Europe’s military ambitions derailed by Austerity

Posted by Admin On Tuesday, 31 December 2013 0 comments
HOW quickly the need to cut deficits is reducing the European Union’s military ambitions. When EU leaders held a summit to discuss defence five years ago there was heady talk of being able to deploy 60,000 troops within 60 days. Today the objective is to get overstretched troops home from Afghanistan as budgets are cut. The EU is meant to have two “battle groups” of 1,500 men apiece ready to deploy at short notice, but it can barely muster one—and none has ever been used.
Pressure to make better use of dwindling resources is pushing governments to share costs and pool equipment. At this week’s summit, leaders will bless plans to develop a European drone to follow the likes of America’s Predator and Reaper. The European version would be an unarmed surveillance system that, unlike military drones, is intended to fly in civilian airspace. Predictably, the plan has caused alarmist talk in Britain about Brussels building a “European air force”, prompting officials to redouble their effort to remove ambiguities from turgid EU texts.
Yet the truly alarming prospect is that Europe is demilitarising so fast. Forget about euro-troops crying “Banzai!” Worry instead that the endless pruning of brigades, tanks, ships and jets will reduce even the largest European armed forces into small “bonsai armies”, says Christian Mölling of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, a German think-tank. When European countries led by France and Britain conducted air strikes in Libya in 2011, America had to provide essential help, including drones, air-to-air refuelling, stocks of smart bombs and headquarters staff. Europe has far more soldiers than America, but can send far fewer abroad.
In Mali, and now in the Central African Republic, France has intervened alone, but it wants support from European allies: if not soldiers, trainers for African troops; if not trainers, at least some money. Now France knows how America feels in NATO when it demands more military burden-sharing from allies and chafes at free-riders. Where France was always the chief troublemaker in NATO, in the EU Britain leads the awkward squad.
The problem for EU defence policy, says Daniel Keohane of Fride, a Spanish think-tank, is that “Germany does not want to use military force, Britain does not want to use the EU, and France is caught in the middle.” In 2011 Britain vetoed plans for an EU operational headquarters, annoying not only France but also Poland. Within NATO, France contributed more forces than Britain to the Steadfast Jazz exercise in Poland and Latvia in November. Russia’s decision to put Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad confirms that threats have not gone away.
The theology of European defence is maddening. NATO and the EU are both based in Brussels but can barely speak to each other officially, largely because of the chronic dispute between Turkey (in NATO but not the EU) and Cyprus (in the EU but not NATO). A bigger problem is the growing shortage of resources. Overall defence spending in Europe now stands at about 1.5% of GDP, well below the NATO target of 2%. Worse, defence has shrunk as a share of public spending, it being easier to demobilise soldiers than sack teachers. Worse still, Europe gets little bang despite spending nearly €200 billion ($275 billion) a year on defence. Money is squandered among the myriad armies, navies, air forces and headquarters at national level.
A recent study by the Centre for European Policy Studies, a think-tank in Brussels, makes the point eloquently. Europe has nine kinds of fighters and ground-attack planes, compared with America’s four. It sails 16 different frigates compared with just one American type. Europe’s defence industry is also crying out for consolidation. As defence spending falls, even the most competitive firms are in trouble. EADS, the Franco-German aerospace consortium, has announced plans to cut 5,800 jobs in France, Germany and Spain because of shrinking defence contracts. Its attempt to merge with Britain’s BAE Systems was blocked in October 2012, because of German politics.
The state of the industry is one reason why the EU is waking up to the problem. The European Commission, the EU’s civil service, sees defence firms as important providers of jobs and high-end manufacturing. Some of its research-and-development funds are likely to be directed to “dual-use” technology. The same drones used to watch out for migrants at sea or fires on land can help armies look for the enemy in foreign wars.
Uncle Sam needs EU
For all of Europe’s shortcomings, it remains the first port of call when the United States needs military help. The EU does much useful smaller-scale work, combining military power with civilian assistance, for instance in and around Somalia to deal with piracy. But if Europe wants to remain a security provider, it must retain the ability to deploy force. That means more European collaboration, not less. Yet a problem with pooling and sharing is that economies of scale are often offset by the extra cost and complexity that adding countries to a procurement project can create. Another is the fear of mutual dependence: martial countries worry that they will be stopped from taking action by an ally that controls a vital capability; more pacific states fear being dragged into somebody else’s war.
Collaboration works best among countries of similar outlook and ambitions. France and Britain have gone furthest in merging capabilities. The Nordics and the Benelux countries have also embarked on some joint projects. But as the African interventions show, there will be times when one country wants to go it alone. Military co-operation is the obvious answer. But European countries must first agree on what they want. Until then, if there were ever such a thing as a European army, it would probably do nothing. Right now national forces are being hollowed out.

Preferential treatment for preferred allies

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To whom much is given, much is expected
As has been widely reported, the American Studies Association, the umbrella organization of academics devoted to the study of US literature, history and culture, recently voted to join the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
In the days since that historic vote, numerous high-profile US supporters of the Jewish state have vehemently decried the scholarly association’s historic decision.
The first to do so was Lawrence Summers, one-time Harvard president and prime architect–in his role as deregulator-in-chief of the finance industry–of the recession that has robbed millions of Americans of their jobs, savings and homes. He has been followed by numerous others such as Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic and by Michael Roth president of Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Reading their reactions to the democratically determined posture of the ASA,  one particular argument appears with almost metronomic predictability. It goes something like this:
“Considering all the countries in the world where human rights abuses are rife, why in the world is the ASA so concerned about Israel, the only “democratic state” in the Middle East? Why is this organization,  along with the millions of others who support the BDS movement,  “singling Israel out” for such punitive treatment?”
One is left to wonder. Do these people always treat the intelligence of their audience with such contempt?  Do they always assume that those to whom they speak are deeply ill-informed about the structural realities of contemporary politics and incapable of the most basic logical inductions in regard to the nature of Israel’s   relationship with the US?
As anyone who has not been living under a rock for the last 50 years knows, Israel has, it is true, long been “singled out” in America…. for extraordinary levels of financial, military and diplomatic support from the United States government.
Indeed, it could be said without exaggeration say that no small and putatively sovereign nation in modern history has ever been the object of such lavishly favorable treatment from a Great Power. There is nothing remotely comparable to the US’s  indulgent treatment of Israel in Spain’s or Great Britain’s long historical runs as the world’s hegemon.
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the current US President who declared quite famously that the US and Israel must “work in lockstep” within the theater of international politics.  Or,  we could listen to the current Vice-President and current Secretary of State who frequently remind audiences that there is “no daylight” between the US and Israel when it comes to strategic goals in the world.
Is there any historical precedent—within a political establishment that constantly talks about how partisan politics must “stop at the water’s edge”– for the pledge made by house minority leader Eric Cantor to the Israeli Prime Minister in November 2010 that he would  “serve as a check” on his own country’s presidential administration should it begin to consider policies that he deemed detrimental to Israel?
Is there another country that could purposely try to sink a US warship, the USS Liberty in 1967, and never suffer any sanction or recognizable alteration bilateral relations for doing so?
Is there any other country that could assassinate an unarmed US citizen in an act of piracy on the high seas–Furkan Dogan in 2010–and not only not be called onto the carpet for it, but also have the operation–patently illegal under the international laws of the sea–that led to the death be met with virtual silence by US State Department spokespersons and praise from a considerable part  of the US Congress?
Can we imagine a situation where a person from another country who had become a billionaire working mostly in US industry could go on national TV in his native land and brag openly,  and without apparent fear of consequence,  about how he had helped steal nuclear secrets from the United States? This is exactly what happened a month ago with the Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan.
Is there another country (besides perhaps certain members of the so-called Five Eyes Group of English-speaking nations) that has direct access to the raw data from US citizen communications currently being swept up by the NSA?
Can we imagine the US allowing analysts in any of those “other” countries–whose situations everyone is now supposed to critique before ever deigning to critique Israel–to scrutinize virtually without limits and for their own particular purposes the private communications of American citizens?
And these are only a few of the many examples of the extraordinary US indulgence of Israel   that could be adduced here.
No, for at least 46 years and arguably more, the US-Israel relationship has not been “normal” at all, which is to say, in any way comparable to any other  bilateral relationship (with the possible exceptions of those it has with the UK and Canada) maintained by the US.
Summers and the small army of people echoing his message on letters-to-the-editor sections around the country know this quite well.
So why are they pretending this is not the case, and that, correspondingly, any systematic critique of Israeli behavior must first pass the test of comparability to that of various and sundry countries around the world?
Because they are interested in doing what many people do when they find themselves with a largely untenable long-term position: steer the conversation from going where they don’t want it to go.
And where is that?
Away from the matter of Israeli behavior, and more specifically, how the fundamental legal design and international comportment of the Israeli state corresponds (or not) to the democratic values most Americans claim to believe in.
If you can ball people up talking about the issue of the Israeli human rights record in relationship to other places that have nothing remotely approaching the privileged, 51st State treatment accorded to Israel–and thus clearly unable to be compared to it in any meaningful way–you can avoid having people talk about things like the following.
–That, despite the New York Times’s and much of the mainstream media’s attempts to convince Americans of the contrary, the only uninspected, which is to say, completely rogue and unaccountable nuclear program in the Middle East belongs to Israel. And it is not a small program, having, according to most reports, around 200 warheads.
