Professor Hawking is entitled to express political views. Unfortunately his views on this subject are drearily simplistic and the inferences he draws from them are pernicious.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict understandably provokes strong passions. The Times is a longstanding supporter of Israel but this has never stopped us from criticising successive Israeli governments’ policies on settlements or dimmed our belief in a two-state solution with a sovereign Palestine. The campaign for an academic boycott of Israel is not only about the condition of Palestinians in the West Bank or Israel’s security policies in Gaza. The boycotters are hostile to the Jewish State, which they compare to the system of institutionalised racial discrimination practised in apartheid South Africa.

Israel has many flaws but a central and vital characteristic. It is a democracy in a part of the world where liberal political rights and free inquiry are scarce. An academic boycott is itself made possible by the critical ethos of Israeli culture. A closed society such as Iran, whose President denies the Holocaust, is hardly likely to be an international centre for scholarship in modern European history.

But even if Israel were a society as deformed as its opponents claim, an academic boycott would still be iniquitous. Conor Cruise O’Brien, the historian and polymath, criticised the academic boycott even of South Africa in the era of apartheid, as “an intellectually disreputable attempt to isolate what I know to be an honest, open and creative intellectual community”. He was right on this. Economic sanctions against a racist regime were right; penalising scholars for the deplorable policies of their government, over which they had no control, was not.

Though there is no serious analogy between Israel and apartheid, the scholars and venues whom the anti-Israel campaigners target are in a similar position to their South African counterparts a generation ago. Israeli academics may disagree strongly with the policies of their own Government, yet are being maligned and slandered on extraneous political grounds.

Professor Hawking should never have put his name to this campaign. It is an example of intellectual obscurantism masquerading as humanitarian concern. And that is stupid.



Noam Chomsky was behind lobby to get Stephen Hawking to boycott Israel conference
By Robert Booth
The Guardian
May 10, 2013

Noam Chomsky was among 20 academics who privately lobbied Professor Stephen Hawking to boycott a major Israeli conference, it has emerged.

Chomsky, a US professor and well-known supporter of the Palestinian cause, joined British academics from the universities of Cambridge, London, Leeds, Southampton, Warwick, Newcastle, York and the Open University to tell Hawking they were “surprised and deeply disappointed” that he had accepted the invitation to speak at next month’s presidential conference in Jerusalem, which will chaired by Shimon Peres and attended by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

Hawking pulled out this week in protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, in the wake of receiving the letter and soundings from Palestinian colleagues. The 71-year-old theoretical physicist’s decision has been warmly welcomed by Palestinian academics, with one describing it as “of cosmic proportions”, but was attacked in Israel.

On Friday the liberal academic David Newman, dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences at Ben Gurion University in Israel, warned that an academic boycott “just destroys one of the very few spaces left where Israelis and Palestinians actually do come together”.

Chomsky, who has backed “boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories”, agreed to add his considerable weight to the pressure on Hawking after email correspondence with the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine campaign group (Bricup), said its chair, Jonathan Rosenhead.

The letter to Hawking declared: “Israel systematically discriminates against the Palestinians who make up 20% of its population in ways that would be illegal in Britain”, its treatment of the people of Gaza amounts to “collective punishment”, the construction of Jewish settlements breaches the Geneva convention and “Israel places multiple roadblocks, physical, financial and legal, in the way of higher education, both for its own Palestinian citizens and those under occupation”.

The letter continued: “Israel has a name for the promotion of its cultural and scientific standing: ‘Brand Israel’. This is a deliberate policy of camouflaging its oppressive acts behind a cultured veneer.”

Professor Malcolm Levitt, a fellow of the Royal Society and an expert in magnetic resonance at Southampton University, who signed the letter, said: “Israel has a totally explicit policy of making life impossible for the non-Jewish population and I find it totally unacceptable. As a scientist, the tool I have available to prevent the normalisation of that situation is boycott. It is a tough choice because Israel is full of brilliant scientists and they are our colleagues.”

Bricup is now to call on Lord Skidelsky, a leading economic historian, to refuse his invitation to speak at the conference. Skidelsky, emeritus professor of political economy at the University of Warwick and a Tory peer, declined to comment and is understood to still be planning to attend.

News of Chomsky’s role in what has been considered the coup of Hawking’s decision for the movement came amid growing signs in UK academia of interest in supporting boycotts of Israel. At its annual congress beginning on 29 May, the University and College Union will urge its 120,000 members to consider rethinking links with Israeli academic institutions. Teachers and lecturers will be asked to “consider the appropriateness of Israeli institutional associations”, according to a draft motion.

“It is brave of Hawking for the straightforward reason that someone who has his prominence will be targeted for vilification,” said Tom Hickey, a member of the UCU’s executive committee who put forward the draft motion. “If he can do that then all of us should think of doing it. This isn’t about targeting Israeli scholars but targeting the institutions.”

Pro-boycott academics believe action by scientists is particularly effective in opposing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians because the country’s strength in science and technology is a key driver of the economy, and they claim the research capabilities of Israeli academic institutions have been deployed in support of advanced programmes such as the development of drone aircraft.

On Friday the fallout from Hawking’s decision continued to be felt. “It is one of the starkest indicators yet that the tide is changing in the western mainstream against Israel’s occupation, colonisation and apartheid, and that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is fast reaching its South Africa moment of maturity and impact,” said Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and founding member of the BDS.

Others warned it would damage Israeli-Palestinian relations. “There are certain areas that are above political boycotts whatever your political positions are,” said Newman. “Scientific co-operation is one of those particularly when you think of the wider benefits of science on the whole. In this context, universities are among the few spaces in Israel-Palestine where, even in these difficult times, there is some sort of dialogue and co-operation.”

The British author Ian McEwan, who was criticised two years ago when he visited Israel to accept the Jerusalem Prize, said: “My feeling [in 2011] was that I wished to engage with the best elements of Israeli society and I don’t want to isolate those people,” he said.

He said there were dozens of countries “whose governments we might loathe or disapprove of” but “Israel-Palestine has become sort of tribal and a touchstone for a certain portion of the intellectual classes. I say this in the context of thinking it is profoundly wrong of the Israeli government not to be pursuing more actively and positively and creatively a solution with the Palestinians. That’s why I think one wants to go to these places to make the point. Turning away will not produce any result.”

Samia Botmeh, director of the centre for development studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank, and a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s steering committee, said Hawking’s decision had significantly boosted the boycott movement locally and internationally, but denied there had been a “huge, orchestrated campaign” to persuade him. “It will be easier now for other academics who have been supportive of Palestinian rights but were reluctant to act on their support,” she said.



Stephen Hawking’s ‘Black Hole’ In Boycotting Israel
By Akiva Eldar
May 12, 2013

(Tom Gross: Akiva Eldar was until recently a senior columnist and editorial writer for Ha’aretz.)

One would have expected Professor Stephen Hawking to be a tad more sophisticated.

Hawking has become an esteemed figure in the scientific community because of his groundbreaking research into the origins of the universe and its future. He’s also quite popular among the general public, because of his book A Brief History of Time, which quickly became a bestseller, and the way he contends with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The last thing anyone can say about this British prodigy from Cambridge is that he is stupid or shallow.

