All posts by Daniel Vanello

Daniel has a BA in Philosophy from Trinity College Dublin and is currently a Philosophy research postgraduate at the University of Warwick.

Nothing New in Israeli Politics

The Palestinian question cannot be shunned by Israel’s political class and by its Jewish electorate since it is part and parcel of Israel’s essence. No “new” coalition can change this fundamental fact.

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Although almost two months have passed since Israeli citizens have cast their vote to elect the 19th Knesset, a government is yet to be formed.

In the meantime, there are three considerations to be made. The first one regards Netanyahu’s claim that the main issue on which his government will focus will be “socioeconomic”. In the summer of 2011 tens of thousands of Israelis protested against austerity measures and the rising price of housing. The opposition seized the opportunity and accused the Netanyahu government of mismanaging the economy and finance of the country. Therefore Netanyahu pledged to make it his priority to see to it that no Israeli will ever again have to suffer financial angst.

There are two hidden aspects to the “socioeconomic” agenda. Firstly, Netanyahu believes that by focusing on it he will be able to focus solely on “domestic” issues. That is, he will be able to cast aside, at least for a while, anything which is “foreign”. By “foreign” Netanyahu means one thing and one thing only: the stagnation of the peace process with the Palestinians due to settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Thus it is not a sincere desire to ease Israeli citizens’ lives that drives the Netanyahu to focus on the “domestic socioeconomic” issue but rather a desire to to postpone the creation of a Palestinian state.

The second hidden aspect is the fact that the “socioeconomic” situation which needs to be ameliorated pertains to Jewish Israeli citizens and not to all Israeli citizens. Indeed, the “socioeconomic” status of the Arab population has been neglected up to the point of asking whether Israel is a democracy at all. No wonder less than half of the Arab population was expected to vote.

The second consideration concerns the fact that any “new” coalition will not be that new after all since it will either be constituted by political parties which are not sincere about peace or by political parties which, while professing to be part of the “peace camp,” have not won enough seats to make a real difference.

The two possible heavyweight candidates to join Netanyahu are Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home), led by Naftali Bennet, a software tycoon, who has made explicit his intent of expanding settlement construction and to annex Area C of the West Bank, equivalent to 61% of the territory (indeed, Netanyahu himself pledged not to dismantle any settlements); and Yesh Atid, a centrist political party founded by Yair Lapid, a former journalist and TV presenter, who has delivered his main electoral speech at the University of Ariel, arguably the biggest and most controversial settlement in the West Bank. Mr. Lapid has also stated that Jerusalem must remain undivided (read: Israeli).

The political parties which seem genuinely interested in the peace process are Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah which won a mere 5% of the votes; Meretz also at 5% and Kadima at 2%. The three Arab-Israeli parties combined did not even make it to 10%.

Since settlement construction is deemed illegal under international law, it can be safely stated that the “new” government will be composed of criminal elements. The international community should condemn ferociously the policies of these political parties and make it clear that Netanyahu’s alliance with them is frowned upon. Alas, the only reaction seen so far was the usual hand tapping by the British Foreign secretary William Hague.

The previous two brief reflections lead me to the third and final one which perhaps is the most important: governments are not formed ex nihilo, they are elected by the people. Two things follow from this. Firstly, the policies which are implemented or which the elected parties pledge to implement reflect the values of the people voting for those same parties. Therefore the underlying problem is not so much that there are a few racist individuals in Israel’s political arena but that a great part, if not a majority, of the Israeli public shares these racist values and wishes for them to be implemented.

Secondly, and following the above remark, the Israeli public shares the responsibility for racist policies being implemented against the native Arab population. We are accustomed to aim criticisms at governments and other political institutions for injustices perpetrated by nations. The fact of the matter is, though, that in Israel people do elect governments and therefore share responsibility. Change will not come by putting pressure on the political establishment but only once the Israeli institutions will be reformed in such a way as to create a radical shift in the Jewish Israeli public’s values.

The Palestinian question cannot be shunned by Israel’s political class and by its Jewish electorate since it is part and parcel of Israel’s essence. No “new” coalition can change this fundamental fact.

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Photo Credit: Lilachd

World Poverty: A Question Of Values

In order to eradicate world poverty and global inequality, we need to ensure that our domestic institutions are themselves, just.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are various theories trying to explain world poverty and the global inequality which plagues the world. Some focus on the public political culture of developing countries and try to explain their socio-economic underperformance in terms of failed domestic institutions. They point to the home bred corruption which gnaws at the basic social structure of these countries and place the blame wholly upon it.

Others give detailed examples of how the global economic order is conducive to world poverty. International economic institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) were designed during the post-Cold war era by developed countries, the United States in primis, in such a way as to favour developed countries to the detriment of developing ones. It is not the case, then, that poor countries are poor because of home grown issues but because of unjust interference from the outside. Just think of the myriad cases where multinational corporations bribe domestic politicians in order to exploit the country’s natural resources.

These two positions, adopted by so-called social and cosmopolitan liberals respectively, disagree in how world poverty is to be tackled. Some social liberals go as far as to hold that developed countries do not owe anything to poor countries precisely because it is the latter’s fault if they are stuck in never ending poverty. The only thing we in rich countries can do is to continue to offer charity. Other social liberals with a more developed moral sense opt for the duty of assistance. In this case, rich countries pledge both humanitarian help and aid in the restructuring of a poor country’s social institutions.

Cosmopolitan liberals opt for a more radical solution. They argue that international institutions constituting the global economic order should adopt a just, global principle of distribution. Accordingly, such a principle would distribute natural resources in a fair way by giving each his due. Furthermore, this would stop rich countries interfering negatively in the domestic affairs of poor countries since they would have no reason to do so anymore.

Certainly, the cosmopolitan notion of a global principle of distribution strikes a profound ethical note within many people. It simply seems fair to give each individual in this world as much as anybody else gets and to stop foreign interference in the domestic economic issues of another country. But there are two issues with it. Firstly, what does it mean for an international institution to adopt such a principle? And secondly, why would international institutions ever adopt a principle from which they would gain nothing?

Both questions lead to a common answer. In relation to the first one, it would mean that the thousands of economic and financial treaties which constitute an international institution would be revised or replaced by other treaties expressing higher ethical values. This, though, would seem to indicate the need to enhance the moral character of those officials devising the treaties. Surely only people with a strong sense of justice would be able to devise just international treaties. This answers our second question, too. International institutions will revise or replace their treaties only once the officials with decision-making powers will recognise the fundamental righteousness of doing so. In both cases, then, the answer to a more just, global economic order revolves around fostering the moral character and sense of justice of decision-makers.

The most efficient manner for a person to achieve a sense of justice is to have been raised and educated accordingly. This is the job of domestic social institutions such as the family, school, universities and the media. If we understand world poverty as the outcome of the unjust global economic order and this simply as a conglomeration of economic and financial treaties expressing unjust values, then a change in the former necessitates a change in the latter. And in order to change the values being expressed in the treaties, we need to develop the moral character and sense of justice of those devising them by making sure that the domestic social institutions they grow up in instill them with just values.