Therefore, the only country really capable of “wiping” some other country “off the map” or coercing it into obeisance through nuclear blackmail  in the eastern Mediterranean, the Mashriq and Iran  is Israel.
And no amount of talk (are you picking up on the pattern of argumentation yet?) about Iran’s completely non-existent nuclear bomb program—the official assessment of the Directorate of National Intelligence of the US, not mine–can change this fact.
–That Israel is an ethno-state, which is to say, a place where one must possess certain blood lines to accede to the fullest possible level of citizenship. Those who do not meet these requirements can live there, but in a decidedly second-class status.
Israel is, of course, not alone among nations in offering citizenship on the basis of blood rights or jus sanguinis.
Where it does stand out in the international context, however, is in the way it does this while simultaneously denying full civic rights to millions of its native inhabitants.  This means that a Jew from the USA or Russia can move to Israel and be granted that highest level of citizenship almost instantaneously. This, while the Palestinian whose family has lived in the territory now controlled by Israel for centuries is forced to inhabit a relative civic limbo in the same place, with all that that entails in terms of the potentially capricious encroachments of the state in his or her life.
As part of this approach to managing citizenship,  Israel forcibly prevents its already second-class but quite native Arab citizens from living as united families within the borders of Israel after marrying fellow Palestinians from the occupied territories or any other place in the world.
So pervasive is the emphasis on ethnic belonging that security officials at Ben-Gurion Airport blithely slot passengers into differing security protocols–and here I speak from personal experience—according to how they answer the following thinly veiled question regarding one’s pertinence to the most legally favored group: “Are you an Israeli or do you have family in Israel? “
I don’t think that most Americans I know would associate this model of state,  and these behaviors (and this is a very small sample),  with any system they would be happy or proud to live in,  nor as anything they understand to be truly democratic.
And no army of spinmeisters   repeating the mantra that “Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East” can change this salient fact.
–That Israel has a large and growing population of religious citizens that is not only every bit as intolerant and backward-looking as the worst Muslim fanatics in Arab countries, or the worst Christian fundamentalists in the US, but that has a considerably larger control over the political institutions of the country than is the case here or, for that matter, in the great majority of Islamic countries.
Yet, this is hardly ever talked about in our press,  or by self appointed spokesmen for Israel such as those mentioned above. Rather, Israel’s most fervent supporters in the media constantly tell us (there’s that pattern argumentation again) about all those terrible Arabs that want to impose sharia law on the world.   Nary a word about how the haredim are encroaching daily upon the democratic freedoms of  secular Israelis.
–That the current Prime Minister of Israel, apparently unaware that he was on camera, openly bragged in 2001 about his ability to manipulate the very same Americans that, in no small measure, have funded his political career and have generally supported his government’s efforts at ethnic cleansing (that is my understanding of  what it is called in other parts of the world when you take over lands by force, displace the autochthonous inhabitants and place settlers of a different ethnic or national background on the seized territory),  as well as how he actively  undermined the Oslo peace accords (brokered by the US) to which his government was a signatory.
All this from a man, and from there, a government apparatus, that constantly tells the US and the world (there’s that pattern or argumentation once again) that they have  “no partner for peace” on the Palestinian side, no person of demonstrable good will ready to talk in serious and reasonable terms about the future of the region.
What Summers and those that echo his words want most of all to avoid is an honest and wide-ranging conversation among Americans about how, and to what degree (if at all), our joined-at-the-hip relationship with   Israel benefits the average citizen of this country.
If they were really the great friends of Israel they claim to be, they would repeatedly, indeed doggedly, say to their friends living in the Jewish state, as well as those living here for whom it is a prime object interest and concern, what an old Jesuit, channeling the Gospel of Luke, one told me at the height of my youthful self-absorption:
“To whom much is given, much is expected”.
This is essentially what  the ASA is saying to Israel.
It is a shame that instead of using their well-placed voices to second the call to have Israel live more fully within the parameters its publically proclaimed moral codes (you know, the only “democracy” in the Middle East), these prominent opinion leaders insist on throwing rhetorical smoke bombs designed to obscure the most important  issues at play in the country’s present-day political and social drama.
Thomas S. Harrington teaches in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College.

Revolutions and Repercussions

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Soon after the Libyan capital fell to the rebels in August 2011 I got to know a 32-year-old man called Ahmed Abdullah al-Ghadamsi. We met when he tried to evict me from my hotel room, which he said was needed for members of the National Transitional Council, in effect the provisional government of Libya. I wasn’t happy about being moved because the hotel, the Radisson Blu on Tripoli’s seafront, was full of journalists and there was nowhere else to stay. But Ahmed promised to find me another room, and he was as good as his word.
He was lending a hand to the provisional government, he said, because he was strongly opposed to Gaddafi – as was the rest of his family. He came from the Fornaj district of the city, and was contemptuous of the efforts of government spies to penetrate its network of extended families. He derided Gaddafi’s absurd personality cult and his fear of subversive ideas: ‘Books used to be more difficult to bring into the country than weapons. You had to leave them at the airport for two or three months so they could be checked.’ He had spent six years studying in Norway and spoke Norwegian as well as English; on returning to Libya he got a job on the staff of the Radisson Blu. One of Gaddafi’s sons, Al-Saadi, had a suite in the hotel, and he watched the ruling family and their friends doing business and enjoying themselves.
Ahmed was a self-confident man, not noticeably intimidated by the sporadic shooting which was keeping most people in Tripoli off the streets. I asked him if he would consider working for me as a guide and assistant and he agreed. Tripoli had run out of petrol but he quickly found some, along with a car and driver willing to risk the rebel checkpoints. He was adept at talking to the militiamen manning the barricades, and helped me get out of the city when the roads were blocked. After a few weeks I left Libya; I later heard that he was working for other journalists. Then in October I got a message saying that he was dead, shot through the head by a pro-Gaddafi sniper in the final round of fighting in Sirte on the coast far to the east of Tripoli. It turned out that there was a lot that Ahmed hadn’t told me.
When the protests started in Benghazi on 15 February he had been among the first to demonstrate in Fornaj, and he was arrested. His younger brother Mohammed told me that ‘he was jailed for two hours or less before his friends and the protesters broke into the police station and freed him.’ When Gaddafi’s forces regained control of Tripoli, Ahmed drove to the Nafusa Mountains a hundred miles south-west of the capital to try to join the rebels there, but they didn’t know or trust him so he had to return. He smuggled weapons and gelignite into Tripoli and became involved in a plot, never put into action, to blow up Al-Saadi Gaddafi’s suite in the Radisson. Mohammed said Ahmed felt bad that he’d spent much of the revolution making money and, despite his best efforts, had never actually fought. He went to Sirte, where Gaddafi’s forces were making a last stand, and joined a militia group from Misrata. He had no military experience, as far as I know, but he didn’t flinch during bombardments and was stoical when he was caught in an ambush and wounded by shrapnel from a mortar bomb, and the militiamen were impressed. On 8 October his commander told Ahmed to take a squad of five or six men to hunt for snipers who had killed a number of rebel fighters. He was shot dead by one of them a few hours later.
What would Ahmed think of the Libyan revolution now? An interim government is nominally in control but the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi have been full of militia checkpoints manned by some of the 225,000 registered militiamen whose loyalty is to their commanders rather than the state that pays them. When demonstrators appeared outside the headquarters of the Misrata militia in Tripoli on 15 November demanding that they go home, the militiamen opened fire with everything from Kalashnikovs to anti-aircraft guns, killing 43 protesters and wounding some four hundred others. This led to popular protests in which many militias were forced out of Tripoli, though it’s not clear whether this is permanent. Earlier the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was kidnapped by militia gunmen without a shot being fired by his own guards to protect him. (He was released after a few hours.) Mutinying militias have closed the oil ports to exports and eastern Libya is threatening to secede. The Libyan state has collapsed, for the simple reason that the rebels were too weak to fill the vacuum left by the fall of the old regime. After all, it was Nato airstrikes, not rebel strength, that overthrew Gaddafi.
It’s a similar story elsewhere in the Middle East. The uprisings of the Arab Spring have so far produced anarchy in Libya, a civil war in Syria, greater autocracy in Bahrain and resumed dictatorial rule in Egypt. In Syria, the uprising began in March 2011 with demonstrations against the brutality of Assad’s regime. ‘Peace! Peace!’ protesters chanted. But ‘if there was a fair election in Syria today,’ one commentator said, ‘Assad would probably win it.’
It isn’t only the protesters and insurgents of 2011 whose aspirations are being frustrated or crushed. In March 2003 the majority of Iraqis from all sects and ethnic groups wanted to see the end of Saddam’s disastrous rule even if they didn’t necessarily support the US invasion. But the government now in power in Baghdad is as sectarian, corrupt and dysfunctional as Saddam’s ever was. There may be less state violence, but only because the state is weaker. Its methods are equally brutal: Iraqi prisons are full of people who have made false confessions under torture or the threat of it. An Iraqi intellectual who had planned to open a museum in Abu Ghraib prison so that Iraqis would never forget the barbarities of Saddam’s regime found that there was no space available because the cells were full of new inmates. Iraq is still an extraordinarily dangerous place. ‘I never imagined that ten years after the fall of Saddam you would still be able to get a man killed in Baghdad by paying $100,’ an Iraqi who’d been involved in the abortive museum project told me.