That is why Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott of Israel leaves something of a “black hole” on his reputation.

Last week Hawking canceled his plans to participate in the annual President’s Conference, organized by President Shimon Peres and scheduled to be held in Jerusalem June 18-20. At this event, thousands of guests from around the world will convene to discuss solutions to major global issues. This year’s conference is expected to be especially notable, because it marks the 90th birthday of Israel’s president. Hawking announced that he was canceling his plans to come. The reason he gave was Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Two adjectives I used earlier were “stupid” and “shallow.” These could well be used to describe the decision by academics, authors and artists to join the boycott of Israel’s rich intellectual life (this is probably where it is important to emphasize that this boycott is in opposition to Israel per se, and not against the occupation or against the settlements constructed beyond Israel’s formal boundaries in Palestinian territory that is in a state of ongoing military occupation).

An example of this is the supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, which advocates an economic, cultural, and academic boycott, the withdrawal of all investments, and the implementation of sanctions against Israel, with no distinction made between the two sides of the Green Line. There can be no doubt that they were especially pleased by Hawking’s decision. They eagerly added his name to the growing list of celebrities and international organizations that are boycotting Israel, a list that includes filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, author Alice Walker, musicians Elvis Costello and Roger Waters, Johannesburg University, the Irish labor unions and Japanese retail design company Muji.

It is undoubtedly unpleasant for the average “proud Israeli” to be marked as a “pariah” by some of the leading scientists and intellectuals around the world. Nor can there be any doubt that in the “zero-sum game” between Israel and the Palestinians, the latter have scored another victory.

Nevertheless, a brilliant physicist such as Hawking should have realized that it’s impossible to deal with the complex reality of the Middle East through boycotts, no matter what kind they are. He should have known that the results of such boycotts tend to be the exact opposite of what was originally intended.

Let us assume for a moment that Hawking wanted to protest the Israeli occupation and expedite a withdrawal from the territories. Still, his decision to boycott the President’s Conference not only fails to strengthen the peace camp in this country. It actually weakens it. This was best expressed by President’s Conference Chairman Yisrael Maimon. According to him, boycotting an event that bears the name of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Peres only serves to strengthen the extreme right, which continues to call Peres the “Criminal of the Oslo accords.” Without even intending to do so, Hawking and other like-minded individuals have taken one of the few public figures in Israel, who has openly supported the Arab Peace Initiative and maintained an ongoing dialogue with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Rather than embrace him, they present him as someone who lives in some “illusion of peace.”

By boycotting Peres’ President’s Conference, what Hawking really did was bestow an invaluable gift on all of those who claim (a group headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) that the de-legitimization campaign being waged against Israel has nothing to do with the Occupation, the settlements, or the moribund diplomatic talks. It challenges the very right of the Jewish state to exist as a sovereign political entity.

In his most recent book, Ha-Am ha-Mechutzaf (The Nation with Chutzpah), internationally acclaimed Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer examined the moral common ground between Israel’s regime of occupation and the apartheid regime in South Africa. Bauer begins by expressing his opinion that “Israel is instituting a regime of occupation through what can only be described as a nationalist policy.” Nevertheless, he ultimately determines that unlike South Africa’s apartheid policy, black-, white-, and brown-skinned people live beside each other. Bauer then goes on to remind us that in May 2010, when the killing of nine Turks aboard the Marmara flotilla raid caused an international commotion, hundreds of civilians were killed in Darfur as a result of an attack by the Sudanese Army and its allies, while many hundreds more died in the fighting between rival militias in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bauer then draws a red line between legitimate, and even justifiable, criticism of Israel’s occupation policies, and the boycotts, ostracizing, and unimpeded incitement against Israel, which reek of anti-Semitism.

Comparing Israel to South Africa is unjustified. Imposing the same model of sanctions against Israel would therefore be unwise. It’s well known that the apartheid regime only increased its aggressive policies against blacks as the sanctions intensified. In the 1987 elections, when the sanctions were at their peak, extreme right-wing nationalist parties gained strength. A group of researchers headed by Gary Clyde Hufbauer of the Institute for International Economics in Washington evaluated no less than 116 cases of sanctions and embargoes imposed on various countries since World War I. They found that no more than one-third of them had positive results. Most of them, including the embargo on South Africa, were only partial and ineffective. Furthermore, the arms embargo accelerated South Africa’s development of a local arms industry, which became a major source of exports. The harm that sanctions caused the economy affected no more than 1 percent of the GNP.

The main factors that brought about the end of the apartheid regime were bold and visionary leadership among both the White minority and the Black majority, and the end of the Cold War.

It is also worth noting that officially at least, Israel has also imposed boycotts of its own. For example, it prevented linguist Noam Chomsky from visiting the Palestinian Birzeit University. With all due foolishness, it regularly prevents other harsh critics of its occupation policy like Norman Finkelstein from entering the country, and it has expelled pro-Palestinian activists.

This author has no qualms about unreserved criticism of the various Israeli governments’ attitudes toward the Palestinians or their settlement policies, which hinder the chances of reaching a two-state solution, even though that is the only way to ensure that Israel remains a democratic, moral state with a Jewish character. I take precautions not to allow any products manufactured in the settlements to enter my home, and I praise every foreign government that marks imported goods manufactured in the settlements.

Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between that and a comprehensive boycott of Israel’s president, academics, cultural institutions, and economy. It is even greater than the difference between Israel’s occupation regime in the Occupied Territories and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

I would recommend to Hawking that he should learn a lesson from Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina, who was also pressured to boycott Israel. Molina accepted an invitation to come to Jerusalem in February to receive the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for Literature. He then donated the prize money to the Hand in Hand network of joint Jewish-Arab schools, which teaches coexistence. In an article in Ha’aretz, Molina wrote that whenever any European journalist asked him why he agreed to go to Jerusalem to receive the prize, he answered that he believes that many Israelis support a just peace with the Palestinians and are critical of the settlements just like any progressive European would be. “After shaking his head, I expected my questioner to respond, ‘But they are an ever-dwindling minority.’ I immediately answered him, ‘That makes it all the more right for us to stand by their side’.”

And so, Professor Hawking, let me be brief: When considering the history of the reason to come to Jerusalem and show support for the peace camp, you still have time.

So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?

May 09, 2013


* Even Ha’aretz leftists can’t stomach Hawking’s hypocrisy

* Hawking’s critics: If he really wants to boycott Israel, he should stop using the Israeli computer technology that allows him to communicate

* Among those few prominent British public figures defying the boycott call, novelist Ian McEwan said when he accepted an invitation to receive a literary prize in Israel: “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed. It’s not great if everyone stops talking.”

* Video below: Then TV host Yair Lapid interviews Hawking on one of his previous visits to Israel


* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. Hawking delivers anti-Israel campaigners a tsunami of worldwide publicity
2. “Stephen Hawking accused of hypocrisy over Israel conference boycott” (By Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, May 9, 2013)
3. “Hypocrisy and double standard: An open letter to Stephen Hawking” (By Carlo Strenger, Ha’aretz, May 8, 2013)
4. “So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?” (By James Bloodworth, Left Foot Forward, May 9, 2013)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach three articles below – all from left-wing publications – concerning Professor Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott Israeli President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday conference in Jerusalem next month. Hawking had previously agreed to be one of the keynote speakers.