This points to an interesting insight: in order to eradicate world poverty and global inequality, we need to ensure that our domestic institutions are themselves, just. The values being expressed in the unjust global economic order are the same ones being expressed in domestic economic decision making. We often speak of rich and poor countries. The truth is that the rich countries we have in mind are not rich at all. Most of its citizens linger in poverty. Think of the US. There is an obvious isomorphism in its domestic and global economic policy. In both cases people are exploited for the benefit of a few and this is done by devising economic and financial treaties expressing unjust values.

It is crucial to appreciate that global injustice is the outcome of domestic injustice. In order to change the former we need to start at the grassroots.

Western – Iranian Diplomacy: Stop, Shut, Ship

The attitude of Western negotiators can be summed up by an anonymous official’s expression: “Stop, shut, ship”. Stop enriching uranium, shutting down the requested nuclear facilities and shipping enriched uranium outside of the country.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lthough the officials involved in diplomatic efforts with Iran are ambiguous about their progress, sometimes praising the “constructive” achievements and occasionally blaming the other side for the deadlock, actions on the ground are crystal clear.

On Sunday 1st of July, the European Union (EU) applied some of the severest economic sanctions so far against Iran. In response to that, Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee drafted a bill to close the Straight of Hormuz, where about one forth of the world’s crude oil is shipped, for all shipments bound for European countries supporting the sanctions. A day later, Iran carried out the “Great Prophet 7” missile exercise in which it simulated, apparently successfully, the bombing of key US bases which abound around Iran (check out this interactive map). In order not to appear weak, the US not only scheduled a military exercise with  the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) due to take place in October/November but also increased its military presence near Iran by sending additional warships, F-22 stealth fighter jets and a new amphibious base to launch ground attacks. Finally, as a provocation, a US judge ruled that Tehran had to pay $8.8bn to the families of the US soldiers who fell victim to a terrorist attack carried out in Lebanon in 1983 sponsored by Iran.

Negotiations between the P5+1 (the five Security Council permanent members and Germany) are clearly failing- again. It should not surprise anyone. There are at least six conditions which need to be satisfied in order to break the stalemate.

Firstly, the US and the EU need to abandon the dual track policy: engaging in diplomatic efforts while applying biting sanctions. They need to choose between one of the two, they cannot have both. Unless they give up some of the heaviest sanctions, they will not come across as trustworthy. Furthermore, lifting sanctions is in their interest for another two reasons. In the first place, economic sanctions hit mainly the Iranian middle class which is where most of the anti-Ahmadinejad Green movement members come from. As long as it keeps the sanctions going, it is arguably helping their biggest foe. And second, sanctions are creating a climate in which the price of oil is increasing dramatically, making the recovery of many European countries more difficult, a factor which the EU cannot allow itself.

Secondly, the US and the EU need to make human rights issues integral to the negotiations. One of the reasons why the Obama administration did not pursue its diplomatic efforts with Iran in 2009, the year in which the White House was most serious about diplomacy with Iran, was because of the rigged Iranian elections and the violation of any human rights on behalf of the Ahmadinejad government against the protestors. The Obama administration could not be seen negotiating with a government allowing the killing, torturing and raping of its population. To be sure, this is a fault of Iran, not the US. But the latter needs to make it clear that it will not negotiate with an autocratic regime.

Thirdly, Israel needs to keep out of the talks. Although the western coalition is called the P5+1, it should really be called the P5+1+1. The Israeli government is doing anything it can to create a detrimental climate around the talks. The truth of the matter is that although it barks at every opportunity, ultimately it will not attack Iran. Even Ehud Barak, Israel’s hawkish Defence Minister, stated that “Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel”.

More importantly, the US needs to stop heeding pro-Israeli groups. The latter do not believe in the possibility of peaceful relations with Iran. Their only goal is to hinder diplomatic efforts between the US and the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the fact that the US Congress is at the mercy of these powerful lobbies makes it all the more difficult. One of the strongest set of sanctions, namely the ones targeting Iran’s gasoline imports, was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) after strong pressure by Israeli lobby groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In fact, many ask what is happening to US sovereignty when Israeli politicians start influencing the drafting of bills.

Fourthly, the US and the EU need to recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium. This is a right of all the signatories of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of which Iran is part (article IV.1). Until the US and the EU recognise this right, they will be perceived by Iran -quite rightly- as being biased (Israel is not a signatory and is in possession of over one hundred nuclear heads).

Fifthly, the Iranian government needs to start passing democratic reforms. At present, it is a dictatorship like any other. Both Ahmadinejad’s government and Ayatollah Khamenei have little if any political legitimacy. This makes the job of any negotiator more difficult because it gives off the impression of supporting a non-democratic regime.

Sixthly, and following from what has just been said, it is imperative that the P5+1 start negotiating not only with officials from Ahmadinejad’s government and close to Ayatollah Khamenei but also with officials from other sectors of society, such as the government’s opposition. One of the reasons why Turkey and Brazil managed to get a breakthrough in the negotiations -which the Obama administration foolishly rejected- was precisely because it engaged with these other sectors of society. This allowed them to build confidence with a higher number of officials which made it easier to close a deal.

Many of these conditions are meant to change the attitude of Western negotiators which can be summed up by an anonymous official’s expression: “Stop, shut, ship”. This refers to the West’s demand to stop enriching uranium, shutting down the requested nuclear facilities and ship enriched uranium outside of the country.

Clearly, many of these conditions are difficult to achieve. At the same time, though, these conditions show, against pessimists, that a solution is possible.

EU-Israeli Relations: Time For Sanctions?

EU-Israeli relations must drastically change if the EU wishes to uphold the values they claim to embody. If they do not, the EU will bear part of the responsibility for the Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f there is anything the politicians in the European Union’s parliament have become experts on, it is devising and applying economic and diplomatic sanctions on countries they deem as ‘outlaw’ states. Their list of targets is wide-ranging: Syria, Belarus, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and, of course, Iran. In many cases, the justification for the implementation of sanctions is sound, usually instigated by the abuse of human rights and a lack of political freedom.

If we accept these reasons as sufficient for the implementation of sanctions against a foreign country, then we should ask why none are being applied to Israel. To be sure, one could immediately object that it is useless to engage in such talk since the EU does not regard Israel as an ‘outlaw’ state such as the examples mentioned above.

It is at this point that the interesting fact of the matter lies. Recently, the EU has published two reports outlining the persistent violation of international law and human rights on behalf of Israel against the native Arab population. Before asking further questions, some factual quoting is in order.

The two reports are the EU Heads of Mission report on East Jerusalem published in 2011 and the European Neighbourhood Policy on Israel published in mid-May of this year.

The latter highlights irregularities in most areas it investigated. In the field of “freedom of association and freedom of expression and the media”, the report notes that “an increasing number of bills that can be labelled as potentially discriminatory or even anti-democratic” were proposed in the Knesset and the ones which have been passed “are examples of laws that raise concerns, as they can…alienate the Arab Israeli minority”.

Moreover, the “progress on the situation of the Arab minority was limited”. Furthermore, “the exercise of media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly remained problematic in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2011”, “Israeli detentions of Palestinian journalists…continued” and “the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders remained critical”.

The report also noted that due to the acceptance of Palestine as a member of UNESCO, “Israel temporarily suspended the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, contrary to its obligations under the Paris Protocol”, the document which outlines the economic relations between Israel and Palestine signed in April 1994 as part of Oslo 1.

