Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Obama Actually Said in 2010

Palestinians claim that when they go to the United Nations this Friday to receive recognition as an independent state, they will just be adhering to President Obama's words before the General Assembly last year. They say he called for the acceptance of Palestine as a member state within a year. Well, that isn't exactly what he said.

Here's the paragraph where he referred to Palestine as a member of the UN, with my own emphasis added:

"This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem’s soil as sacred. This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."

So no, what the Palestinians plan to declare on September 23, 2011 is not in line with what Obama declared on September 23, 2010. He did not say a Palestinian state should be declared and admitted into the UN "when we come back here next year" no matter what. He hoped there would be an agreement that would lead to the establishment of Palestine. That is the exact opposite of what the Palestinians have decided to do.

Obama should quote himself in his 2011 UN address. He should emphasize that he called for an agreement bred by Israeli-Palestinian tolerance, not for a move that is counter to Israel's wishes. He can point out that during this year, neither the Palestinian or Israeli leadership acted tolerantly toward the other side. If Obama doesn't do so, Netanyahu should use the quote, not as a reminder to the American administration, which is on Israel's side on this one anyway, but as a reminder to Palestinians and to European countries.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

An Eternity of Occupation

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) said recently that the Palestinians have been living under occupation for 63 years. Read that again - sixty three years. By my count, the Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation for only 44 years. One could try to argue that Abbas is referring to the 19 years of Egyptian occupation of Gaza and the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in addition to the Israeli occupation since 1967. That seems unlikely.

Had Abbas been referring to any foreign occupation Palestinians have been living under, he wouldn't just be counting 63 years. He'd be counting centuries, or eternity, really. Palestinians have never been independent, so how long they've lived under occupation depends on how long they've existed. Before the establishment of Israel, there was a British occupation, which had itself ended four centuries of Ottoman occupation during World War I. Before that, there were various other occupations. The last time locals in Israel/Palestine ruled themselves before 1948 was during the 1st century BC - and those were the Jewish Hasmoneans, not Palestinians.

So, when Abbas says 63 years, he's referring only to Israeli occupation. That means he still sees Israel itself as occupied territory. Every UN member should remember that when it comes time to vote.

Let's hope the Security Council buries Palestinian Statehood in committee. They should establish a committee that would recommend whether or not to accept Palestine as a member state. It would preferably wait long enough for a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, so it wouldn't be against Israel's will anymore.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Ten Year Anniversary

I wrote two posts today, and thought it would be odd if I wrote about other issues without mentioning the fact that it is September 11. What can I say about the subject that isn't a cliche? Let's give it a try.

In truth, I don't think 9/11 changed my life significantly. Sure, it had an impact, like the extra hassle when boarding a flight in the United States, and the fact that world politics changed. But other events that took place during this decade effected me, as an Israeli, much more directly and powerfully than the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Second Intifadah, Operation Defensive Shield, the Second Lebanon War, the withdrawal from Gaza, and Operation Cast Lead - each one of those was much more of a game changer for Israelis than 9/11.

On the other hand, I may be exaggerating here. 9/11 was the beginning of the decline of America's superpower status. Or more precisely, George W. Bush's reaction to the attacks began the decline. As a citizen of the United States and its ally Israel, I can't ignore that fact. Also, who knows how the events I detailed in the previous paragraph would have played out had it not been for that horrible Tuesday ten years ago.

Maccabees and Gibson Right For Each Other

I love Hanukkah. It's one of Judaism's most fun holidays, perhaps second only to Purim. Kids spin dreidels and eat chocolate coins, and though not all people get vacation during Hanukkah, for those who do, it is the only extended time off between the High Holidays in the fall and the holidays of late winter and early spring. However, to really enjoy the Festival of Lights, liberal secular Jews must ignore the true origins of the holiday.

We were taught in school that Hanukkah was born out of Judah Maccabee's war against the Greeks and their imposition of their religion on the Jews. It was a war for national sovereignty and religious freedom - that's what the teachers said.

In truth, religious intolerance is more of a monotheistic trait than a polytheistic one. There is no evidence that the Greek rulers of Judea made any decrees forcing Jews to worship Zeus and the other Greek gods. Jews who decided to assimilate into Greek culture did so of their own will. They probably liked the less restrictive culture, and were the closest thing to secular people to exist at the time.

Judah Maccabee's war wasn't just against the Greeks, it was just as much against those assimilated Jews. He did not fight for religious freedom. He wanted to force the Jews to follow strict Jewish laws.

That is exactly why I wasn't upset to hear that Mel Gibson is going to make a movie based on the Books of Maccabees. Mel Gibson shares a lot in common with Judah: they're both violent, intolerant religious fanatics who are sure of the power of the Jews (of course, that last part meant very different things for each). There are also differences, like the fact that Gibson never went to war and killed anyone to impose his beliefs, which is a point in his favor.

Feeling the Hate in Cairo

I sure hope the mob that took over the Israeli embassy in Cairo is as representative of the Egyptian people as the young drunk racists from Max Blumenthal's "Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem" video represent the Israeli people. In other words, they better be nothing more than a vocal minority.