Hawking’s decision has garnered massive international publicity for those campaigning to single out Israel from among all the nations of the world for boycott.

Today there are articles about Hawking’s decision in almost every major publication and TV network website in the world, from the Tehran Times to the Irish Times to the Huffington Post to Fox News to the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Russia Today and Toronto Star.

A torrent of anti-Semitic readers’ comments have appeared under many of the articles about Hawking, with particularly disgusting ones on the website of newspapers like the (London) Daily Express.

“This is an outrageous and wrong decision,” said Yisrael Maimon, the chairman of Jerusalem conference’s steering committee. “The academic boycott of Israel is outrageous, especially by someone who preaches freedom of thought. Israel is a democracy, where anyone can state his case, whatever it may be.”

Several heads of state and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair are due to attend the Jerusalem conference, along with Barbra Streisand. There are 5,000 participants, including scholars, scientists, entrepreneurs, economists, industrialists and journalists (including myself) invited to the conference.

Hawking seems to have given in to the bullying and harassment that anti-Israel activists subjected him to in recent weeks. He has previously visited Israel several times.

For those interested, here is an interview Hawking did in 2006 while in Israel -- with Yair Lapid, then a TV host and now Israel’s Finance Minister, in which Hawking admits that “often what you read in the newspapers does not reflect the reality on the ground”.

Here is another short video of Hawking when he was in Israel in 2006.



Stephen Hawking accused of hypocrisy over Israel conference boycott
By Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian
May 9, 2013

Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israeli conference in protest at the state’s 46-year occupation of Palestine was derided as hypocritical by some, who pointed out that the celebrated scientist and author uses Israeli technology in the computer equipment that allows him to function.

Hawking, 71, has suffered from motor neurone disease for the past 50 years, and relies on a computer-based system to communicate.

According to Shurat HaDin, an Israel law centre which represents victims of terrorism, the equipment has been provided by an Israeli hi-tech firm, Intel, since 1997.

“Hawking’s decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin.

Intel could not be reached for comment, but their website quotes Justin Rattner, chief technology officer, as saying earlier this year: “We have a long-standing relationship with Professor Hawking.” He added: “We are very pleased to continue to … work closely with Professor Hawking on improving his personal communication system.”

Cambridge University declined to comment on allegations of hypocrisy regarding Hawking’s communications system.



Hypocrisy and double standard: An open letter to Stephen Hawking
By deciding not to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, one of the world’s leading scientists is singling out Israel and denying it has been under existential threat for most of its existence.
By Carlo Strenger
May 8, 2013

There are many reasons why you are considered one of the world’s leading scientists. As you know very well, one reason for your achievement is the ability to keep a mind of your own and to refuse caving in to pressure by the mainstream. Innovation is only possible if you are immune to such pressure.

Given my respect for your achievement I am surprised and saddened by your decision, reported today by The Guardian that you have cancelled your participation at this year’s President’s Conference in Jerusalem, and that you have joined those who call for an academic boycott of Israel. I would have expected a man of your standing and achievement not to be influenced by the pressure that was reportedly exerted on you to cancel your visit in Israel.

Let it first be said that I have been opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories for many years, and that I have voiced this opposition with all means at my disposal. I think that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is indefensible morally, stupid politically and unwise strategically, and I will continue opposing it as long as I can.

This being said, I have always found it morally reprehensible and intellectually indefensible that many British academics have been calling for an academic boycott of Israel. This call is based on a moral double standard that I would not expect from a community whose mission it is to maintain intellectual integrity.

Yes, I think that Israel is guilty of human right violations in the West Bank. But these violations are negligible compared to those perpetrated by any number of states ranging from Iran through Russia to China, to mention only a small number of examples. Iran hangs hundreds of homosexuals every year; China has been occupying Tibet for decades, and you know of the terrible destruction Russia has inflicted in Chechnya. I have not heard from you or your colleagues who support an academic boycott against Israel that they boycott any of these countries.

But let me go one step further: Israel is accused of detaining Palestinians without trial for years. So is the USA, which, as you very well know, to this day has not closed Guantanamo Bay. Israel is accused of targeted killings of Palestinians suspected or known to be involved in terrorist acts. As is reported worldwide, the United States has been practicing targeted assassinations of terror suspects in many countries for years.

The question whether these detentions and targeted assassinations can be justified is weighty, and there are no simple answers. Personally I think that even in a war against terror democracies must make every conceivable effort to maintain the rule of law and avoid human rights violations.

Yet let us not forget that both Israel and the United States are in difficult situations. Israel was on the verge of a peace agreement with the Palestinian people when the second Intifada broke out. Daily Israelis were shredded into pieces by suicide bombings, and it is very difficult for Israeli politicians to convince Israelis to take risks for peace. The U.S. is still reeling from the trauma of 9/11. It has occupied two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade since. I happen to think that it was wrong to attack Iraq, in the same way that I think that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is wrong.

Professor Hawking: how can you and your colleagues who argue for an academic boycott of Israel justify your double standard by singling out Israel? You are simply denying that Israel has been under existential threat for most of its existence. To this day Hamas, one of the two major parties in Palestine, calls for Israel’s destruction, and its charter employs the vilest anti-Semitic language. To this day hardly a week goes by in which Iran and its proxy Hezbollah do not threaten to obliterate Israel, even though they have no direct conflict with Israel about anything.

Singling Israel out for academic boycott is, I believe, a case of profound hypocrisy. It is a way to ventilate outrage about the world’s injustices where the cost is low. I’m still waiting for the British academic who says he won’t cooperate with American institutions as long as Guantanamo is open, or as long as the U.S. continues targeted assassinations.

In addition to the hypocrisy, singling out Israel’s academia is pragmatically unwise, to put it mildly. Israel’s academia is largely liberal in its outlook, and many academics here have opposed Israel’s settlement policies for decades. But once again, British academics choose the easiest target to vent their rage in a way that does not contribute anything constructive to the Palestinian cause they support.

Israel, like any other country, can be criticized. But such criticism should not be based on shrill moralism and simplistic binary thinking – something I do not expect from academics. The real world is, unfortunately a messy, difficult place. Novelist Ian McEwan is quoted in the Guardian as saying that “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed … It’s not great if everyone stops talking” when he was criticized for coming to Israel to receive the Jerusalem Prize for Literature in 2011.

He certainly has a point. Living up to the standards of human rights and the ideals of democracy in an imperfect world is difficult. Major thinkers like Philip Bobbitt and Michael Ignatieff have invested deep and comprehensive thought into the difficult topic of how to maintain the human rights standard in a world threatened by terrorism.

Professor Hawking, I would expect from a man of your intellectual stature to get involved in the difficult task of grappling with these questions. Taking the simple way out of singling out Israel by boycotting it academically does not behoove you intellectually or morally.

If your cancelation was indeed a function of pressures and not from health reasons, as stated by your university following The Guardian’s report, I would respect it if you were to reconsider your decision and come to the President’s Conference.

Carlo Strenger



So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?
By James Bloodworth
Left Foot Forward
May 9, 2013

After a great deal of confusing reports, it was confirmed yesterday that physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has pulled out of a conference in Israel next month after being lobbied by pro-Palestinian campaigners.