The report went on to highlight that “settlement construction and expansion continued in the West Bank…with a surge in settlement activity at the end of 2011” and that “this undermines the prospects for a two-state solution”.

On the issue of administrative detention, the report notes that “there was a sharp increase in the number of administrative detainees” and that “the EU has repeatedly conveyed its concerns about this practice to the Israeli authorities in the framework of regular political and human rights dialogue”.

Not even children were spared. The report informs us about “insufficient protection of children during arrest and detention” with the abominable “cases of solitary confinement of children” continuing.

Further complaints include breach in freedom of religion for the Arab Christian minority, Palestinian social and economic rights being “hampered by Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement” and property rights coming under “particular strain…due to the demolition of their homes by Israel” in Area C of the West Bank.

If you find these findings harsh, then take a look at the EU Heads of Mission report on East Jerusalem. Here we find out that “Israel is actively perpetuating its [i.e. East Jerusalem’s] annexation by systematically undermining the Palestinian presence in the city through the continued expansion of settlements, restricting zoning and planning, ongoing demolitions and evictions, an inequitable education policy, difficult access to health care and the inadequate provision of resources and investment”.

The report explicitly acknowledges that “Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem have run counter to its stated commitment to a sustainable peace with the Palestinians” and “in accordance with international law, the EU regards East Jerusalem as occupied territory” thus considering “the construction of the separation barrier illegal under international law where it is built under occupied territory.”

The document continues with extensive and detailed criticisms of Israel’s settlement policy, archaeological projects supposedly searching for biblical artifacts, “planning, demolitions, eviction and displacements”, the “residency status”, “access and movement” of the native Arab population and inequalities in the allotment of education and health resources for local Arabs.

In a few words, the two reports highlight the almost total disregard of basic human rights on behalf of the Israeli political establishment when dealing with its native Arab population. They explicitly demonstrate violations of international law and the adoption of discriminatory policies on the behalf of Israel.

If the EU is fully aware of these facts, the obvious question is not only why the Union does nothing to put real pressure on Israel, such as its beloved threat and implementation of diplomatic and economic sanctions, but especially why it is doing the exact opposite by increasing its economic and diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

If the politicians in the European parliament want to uphold the values they claim the EU embodies, and if they do not want to smack of hypocrisy, they need to drastically change its relations with Israel and begin to consider the use of sanctions. Until they do so, they bear part of the responsibility for the Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Israeli State Sponsored Xenophobia

The unjust treatment of both illegal immigrants and Arabs stems from the same racist values which are so pervasive in Israel’s public institutions.

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the most difficult questions for any policy maker today is how to deal with illegal immigration. This is especially a problem for countries whose economy is relatively decent and who border or are close to countries where the basic institutions needed to look after the needs of the population are dysfunctional or nonexistent.

One of the governments having to deal with this issue is Israel. Nearby Eritrea and Sudan have been inefficient towards their citizens for as long as one can remember and Sudan in particular has seen and is still seeing prolonged periods of violence. In the past few years Eritreans and Sudanese have been seeking refuge in close-by countries such as Egypt and Israel.

The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has recorded an influx of 60,000 refugees with 2,000 to 3,000 more every month. For a country with a population of 7.6 million it is a high number indeed. Many of these immigrants end up living in neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv. This has caused rising bitterness among locals who accuse the immigrants of all sorts of “dirty” deeds.

Slowly but steadily, and also due to the recent case of three Eritrean immigrants being accused of sexual assaulting a 19 year old girl, this bitterness has metamorphosed into hatred which has been manifested through a variety of attacks against the immigrant community. The incidents include the throwing of molotovs against a building housing immigrants, verbal abuse against Hotline for Migrant Workers, an aid organization, and, most importantly, an anti-immigrant protest which ended with the demonstrators attacking random immigrants on the street.

Such reactions on behalf of the local population, however heinous, are not irrational bouts. On the contrary, they have a logic of their own, that is, they are the result of specific circumstances. In Israel, these circumstances take the form of political and social institutions imbued with racist and xenophobic values.

In other words, what we are witnessing right now in Israel is the logical outcome of the racist ideology pervasive in its public institutions. The central principle of this ideology is that Israel is and has to remain a Jewish state and it needs to preserve its “Jewish character” by whatever means possible. This ideology can be observed by looking firstly at the statements made by top ranking politicians and secondly at the decisions taken by the political establishment as a whole.

Eli Yishai, Israel’s Interior Minister, commenting on the possible deportation of migrant workers from Israel in October 2009, asked rhetorically ‘Do [the workers] not threaten the Zionist project in the State of Israel?’. Netanyahu has explicitly declared that the influx of immigrants is jeopardising Israel’s Jewish character. At the anti-immigrant rally held in south Tel Aviv, several Members of Knesset (MK), Israel’s parliament, were present. One of them, Likud MK Danny Dannon, called for deportation. Another, Likud MK Miri Regev, shouted “the Sudanese [are] a cancer in our body”. Notice that these remarks, and the first two in particular, do not mention economic difficulties as obstacles for absorbing immigrants but the preservation of the Jewish character of the state.

The measures the government has taken against the influx of immigrants also manifest xenophobic values. Firstly, the biggest detention centre in the world is being built in the Negev desert, capable of housing up to 11,000 immigrants. Human Rights groups have criticised the construction of the detention centre pointing out at the inhumane conditions it will subject the inmates. Secondly, the government has resorted also in this case to building a wall on its southern border, just as it is doing in the north with Lebanon and in the occupied Palestinian territories. Thirdly, politicians have pledged to deport the immigrants against their will and knowing that they face severe consequences in their countries of origin. Fourthly, the Knesset passed a bill which defines anyone crossing the southern border of Israel illegally as an “infiltrator” who can be detained up to three years. Fifthly, the government is not recognising the immigrants’ status as refugees. Out of the 60,000 plus people who crossed illegally into Israel in the past few years, only six have been bestowed with a refugee status (and only 170 since 1949), meaning that all the others do not enjoy the rights accorded to refugees. The last of these measures violates the first article of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted by the UN General Assembly and of which Israel is a signatory.

Moreover, the police have been accused of feeding the public incorrect data about immigrants. For instance, the media has quoted the police as stating that immigrants were responsible for 40% of crimes, a figure repeated by MK Danny Dannon. But at a meeting held by the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, police data showed that in 2011 immigrants were responsible only for 2.24% of crimes thus showing that much of the fear raised among locals was unnecessary and illogical.

To be sure, the social phenomenon where the local population resorts to extremist actions against immigrants is certainly not peculiar to Israel, far from it. What needs to be appreciated, though, is that the background structure of Israeli society is responsible for and supporting this  phenomenon. Although the government boasts of being the only democratic country in the region, it is actively inciting the population to such actions by both pronouncing inflammatory and racist remarks and taking concrete steps in maintaining the “Jewish character” of the nation, that is, getting rid of anything which threatens the “Jewish demographic”, as the native Arab population knows all too well. In fact, the unjust treatment of both illegal immigrants and Arabs stems from the same racist values which are so pervasive in Israel’s public institutions. And let us not forget the incentives the Israeli state has designed in order to attract Jews wishing to become citizens of Israel, starting with the Law of Return, which shows that influx itself is not the problem.