Why have oppositions in the Arab world and beyond failed so absolutely, and why have they repeated in power, or in pursuit of it, so many of the faults and crimes of the old regimes? The contrast between humanitarian principles expressed at the beginning of revolutions and the bloodbath at the end has many precedents, from the French Revolution on. But over the last twenty years in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus the rapid degradation of what started as mass uprisings has been particularly striking. I was in Moscow at the start of the second Russo-Chechen war in October 1999, and flew with a party of journalists to Chechnya to see the Chechen president, Aslan Maskhadov, in his headquarters in Grozny, where he was desperately trying – and failing – to avert the Russian assault by calling for a ceasefire. We were housed in a former barracks which seemed worryingly vulnerable to Russian air attack. But it soon became evident that the presidential guard’s greatest anxiety was that we would be abducted by Chechen kidnappers and held for ransom. The first Chechen revolt in 1994-96 was seen as a heroic popular struggle for independence. Three years later it had been succeeded by a movement that was highly sectarian, criminalised and dominated by warlords. The war became too dangerous to report and disappeared off the media map. ‘In the first Chechen war,’ one reporter told me, ‘I would have been fired by my agency if I had left Grozny. Now the risk of kidnapping is so great I would be fired for going there.’
The pattern set in Chechnya has been repeated elsewhere with depressing frequency. The extent of the failure of the uprisings of 2011 to establish better forms of governance has surprised opposition movements, their Western backers and what was once a highly sympathetic foreign media. The surprise is due, in part, to a misunderstanding of what the uprisings were about. Revolutions come into being because of an unpredictable coincidence of forces with different motives targeting a common enemy. The political, social and economic roots of the upsurges of 2011 go deep. That this wasn’t obvious to everyone at the time is partly a result of the way foreign commentators exaggerated the role of new information technology. Protesters, skilled in propaganda if nothing else, could see the advantage of presenting the uprisings to the West as unthreatening ‘velvet’ revolutions with English-speaking, well-educated bloggers and tweeters prominently in the vanguard. The purpose was to convey to Western publics that the new revolutionaries were comfortingly similar to themselves, that what was happening in the Middle East in 2011 was similar to the anti-communist and pro-Western uprisings in Eastern Europe after 1989.
Opposition demands were all about personal freedom: social and economic inequality were rarely declared to be issues, even when they were driving popular rage against the status quo. The centre of Damascus had recently been taken over by smart shops and restaurants, but the mass of Syrians saw their salaries stagnating while prices rose: farmers ruined by four years of drought were moving into shanty towns on the outskirts of the cities; the UN said that between two and three million Syrians were living in ‘extreme poverty’; small manufacturing companies were put out of business by cheap imports from Turkey and China; economic liberalisation, lauded in foreign capitals, concentrated wealth in the hands of a politically well-connected few. Even members of the Mukhabarat, the secret police, were trying to survive on $200 a month. ‘When it first came to power, the Assad regime embodied the neglected countryside, its peasants and neglected underclass,’ an International Crisis Group report says. ‘Today’s ruling elite has forgotten its roots. It has inherited power rather than fought for it … and mimicked the ways of the urban upper class.’ The same was true of the quasi-monarchical families and their associates operating in parallel fashion in Egypt, Libya and Iraq. Confident of their police-state powers, they ignored the hardships of the rest of the population, especially the underemployed, overeducated and very numerous youth, few of whom felt that they had any chance of improving their lives.
The inability of new governments across the Middle East to end the violence can be ascribed to a simple-minded delusion that most problems would vanish once democracies had replaced the old police states. Opposition movements, persecuted at home and often living a hand to mouth existence in exile, half-believed this and it was easy to sell to foreign sponsors. A great disadvantage of this way of seeing things was that Saddam, Assad and Gaddafi were so demonised it became difficult to engineer anything approaching a compromise or a peaceful transition from the old to a new regime. In Iraq in 2003 former members of the Baath Party were sacked, thus impoverishing a large part of the population, which had no alternative but to fight. The Syrian opposition refuses to attend peace talks in Geneva if Assad is allowed to play a role, even though the areas of Syria under his control are home to most of the population. In Libya the militias insisted on an official ban on employing anyone who had worked for Gaddafi’s regime, even those who had ended their involvement thirty years before. These exclusion policies were partly a way of guaranteeing jobs for the boys. But they deepen sectarian, ethnic and tribal divisions and provide the ingredients for civil war.
What is the glue that is meant to hold these new post-revolutionary states together? Nationalism isn’t much in favour in the West, where it is seen as a mask for racism or militarism, supposedly outmoded in an era of globalisation and humanitarian intervention. But intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 turned out to be very similar to imperial takeover in the 19th century. There was absurd talk of ‘nation-building’ to be carried out or assisted by foreign powers, who clearly have their own interests in mind just as Britain did when Lloyd George orchestrated the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire. A justification for the Arab leaders who seized power in the late 1960s was that they would create powerful states capable, finally, of giving reality to national independence. They didn’t wholly fail: Gaddafi played a crucial role in raising the price of oil in 1973 and Hafez al-Assad created a state that could hold its own in a protracted struggle with Israel for predominance in Lebanon. But to opponents of these regimes nationalism was simply a propaganda ploy on the part of ruthless dictatorships concerned to justify their hold on power. But without nationalism – even where the unity of the nation is something of a historic fiction – states lack an ideology that would enable them to compete as a focus of loyalty with religious sects or ethnic groups.
It’s easy enough to criticise the rebels and reformers in the Arab world for failing to resolve the dilemmas they faced in overturning the status quo. Their actions seem confused and ineffective when compared to the Cuban revolution or the liberation struggle in Vietnam. But the political terrain in which they have had to operate over the last twenty years has been particularly tricky. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant that the endorsement or tolerance of the US – and the US alone – was crucial for a successful takeover of power. Nasser was able to turn to Moscow to assert Egyptian independence in the Suez crisis of 1956, but after the Soviet collapse smaller states could no longer find a place for themselves between Moscow and Washington. Saddam said in 1990 that one of the reasons he invaded Kuwait when he did was that in future such a venture would no longer be feasible as Iraq would be faced with unopposed American power. In the event, he got his diplomatic calculations spectacularly wrong, but his forecast was otherwise realistic – at least until perceptions of American military might were downgraded by Washington’s failure to achieve its aims in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.
* * *
So the insurgencies in the Middle East face immense difficulties, and they have faltered, stalled, been thrown on the defensive or apparently defeated. But without the rest of the world noticing, one national revolution in the region is moving from success to success. In 1990 the Kurds, left without a state after the fall of the Ottomans, were living in their tens of millions as persecuted and divided minorities in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Rebellion in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 failed disastrously, with at least 180,000 killed by poison gas or executed in the final days of the conflict. In Turkey, guerrilla action by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who combined Marxism-Leninism with Kurdish nationalism, began in 1974 but by the end of the 1990s it had been crushed by the Turkish army; Kurds were driven into the cities; and three thousand of their villages were destroyed. In north-east Syria, Arab settlers were moved onto Kurdish land and many Kurds denied citizenship; in Iran, the government kept a tight grip on its Kurdish provinces.
All this has now changed. In Iraq the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), though it shares power with the central government in Baghdad, is close to becoming an oil-rich independent state, militarily and diplomatically more powerful than many members of the UN. Until recently the Turks would impound any freight sent to the KRG if the word ‘Kurdistan’ appeared in the address, but in November the KRG president, Massoud Barzani, gave a speech in the Turkish Kurd capital of Dyarbakir and talked of ‘the brotherhood of Turks and Kurds’. Standing with him was the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who spoke of ‘Kurdistan’ as if he’d forgotten that a few years ago the name had been enough to land anyone who uttered it in a Turkish jail. In Syria meanwhile, the PKK’s local branch has taken control of much of the north-east corner of the country, where two and a half million Kurds live.
The rebellion in the Kurdish heartlands has been ongoing for nearly half a century. In Iraq the two main Kurdish parties, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, were expert at manipulating foreign intelligence services – Iranian, Syrian, American and Turkish – without becoming their permanent puppets. They built up a cadre of well-educated and politically sophisticated leaders and established alliances with non-Kurdish opposition groups. They were lucky that their worst defeat was followed by Saddam’s self-destructive invasion of Kuwait, which enabled them to take control of an enclave protected by US airpower in 1991. At this point, despite having gained more independence than any previous Kurdish movement, the KDP and PUK embarked on a vicious civil war with the Iraqi state. But then they had another stroke of luck when 9/11 provided the US with the excuse to invade and overthrow Saddam. The Kurdish leaders positioned themselves carefully between the US and Iran without becoming dependent on either.
It isn’t yet clear how the bid of thirty million Kurds for some form of national self-determination will play out, but they have become too powerful to be easily suppressed. Their success has lessons for the movements of the Arab Spring, whose failure isn’t as inevitable as it may seem. The political, social and economic forces that led to the ruptures of 2011 are as powerful as ever. Had the Arab opposition movements played their cards as skilfully as the Kurds, the uprisings might not have foundered as they have done.