Initially some had claimed his decision to pull out of the conference was due to ill health, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval cleared the matter up.

“This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

So “respect for the boycott” was a humanitarian gesture, then?

Ok. But why did professor Hawking see fit to visit Iran in 2007 for a conference? As far as I am aware, there was no statement at the time from Hawking refusing to travel to the Islamic Republic out of “respect” for the country’s political dissidents, or until the government stopped executing homosexuals.

A year earlier, in 2006, Stephen Hawking visited China, whose government is responsible for large scale human rights abuses in Tibet. Tibet is, as Human Rights Watch noted several years before his visit, “a place where some of the most visible and egregious human rights violations committed by the Chinese state have occurred”. A 2008 UN report found that the use of torture in Tibet was “widespread” and “routine”.

There’s no need to be an apologist for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to question where professor Hawking’s moral compass was when he chose to visit these two serial human rights abusers – and ask why it has suddenly appeared when the country in question is Israel.

Is Israel uniquely bad, or has hypocrisy towards the Jewish state become so widely accepted among some progressives that even an eminent scholar like Hawking is susceptible to hypocritical and lazy double standards?

Iran’s plans to take over Syria (& the BBC repeats Assad’s propaganda to slur Israel)

May 06, 2013



* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. The BBC repeats Assad’s propaganda in order to slur Israel
2. Israel does something: 10 reporters assigned. Americans die: 0 reporters assigned
3. We are not allowed to report properly on Islamic radicalization even when it is killing us
4. “Iran’s Plans to Take Over Syria” (By Brig.-Gen. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, May 5, 2013)


[Note by Tom Gross]

Below, I attach an analysis of the growing Iranian control over Syria, written by retired Israeli Brig.-Gen. Shimon Shapira for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and titled “Iran’s Plans to Take Over Syria”.

Yesterday Israel was presumed to have carried out an air strike that destroyed highly sophisticated “game changing” Iranian weapons stored at a massive arms depot near Damascus.

There were many ways the Western media could have reported this. But, as Jeremy Brier, a British subscriber to this list, pointed out to me yesterday, in all his years of reading the online headline of the BBC’s flagship and influential “Today” program, yesterday’s headline – “Israel strikes ‘backing terrorists’” – was perhaps the most extraordinary.

Another BBC headline reads: “Israeli strikes on Syria ‘coordinated with terrorists’”

The BBC appears to be taking Assad at his word, and repeating his propaganda as news, when in fact Israel is (more accurately) destroying the infrastructure of terror.

And this is the same BBC that refuses to use the word ”terrorists” when Israeli adults, children and infants are blown to bits in cafes, buses, airports, Passover Seders, and bat mitzvah celebrations.

Many in Britain are asking, why are they still being obliged by a Conservative-led government to pay the compulsory license fee to cover the cost of BBC news which all too often descends into little more than left-wing anti-Israeli and anti-American agit-prop?


You may also wish to read my articles on the BBC:

* The BBC discovers ‘terrorism,’ briefly: Suicide bombing seems different when closer to home

* Living in a Bubble: The BBC’s very own Mideast foreign policy



In today’s (New York Times-owned) International Herald Tribune, the lead story is on yesterday’s presumed Israeli airstrike. An incredible 10 journalists, located in seven different countries, are credited with having helped report the story.

If only the New York Times (and the BBC) would assign as many as 10 (or even 5) reporters to cover the actual Syria conflict. (At least three times as many civilians have been killed in Syria during the last two years, as Israeli and Palestinian civilians combined have been killed since 1948 in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.)

Meanwhile, tucked away in an inside page of today’s International Herald Tribune is a headline: “9 coalition troops, including 4 from the US, are killed.” The whole story comprises just four sentences and is lifted entirely from news agency sources. Not a single reporter from the New York Times is credited with having written the story.

The New York Times (IHT), like the BBC, is too busy obsessing over a single Israeli airstrike (not on civilians but on a military target) to care that its own citizens are killing and being killed in Afghanistan. Almost every day, there are U.S. and allied airstrikes and drone strikes in Afghanistan and these barely warrant a mention.



At the same time the International Herald Tribune today runs yet another long story about what possibly could have motivated the Boston bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (co-authored by 9 New York Times journalists) -- again hardly mentioning Islam or the mosque he went to. (See my note on this in one of last week’s dispatches here.

If you actually want to read some real analysis, you would do better reading the down-market British tabloid The Sun, which sent a reporter to conduct an interview with Nadine Ascencao, the ex-girlfriend of the lead terrorist. She told The Sun that he wanted her to hate America and beat her because she wouldn’t wear a Hijab.


There is a summary of the piece below first, for those who don’t have time to read it in full.

-- Tom Gross



* In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

* Suleimani prepared an operational plan named after him based upon the establishment of a 150,000-man force for Syria, the majority of whom will come from Iran, Iraq, and a smaller number from Hizbullah and the Gulf states.

* Suleimani’s involvement was significant. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled “one way or another” Iraq and South Lebanon. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism.”

* An important expression of Syria’s centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei’s think tank. He recently stated that “Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran].” Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty.

* Tehran has had political ambitions with respect to Syria for years and has indeed invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. The Syrian regime let Iranian missionaries work freely to strengthen the Shiite faith in Damascus and the cities of the Alawite coast, as well as the smaller towns and villages. In both urban and rural parts of Syria, Sunnis and others who adopted the Shiite faith received privileges and preferential treatment in the disbursement of Iranian aid money.

* Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces in Iraq for the warfare in Syria. These are organized in a sister framework of Lebanese Hizbullah. Known as the League of the Righteous People and Kateeb Hizbullah, its mission is to defend the Shiite centers in Damascus. It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan.



Iran Cannot Afford to Lose Syria
By Shimon Shapira
May 5, 2013

In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Qasem Suleimani, who is in charge of Iranian policy in Lebanon and Syria. The visit was clandestine and no details were divulged on an official level – except for the exclusive posting on Hizbullah’s official website of a photograph of Khamenei with Nasrallah beside him in the former’s private library, with a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini above them.1

Suleimani’s involvement in the meeting with Nasrallah was significant. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled “one way or another” Iraq and South Lebanon.2 He now appeared to be prepared to extend Iran’s control to all of Syria.

A media source normally hostile to Iran and Hizbullah but which nonetheless contains accurate information, reported that Iran has formulated an operational plan for assisting Syria. The plan has been named for Gen. Suleimani. It includes three elements: 1) the establishment of a popular sectarian army made up of Shiites and Alawites, to be backed by forces from Iran, Iraq, Hizbullah, and symbolic contingents from the Persian Gulf. 2) This force will reach 150,000 fighters. 3) The plan will give preference to importing forces from Iran, Iraq, and, only afterwards, other Shiite elements. This regional force will be integrated with the Syrian army. Suleimani, himself, visited Syria in late February-early March to prepare the implementation of this plan.3

In the past, senior Iranian officers, like Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards who is an adviser to Khamenei, have said that Lebanon and Syria gave Iran “strategic depth.”4 Now it appears that Tehran is taking this a step further, preparing for a “Plan B” in the event Assad falls.