The sick irony in all of this is unmissable: while Israel points to the repeated persecution of the Jewish people and its culmination in the racist policies of Germany during the 30s and 40s, it turns away foreigners escaping very similar situations precisely in order to preserve its purity.

Hezbollah Is Shooting Itself In The Foot

Nasrallah’s support of the Assad regime is not only debilitating for Hezbollah, but the Middle East at large.

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[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring the more than two decades of its existence, Hezbollah earned the allegiance of the Lebanese Shia population by building its image as a group whose sole interest is a combination of social justice in the form of resistance to Israel’s belligerence, coupled with strict Islamic piety. Although many Western countries have defined it from its inception as a terrorist organisation, Hezbollah has earned the respect of many within and outside the Arab world not only for the courage exhibited in its repeated confrontations with Israel, but especially for the social work carried out in the poorest parts of Beirut and South Lebanon.

It is then all the more disconcerting to hear the words of its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, when discussing the Syrian crisis. Nasrallah has blamed the fighting on the (mainly Sunni) resistance movements rather than on the cruelty of the Assad regime. Further, he has provided the regime with diplomatic support by stating, for instance, that the opposition is the result of American and Israeli interference, rather than a genuine rebellion of the native population in response to decades of ruthless rule.

As Hezbollah has thrived on Iranian and Syrian financial and military support, Nasrallah’s statements might not come as a surprise. All the same, the legitimisation on behalf of Nasrallah of the Assad regime backfires by having the obvious result of deligitimising Hezbollah’s role as a bastion of justice for the weak. The problem is that this self-inflicted deligitimisation has severe implications both for the group and, more importantly, for the complex dynamics within the region.

Hezbollah’s loyalty to the Assad family is viewed by many as the result of religious affiliation due to both being Shiite and not as what it truly is, namely the outcome of pragmatic agreements and mutual political interests. This has the consequence of fostering distrust of the Shias on behalf of the Sunnis and thus of creating disunity between the two sects. This disunity has a triple effect. Firstly, as Michael Hudson, the director of the Middle East Institute at the National University in Singapore, argued, disunity among opposition movements is one of prime hindrances to the fall of whichever regime is being fought. In the case of Syria, disunity postpones indefinitely the demise of Assad’s rule. This is attested by the known fact that many Syrian (Shia) Alawites support Assad merely out of fear of Sunni retaliation.

Secondly, disunity is exacerbating sectarian strife within Lebanon itself. Reports abound of rising tension between the two communities in the Northern city of Tripoli, a tension which has recently given rise to deadly clashes . Moreover, the two leading coalitions, the pro-Assad March 8 and anti-Assad March 14 coalitions, are growing ever more distant. In a country renowned for its political fragility and for a past defined by fifteen years of civil war such tensions should alarm anyone interested in Lebanon’s stability. Thirdly, the question of whether such disunity might impact rebellions in other countries, such as Bahrain, becomes imperative. If so, then it would seem as if Hezbollah’s uncompromising position on the Syrian crisis is helping Arab regimes to stay in power by  fractioning and thus weakening the various oppositions.

Furthermore, Hezbollah’s decision to back up Assad is backfiring against its own raison d’etre: the fight against Israel. This is so for two reasons. Firstly, Hezbollah’s loss of legitimacy means at the same time that one of the most important players in the resistance against Israel and for the Palestinian cause is losing legitimacy. Israel can then justifiably state that its main opponent  is a group which supports dictatorships and thus has no credibility in judging the demeanor of other nations. Secondly, it is recognised among various Middle East experts that contrary to what Assad’s speeches might assert about his hatred for Israel, the Jewish majority state has actually enjoyed stability on its borders with Syria since the Assad family took over. In fact, it is plausible that Israel would have a much tougher time if a different Islamist group ruled Syria.

Finally, Hezbollah, by losing credibility, is also losing many potential votes in next year’s Lebanese elections. This also means that many parties in the March 8 coalition might reconsider their affiliation with the group lest they themselves lose the appeal of the electorate. This could potentially leave Hezbollah with little if any political power at the executive level.

Hezbollah has answered criticisms expressed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar about its support of Assad by pointing to their hypocrisy since both are tyrannical in their rule against the respective Shia communities and both have a close relationship with the US. Moreover,  Hezbollah has noted that nobody else does as much for the Palestinian cause and thus it cannot be criticised. But the fact of the matter is that it is not about Israel, the US or Palestine: it is about the thousands of brave Syrian men and women who have lost their lives and the thousands who keep on defying the Assad regime regardless of their religious affiliation.

Ultimately, the sad irony is that while Hezbollah has built its image as the resistance movement of the poor and weak against the great power of Israel and the US, it is now acting the other way round. Hezbollah must not be afraid of distancing itself from the Assad regime because although it will lose a pragmatic albeit powerful ally, it will earn the support of a much greater power: the people.

The Political Responsibility Of The Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood needs to choose between being a key player in the Egyptian political arena and keeping its internal structure hidden. It cannot have both.

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith presidential elections due to be held at the end of May, the first exercise of democratic sovereignty in post-Mubarak Egypt will come to an end. These have been preceded by the parliamentary (People’s Assembly) and senate (Shura Council) elections held between the end of November and mid-February. Both have been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group founded in 1928 which has been characterised by secrecy and ambiguity due to its frequent persecution on behalf of the various dictatorships which have ruled Egypt since 1952.

Mohammed Morsy, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, is one of the four favourites to win the presidential race. Securing the presidential post does not have solely a symbolic meaning: the president gets to choose half of the members of the Shura Council (only the first half is elected). This means that if Mohammed Morsy should win, the Brotherhood would secure all three political posts. Many, both within and outside Egypt, are worried about this prospect. And they should be.

The main preoccupation with the Brotherhood stems not from the fact that they are an Islamist group, more because of their secrecy and ambiguity. This has manifested in recent months by various contradictory decisions the party has taken. For instance, at first the Brotherhood had dictated that it would not field a candidate for the presidential elections. It went as far as to suspend its long-time member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh after he announced in May 2011 his intention of running regardless of the group’s prohibition. But several months later, having witnessed how much public support it attracted at the parliamentary elections, the Islamist group not only signed up Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood’s main source of income, but once it heard about his probable disqualification, it fielded a further one, namely Mohammed Morsy.

Such acts only add to the suspicion of many that the group is not, as it professes, a group whose sole interest is the modest and pious devotion to religious principles. Rather, the Brotherhood has been perceived for some time now as a pragmatic political group just like any other, with the addition of the fact that almost nobody knows how it works and the real extent of its influence in Egypt and abroad. One factor which attests to the Muslim Brotherood’s voluntary choice for secrecy is the long and arduous process prospective members have to go through in order to be accepted as full members.

Secrecy and democracy do not go well together. In fact, they are to a large extent mutually exclusive. An essential element in a genuine democracy is publicity. That is, the knowledge the citizens have of what fundamental principles are being employed by the ruling class to make political decisions and justify their actions.

This knowledge has two main consequences. Firstly, publicity gives citizens a sense of security stemming from the fact that they feel they can, so to speak, predict how the governing body will act in particular situations. Furthermore, social institutions shape the kind of people we are. The most obvious example is education. If the principles which are at the base of these institutions are not made public then citizens do not know what kind of external influences are moulding their behaviour. Most importantly, if they are made public citizens can scrutinise these principles and choose to change them through democratic procedures such as electing a different government.