None of the religious parties that took power, whether in Iraq in 2005 or Egypt in 2012, has been able to consolidate its authority. Rebels everywhere look for support to the foreign enemies of the state they are trying to overthrow, but the Kurds are better at this than anyone else, having learned the lesson of 1975, when Iran betrayed them to Saddam by signing the Algiers Agreement, cutting off their supply of arms. The Syrian opposition, by contrast, can only reflect the policies and divisions of its sponsors. Resistance to the state was too rapidly militarised for opposition movements to develop an experienced national leadership and a political programme. The discrediting of nationalism and communism, combined with the need to say what the US wanted to hear, meant that they were at the mercy of events, lacking any vision of a non-authoritarian nation state capable of competing with the religious fanaticism of the Sunni militants of al-Qaida, and similar movements financed by the oil states of the Gulf. But the Middle East is entering a long period of ferment in which counter-revolution may prove as difficult to consolidate as revolution.
PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq. Cockburn has just won the Editorial Intelligence Comment Award 2013 for Foreign Commentator of the Year.

US treasury below the red line

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10-year Treasuries veered into the danger zone on Friday as yields broke through the crucial 3 percent barrier signaling a slowdown in housing sales due to higher mortgage rates. Fixed rate mortgages are expected to edge higher even though the rate on the 30-year loan increased to 4.48 percent just days earlier. The Fed’s announcement to scale back on its $85 billion per month asset purchases has triggered a selloff in long-term Treasuries that will further constrain lending, shrink the pool of potential homebuyers, and turn a mild slowdown to a protracted slump.
Keep in mind, that the Fed is already buying nearly all of the newly issued mortgage-backed securities (MBS), but even that radical market intervention is having no noticeable impact on interest rates. Take a look at this from the Wall Street Journal:
“The Fed bought about 90% of new, eligible mortgage-bond issuance in November, up from roughly two-thirds of such bonds earlier this year…
The Fed’s reach has been enhanced by its practice of reinvesting the proceeds of its maturing mortgage bonds in its $1.48 trillion portfolio, adding another $15 billion to $20 billion in new monthly mortgage-bond purchases.
The Fed has increased its holdings by $553 billion over the past year. It is on pace to add another $220 billion in purchases in 2014, according to estimates from Credit Suisse.” (“The Fed’s Mortgage Role Expands“, Wall Street Journal)
There is no market for MBS except for the Fed.
On top of that, the Fed is reinvesting the money it takes in on maturing MBS to buy more of this unsellable garbage which adds another $15 or $20 billion to the monthly total.
“15 billion here, $20 billion there. Pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”
And all of this is being piled on to the Fed’s bloated $4 trillion balance sheet. (which no one has any idea of what to do with.)
The purpose of the policy is push down long-term interest rates, which it doesn’t do. In fact, as we pointed out earlier, rates are rising while conditions in the housing market are going from bad to worse. For example, existing home sales tanked for the third month in a row in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.9 million. November’s sales pace was the slowest in more than a year, which means that higher rates and rising prices are scaring off potential buyers. There are also signs that institutional investors, which represented 50% or more of previous sales, are cutting back on their purchases due to the deteriorating rate environment. Take a look at this brief summary by housing analyst Mark Hanson:
“Las Vegas housing demand has crashed. …This is not hyperbole. “Crashed” is absolutely the appropriate word to use here given sales are suddenly the weakest levels since Armageddon 2009. I mean come on…sales at the same pace as when the stock market was in the midst of one of the greatest plunges in history speaks loudly…at least to me…
… Like Sacramento, Phoenix, regions in the Inland Empire, and a dozen other “hot” real estate markets around the nation…..when the stimulus go-go juice ran out this market hit a literal “brick wall” the size of 2007…” (“Las Vegas Housing Demand Has Crashed While Supply Surging“, Mark Hanson via zero hedge)
When Hanson talks about “stimulus go-go juice”, he’s referring to the Fed’s rate stimulus which evaporated in June when Bernanke announced his intention to “taper” his asset purchases (QE). That led to a frenzied month of bond trading which pushed up yields on long-term USTs more than 100 basis points. The higher rates have put a damper on sales while mortgage applications have plunged to a 13 year low. For all practical purposes, the recovery is kaput.
Here’s an update from Phoenix which had been “red hot” for more than a year:
“The Phoenix-area housing market is quietly ending the year, with a drop in demand and activity… Demand is rapidly dropping, and the supply of homes available for sale is quickly rising…
First-time home buyers, especially those under 30, are showing little interest in getting into the market…
“I anticipate sales will be way down in November and through the holidays, when some people even take their homes off the market until late January,” says Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School of Business…
Investors and out-of-state buyers are also losing interest in the Phoenix area. The percentage of residential properties purchased by investors has dropped from the peak of 39.7 percent in July 2012 down to 22.6 percent this October. The percentage of Maricopa County homes sold to out-of-state buyers was down from 20.1 last October to 16.4 this October. That’s the lowest percentage since January 2009.” (“Phoenix housing-market activity quiets down for end of year“, Sonora News)
It’s the same story all over southern California where housing prices had been soaring but hit the skids shortly after the Fed made its announcement. This is from DQ News:
“Southern California’s housing market downshifted last month, with sales falling well below a year earlier as investor activity waned again and buyers continued to struggle with higher prices and a thin supply of homes for sale…
A total of 17,283 new and resale houses and condos sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties last month. That was down 14.2 percent from 20,150 sales in October, and down 10.4 percent from 19,285 sales in November 2012, according to San Diego-based DataQuick….Last month’s sales were 19.8 percent below the average number of sales – 21,559 – in the month of November.” (“Southland Home Sales Drop; Median Sale Price Edges Sideways – Again“, DQ News)
So what’s really going on in the housing market? Is the sudden jolt in mortgage rates really that big a deal or is the market just taking breather before its next stratospheric surge?
Mark Hanson believes the situation is quite dire and explains why in a “must read” post on his blogsite. Here’s a clip from his article:
“House prices are down 26% from peak 2006. But it costs 12% MORE on a monthly payment basis to buy today’s house…..Houses have not been MORE EXPENSIVE” on a monthly payment basis in 11 years, right before when exotic loans were introduced to promote affordability…..” (12-17 Housing ‘Bubble 2.0′; Same as ‘Bubble 1.0′, Only Different Actors, Mark Hanson)
But how can that be, you ask, when rates are just 4.5% and home prices are still way below their peak in 2007?
It’s because the types of mortgages that were issued during the boom –all those “exotic, high-leverage, no documentation loans”–allowed borrowers to fake their income and make small monthly payments on obscene amounts of money they would never be able to repay. Keep in mind, interest rates actually rose in 2003, but that didn’t stop the bubble from inflating for 4 more years because lending standards were so ridiculous.
As Hanson notes:
“from 2003 to 07 mortgages were much cheaper on a monthly payment basis than ever before in history and ever have been since. (And it was all due to)…..exotic lending (that) made it so people could keep buying more expensive houses and refinancing at higher loan amounts on income that didn’t support it…”
Hanson draws a comparison between the Fed’s rate stimulus (from 2011 to 2013) to the crappy underwriting which created the housing bubble.(from 2003 to 2007) That’s why he expects the “reset” to be “one for the record books”.
Indeed. The impact of rising rates is already visible in the dismal sales and mortgage applications data. It’s only a matter of time before institutional investors call it quits and prices begin to fall.
Here’s a chart from Hanson’s blog. The sudden spike in interest rates has reduced “affordability” putting home ownership out of reach for many potential buyers.
CA Med Price and Payment using popular loan progs – Bar vs Lone chart
CA Med Price and Payment using popular loan progs - Bar vs Lone chartRead the whole post here.
MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

Really on the right side of history?

Posted by Admin On Monday, 30 December 2013 0 comments
Especially at Christmas My Christmas holiday frequently includes a series of reunions with other former CIA people, often grouped by the overseas stations that we served in. This year the […]Especially at Christmas
My Christmas holiday frequently includes a series of reunions with other former CIA people, often grouped by the overseas stations that we served in. This year the Istanbul gathering preceded Spain and the Rome Station ca. 1980 soon followed. Some of the retirees are still working for the government as contractors so I try to keep a low profile at such functions, rarely asking questions about what anyone might be doing and seldom venturing into any detailed critiques of current government policy. But sometimes my wife and I find the occasional gung ho expressions of solidarity with torturers and drone operators to be just a bit too much and we are forced to react.
My former colleagues are politically a mixed bag, mostly Republicans but with a considerable number of Democrats, some of whom are fairly progressive regarding domestic politics and social programs. Working overseas for some bosses who would kill their own mothers to get promoted has made most of them quite cynical about how CIA operates and how policy is shaped, but they nevertheless regard their time in harness as a dirty job that someone had to do and they take pride in that fact. They are also fairly monolithic in their views of “traitors” like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, not because they support NSA spying (they do not) but because in their reckoning both would-be whistleblowers far exceeded any reasonable limits in their exposures of classified information.
This all sometimes translates into fairly hardline views regarding what is going on in the world. This Christmas I was informed that drones are the only good mechanism for offing those terrorists hiding in the mountains of Pakistan and I heard no less than three times that “We are the good guys,” which must be the latest last line of defense when all other arguments have failed. When I commented that it is hard to be a good guy when you are killing American citizens without any trial and wiping out wedding parties the response was vague, as if I were suggesting something that has not really been established or for which there is some other back story that might explain the activity. When I asked the Sarah Palinesque wife of a former case officer how a guy in a beard and turban hiding in a cave along the Pakistan frontier could conceivably threaten the United States the response was something like a shrug.