Nasrallah rarely makes such trips. The last time he went on a visit outside Lebanon was in February 2010 when he met in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nasrallah has taken great care not to appear in public since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and even more so since the assassination of the head of Hizbullah’s military wing, Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus in February 2008. Even in Iran itself Nasrallah maintained total secrecy for fear of becoming an assassination target there. After the visit, he gave a speech in Lebanon on April 30, but did not say anything about his visit to Iran. He did remark that Syria “has real friends” that wouldn’t let it fall, implying that, if necessary, he would redouble his efforts to defend Iranian interests, which has always been one of the missions of Hizbullah.

It appears that Hizbullah’s ongoing involvement in Syria, and the extent of this involvement, formed the main issue on the agenda during Nasrallah’s visit to Tehran. The more time passes, the more Iran appears to regard Syria as a lynchpin of its Middle Eastern policy, in general, and of leading the jihad and the Islamic resistance to Israel, in particular. Hizbullah’s inclusion in the armed struggle in Syria is intended first and foremost to serve the Iranian strategy, which has been setting new goals apart from military assistance to the Syrian regime. Iran already seems to be looking beyond the regime’s survivability and preparing for a reality where it will have to operate in Syria even if Assad falls. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism.”5

An important expression of Syria’s centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei’s think tank. He recently stated that “Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran]. By preserving Syria we will be able to get back Khuzestan, but if we lose Syria we will not even be able to keep Tehran.”6 Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty. What was also clear from his remarks was that Iran cannot afford to lose Syria.


All in all, then, Iran will have to step up its military involvement in Syria. Khamenei’s representative in Lebanon will have to take part in building the new strategy in Syria, acting in tandem with Iran against the Sunni Islamic groups that threaten Iran’s interests in Syria.

Tehran has had political ambitions with respect to Syria for years and has indeed invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. The process began during the rule of Hafez Assad when a far-reaching network was created of educational, cultural, and religious institutions throughout Syria; it was further expanded during Bashar’s reign. The aim was to promote the Shiization of all regions of the Syrian state. The Syrian regime let Iranian missionaries work freely to strengthen the Shiite faith in Damascus and the cities of the Alawite coast, as well as the smaller towns and villages.7 A field study by the European Union in the first half of 2006 found that the largest percentage of religious conversions to Shiism occurred in areas with an Alawite majority.8

In both urban and rural parts of Syria, Sunnis and others who adopted the Shiite faith received privileges and preferential treatment in the disbursement of Iranian aid money. The heads of the tribes in the Raqqa area were invited by the Iranian ambassador in Damascus to visit Iran cost-free, and the Iranians doled out funds to the poor and financial loans to merchants who were never required to pay them back..9 The dimensions of the Iranian investment in Raqqa, which included elegant public buildings, mosques, and Husayniyys (a Shiite religious institute), were recently revealed by Sunni rebels who took over the remote town and destroyed, plundered, and removed all signs of the Iranian and Shiite presence there.10

As of 2009 there were over 500 Husayniyys in Syria undergoing Iranian renovation work. In Damascus itself the Iranians invested huge sums to control the Shiite holy places including the tomb of Sayyida Zaynab, the shrine of Sayyida Ruqayya, and the shrine of Sayyida Sukayna. These sites attract Iranian tourism, which grew from 27,000 visitors in 1978 to 200,000 in 2003.

Iran also operates a cultural center in Damascus that it considers one of its most important and successful. This center publishes works in Arabic, holds biweekly cultural events, and conducts seminars and conferences aimed at enhancing the Iranian cultural influence in the country. The Iranian cultural center is also responsible for the propagation and study of the Persian language in Syrian universities, including providing teachers of Persian.11


At present, bloody battles are being waged over the centers of Iranian influence in Syria, most of all the mausoleum of Sayyida Zaynab – sister of the Imam Husayn – who in 680 carried his severed head to Damascus after the massacre at Karbala. In Iranian historiography, the great victory over the Sunnis is marked in Damascus in the form of a Shiite renaissance in the capital of the hated Umayyad Empire. The Sunnis, however, are now threatening these Iranian achievements. Hizbullah has been recruited to the cause, with hundreds of its fighters coming to Syria from Lebanon. These fighters try to downplay their Hizbullah affiliation and instead identify themselves as the Abu El Fadl Alabbas Brigade, named after the half-brother of the Imam Husayn.

Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces in Iraq for the warfare in Syria. These are organized in a sister framework of Lebanese Hizbullah. Known as the League of the Righteous People and Kateeb Hizbullah, its mission is to defend the Shiite centers in Damascus.12 Hizbullah fighters are also operating in other areas, some of them beyond the Lebanese border in the Shiite villages in Syrian territory on the way to Homs, thereby creating a sort of territorial continuity for ongoing Alawite control under Iranian influence. This continuity is strategically important to Iran since it links Lebanon and Damascus to the Alawite coast.13 Iran aims to have a network of militias in place inside Syria to protect its vital interests, regardless of what happens to Assad.14

The war in Syria persists with no decisive outcome on the horizon. Hizbullah’s battle losses are growing. Subhi Tufayli, the first head of Hizbullah who was dismissed from its leadership by Iran at the start of the 1990s, has been one of the prominent critics of Hizbullah’s involvement in Syria. Tufayli claimed that 138 Hizbullah fighters had been killed there along with scores of wounded who were brought to hospitals in Lebanon.15 Ceremonies for burial of the dead are frequently held clandestinely, sometimes at night, so as to avoid anger and resentment. These casualties, however, did not disappear from sight, and the families have raised harsh questions about such unnecessary sacrifice that is not in the sacred framework of jihad against Israel, which is Hizbullah’s raison d’être.

Tufayli, for his part, asserted that Hizbullah fighters who are killed in battle in Syria “are not martyrs” and “will go to hell.” Syria, he remarked, “is not Karbala” and the Hizbullah men in Syria “are not fighters of the Imam [Husayn]. The oppressed and innocent Syrian people is Karbala and the members of the Syrian people are the children of Husayn and Zaynab.” Tufayli went on to say that he “lauds the fathers and mothers who prevent their children from going to Syria and says to them that God’s blessing is with them.” Tufayli further pointed out that, legally speaking, no fatwa has been issued that permits Hizbullah’s participation in the war in Syria. He said he had appealed to the supreme religious authority – the sources of emulation (Maraji Taqlid) in Najaf and in Lebanon – not to issue such a fatwa.16

In the Lebanese Shiite community, Tufayli is not alone in leveling severe criticism at Hizbullah’s role as an arm of Iran in Syria. Voices within Hizbullah itself are increasingly casting doubt on the wisdom of involving the movement on Bashar Assad’s side. Others refuse to go and fight in Syria, and there have already been desertions from Hizbullah’s ranks. So far, though, it does not appear that all this is deterring Hizbullah from persisting. At the end of the day, Hizbullah is not a Lebanese national movement but a creation of Iran and subject to its exclusive authority. Nasrallah was summoned to Tehran so as to encourage him and order him to continue as a faithful and obedient soldier of Velayt-e Faqih (literally: the Rule of the Jurisprudent, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei).