Some of those involved in the Egyptian revolution have already distanced themselves from the angry mob. This is a good sign. While it is well known that Israel is very unpopular in Arab countries, I hope cooler heads will prevail. Israeli-Egypian relations can overcome this, if the revolutionary Egyptians don't allow fanaticism to take over their movement.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Lieberman, Hero of Kurds and Armenians

I've lost count already of all the reasons why Israel's foreign minister should be fired. Now reason number trillion and something has been born out of the crisis with Turkey. Lieberman isn't responsible for the crisis, and I even agree with him that we should not apologize or pay restitution to those who were looking for a fight. However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's crazy talk about sending Turkish battleships to escort future flotillas to Gaza has made Lieberman talk just as crazy. He proposed a plan to aide Kurdish rebels in Turkish Kurdistan.

So many things are wrong with this. First of all, Prime Minister Netanyahu told cabinet members not to say a word about Turkey. He wants to lower the flames as much as possible without apologizing. Good idea. But what is to be done when the foreign minister goes rogue (again)? He'd be fired from a normal government. With the government we have, he'll stay in his position, and Ehud Barak will be sent to explain to the world that Lieberman's policies are not the official policies of Israel.

I can't claim to know much about the Kurdish situation. I don't know how similar it is to the Palestinian situation, but one thing is clear to me. What's the difference between one kind of terrorism and another? If Kurdish terror is fine, so is Palestinian terror.

Besides all that, we need Turkey as an ally. Though it doesn't seem that way, we just might salvage these relations some day. We shouldn't further alienate the Turks.

Lieberman's proposal has one part I do endorse. He wants to recognize the Armenian genocide during World War I. I just don't think this move should be presented as punishment of the Turks. The Ottoman Empire did indeed conduct a genocide against the Armenians, and it is only just that we not deny that fact.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Racial Profiling at Israeli Airports

Israelis who landed in Turkey today were treated to humiliating strip searches in the name of security. Was it retaliation for Israel's refusal to apologize for the nine deaths on the Mavi Marmara? Maybe, who knows. To be honest, I don't really care. What I do care about is the Turks' claim that "the Israelis started it", by harassing Turks at Ben-Gurion Airport, usually on their way out.

As much as I hate to say it, Turkey is right. Contrary to popular belief, Israeli airport security doesn't only use psychological profiling, it also uses racial profiling. The Israeli Supreme Court recently instructed the Israeli Port Authority to stop sending Arab citizens of Israel to a separate security line, where they are inspected much more thoroughly. I don't think this has been implemented yet, and even if it has, it does not apply to non-citizens.

Israeli security routinely humiliates Arab and Muslim passengers. They claim it needs to be done, but that can't be true. Questioning every Muslim passenger for hours can't be an efficient tactic. Strip searching people with no actual reason to suspect terrorist activity is just wrong. I don't remember ever hearing of a planned airplane bombing being derailed in Israel by a cavity search.

The situation has gotten so bad that the Foreign Ministry has tried several times to change these security policies, though unsuccessfully. They've said that it is both ineffective and damages Israel's reputation. Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has criticized these measures. Believe me, if Liebrman thinks airport security's handling of Arabs and other Muslims is excessive, that means something!

I'm no fool. I don't want to get blown up while on a flight. I want all threats to be intercepted on the ground. I just don't think the mistreatment of entire "suspicious groups" helps security in any way.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Sept. 2011: Middle Eastern Hurricane Season

Less then a month after Hurricane Irene struck New York (albeit as a downgraded tropical storm), Hurricane Abbas is scheduled to hit Manhattan around September 20. The United Nations Headquarters will be right in the eye of the Category 3 storm, which is not expected to continue north to Massachusetts and Canada, but rather to go east, gather strength over the hot Atlantic Ocean and hit the Middle East as a Category 5 hurricane at the very least.

Israeli officials fear that the fierce winds will sweep with them rockets from Gaza, as well as Palestinian refugees, who will be thrust uncontrollably onto Israel's borders from the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the fact that the government knows about the hurricane, a new report by MK Shaul Mofaz shows they are doing nothing to mitigate its consequences. Perhaps PTSD (Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in this case) is paralyzing them.

Meteorologists point out that Hurricane Abbas is unlike any other cyclone in history. For one thing, it isn't forming near the western shores of Africa, but rather at its final destination - Israel and the Palestinian territories. Scientists have also observed that it is the first man-made hurricane in recorded human history. Some have even said that this wonder, though destructive, may merit the awarding of a Nobel Prize to Mahmoud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and several other Palestinian, Israeli, American and world leaders. The problem is that Nobel rules limit the number of people who can share a prize, and the list of people who have contributed to the formation of Hurricane Abbas is endless. Perhaps this will be the first time that "et al" wins a Nobel.

Scientists are not sure which Nobel Prize the creators of this Middle Eastern phenomenon will be awarded. Needless to say, it won't be the Peace Prize. Perhaps it will be the Chemistry (or lack thereof) prize, or a Nobel in physics. Another possibility is the Literature Prize, for all the tales politicians are expected to spin in an effort to convince people that they did not do anything wrong.