What bothers me particularly is that the former intelligence officers are, generally speaking, not only well-educated but also experienced in living overseas and dealing with foreign languages and cultures. Many of them are practicing Catholics, some of whom take their religion very seriously indeed. So they are not Michelle Bachmann type ignorant bigots, which means that they should know better. I asked one, “Why do we have a constitution if the president can kill whomever he wants?” There was no response as if the question itself were irrelevant.
Not to be dismissed is the value that most former intelligence officers place on their time in government service. It identifies and validates them as human beings so they want to believe that they did the right thing and that their cause was just. But in projecting the past into the present many of them have an apparent difficulty in separating what was from what is in ethical terms. The Soviet Union and international communism were likely never the threat they were depicted to be but at least their designation as the “enemy” had a certain plausibility which justified intelligence activity directed against them. But George W. Bush used a terrorist attack to declare war on the entire world while Barack H. Obama has gone even further, institutionalizing an assassination doctrine and dramatically increasing the level of drone warfare. These are war crimes and they are being committed right out in the open. How many post-Vietnam intelligence officers would have signed up to do the jobs that are being offered at CIA today? I don’t know, though some of my former colleague made clear that they could never consider working for the “new regime.”
Professor Michael Brenner provides a partial explanation for how otherwise sensible and moral people can be delusional about America’s role in the world. He describes it as “Ur Imperialism,” a process whereby the public comes to believe certain things both about itself and the actions of its government and is resistant to alternative explanations. Brenner does not use the phrase “American Exceptionalism,” but that is perhaps another bumper sticker expression that suggests the same mindset.
Brenner describes the core value of imperialism as being “permissive of actions directed at taking charge of others without their approval.” He identifies a number of features of the imperialist mindset, to include “a strong sense of superiority,” “a predisposition for intervention” that is largely unrelated to the cause of the intervention, comfort “with taking charge of other people,” “an absence of empathy,” and an inability to accept resistance or rebellion by someone being dominated as anything but “ingratitude.” He also notes an inability to put oneself in anyone else’s shoes and cites the example of Iraq, where the involvement of coreligionist and neighbor Iran was denounced as destabilizing while the US dominance was considered somehow both acceptable and appropriate.
I see much of the Brenner analysis in the behavior of my former national security colleagues. They clearly believe that the United States has a legitimate casus belli against terrorists and the nations that harbor them and do not generally think that searching for the root causes of the violent acts serves any real purpose, so they accept that any intervention based on the national sense of grievance is morally justified even if the actual details don’t quite translate into a threat against the United States. Though they would eschew an expression like “American Exceptionalism” they do believe in the superiority of the American way to include our partially free markets and relative political freedom, particularly as they have personally benefited both financially and in terms of status by pretending that those principles actually prevail in reality.
Former intelligence officers who have handled agents (which most of my associates have done) are very comfortable with “taking charge” in that they have had to make what sometimes amount to life and death decisions for the agents they ran. Many CIA case officers take a paternalistic view of their agents but also have a decided lack of empathy towards their charges, not particularly surprising as they often have to make hard decisions that put the sources in danger. Finally, membership in the intelligence officer club is viewed as a high distinction, meaning that anyone who rebels against the system, either a fellow officer or agent, is somehow suspect and regarded as certainly “ungrateful” by those who choose to remain loyal to the group ethos.
I offer all of the above as a different perspective to explain why issues that appear to be cut and dried to the anti-interventionist and antiwar crowd might appear in quite a different light to those whose entire adult lives were spent trying to manipulate events because “we are the good guys.” I admit that I was once on that page myself, but no longer, having seen America’s good name trashed and my country transformed into what we might jokingly once upon a time have referred to as “the evil empire.” That description may or may not have fit the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but it certainly fits us today.
By Philip Giraldi

India Overreacts as Diplomat Charged with Visa Fraud in U.S.

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The Government of India hurriedly transferred its Deputy Consul General in New York and stationed her in the United Nations so that she enjoys diplomatic immunity from American law – which she broke multiple times when she hired another Indian as her domestic help
Devyani Khobragade, India’s former deputy Consul General in New York, stands accused of lying on a visa application about how much she paid her housekeeper, an Indian national. U.S. prosecutors say the maid received $3 per hour for her work, which is one-third of the minimum wage that is paid by law to any worker in the state of New York. However, because the Indian diplomat was strip-searched at the airport – by a female TSA (U.S. Transport Security Administration) official, a luxury that many Muslim women and other women are deprived of – and was subjected to the legal ramifications of what she had done, the Indian government and society (which has deliberately not been told of the entirety of the facts, and of how one Indian diplomat trampled on the rights of another Indian worker) have reacted disproportionately to what they call “diplomatic muscle-flexing” and have created a diplomatic uproar that has led to tensions between India and the U.S. The extent of these tensions is such that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately called Indian National Security Advisor to personally express “regret” over the incident: an obvious sign that despite U.S. law being broken, America wants to appease India and was scrambling to contain the furor, however unwarranted it was. News that Khobragade was strip-searched has chilled U.S.-Indian relations, and despite Kerry’s “regret”, India’s state and society protested in many forms.
It goes without saying that the Indian diplomat was treated leniently despite the fact that she broke American law, and that the Indian government and people are completely overreacting without facing facts and considering the entire episode an instance of diplomatic muscle-flexing rather than an opportunity to let the law take its course and punish the guilty without fear or favour. It has taken the U.S. prosecutor for Manhattan – Preet Bharara, a U.S. attorney of Indian origin – to set the record straight. He calls the Indian government’s response – the confiscation of U.S. diplomats’ consular passes all over India, the revocation of other diplomatic privileges for U.S. diplomats in India, the requirement of filing unusual and lengthy records pertaining to domestic staff hired by U.S. diplomats and embassy personnel in India, records and information regarding consular staff hired by the U.S. in India, and the removal of security barricades from outside the U.S. embassy in India – as an “unfounded” reason to create an “inflammatory atmosphere” between the two countries. Bharara blasted the “misinformation and factual inaccuracy” surrounding the case, especially when it came to reporting in India and what the Indian government and state told its people, who were already out on the streets of India burning the American flag and chanting slogans against the United States. In addition to retaliating against U.S. diplomats with measures that included revoking diplomat ID cards and consular passes that brought certain privileges and demanding to know the salaries paid to Indian staff in U.S. Embassy households, the Indian government also withdrew import licenses that allowed the commissary at the U.S. Embassy to import alcohol and food.
“One wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?”, Bharara said in his lengthy and detailed statement. “The question then may be asked: Is it for U.S. prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?”
Indian officials claim that the consular official’s treatment was “heavy-handed”, complaining that she was strip-searched and claiming she was thrown in a cell with drug addicts. They’ve retaliated on several fronts, including by dragging away security barriers from outside the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, as mentioned above. Both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi refused to meet a Congressional delegation from the U.S., in a clear sign that this diplomatic muscle-flexing by India (NOT the U.S.) is being done in an election year to show the India audience that the incumbent government still has a “sovereign and independent foreign policy”. India’s foreign minister has demanded that the U.S. drop federal charges against her – a clear indication that while U.S. citizens, Indian immigrants to the U.S., and even other diplomats in the U.S., should be subject to the law, Indian diplomats should have blanket immunity from everything, including the mistreatment of another Indian citizen who is employed by Indian diplomats to lowly positions such as household help.
For their part, U.S. officials acknowledge that Khobragade was strip-searched, but described it as standard procedure, which it is. Bharara further clarified that this was done in a private setting by a female officer – which was a courtesy extended to the diplomat, as female travelers and passengers are not usually strip-searched by female officials of the TSA. Bharara also disputed many of the claims about her treatment, especially unfounded and biased claims that are making the headlines in Indian media. He said she was, among other things, given coffee and offered food while detained.
Bharara said Khobragade, who has pleaded not guilty, wasn’t handcuffed, restrained or arrested in front of her children. Further, he said, she was alleged to have treated the housekeeper (also of Indian origin) “illegally in numerous ways,” that she was paying her “far below” the minimum wage allowed in the state, and having her work far more than the amount of time contracted. Further, he said she was alleged to have created a second contract that was concealed from the U.S. government. In addition to these charges, Bharara said the victim’s family had to be brought to the United States amid an attempt in India to “silence her”: because amid the uproar over American treatment of an Indian diplomat-turned-criminal, the family of the Indian housekeeper who had the bad fortune of being hired by this Indian diplomat – and was later abused and manipulated by the diplomat – was being threatened with dire consequences while they were in India. Therefore, the family of the housekeeper was immediately brought over to the U.S. so that they could escape the mad, ignorant mob that was raging in India.
Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters on Thursday that Khobragade should never have been arrested, and that the housekeeper should have been arrested instead. Apparently the Indian Minister has no knowledge of U.S. law, and should pay heed to his fellow countryman Bharare about who should be charged (and arrested), and whose rights should be protected (because they have been denied in the past).