It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan. For the Islamic Republic, this is a war of survival against a radical Sunni uprising that views Iran and the Shiites as infidels to be annihilated. This is the real war being waged today, and it is within Islam. From Iran’s standpoint, if the extreme Sunnis of the al-Qaeda persuasion are not defeated in Syria, they will assert themselves in Iraq and threaten to take over the Persian Gulf, posing a real danger to Iran’s regional hegemony. Khamenei does not intend to give in. Hizbullah’s readiness to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran against the radical Sunnis could shatter the delicate internal order upon which the Lebanese state is based and bring about a Hizbullah take-over of Lebanon in its entirety.

* * *


1. On the picture and its significance, see Ali al-Amin, Al-Balad, April 23, 2013,
2. “Chief of Iran’s Quds Force Claims Iraq, South Lebanon under His Control, Al Arabiya News, January 20, 2012,
3. A-Shiraa, March 15, 2013.
4. Nevvine Abdel Monem Mossad, “Implication of Iran Accepting Military Role in Syria, Lebanon,” The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, October 7, 2012.
5. Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, “Iran and Its Expansionist Tendencies,” Arab News, February 6, 2013,; “US Embassy Cables: Omani Official Wary of Iranian Expansionism,” The Guardian, November 28, 2010,
6. Ali-al-Amin, Al-Balad, February 17, 2013.
7. On the Shiization of Syria, see Khalid Sindawi, “The Shiite Turn in Syria,” Hudson Institute, Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, vol. 8, 82-127,
8. Ibid., 84.
9. Ibid., 89-90.
10. Martin Kramer, “The Shiite Crescent Eclipsed,” April 16, 2013,
11. Nadia von Maltzahn, “The Case of Iranian Cultural Diplomacy in Syria,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 2 (2009): 33-50.
12. Rabbiah Jamal, “Iraq’s Kateeb Hezbollah announces involvement in Syria,” Now Lebanon, April 7, 2013.
13. See the excellent article by Hanin Ghadder, “Hezbollah sacrifices popularity for survival: In Syria, The Party of God is struggling for an un-divine victory,” Now Lebanon, April 10, 2013.
14. Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick, “Iran and Hezbollah Build Militia Networks in Syria in Event that Assad Falls, Officials Say,” The Washington Post, February 10, 2013,
15., April 25, 2013.
16. Subhi Tufayli, interview, Al Arabiya, February 26, 2013.
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Fayyad’s “farewell” interview: the lamentable Palestinian leadership

May 04, 2013


[Note by Tom Gross]

Attached is Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s farewell interview (until his come back?). It is an important piece, but unfortunately it is, in the words of Joshua Pollack, a subscriber to this list, “cluttered up with junky, value-subtracted interpolations by Roger Cohen.”

In the interview with Cohen, Fayyad laments that the Palestinians have been plagued by “failed leadership.”

“Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on,” he says. “It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”

“If you look like a state and act like a state, nobody in the end is going to deny you that state,” says Fayyad, But, he suggests that the Palestinian government had not been behaving like a state under Abbas’ or under the previous leadership of Yasser Arafat.

The piece appeared in the New York Times yesterday and today it takes up almost three quarter of the op-ed page of the weekend edition of the (New York Times-owned) International Herald Tribune -- and for good measure the paper runs yet another lengthy editorial on the so called peace process alongside it. The Palestinians are of far greater interest to New York Times columnists than, for example, the slaughter in neighboring Syria.

Roger Cohen, formerly the foreign editor of the New York Times and now a columnist for the International Herald Tribune, is infamous for some of his earlier columns apologizing for illiberal Middle East dictatorships like the Palestinian Authority and Iran, while his column (called “globalist”) reserves most criticism for a single country in the globe: Israel.

Cohen has become a little bit less harsh on Israel in recent months, but as the Fayyad interview attests, he still can’t bring himself to mention that it was none other than Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush who forced a very reluctant Palestinian President-for-life Mahmoud Abbas, to bring the reformist Fayyad into his government in the first place. Nor will Cohen (like his colleague Thomas Freidman who also wrote about Fayyad’s resignation recently) admit Israel has worked very closely in the last decade to support Fayyad’s economic reforms. For example, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s close ally, the Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, has liaised with Fayyad on an almost daily basis.

Fayyad’s departure is not a good sign.




Salam Fayyad has denied criticizing the Palestinian Authority leadership in an interview with the New York Times.

In a statement published on Saturday by the Palestinian Wafa news agency, the prime minister’s office said that Fayyad “did not make any statements or conduct any interviews for the New York Times or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation.”

Fayyad’s office say they asked Cohen not to publish the story as an interview with the prime minister, according to the statement.

Tom Gross adds:

He would say this, of course. He does not want Abbas to give the order to have him killed.

Poor fellow: no good deed goes unpunished...


* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.


Fayyad Steps Down, Not Out
By Roger Cohen
The New York Times
May 4, 2013

THE streets of the Palestinian capital in the West Bank are quiet on a Saturday, but Salam Fayyad, who quit as prime minister three weeks ago, is still in his office, dapper as ever in suit and tie – unable to carry on and yet, it seems, not permitted to go. His limbo is a reflection of Palestinian paralysis and disarray.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president with whom Fayyad feuded, knows that he needs his outgoing prime minister’s rigorous competence. He needs Fayyad’s standing with the United States and Europe, major sources of funding for the beleaguered Palestinian Authority. He needs Fayyad’s grip on security.

Yet the Fatah old guard with their sweet deals wants Fayyad gone; Hamas hates him as a supposed American stooge, and Abbas has tired of this U.S.-educated “turbulent priest.” So the president hesitates. He mumbles about a “unity government” with Hamas. He does little. And Fayyad is at his desk when he might be eating sweet pastries with his family.

“Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on,” Fayyad tells me. “It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”

Fayyad first handed in his resignation on Feb. 23. Abbas demurred. President Obama, citing Fayyad’s high reputation with the U.S. Congress and in the region, asked him to stay during a “businesslike” one-on-one meeting (their first) in March. Secretary of State John Kerry followed up with three or four phone calls. To no avail: Fayyad, after almost six years in the job, had had enough of the dance that leads nowhere, the “peace process” that is a mockery of those unhappily twinned words. On April 13 he resigned.

His was a revolution: Of acts over narrative, of state-building over slogans, of pragmatism over posturing. His core thought was simple: “If you look like a state and act like a state nobody in the end is going to deny you that state.” Such was the institutional transformation that the World Bank declared Palestine ready for statehood. As Fayyad says, “We took the exam and passed.”

But the acting prime minister hit a wall. It had two elements: Palestinian division and Israeli intransigence. Which undercut him more? They were both devastating. Of course, they also fed on each other. American dithering did not help.

Fatah, the major political movement in the West Bank, is a revolutionary party that has exhausted itself; ossified and murky, lacking a popular mandate or a strategy to deliver statehood, headed by a 78-year-old man, Abbas, who did not have the courage to embrace the political program of an outsider, Fayyad, even though that program delivered growth, accountability and security.

Abbas, Moscow-educated, and Fayyad, Texas-educated, never overcame the cultural gulf those educations bequeathed. The can-do approach did not figure in the Soviet curriculum. Abbas declined to leverage Fayyad’s achievements. He refused to use Fayyad’s probity and work ethic as transformative examples. Theirs was a rocky marriage of convenience. Fayyad reckons the party spent more time worrying about what he was doing than solving anything.