Secondly, and as a consequence of the preceding reasons, transparency implies that citizens know what social justice is and thus know that their own or somebody else’s actions will have certain specific results. This translates in increasing the citizens’ willingness to cooperate both with the ruling body and with other citizens. Without such publicity citizens feel they can trust neither the policy-making class nor the citizens who support this class, an obvious recipe for social discontent and disobedience, not to mention full-blown rebellion.

This is how the failure in March of setting up a panel bestowed with the responsibility of drafting the new constitution is to be read. The panel is composed of 50 members from both the People’s Assembly and Shura Council and 50 public figures. This means that whoever has a majority in these two political posts can have a major influence in deciding who will draft the new constitution and thus the way the constitution will look like. After the members were revealed to be mainly from an Islamist background, most of the other members walked out in sign of protest. Such “surprises” are precisely the outcome of secrecy.

The Muslim Brotherhood needs to choose between being a key player in the Egyptian political arena and keeping its internal structure hidden. It cannot have both. In fact, if in July the Security Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will truly cede power to a new president then the Muslim Brotherhood should have nothing to fear in opening up. With the years of political persecution finally over, the group should feel that it can disclose its mysterious organisation. On the contrary, if it continues to hide it, and thus its intentions, it will only gain more enemies and create a social atmosphere which will asphyxiate the so much sought after Egyptian democracy.

Günter Grass & German Emancipation

We should hope that Günter Grass’ courage and bravery in criticizing Israel will be mimicked by more Germans.

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[dropcap]G[/dropcap]ünter Grass’ poem “What must be said”, in which the German Nobel laureate openly criticised Israel’s policies in the Middle East, its nuclear program, and the hypocrisy of western governments in the support they give the Jewish state, has predictably attracted much attention, controversy and criticism.

As expected, Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, has attacked Grass by reminding everyone of the poet’s dark past as a member of the Waffen SS. Eli Yishai, Israel’s Interior Minister, has gone as far as barring Grass entrance into Israel in turn reminding everyone of the character of the “sole democracy” in the Middle East. In fact, Grass himself remarked that the only two other establishments which have barred him from entering a country due to his criticisms were the military junta in Myanmar 25 years ago and Erich Mielke, the head of East Germany’s Stasi. The chant against Grass’ supposed “anti-Semitism” has been joined by many other intellectuals sympathetic to Israel’s policies.

Günter Grass anticipated in his poem that he would be charged with being anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, doing so is unfair. Grass explicitly recognises in the poem the mistake he made by joining the Nazi movement calling his decision ‘a stain never to be expunged’ (although to many it might not matter, Grass was only seventeen when he was drafted in the Nazi unit). Furthermore, he expresses his connection with Israel using emotionally strong words. These two points are found in the following stanza of the poem:

Why though have I stayed silent until now?

Because I thought my origin,

Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged

Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound

And wish to stay bound,

From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.

Moreover, Grass stated in an interview following the publication of his poem that he was not writing against Israel as a country but against the Israeli government, ‘It’s that which I criticize, a policy that keeps building settlements despite a UN resolution’.

Others have criticised the author by remarking that he published the poem solely in order to galvanise his declining career and that from a literary point of view, the poem is nil. Tom Segev, an Israeli historian, called it “pathetic”. But there have also been some constructive criticisms. Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist and regular op-ed contributor to Haaretz, wrote that although the poem itself exaggerates on certain points due to perhaps the writer’s old age, the content of the poem needs to be taken seriously since it is written by a distinguished artist who means no harm.

But there is one element in some criticisms which is most irritating. Many have pointed out that having been a member of the SS is not the only factor in Grass’ biography that makes his poem so controversial. The other factor is his nationality itself, that is, being German.

Some critics point out that Grass’ poem might be interpreted as an attempt by a German to emancipate himself from his nation’s past by finally openly criticising Israel but that since the poem is not that good, mainly because it lacks subtlety, then it all seems like a “clumsy” attempt or even, as a contributor on Newsbook, The Economist’s blog, wrote, a ‘giant gaffe’. In fact, the contributor concludes his op-ed by stating that ‘Mr Grass may have provoked the controversy to get attention, or he may have done so to break the taboo of Germans criticising Israel. But that taboo has been broken before, and by more nuanced and informed voices.’

These criticisms seem not to grasp the significance of such emancipation. Germany’s population (except perhaps the great influx of immigrants) still lives with a great sense of responsibility and guilt for what happened to the Jews during the Second World War. This burden from the past defines present generations of Germans which objectively have nothing to do with what happened almost seventy years ago. Anyone who has been in Germany knows that talk about Nazism is taboo. This is the extent to which this element in the German collective consciousness goes.

The importance of Grass’ poem is not how informed or precise it is. Grass is not an historian. And why should it matter if others have already said it? Truly breaking a social taboo needs more than just one event: it needs a repeated effort by a plurality of individuals. Furthermore, I cannot recall many Germans who are bestowed with Grass’ fame and have spoken so loudly against Israeli policies. Although that might be a consequence of my personal ignorance, as I hope it is, it does not detract from the courage it has taken Grass to publish this poem. It is precisely the courage of not only a German to speak out against Israeli policies, but a German who has actively participated in one of the most lethal anti-Semitic political movements and who is looking for redemption that needs to be appreciated. Hopefully, Grass’ example will give courage to other Germans to do the same.

Settlers Are The True Threat To Israel

It is in the interests of the Israelis, the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East to stop the settlers.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he settler movement is viewed as the ultimate expression of the Israeli injustice against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and thus is seen primarily as a threat to the native Arab population. Although this is certainly true, there is another aspect of the settler movement which is rarely appreciated and which needs to be spelled out explicitly. This is the fact that the settler movement is not only a direct threat to the Palestinian population but it is a direct threat to Israeli society, the one living within the lawful borders.

The settler movement’s culture is characterised by a messianic understanding of the historical contingencies which brought about the State of Israel. More importantly, this religious fervour is often translated into violence against the native population justified precisely on religious grounds by extremist Rabbis. The forms of violence range from burning Palestinian property, to looting villages, to the most heinous of crimes, such as premeditated murders and full blown terrorist organisations. An instance of the latter is the Kach movement following the steps of Rabbi Meir Kahane whose members included Baruch Goldstein, a settler responsible for the mass murder of 29 Palestinians in the Hebron mosque. To all effects, this culture can be called a form of religious fundamentalism. The extent of their conviction is that anyone who opposes the idea of the return of Judea and Samaria –the biblical names for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories- to the Jews, is a traitor. This has been proven by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, a member of the settler movement.

The settler movement opposes vehemently the peace process. For example, in October 1998 during the summit held at the Wye River Plantation between Netanyahu and a Palestinian delegation mediated by Clinton, representatives of the settlers exerted pressure on the Israeli side by personally showing up to discourage any kind of compromise. After hearing the news that at the summit Netanyahu had agreed to cede 13% of the Occupied Territories to the Palestinian Authority, the Yesha Council, a former umbrella organisation representing most settlements, defined the Wye consensus as a “treason agreement”.