A day after Khobragade was arrested and released – and after she was transferred to the Indian mission to the U.N. so that she could enjoy complete immunity from U.S. despite the fact that she was guilty (and because the Indian government and External Affairs Ministry knew that she was guilty and would be charged despite her diplomat status in the U.S., which is why they transferred her to the U.N.) – an official in India’s External Affairs Ministry told the Associated Press that Khobragade claimed to Indian authorities in July that the maid had disappeared and was trying to blackmail her. According to the official, who was obviously trying to obfuscate the reality of what the diplomat had done, the diplomat’s housekeeper said she would not report Khobragade if she agreed to pay her more money and change her visa status to allow her to work elsewhere in the U.S. Khobragade filed a complaint with New York police and New Delhi police, the official said. Though it was not clear what action was taken in the U.S. – and it is very likely that no action was taken in the state of New York, since the only action that was taken was against the diplomat, not against the housekeeper – but New Delhi police issued a warrant for the maid’s arrest if she returned to India: it is unclear when this warrant was issued, or when Khobragade’s complaint was made to New Delhi police and when it was acted upon. It is very likely that the origin of the documents with New Delhi police could have really occurred after Khobragade was arrested in the U.S., to give plausibility to the Indian cover story being generated to hide the shame that would be brought upon Indian diplomats if the truth was to be known, and also to allow the Indian mobs to run amok on the street – despite their ignorance and lack of knowledge about the facts, which are deliberately being distorted to achieve India’s interests.
Khobragade, who was India’s deputy consul general in New York, would face a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration if convicted. She has said she has full diplomatic immunity. The Department of State disputes that, saying hers is more limited to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.
Khobragade’s work status remains unclear: Indian Consulate spokesman Venkatasamy Perumal said she was transferred Tuesday to India’s U.N. mission, but he declined to comment further, and requests for comment to the U.N. mission’s first secretary were not immediately returned.
In an email published in Indian media – that sounds more like a sob story than a clarification from a seasoned diplomat posted to an important country – Khobragade said she was treated like a common criminal. “I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a holdup with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” she wrote. As is obvious with the response of U.S. authorities and of U.S. attorney Bharara, Khobragade was never handcuffed, and therefore, she lied in the email that she sent to Indian media, which was published by the latter to further inflame Indian national sentiment against the treatment of one of its diplomats and of an Indian woman by U.S. authorities – regardless of who is right and who is wrong, regardless of the fact that Khobragade broke the law in a criminal fashion thinking that she enjoys diplomatic immunity and therefore can do whatever she wants to do.
The truth is that Khobragade was arrested by the Department of State’s diplomatic security team – according to protocol, since the diplomatic security teams of the U.S. State Department are responsible for the security of U.S. diplomats abroad – and was then handed over to U.S. Marshals in New York – again, as per protocol, since police would not have jurisdiction over the diplomat, and the U.S. Marshals Service is the main authority in arresting and detaining senior officials of the U.S., including legislators and judicial figures of a state or of the U.S. federation. She was later released after posting U.S.$ 250,000 bail – this bail would not have been paid if Indian authorities at home and Indian diplomatic authorities in the U.S. knew that Khobragade was innocent and could not be charged under U.S. law because she enjoyed diplomatic immunity that covered her actions and transgressions.
The fact of the matter is that the Indian state and media is deliberately hiding all the facts, revealing only a few facts and creating the rest: the truth is that diplomat DID break the law of the U.S., and that the suffering of another Indian citizen is being concealed so that the Indian state can ride the wave of agitation in Indian society and pressurize the U.S. diplomatic community in India as well as the State Department and law enforcement agencies in the U.S. All this is being done because elections are around the corner in India, and the government as well as the opposition are intent on riding the wave of the public’s sentiment on the basis of “teaching the U.S. a lesson” and thus showing that they have an “independent and sovereign foreign policy” when in fact India is an American puppet in South Asia and the new U.S. front-line in the region as the main competitor to China both economically and military (though this is wishful thinking on the part of both India and the U.S., since India’s economy is no match for China and India’s military ought to remember the 1962 war and realize that China’s military has far outpaced India in terms of efficiency and modernization).
As time goes by, more will become clear, and it is not unwarranted to presume or posit what is most likely to happen: Khobragade will definitely be charged, and if found guilty by the competent U.S. court (or a court in New York), she will be sentenced to jail and to pay the fine, unless the Indian consulate or embassy appeals in the competent appellate judiciary or in the U.S. superior court; if Khobragade is appointed to India’s U.N. mission or transferred to another country, she will escape American justice (but will have to face another round of strip-searching and bawling – as she stated herself in her email – and will eventually land in jail if she makes the mistake of going on U.S. soil after getting convicted); that the Indian housekeeper (who is also a woman and an Indian citizen, like Khobragade) who was employed by Khobragade – and her family – will never be able to return to their homeland even though they did nothing wrong, only because truth and righteousness is on their side but their own government and people – the Indian government and the Indian people – are not on their side (they are on the side of the person who abused and manipulated them, that is, the Indian diplomat); and most importantly, the entire matter will be forgotten once elections are over with in India, and whichever government comes to power will toe the American line on major issues like India’s relations with Iran. The final truth is made obvious by India’s own foreign policy actions, designs and decisions over the last two decades: its relations with Afghanistan (including strategic agreements to replace the U.S. when it leaves in 2014), its intentions of reaching out towards (and apparently overreaching into) Central Asia and Asia Pacific, and most importantly (for both India and the U.S.) India’s posturing towards China, all have a certain and very peculiar symmetry with U.S. foreign policy for each area and region in question. At the same time, India will have leeway on taking its own “independent, sovereign” path when it comes to small, minor, and irrelevant issues (except for when they are used to create media hype and are “sold” to the general public to make it appear like India is doing something like a major power does) like diplomatic transgressions such as Khobragade’s, and on posturing against Pakistan (since India knows it can’t go too far on overt posturing against its eastern neighbour without provoking China – or inviting the “concern” of the U.S. (whose troops in Afghanistan, supply lines and general military health, all depend on the friendliness of Islamabad) – and ultimately, because Pakistan can “take care of itself” when it comes to its traditional enemy, India).
It is extremely sad that, instead of accepting her mistake, acting like a mature diplomat, and having her government consult the American government – the government of the country where she was posted and whose laws applied to her, regardless of her diplomatic immunity – to chart out a mutually acceptable path out of the diplomatic standoff that has been created (and which could have been easily avoided), Devyani Khobragade has inevitably become the Indian “Raymond Davis” in New York: even though she hasn’t committed any murders, she certainly has no right to be a diplomat, since she does not know how to treat a fellow Indian citizen – of the same gender, one might add – so how can one expect her to truly and adequately represent the government of India, the interests of India, and most importantly, the people of India?!

Time to give Palestinians a voice

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Speak to American Jews long enough about Israel and you begin to notice something. The conversation may begin with Israel, but it rarely ends there. It usually ends with “them.”
Express concern about Israeli subsidies for West Bank settlements and you’ll be told that the settlements don’t matter because “they” won’t accept Israel within any borders. Cite the recent warning by former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin that “over the past 10–15 years Israel has become more and more racist” and you’ll be told that whatever Israel’s imperfections, it is “they” who teach their children to hate and kill. Mention that former prime minister Ehud Olmert has called Mahmoud Abbas a partner for peace and you’ll be told that what “they” say in Arabic is different from what they say in English.
This spring I watched the documentary The Gatekeepers—in which six former heads of Shin Bet sharply criticize Israeli policy in the West Bank—with a mostly Jewish audience in New York. Afterward a man acknowledged that it was an interesting film. Then he asked why “they” don’t criticize their side like Israelis do.
I used to try, clumsily, to answer the assertions about Palestinians that so often consume the American Jewish conversation about Israel. But increasingly I give a terser reply: “Ask them.” That usually ends the conversation because in mainstream American Jewish circles, asking Palestinians to respond to the endless assertions that American Jews make about them is extremely rare. For the most part, Palestinians do not speak in American synagogues or write in the Jewish press. The organization Birthright, which since 1999 has taken almost 350,000 young Diaspora Jews—mostly Americans—to visit Israel, does not venture to Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. Of the more than two hundred advertised speakers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference, two were Palestinians. By American Jewish standards, that’s high. The American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum earlier this year, which advertised sixty-four speakers, did not include a single Palestinian.
Ask American Jewish organizations why they so rarely invite Palestinian speakers and you’ll likely be told that they have nothing against Palestinians per se. They just can’t give a platform to Israel’s enemies. In 2010, Hillel, the organization that oversees Jewish life on America’s college campuses, issued guidelines urging local chapters not to host speakers who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders,” “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel,” or “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.”
Those standards make it almost impossible for Jewish campus organizations to invite a Palestinian speaker. First, “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard” is so vague that it could bar virtually any Palestinian (or, for that matter, non-Palestinian) critic of Israeli policy. Even supporting a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines would violate the “secure” borders standard, according to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Second, even moderate Palestinians like former prime minister Salam Fayyad, a favorite of America and Israel, support boycotting goods produced in the settlements. Third, the deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli citizen, has publicly proposed turning Israel from a Jewish state into one with no religious identity. He presides over sessions of the Knesset but, according to Hillel’s guidelines, couldn’t address an American Jewish group on a college campus.
Guidelines like Hillel’s—which codify the de facto restrictions that exist in many establishment American Jewish groups—make the organized American Jewish community a closed intellectual space, isolated from the experiences and perspectives of roughly half the people under Israeli control. And the result is that American Jewish leaders, even those who harbor no animosity toward Palestinians, know little about the reality of their lives.