“This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment,” Fayyad predicts. “Students have lost 35 days this year through strikes. We are broke. The status quo is not sustainable.” He looks at me with a fierce conviction: “In the end it did not matter what any foreign power told me about things changing for the better because I am living it. I have gone through hell before. But it’s enough. This much poison is bound to cause something catastrophic. The system is not taking, the country is suffering. They are not going to change their ways and therefore I must go.”

Then there was the “biggest problem” – the Israeli occupation, never relaxed despite a transformed security situation; in fact intensified through settlement expansion, demolitions, evictions and military incursions even into areas nominally under Palestinian control.

Fayyad, convinced of the need for two states living alongside each other in peace and security, had a double aspect for Israel, the interlocutor from heaven and hell. He was responsible and resolute in his opposition to violence. He was also the Palestinian who undid every convenient caricature of a people wedded to terrorism, corruption and chaos. So Israel never embraced him any more than Fatah. There was no Israeli quid pro quo for Palestinian progress.

“I told President Obama the shack must come before the skyscraper,” Fayyad tells me. “The Israelis have not rolled back the occupation gene. Let’s make sure our Bedouin population in the Jordan Valley has access to drinking water before we discuss final arrangements. This is a right-to-life issue for Palestinians.”

He thinks the United States, now trying to conjure direct negotiations through osmosis rather than any new ideas, should ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a straightforward question: What do you mean by a Palestinian state?

From Netanyahu’s few indications, such a state would not include the major Israeli settlement blocs, or have control over the strategic Jordan Valley (some 25 percent of the West Bank). All of greater Jerusalem would remain Israeli. Palestine would be demilitarized.

“A state of leftovers is not going to do it,” Fayyad declares.

But is Netanyahu, a man of Likud who opposed the late Yitzhak Rabin’s Oslo compromise, not convinced deep in himself of the need to hold on to all of Eretz Israel (a biblical term widely used to refer to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, encompassing all of the West Bank)? And are there not ministers in his new government, including Naftali Bennett, the economics minister, who enjoy dismissing the very idea of Palestine as a complete joke?

Well, Fayyad muses, perhaps the Israeli prime minister needs to say something like this to Israelis: “Yes, it is true we have a contract with God Almighty who gave us the land, but there happen to be 4.4 million other people on this land who want to exercise their right to self-determination, so perhaps we can adjust the divine contract a little.”

That won’t happen, of course. What will? Fayyad calls the new Obama administration initiative “high-risk.” Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to ease into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations buttressed by economic initiatives like tourism developments on the Dead Sea. But from a Palestinian standpoint, there seems to be little that would improve human conditions – deliver water, stop settler violence, end demolitions – and little to stop Netanyahu simply running the clock down again.

“Israel says no this, no that, and it’s taken as a foregone conclusion,” Fayyad says. “There’s nothing to underpin the U.S. initiative. So how can you invest in it?”

Despite his skepticism, Fayyad believes Palestinians do not have a moment to lose in the push for statehood. The essential missing ingredient is unity. There has to be one government in the West Bank (now controlled by Fatah) and Gaza (controlled by Hamas). “Let’s be clinical,” he says. “We are not going to have a state unless we are united first.”

The essential precondition for that, he says, is a “security doctrine based on nonviolence.” Hamas must irrevocably renounce violence. Then there would be “conditions for takeoff that would not be perfect, but when did the perfect ever prevail?”

A unity government could get on with managing day-to-day business and, above all, preparing the national elections needed to know where Palestinians actually stand. Seven years without an election is far too long. Neither Fatah nor Hamas rule has any democratic legitimacy. Their positions are untenable even as they cling to power.

The United States and Europe should make holding a Palestinian election a diplomatic priority. Otherwise peace talks are merely chatter over a void. Of course, a unity government – even one that has formally renounced violence – would pose a severe diplomatic dilemma. Hamas is committed in its doctrine to Israel’s destruction.

On balance, it is in the American interest to foster Palestinian unity, provided it is on the basis of the renunciation of violence. There are, after all, members of the Israeli government committed to Palestine’s nonexistence. One does not choose one’s interlocutor in peace talks. The Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized Israel; Abbas, as the P.L.O. leader, can wear that hat in talks. What matters are not slogans but the will to move forward – and for now there is little evidence of such will.

Abbas is stuck. He has appealed for factions to set aside differences and said he wants a unity government to prepare elections. Hamas is cool to the idea. There is talk in Ramallah of his naming a trusted aide, Mohammad Mustafa, the chief executive of the Palestine Investment Fund, to replace Fayyad. There is talk of Abbas nominating himself to replace Fayyad. There is talk of him naming nobody and hoping Fayyad still shows up at the office.

Fayyad tells me he will not allow presidential inertia to keep him in the job. Within three to four weeks he will be gone – but not completely. Despite rumors floated by his enemies of a return to the International Monetary Fund, he will stick around. “I will reflect,” he says, “and if elections come, as they must because they are vital, I will see how best to take part in them.”

Palestinians have reached their “Altalena” moment. After the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, the extremist Irgun Jewish militant group resisted being folded into the Israel Defense Forces and insisted on receiving weapons being shipped from Marseille aboard the Altalena. A pitched battle ensued; several were killed. Ben Gurion declared: “There cannot be two armies and there cannot be two states.”

Equally, there cannot be two Palestines. One is hard enough. If Hamas will not cede its weapons to Fatah – if the putative state does not, in Weber’s famous definition, have the monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory – there will be no state.

“I resigned my job, that’s all,” Fayyad says. “I am not resigned, even if it pains me additionally when lack of progress is self-inflicted. I will die without changing my mind that we Palestinians can prove the doubters wrong.”

Iran: Women to blame for earthquakes (& Cable car to link Jerusalem’s Western Wall)

May 03, 2013


* Surreal: Top Muslim cleric boycotts interfaith conference because Jews were invited

* “Moderate” Abbas refuses to condemn this week’s Palestinian murder of an Israeli Jewish father of five young children

* United Nations Development Program sponsors Palestinian sports tournament organized by President Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and named after terrorist Abu Jihad, who proudly murdered 125 Israelis in various terrorist attacks, including many children. (That is 41 times the death toll of last month’s Boston bombing). Western-financed PA TV News calls Abu Jihad “the most noble of men”.

* New Pew Research Center global survey of Muslims finds that the people that most support suicide bombings are the Palestinians. Four out of ten Palestinians say killing Jews is a justifiable means “to defend Islam”


* You can comment on this dispatch here: Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. Netanyahu again says Israel needs peace for Israel’s sake, not just for the Palestinians
2. Top Muslim cleric boycotts interfaith conference because Jews were invited
3. An Israeli Arab woman defies calls to shun Jews
4. Women to blame for earthquakes, says top Iranian cleric
5. Iranian leader and website claim Jews use sorcery to control Iran
6. 40 percent of Palestinians say they think suicide bombings are “a good thing”
7. UN joins Palestinians in celebrating killer of 125 Israelis including children
8. Abbas refuses to condemn this week’s murder of Israeli Jew
9. Assad in rare May Day public showing
10. Cable car to link Western Wall with other parts of Jerusalem

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Speaking to a visiting delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has again said Israel needs to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians to avoid becoming a binational state of Israelis and Palestinians. But he emphasized that the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not territory but the continuing refusal by the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed a statement by the Arab League that they would be prepared to accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with minor modifications, bringing them into line with President Obama’s proposal. Hamas, which controls Gaza, said it would not accept any such proposal. There is broad consensus in Israel that the 1967 borders (famously referred to by Abba Eban as the “Auschwitz borders”) are indefensible.