More importantly, the settler movement is supported by all the main Israeli authoritative institutions: political, military, and legislative. Most governments since 1967 fiercely supported the expropriation of Palestinian land for the construction of settlements. The only exception was Rabin’s government, whose fate we have already mentioned. Governments also invest substantial amounts of tax-payers’ money in order to fund the needs of the settlers. This money could be used in more productive manners, such as investing in curbing poverty within Israel, a growing social problem attested by the protests held in July 2011. The army supports the settler movement by both guarding illegal settlements and outposts and going as far as arming the settlers themselves with sophisticated weaponry.

In the Occupied Territories two sets of laws are implemented: one for the settlers and one for the native population, the former being much more lenient than the latter. The Israeli High Court has repeatedly given absurdly short sentences for obvious crimes. In October 1982, Ishegoyev, a settler near Hebron, shot a thirteen year old Palestinian in the back killing him after the latter had thrown stones against his garbage truck. He was sentenced to three months of public service work. But perhaps the most memorable case is that of Yoram Shkolnick. A settler in March 1993 Shklonick overheard on his radio that a Palestinian, who had tried to stab other settlers had been captured by the military and was tied up and lying on the floor in a place nearby. Schklonick arrived at the site armed with an Uzi submachine gun and filled the Palestinian’s body with bullets. He was initially convicted to a life sentence but Weissman, at the time Israel’s President, reduced his sentence on two occasions so that Schkolnik was released from prison seven years after having been sentenced. This legal leniency only helps to solidify the settler’s belief in the righteousness of their cause.

The settlers represent a threat to Israeli society in three ways. Firstly, their violent tactics might in the future be aimed not solely against Palestinians but against anyone who opposes the settlement movement and this includes Israeli citizens. A case in point is the violent tactics used by the settlers against, paradoxically, the army in the rare occasions when the latter has been deployed in order to evacuate certain illegal outposts. Secondly, Palestinian attacks against Israeli citizens are a direct consequence of the failure of the peace process. Since the settlement movement is not only the major obstacle to peace with the Palestinians but also the locus in which the brutality and injustice perpetrated against the native population is justified, it is the major source of motivation for such attacks.

Thirdly, the settlement movement is responsible for the alienation of Israel from the international community. This is caused by Israel’s continued violation of international law due to the settlers’ pressure. This is illustrated, for instance, by the recent withdrawal of Israel from the UN Human Rights Council to protest against the organisation’s decision to probe the settlements. It is not inconceivable that in the future Israel will no longer enjoy the support of key players in the global arena and that because of their alienation will suffer material and not only verbal condemnation. This would impinge directly on Israeli citizens.

Moreover, since peace between Israel and Palestine is also one of the crucial steps in the stabilisation of the entire Middle Eastern region, the settlement movement threatens communities beyond the borders of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. It is then in the interest of the Palestinians, Israelis and the region at large to stop the settlement movement.

Israel, Iran & Nuclear Double Standards

If Israel is worried about a nuclear arms race then it should initiate a Middle Eastern nuclear-free zone.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a recent article, Tom Anderson argued that Israeli fears of a nuclear Iran are not, contrary to what I had previously written, based on the possible direct existential threat Iran poses but rather on the fact that it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. Although I disagree that the first factor plays no role in Israeli fears (simply check the Israeli rhetoric and the amount of times the Holocaust and Nazism are mentioned), I do concede that the second factor is prominent as well. But then I ask: why do we criticise one country’’s nuclear program and not another country’’s actual possession of nuclear weapons? And why do we think that one country’’s nuclear program will lead to a nuclear arms race and while another’s will not? I am of course referring to Israel’’s nuclear arsenal.

The double standards through which we judge Iran and Israel’’s respective cases take three distinct shapes. Firstly, Iran’’s nuclear program is judged illegal since it violates the International Atomic Energy Agency’’s (IAEA) treaty which enables inspectors to examine any premises deemed suspect. It is quickly forgotten that Israel also refused to open all of its facilities to such inspections. This resulted not only in the violation of IAEA regulations but also of US domestic law. According to the 1976 Symington clause of the Foreign Assistance Act, any US administration must cut off economic and military aid to any country which imports uranium enrichment technology or materials without accepting the safeguards of IAEA on its nuclear facilities. Needless to say, all the US administrations since the Act was passed have continued to support Israel. Furthermore, in 1985 an American was indicted by the Los Angeles court for transporting 800 high-speed electron switches (known as krytons) used in triggering mechanisms in atomic weapons to Israel. Perhaps the most famous case of illegal acquisition of nuclear material was “Operation Plumbat” where the Mossad, Israel’s secret service, hijacked a German ship directed to the Italian port of Genoa stealing 200 tons of yellowcake.

Secondly, Israel’’s nuclear program which ultimately led to the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal was undemocratic. Decisions were undertaken by selected ministers behind closed doors without the approval of the whole Knesset which was kept in the dark. In 1950, 310,000 Israelis, or 40% of the population at the time, signed the Stockholm Appeal initiated by the World Peace Council demanding the outlawing of nuclear weapons. Their appeal fell on deaf ears. More interestingly, when Ben Gurion was asked by the Eisenhower administration about the Dimona nuclear reactor, where the nuclear weapons program was secretly being carried out, he replied that it was a textile plant, effectively lying to the US President and the international community just like Ahmadinejad is suspected of doing now.

Thirdly, Israel is reportedly the only country in the Middle East to have ever officially considered using nuclear weapons against another country within the region, twice. In 1973, Golda Meir, the then Prime Minister, gave Moshe Dayan permission to activate nuclear weapons in case Egypt invaded Israel. Her command was tainted with religious talk since she expressed her fear that Egypt might have ended “The Third Temple”. Use of nuclear weapons justified through religious analogies: sounds like religious fundamentalism as defined by the contemporary Israeli administration and its supporters. The second time Israeli political leaders thought of using their nuclear arsenal against a country in the region was in 1982 when Sharon proposed to attack Syria using nuclear weapons.

Some argue that Israel is not violating any international agreement by detaining a nuclear arsenal because it did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is an immoral and unjust argument since by the same standards we should also not be allowed to hold accountable governments committing crimes against humanity simply because they have not signed treatises where they explicitly promise not to do so. Let alone that the mere fact of not being a signatory of the NPT rouses serious questions about Israel’’s ethical credibility on international affairs.

The fact of the matter is that Western governments and anyone who is committed to their view of an imminent “Iranian threat” is judging Iran using double standards: Israel having a nuclear arsenal is legitimate while Iran trying to acquire one is not. More importantly, what this view fails to appreciate is that it is not Iran which is going to spark the desire for nuclear weapons within the Middle East. This desire has already been sparked by Israel’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, by its repeatedly manifested belligerence and by the warranted perception of Israel as a country above the law. Indeed, in a poll conducted in the first half of 2011 by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) where 16,731 individuals from 12 Arab countries were interviewed, 55% of the respondents stated that Israel’s possession of WMD justifies the possession of WMD by other countries in the region and 73% see Israel and the US as the biggest threats. If Israel is seriously worried about a nuclear arms race then it should initiate open negotiations with other Middle Eastern governments and aim for an agreement promising the dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal in return for nuclear non-proliferation.

The Israeli Lobby In The UK: Conspiracy Or Anti-Semitic Stereotype?