In 2010, for instance, an interviewer asked Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, about nonviolent Palestinian protesters convicted by military courts in the West Bank. It was an important question. While Jewish settlers are Israeli citizens and therefore enjoy the due process afforded by Israel’s civilian courts, West Bank Palestinians are noncitizens and thus fall under the jurisdiction of military courts in which, according to a 2011 investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, more than 99 percent of cases end in conviction. Foxman, who leads an organization that according to its website “defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all,” replied, “I’m not an expert on the judicial system and I don’t intend to be.”
That same year, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel bought ads in major American newspapers in which he declared that in Jerusalem, “for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines.” Sadly, that statement is false. Compared to many of the regimes that ruled Jerusalem in the past, Israel is, indeed, tolerant. But a few months after Wiesel’s ad appeared, the State Department’s Religious Freedom Report noted that
the government of Israel continued to apply travel restrictions…that significantly impeded freedom of access to places of worship in the West Bank and Jerusalem for Muslims and Christians.
It also noted that “Israel’s permitting regime generally restricted most West Bank Muslims from accessing the Haram al-Sharif,” Jerusalem’s foremost Islamic holy site.
It’s a good bet that Foxman and Wiesel have each traveled to Israel dozens of times. They’ve likely known every Israeli prime minister in recent memory. They’ve probably even repeatedly met Palestinian leaders.
Moreover, during their careers, each has issued eloquent calls for human rights. Yet judging by their statements, they don’t know the degree to which Palestinians are denied those rights in the West Bank. They are unfamiliar with the realities of ordinary Palestinian life because they live inside the cocoon the organized American Jewish community has built for itself. Their statements reflect a truth that one particularly honest American Jewish leader acknowledged after meeting with West Bank Palestinians on a trip organized by the indispensable nonprofit group Encounter. “After one day of your trip, I felt like I had never been to Israel before,” admitted the Jewish leader, “and I am considered a professional Israel expert who travels to Israel several times a year.”
Unfortunately, such revelations are rare. There’s not much data on American Jewish knowledge of—as opposed to attitudes about—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But what there is suggests that Foxman and Wiesel are typical. In 1989, the sociologist Steven M. Cohen asked American Jews if “Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis generally go to the same schools.” Only one third of respondents knew the answer was no. In a 2012 poll by the Arab American Institute, two thirds of American Jews said they wanted Jerusalem to remain Israel’s undivided capital. But when asked about Ras al-Amud and Silwan, two of the Palestinian neighborhoods that would be divided from the rest of Jerusalem to create a Palestinian capital, between two thirds and three quarters of American Jews either said they were unimportant or admitted to not knowing where they were.
If one consequence of this isolation from Palestinians is a lack of information, the other is a lack of empathy. Because most American Jewish leaders have never seen someone denied the right to visit a family member because they lack the right permit, or visited a military court, or seen a Palestinian village scheduled for demolition because it lacks building permits that are almost impossible for Palestinians to get, it is easy for them to minimize the human toll of living, for forty-six years, without the basic rights that your Jewish neighbors take for granted. In much of the West Bank, for example, it is illegal for ten or more Palestinians to assemble for any “political” purpose without a military permit.
A booklet prepared by the Los Angeles–based pro-Israel group Stand With Us declares that “every city in the West Bank has a pool or recreation complex and Ramallah has more than ten”—alongside a photo of Palestinian children splashing in a water park. Readers would never know that, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, West Bank Palestinians consume only seventy-three liters of water per day, less than the hundred-liter minimum recommended by the World Health Organization, and less than one third as much as their Israeli counterparts.
At least Stand With Us only minimizes Palestinian suffering. At times, American Jews actively mock it. In 2002, during the brutal second intifada, then deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz told a large pro-Israel rally on the National Mall in Washington that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well” as Israelis. By the time Wolfowitz spoke, according to Defense of Children International, the intifada had already claimed the lives of more than two hundred Palestinian children. Yet when Wolfowitz mentioned Palestinian suffering, some in the crowd began to boo.
This lack of familiarity with Palestinian life also inclines many in the organized American Jewish world to assume that Palestinian anger toward Israel must be a product solely of Palestinian pathology. Rare is the American Jewish discussion of Israel that does not include some reference to the textbooks and television programs that “teach Palestinians to hate.” These charges have some merit. Palestinian schools and media do traffic in anti-Semitism and promote violence. Still, what’s often glaringly absent from the American Jewish discussion of Palestinian hatred is any recognition that some of it might stem not from what Palestinians read or hear about the Jewish state, but from the way they interact with it in their daily lives.
Palestinian anger does not justify Palestinian violence. It certainly does not justify the grotesque attacks on Israeli civilians committed by Hamas and other terrorist groups. But as Israel’s own top security officials have noted, stopping Palestinian terrorism requires understanding it. And attributing it entirely to textbooks and television programs, as American Jewish groups often do, doesn’t accomplish that.
A database of Palestinian suicide bombers, compiled by former Radford University economist Basel Saleh, found that “personal grievances [against Israel] have a considerable weight in motivating attacks.” In 2003, in these pages, Avishai Margalit, a leading Israeli philosopher, made a similar point, noting that “the main motivating force for the suicide bombers seems to be the desire for spectacular revenge.”1 Eyad El Sarraj, founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, in 2002 pointed out that “the people who are committing the suicide bombings are the children of the first intifada—people who witnessed so much trauma as children.”
By walling themselves off from Palestinians, American Jews fail to understand the very behavior they seek to prevent. This intellectual isolation also keeps the American Jewish mainstream from comprehending another phenomenon it deeply fears: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The American Jewish establishment generally attributes the support for BDS among various academic, professional, and Christian organizations to resurgent anti-Semitism. “Sixty years after the Holocaust,” declared Foxman in 2009, “we are watching one layer after another of the constraints against anti-Semitism, which arose as a result of the murder of six million, being peeled away.” In this anti-Semitic resurgence, the BDS movement, which Foxman has declared “at its very core is anti-Semitic,” is exhibit A.
East Jerusalem
The separation wall at Aida refugee camp on the West Bank; photograph by Josef Koudelka from Wall: Israeli and Palestinian Landscape, 2008–2012, which collects his panoramic images from East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and other sites along the separation wall. The book will be published by Aperture in October.
There are anti-Semites in the BDS movement, something my blog, Open Zion, has aggressively exposed. More generally, the movement is based on a dangerous and inaccurate analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa, an analogy that leads manyBDS activists to oppose the two-state solution in favor of a single “secular, binational” state that would, in reality, probably mean civil war between Jews and Palestinians. But what American Jewish leaders like Foxman don’t understand about BDS is that what fuels it is often interactions with Palestinians living under Israeli control. American Jewish leaders don’t understand the power of such interactions because they rarely have them themselves.
When mainline Protestant delegations visit Israel, for instance, they are far more likely than their Jewish counterparts to visit Palestinians in the West Bank. Indeed, many Christian organizations maintain offices across the Green Line, something most American Jewish groups do not. That gives them an appreciation of Palestinian suffering that American Jews generally lack. Asked about the United Methodist Church’s proposal to end investments in companies that help Israel control the West Bank (a proposal the Methodists ultimately voted down), Mark Harrison, director of the church’s Peace with Justice Program, explains, “What we saw on the ground is what pushed us in this direction.”
Similarly, it was appeals from Palestinian academics—some of whom he had met on a trip to Birzeit University near Ramallah—that led Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist, to decline to attend a conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres in May. The BDS movement is growing not only because Israel is often judged by an unfair double standard but because of interactions between Palestinians and people around the world who are sympathetic to their cause. The American Jewish community is hamstrung in its ability to respond by its own lack of experience with Palestinian life under Israeli control.
If this isolation from Palestinians were confined to American Jewry, it would be bad enough. But to a striking degree, the same insularity characterizes debate about Israel in Washington. In part that’s because of the weakness of Palestinian and Arab-American groups. And in part it’s because of the effectiveness of the American Jewish establishment. Since 2000, according to the website LegiStorm, members of Congress and their staffs have visited Israel more than one thousand times. That’s almost twice the number of visits to any other foreign country. Roughly three quarters of those trips were sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), AIPAC’s nonprofit arm. And many of the rest were sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, local Jewish Community Relations Councils, local Jewish Federations, and other mainstream Jewish groups. During the summer of 2011 alone, AIEF took 20 percent of House members—and almost half the Republican freshman class—to the Jewish state. Since 2000, the foundation has taken House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer or his staffers to Israel nine times and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor or his staffers eight times.
These trips, whose cost can exceed $10,000 and often include congressional spouses, are extremely popular. They’re also influential, leaving what Hoyer has called an “indelible impression” on legislators. Unfortunately, they largely replicate the cocoon that the American Jewish establishment provides its own members. Members of Congress may see more Christian holy sites than your average synagogue or Birthright trip, but they don’t see many more Palestinians. An AIEF trip this spring for eight House members and staffers who serve on foreign policy–related committees was typical. Virtually the entire itinerary consisted of meetings with Israeli politicians, security officials, businessmen, and journalists, as well as trips to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, and the Western Wall. The delegation spent one morning of its almost week-long trip in Ramallah, where it met Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. But the Americans didn’t stay in the West Bank long enough to learn anything about Palestinian life.