Netanyahu said that unless the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state, and Israel has solid security arrangements, there would not be any peace following a “two state solution”.

In separate comments yesterday, Netanyahu added that any peace agreement with the Palestinians should be put to a referendum.

Israel Harel, a leader of the settlement movement, wrote yesterday in Ha’aretz, “On such a crucial matter of their very existence and of their Jewish and Zionist identity and faith, the settlers will not agree to their own removal unless they are convinced that it truly is the will of the nation.”

Israel unilaterally forced the Jewish population out of a Gaza in 2005 without a referendum. See: Exodus from Gaza, after 3,000 years.



The Egyptian Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most respected figures in Sunni Islam, refused to attend the inter-faith dialogue conference that opened in Doha last week on the grounds that Jewish representatives had been invited.

“I decided not to participate so I wouldn’t sit at the same platform alongside Jews,” Qaradawi told the “Al-Arab|” daily of Qatar.

The conference brought together 500 personalities from 75 countries representing the three monotheistic religions.

Qaradawi is a controversial religious figure in the West and has millions of supporters, including many from the Muslim Brotherhood. He hosts a popular show on Al-Jazeera satellite television.

Qaradawi will visit Gaza later this month, the head of Hamas’s Islamic affairs ministry announced earlier this week. It would be the first visit there by the Qatar-based cleric.

Qaradawi is banned from many Western countries because of his encouragement of terrorism. For example, he was barred from entering France last year, with the French government saying that it does not want “extremist preachers” on its soil.

In 2008, he was refused entry to Britain after the UK announced it would “not tolerate the presence of those who seek to justify any acts of terrorist violence or express views that could foster inter-community violence.”

Qaradawi has frequently encourage suicide attacks and has been dubbed the “sheikh of death,” and been accused of “providing a religious cover for terrorism.”



Below is a link to a short video of one of the many Israeli Arabs who ignore the bigotry of the kind expressed by Qaradawi.

Ulfat Khaider shares her experiences in Haifa.

She has not only reached high peaks in joint Jewish-Arab mountaineering expeditions, but she plays volleyball for the Israeli national team, and is project manager at a Jewish-Arab cultural center in Haifa.

She had better be careful she doesn’t cause any earthquakes. (See item below).



A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.

Iran is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, and the cleric’s unusual explanation for why the earth shakes follows a prediction by the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that a quake is certain to hit Tehran and that many of its 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

“Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told Iranian media.

“What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?” Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon last week. “There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.”

Seismologists have warned that it is likely Tehran will be struck by a major quake in the near future. Tehran straddles scores of fault lines, including one more than 50 miles long, though it has not suffered a major quake since 1830.



In a speech to religious students in April, Mehdi Taeb, the director of a leading Iranian think tank with close ties to the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called Jews sorcerers who are using their powers to subjugate Iran. This view was also placed on the Iranian website

“The Jews are currently subjecting us to an unprecedented trial. As you read in the Koran, [King] Solomon ruled the world and God ordered a group of sorcerers to come out against him. The Jews have the greatest powers of sorcery, and they make use of this tool,” warned Mehdi Taeb.

“The [Jewish] people think that ruling over man, nature, and divine traditions can be achieved only by means of sorcery. They believe that it is possible to conquer nature and control the world, and even to control God’s decisions, by using sorcery methods,” the article said.

Khamenei may soon have a nuclear arsenal at his disposal.

And Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has again called for the destruction of Israel, according to excerpts of a speech he gave at the annual World Conference of Ulama and Islamic Awakening, published on Ahmadinejad’s official website and reported in Iranian state media.



A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims around the world finds that the people that most support suicide bombings are the Palestinians.

Four out of ten Palestinians said killing Jews was a justifiable means “to defend Islam.”

49 percent said they were against suicide bombs, and the remainder expressed no opinion.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, 29 percent of Egyptians said suicide bombings could be justified, 15 percent in Jordan, 12 percent in Tunisia, nine percent in Morocco, and seven percent in Iraq.



The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is sponsoring a Palestinian sports tournament organized by President Abbas’s “moderate” Palestinian Authority and named after terrorist Abu Jihad, who was responsible for the murder of 125 Israelis in various terrorist attacks.

The governor of Jenin in the West Bank, speaking at the opening of the tournament on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas, said Abu Jihad is “one of the giants and heroes” of the Palestinian nation.

One of the attacks he planned was the Coastal Road Massacre in 1978 led by terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, in which terrorists hijacked a bus and killed 37 civilians, among them 12 children. Western government-financed Palestinian Authority TV glorified the attack in a program broadcast on March 11, 2013, the anniversary of the hijacking, by showing a picture of the burnt out bus while calling the attack as “the most courageous Palestinian self-sacrifice operation.”

And UNDP joined the PA and Fatah in their glorification of this terrorist by sponsoring the annual Prince of Martyrs Abu Jihad Football Tournament, the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported on April 23, 2013.

Among attacks that the Palestinian Authority official newspaper praised Abu Jihad for was the 1975 terror attack at the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv, which killed 10 Israelis; the 1975 truck bomb in Jerusalem; and the 1979 shelling of Eilat .

On April 16, 2013, as part of a special month of celebrations (completely ignored by papers like The New York Times) Palestinian Authority TV News also paid tribute to Abu Jihad calling him “the most noble of men”.

More details here.



Palestinian president Abbas has refused calls by Israel and American Jewish groups to condemn the murder on Tuesday of Eviatar Borovsky, an Israeli Jewish father of five who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, took responsibility for the attack. Fatah’s official Facebook page described the killer as a “hero” and posted images glorifying him.

The murderer’s family are now expected to receive large sums of aid money donated to the Palestinian Authority by European governments.



Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who uses scud missiles and chemical weapons to target civilians, made a rare public appearance in Damascus on May 1, quelling rumors that he has fled the Syrian capital. State television showed Assad chatting casually with a group of employees at a Damascus power station. He looked confident and was wearing an elegant business suit. “They want to scare us, we will not be scared. They want us to live underground, we will not live underground,” Assad told the workers.

Media reports continue to state that the number of dead in the Syrian civil war is 70,000 when the real figure according to more reliable estimates is in excess of 120,000.



Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has unveiled a plan to build a cable car system that will bring visitors to and from the Western Wall.

One line will connect the Dung Gate of the Old City with the Mount of Olives to the east, and a second line will connect Dung Gate with the Khan Theater on Hinnom Ridge to the west.

The system will be able to transport 6,000 passengers per hour, and each of the one mile routes will take around four minutes to ride.

“Beyond being a transportation solution to visitors to the old city, the cable car will also serve as a unique and innovative tourist attraction that will provide breathtaking views,” Barkat said.

[Notes above by Tom Gross]