It is in the government’s interest to disassociate itself from the Israeli lobby in the UK.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t a Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) business lunch in 2006, Prime Minister David Cameron stated that he is not only a proud Conservative Friend of Israel, but that he is proud of the central role Friends of Israel plays in his party. Friends of Israel (FI) is a lobbying group with branches in each of the three major British political parties. Since FI boasts 80% of Conservative MP’s as its members, it is important to ask how influential the lobby truly is and whether it is to be deemed pernicious.

The Israeli lobby is involved in two main public domains: politics and media. Its influence in the political sphere is attested, for instance, by the fact that the two Prime Ministers preceding Cameron had a deep connection with pro-Israel lobbies. One of the first things Tony Blair did once he became an MP in 1983 was to join the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI). After his election in 1997 he appointed Michael Levy, a Jewish businessman, former board member of the Jewish Agency and chief fundraiser for the New Labour, as the government’’s envoy to the Middle East raising obvious issues over conflict of interest.

Gordon Brown, the day after becoming Prime Minister in 2007, accepted the post as Patron of the Jewish National Fund, an organisation responsible for the land from which Palestinian refugees were evicted. Just like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown received generous donations from people closely linked to the Israeli lobby. David Abrahams, a Jewish millionaire and member of LFI, donated £600,000 to the Labour Party, causing a scandal when it was revealed that the donation was not – contrary to British electoral regulations – publicly announced. Gordon Brown then made Jon Mendelsohn, ex-chairman of LFI, as his chief fundraiser for the 2010 elections and James Purnell, also an ex-chairman of LFI, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

The link between lobbying in the political and in the media domain is easy to spot. For instance, once Lorna Fitzsimons, member of LFI, lost her seat as Labour MP in 2005, she was made chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). BICOM is reputed to be the main pro-Israel lobby group in the media. Founded in 2001, BICOM’s main source of income is Paju Zabludowicz, a man who inherited a fortune from his father Shlomo, the founder of Soltam (an Israeli arms company).

Many major British media outlets have succumbed to some sort of pressure from organisations within the Israeli lobby. BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen was investigated by the BBC’’s editorial standards committee after the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) complained about some of Bowen’s reports from Jerusalem. Bowen had merely stated the common known fact that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is illegal under international law.

Sam Kiley, former correspondent for The Times, resigned after publicly stating that since the newspaper had been bought by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, known to have business interests in Israel, it had become impossible to write freely about Israeli policies. Kiley concluded that “no pro-Israel lobbyist ever dreamed of having such power over a great national newspaper”.

Perhaps the most explicit case of the lobby’s pressure in the media was when David Seaman, at the time Israeli Government press office director, boasted to have been behind the decision to remove the award-winning Guardian correspondent Suzanna Goldenberg from her post in Israel.

Although the pro-Israel lobby in the UK cannot claim as much influence as the renowned lobby in the US, it has made remarkable achievements. Lest the mentioning of these facts be interpreted as typical anti-Semitic propaganda, it needs to be noted that lobbying is certainly not new in the British political system, counting among the groups also the Muslim Friends of Labour, an organisation which has itself been embroiled in a scandal involving illegal donations to Gordon Brown. Furthermore, Israeli lobbies in the media have been described by Dennis Sewell, a journalist of the New Statesman, as nothing “more than a two-men-and-a-dog operation located above a shop”.

The fundamental faults with the pro-Israel lobby, namely using money through donations instead of factual argumentation in order to convince MP’s of the righteousness of their cause, is a sin it shares with all the other lobbies and is thus not unique to it. What distinguishes it is the particularly delicate area of influence, namely politics in the Middle East. At a time of sweeping changes in the Middle East where US influence is waning and with it the Israeli cause, it goes against the government’s interest to be seen as unconditionally siding with Israel.

Also, since the lobby’’s fundraising has been tainted by scandals and given rise to conflicts of interest it makes the political establishment look murky to the public. Further, its pressure in the media has arguably biased information, attacked reliable journalists and, at least in some cases, prevented freedom of speech, a constitutional right. Although the lobby is no grand Jewish conspiracy, it does seem to have a considerable degree of negative impact on public domains. It is thus in the public and government’s interest to distance itself from it.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad & The Futility of Violence

While non-violence hasn’t worked for the Palestinian cause, Islamic Jihad would make some political progression should they adopt the tactic.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is the second largest armed group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas. It was founded in 1980 due to the disillusionment of some members of the Muslim Brotherhood within Gaza with the society’’s lack of violent struggle against the Israeli occupation. In fact, the PIJ’s distinctive characteristic is its unwavering involvement in armed struggle, consisting of firing rockets into southern Israel, suicide bombings of Israeli buses and armed infiltration into Jewish settlements. Although the organisation prides itself on this, there are good reasons to show that actually it would gain from a more pacifist approach.

First, attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets give Israel an excuse to retaliate using disproportionate force. Although these retaliations are claimed by the IDF to be aimed at the source of the attack, namely at the PIJ militants, many times they include the death of innocent civilians (“collateral damage”). According to a recent study on the relationship between the Palestinian use of violence and popular support for such Palestinian factions during the Second Intifada, an increase in Palestinian fatalities not only shifts public support away from all the political factions but, specifically, PIJ-claimed fatalities raise significant disaffection at the expense of the PIJ itself.

Furthermore, although it is widely believed that claiming responsibility for Israeli fatalities increases political support, this is not the case for the PIJ. In fact, statistics show exactly the opposite: Israeli fatalities claimed by the PIJ cause a decrease in public support for it. The authors of the study conjecture that the root cause of this trend is that the PIJ employs a “spoiling strategy” in its attacks: the PIJ commits its attacks when there are on-going negotiations between a Palestinian political group and Israel in order to spoil the negotiations. What this shows also is that, on the contrary to Selin Kavlak’s piece, at least a significant part of the Palestinian public is against the disruption of negotiations and thus is in support of them.

Second, the renunciation of violence on behalf of the PIJ would make the brutality of the Israeli occupation more conspicuous. Israel justifies its continued occupation in terms of security: it cannot give up the territories unless it is certain it is safe. In fact, one of the pre-conditions for recognition of a future Palestinian statehood is that it be demilitarized. If the PIJ keeps on firing rockets into Israel it only serves to make the Israeli position more convincing.

Third, the PIJ’s international reputation would ameliorate, and thus earn more credibility, once it gave up armed struggle. This is what happened with the PLO. Before Arafat’s speech at the UN in 1988 where he denounced terrorism, the PLO was considered a terrorist organisation. After the speech, the PLO earned credibility and with it the Palestinian cause earned more international recognition.

Fourth, if we look at some of the most important Islamic organisations which gave up armed struggle and pursued a more reformist approach, we see that they made considerable gain. Within Gaza, Hamas, once it accepted to take part in the PA’s democratic election in 2006 and the same year give up its call for the destruction of Israel, it won an internationally recognised fair electionThe Egyptian Brotherhood won the parliamentary elections and, once the military junta decides to step down, will rule the country (though there may be problems on the horizon with such a development).

Fifth, acts of violence on behalf of Islamic political factions on Israeli targets encourage the Israeli public to vote for right-wing parties who believe in the historical right of the Jewish people to the whole of “Judea and Samaria” and who support government policies to increase settlement construction and to not give back land to the Palestinian people, precisely what the PIJ is fighting for.