Last summer, when I asked a member of Congress about his AIEF-sponsored trip in 2007, he told me, “When we went into Ramallah to meet Fayyad, they put the city under curfew. We drove in an armed convoy. We didn’t drive through Qalandiya checkpoint [through which Palestinians, with some difficulty, often pass in order to travel between Ramallah and Jerusalem], didn’t see garbage, shanties. We saw almost no actual people.” He added, “Most members [of Congress] don’t know that Palestinians live under a different legal system.”
That’s not to say members of Congress don’t learn anything on their Israel trips. They learn why Jews feel so connected to Israel and why they worry so much about its security. And for the most part, they learn to see Palestinians the way the American Jewish establishment does: as a faceless, frightening, undifferentiated mass. As one “pro-Israel” activist told The New York Times last year, “We call it the Jewish Disneyland trip.”
The American Jewish community does not bear all the blame for its lack of interaction with Palestinians. In recent years, sadly, Palestinian activists have led a growing “anti-normalization” campaign that rejects any relations with Jewish Israelis, or Israel’s supporters abroad, who do not—in the words of one statement by Palestinian youth groups—“explicitly aim to resist Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid.” Guided by this principle, some Palestinian organizations have shunned Seeds of Peace, which brings together Israeli and Palestinian teens in a camp in Maine, and One Voice, which tries to mobilize Palestinians and Israelis to support the two-state solution. Last year, the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of California, San Diego, even declared “dialogue and collaboration with J Street U counterproductive” because the student wing of the liberal American Jewish group did not support divestment from Israel.
One can understand Palestinians’ reluctance to participate in events that make them appear to consent to an unjust occupation. But that is very different from boycotting events that offer them the opportunity to describe that injustice to American Jews who may be genuinely unfamiliar with it. The former endorses the status quo; the latter challenges it. As the Palestinian blogger Aziz Abu Sarah has noted, characterizing conversations in which Palestinians discuss life under Israeli control as “normalization” is perverse since for both Israeli and American Jews, hearing “about life in Palestinian cities is not normal.” And it makes no sense to demand that American Jews endorse all aspects of the Palestinian agenda before—or even after—the dialogue begins. Jews have the right to their own opinions. But those opinions will be better informed, and more humane, if they encounter Palestinian opinions too.
To say that American Jews need to hear from Palestinians is not to say that doing so will turn them into doves. To the contrary, in some ways a truly open conversation with Palestinians may be more discomforting to American Jews like myself who are committed to the two-state solution than to those skeptical of it. American Jewish liberals generally believe in the legitimacy of both Jewish and Palestinian nationalism. Many hope, therefore, that if they endorse the basic justness of the Palestinian bid for self-determination, Palestinians will endorse the justness of Zionism.
That’s highly unlikely. Virtually every Palestinian I’ve ever met considers Zionism to be colonialist, imperialist, and racist. When liberal American Jews think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they think about Isaac and Ishmael: brothers reared in the same land, each needing territory their progeny can call home. Palestinians are more likely to think about South Africa: a phalanx of European invaders, fired by religious and nationalistic zeal, dominating the indigenous population.
Because they see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle between rival but equally legitimate nationalisms, American Jewish liberals often suggest that the real problem began in 1967, when Israel became greedy and began to seize the land on which Palestinians could build a state. Palestinians, by contrast, often refocus attention on 1948, when roughly 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in Israel’s war of independence, which Palestinians call the Nakba—“catastrophe.”
In my own interactions with Palestinians, I have been repeatedly struck by the central place they assign the Nakba in Palestinian identity, and by their deep insistence that those Palestinians whom the Nakba made refugees, and their descendants, have the right to return to their ancestral homes.2 In many ways, this focus on 1948 is more challenging to Jewish doves—who envision Palestinians abandoning a large-scale right of return in exchange for a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in East Jerusalem—than for Jewish hawks who assume Palestinians will do no such thing.
This is not to say that encounters with Palestinians lead inevitably to the conclusion that Israel has no “partner” for a two-state solution. Palestinians don’t need to believe in Zionism’s legitimacy to make a pragmatic decision that because Israel isn’t going away, they’re better off accepting a state on 22 percent of British mandatory Palestine than waging a struggle for all of it that they can’t win. It may also be possible to distinguish the profound Palestinian belief in the “right” of refugee return from practical solutions about how to compensate and resettle people whose original villages and homes have long ceased to exist.
According to J.J. Goldberg in The Forward, Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 wanted Israel to accept 150,000 refugees, far more than Ehud Olmert desired but not enough to significantly erode the demographic character of Israel, with its six million Jews. Recent polling by James Zogby suggests that most Arab Israelis would accept a two-state deal in which most refugees do not return to Israel. According to the poll, most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan would oppose such a deal. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closely split. If there were ample compensation, more Palestinians would likely be open to a two-state solution that would not include mass refugee return. In any case, given that most Palestinians believe Israel will never leave the West Bank, it’s almost impossible to predict how they’d react to what they consider a wildly hypothetical outcome.
If talking to Palestinians will not necessarily push American Jews in a particular policy direction, why is it so important? Two reasons. The first is that ignorance is dangerous. I recently spoke to a group of Jewish high school students who are being trained to become advocates for Israel when they go to college. They were smart, earnest, passionate. When I asked if any had read a book by a Palestinian, barely any raised their hands. Even from the perspective of narrow Jewish and Zionist self-interest, that’s folly. How effectively can you defend Israel’s legitimacy if you don’t even understand the arguments against it?
But the students are simply reflecting their elders. Last year a prominent pro-Israel commentator asked me whether Ali Abunimah was the name of a real Palestinian or the pen name of a left-wing Jew. Abunimah (the real name of a real Palestinian) is probably the most prominent BDS activist in America. He has 37,000 followers on Twitter, more than the commentator who asked the question or most other pro-Israel Jewish writers. I’m not a fan of Abunimah’s politics, but he clearly knows far more about what establishment American Jews think than they know about what he thinks.
In part that’s because establishment Jewish discourse about Israel is, in large measure, American public discourse about Israel. Watch a discussion of Israel on American TVand what you’ll hear, much of the time, is a liberal American Jew (Thomas Friedman, David Remnick) talking to a centrist American Jew (Dennis Ross, Alan Dershowitz) talking to a hawkish American Jew (William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer), each articulating different Zionist positions. Especially since Edward Said’s death, Palestinian commentators have been hardly visible. Thus Palestinians can’t easily escape hearing the way the other side discusses Israel; American Jews can.
For centuries, when Jews lived in the Diaspora as a persecuted minority, we had to understand the societies around us. Because we lacked power, we had to be smart to survive. Now, I fear, because Jews enjoy power in Israel and America, especially vis-à-vis Palestinians, we’ve forgotten the importance of listening. “Who is wise?” asks the Jewish ethical text Pirkei Avot. “He who learns from all people.” As Jews, we owe Israel not merely our devotion but our wisdom. And we can’t truly provide it if our isolation from Palestinians keeps us dumb.
If encountering Palestinians combats American Jewish ignorance, it also combats American Jewish hatred. In May, Sheldon Adelson, among the most influential Jewish philanthropists in America, said he would not support John Kerry’s plan for Palestinian economic development because “why would I want to invest money with people who want to kill my people?” Adelson wasn’t calling one Palestinian leader a killer, or even one Palestinian faction. He was calling Palestinians killers per se. And his views aren’t uncommon. At a breakfast last year, I heard a prominent Jewish leader in New York call Palestinians “animals.”
In 2010, an Orthodox professor of Jewish philosophy named Charles Manekin noticed a photo in The Wall Street Journal. It was of American Jewish students, likely in Israel for a year between high school and college, screaming at a Palestinian woman in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem where settlers have evicted Palestinians from their homes. In response, Manekin wrote an open letter to American Jewish leaders entitled “Recognizing the Sin of Bigotry, and Eradicating It.” In it, he proposed that Jewish “schools should invite Palestinian refugees to speak to the students about their experiences.” The speeches, he explained, would not be “about politics” but “about humanity.”
The beauty of Manekin’s proposal is that Jews, of all people, can relate to stories of dispersion and dispossession. To have your family torn apart in war—to struggle to maintain your culture, your dignity, your faith in God, in the face of forces over which you have no control—is something Jews should instinctively understand. Indeed, in strange ways, encountering Palestinians—the very people we are trained to see as alien—can reconnect us to the deepest parts of ourselves. Tommy Lapid, the late father of Israel’s most recent political sensation, Yair Lapid, was a hawk. But one day in 2004, watching an elderly woman in Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp searching on hands and knees for her medicines in the ruins of a house destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, he blurted out something astonishing. He said she reminded him of his Hungarian grandmother.
One hundred members of Sara Roy’s extended family were murdered in the Holocaust. Growing up, Roy, now a Harvard researcher, knew little about her father’s experiences in the Chelmno death camp because “he could not speak about them without breaking down.” It was living among Palestinians, she says, that brought her closer to her parents, not because Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians echoes the Nazi treatment of Jews—it obviously does not—but because for the first time she encountered people utterly terrified of the state that enjoyed life-and-death power over their lives.
By seeing Palestinians—truly seeing them—we glimpse a faded, yellowing photograph of ourselves. We are reminded of the days when we were a stateless people, living at the mercy of others. And by recognizing the way statelessness threatens Palestinian dignity, we ensure that statehood doesn’t rob us of our own.