Having said this, the PIJ would probably retort that peaceful and reformist policies on behalf of Palestinian political factions never achieved anything. Israel is expanding settlement construction daily and keeps the Gaza Strip in a painful humanitarian crisis. Whilst non-violence patently doesn’t work, violence will only exacerbate the Israeli approach to the Palestinians.

Iran Poses No Threat To Israel

Israel is becoming ever more irrational due to its fear of a second Holocaust, a Holocaust that will never materialise.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the verbal war between Iran and Israel becomes increasingly inflammatory – thus bringing a catastrophic destabilisation of the region ever closer- it becomes imperative to ask whether the Iranian regime actually intends to nuke Israel, a claim at the heart of Israel’s justification for a pre-emptive strike. There are three main reasons to disagree with the Israeli claim.

Firstly, if the Iranian regime were to attack Israel it would inevitably kill thousands of Palestinians. A case in point is the town of Jaffa, an originally Palestinian port which is being swallowed by Tel-Aviv, Israel’s second most important city and (un)official capital, thus an obvious target. The killing of thousands of Palestinians would be seen by the whole of the Muslim community as an aberration and thus as a reason to disown the Iranian regime, surely a consequence Iran does not want given her regional insecurity. Furthermore, the nuking of Israel would radioactively contaminate neighbouring countries and several allies of the Iranian regime (Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza strip and Syria). As a matter of fact, Iran itself would be at risk of contamination.

Second, does it really make sense that the Iranian regime would go through painful economic sanctions and international isolation solely for the purpose of attacking the Jewish-majority state? The Israelis believe that the raison d’être of Iran is the destruction of Israel. They cite in support of this belief Ahmadinejad’s statement that “Israel must be wiped off the map” (interestingly, Ahmadinejad was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini). Firstly, as has been argued by several eminent experts on the Middle East including Noam Chomsky, the President’s words were grossly misinterpreted by taking them out of context. For example, the words “Israel” and “map” are never used in the original text. Secondly, supposing for the sake of argument that what Ahmadinejad said was interpreted correctly, since when did we start believing everything a politician says in order to win the support of the populace (especially when support for him is in decline)? As is well known, it is a common tactic amid politicians to create a scapegoat, in this case Israel, solely for the purpose of gaining domestic support.

Furthermore, the Israeli government claims that since the Iranian regime is the primary sponsor of terrorism the WMD might fall into the hands of organisations such as Hezbollah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad, groups which have sworn the annihilation of Israel. Firstly, some of these groups, most notably Hamas, have given up their credo in the need for Israel to disappear. Secondly, if such groups detonated a nuclear bomb in Israel they would kill their own people, surely an unwanted outcome. Thirdly, it is doubtful whether they even have the expertise to carry out such an operation.

Third, it is still uncertain whether the Iranian regime is actually producing WMD. Following a UN report, it looks very likely that it is. By simply looking at history, though, it is easy to see that the desire on behalf of nations to possess WMD stems not from the wish of actually using them against other nations but from the wish of deterring other nations to attack. This is presumably why Israel itself wanted and did obtain WMD. The only nation which has ever actually used nuclear weapons in an attack was the US in Japan: twice. It is very probable that the Iranian regime is trying to build WMD simply in order to deter countries like Israel and the US from attacking it.

It seems absurd that the Iranian regime actually intends to nuke Israel. Israel is becoming ever more irrational due to its fear of a second Holocaust, a Holocaust that will never materialise. Unfortunately, this irrationality may lead to an attack which will have dire consequences not just for Israel, but for the whole Western world.

The Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy In The Middle East

Obama: the promise-breaker.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n his “Cairo speech”, Barack Obama expounded a set of issues threatening the relations between the US and the Islamic world. Specifically to the Middle East, Obama singled out three crucial issues and made respective promises. Firstly, he addressed the issue of the Iraqi War expressing his disagreement with it and emphasising the need for diplomacy. He promised the withdrawal of all troops by 2012 and help in achieving a stable future. Secondly, he addressed the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He made it clear that America would not deny Palestine’s right for statehood and explicitly denounced Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank underlying its role as a hindrance to peace. In other words, Obama promised a radical departure from the position the various US administrations had held before him. Thirdly, he addressed the issue of Iran’s aspirations to attain nuclear weapons. He expressed the fear that it would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and thus that his administration was ‘willing to move forward without preconditions’ towards a reconciliation.

Although the last US combat troops left Iraq in December, thus fulfilling Obama’s first half of the promise, they left behind a country on the brink of civil war. Sectarian strife looms large and the government seems ineffective in providing any kind of security to its citizens. In fact, slightly ironically, it is reported that governmental security forces are applying the same methods used by the Saddam Hussein regime on Iraqi citizens. Whilst the natural resources of the country are being exploited by international corporations and there have been many doubts about the fairness of the 2010 Iraqi elections, Obama, in his Fort Bragg speech, called the ‘stable’ progress in Iraq an ‘extraordinary achievement’. Although Iraq is one of the biggest recipients of US foreign aid, the Obama administration should have devised a more specific and committed plan of reconstruction. None of this seems in sight: the future of Iraq is more uncertain every day.

The Obama administration has not repeated the common position held by former administrations in taking Israel’s side unconditionally in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In actuality it has vehemently increased US support for the Jewish-majority state. In terms of settlement construction (illegal under international law), the Obama administration never really posed a threat to the Netanyahu government. The only concession it achieved was a ten month freeze (excluding East Jerusalem) in exchange for giving Israel nearly $3 billion worth of military aid on top of the annual $3 billion in grants (despite the financial turmoil of the US economy). Just to make it clear where the Obama administration stands on the issue, it promised to veto the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. So much for his earlier promises.

At first sight, Obama’s only virtue seems to be the use of sanctions rather than force in dealing with Iran’s nuclear project. But if we consider the amount of military support the Obama administration gives Israel and the continued belligerent messages the Netanyahu government conveys to Iran, then we are justified in claiming US responsibility in any attack Israel might be planning against the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, if Obama is truly concerned about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and if he is truly committed to stopping it through diplomacy, then perhaps he should show impartiality by beginning with Israel’s disarmament, the only country which actually possesses weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (and which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; Iran has). But the administration’s double standards are well known.

When Obama was delivering his speech in Cairo, few could have guessed that in just a year and a half’s time the Arab world would have experienced a wave of revolutions toppling dictator after dictator. The Obama administration’s reaction was carefully calculated. At first, especially in the case of Egypt, the administration did not express itself in favour of the protesters. Only once the public abuses became undeniable did the administration pronounce its opposition to Mubarak’s rule, hypocritically to say the least since Mubarak’s dictatorship had been supported by the US from its inception. Perhaps Obama’s best bet so far has been not to get too involved in Libya during the recent intervention, but the UK and France had already fulfilled that role. The opposition to Syria’s Assad regime is just but not for the right reasons. While the right reasons should be a genuine valuing of democracy and of human rights, the administration’s opposition to Syria is in part due to the latter’s financial and military support of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia party-cum-militia which opposes Israel.

Although Obama has broken most of his promises it is imperative to hope that, in case of his re-election, something might change. Because the administration will not depend anymore on the pro-Israeli vote, and thus will not need the heavy support of the various pro-Israeli lobbies, perhaps it will place its own priorities first in dealing with the Middle East. The same can be said about the other lobbies’ influences. To be sure in its first three years the administration showed a lack of autonomy in its decision making.