Friday, February 25, 2005


Israel's New Frontier

A terrific article by Aluf Benn in today's Haaretz about the Wall and it's purpose. I'll quote a few paragraphs, but it is really worth reading the whole thing.
This is Israel's new frontier, the site of the future struggle over a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.

The cabinet meeting that approved the withdrawal from settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, as well as the revised route of the separation fence, was one of the most important sessions presided over by Ariel Sharon. "We spent the day, from the morning until the evening, deciding on the border between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, from the north to the south," says a high-ranking government official who took part in the long meeting. The cabinet decision states that the fence is "a temporary means of securing against terror attacks," but despite the cautious wording, those present at the meeting had no doubt that they were drawing the borders of the future.
And later in the article:
"What it was possible to do two years ago cannot be done anymore," said Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to his colleague Benjamin Netanyahu. "And what it is possible to do now, you won't be able to do in another two years. Which is why we have to finish it now."
Is that what you call a "confidence-building measure"? Oh, and Bush's talk about "a new Palestinian state is truly viable, with contiguous territory on the West Bank" - what of that?
But the problem is not only one of dissection of the West Bank, but of encirclement of East Jerusalem. If the fence is completed, the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem would be surrounded by a barrier and would be cut off from the West Bank. And if Israel fills the expanse between Mt. Scopus and Ma'aleh Adumim with new construction, as per the "A-1" plan that Sharon is quietly promoting, East Jerusalem would become a disconnected enclave encompassed on all sides by Jewish neighborhoods. Under such conditions, it would have a hard time serving as the capital of the Palestinian state, presenting another obstacle in the way of a permanent settlement.
Any thoughts on that?
As Benn writes: "Sharon assumed, correctly, that the combined decisions would reduce international criticism of the route of the fence." Yep. It was reported in the Washington Post on page A20 in an article titled "Israeli Cabinet Backs Pullout Plan" and in the NYTimes (I'm not sure of the page) in an article titled "Cabinet in Israel Ratifies Pullout from Gaza Strip."


Why Jewish students are really silent

Guy Spigelman, a Labor Party activist in Israel, has an interesting op-ed in Ha'aretz today about the role of Jewish students on campus. Spigelman responds to requent quotes from Likud MK Natan Sharansky (Bush's favorite author) about Jews on campus being like Russian "Jews of Silence." Sharansky's innuendo is that college campuses in the US are bastions of anti-Semitism, hatred, and repression, where Jewish students must live in muted fear. Having lived on a college campus for four years quite recently, I can assure you that this was not my experience. For thoughts on the specific example of Columbia, I'll take the word of biology professor Robert Pollack:
While few people have questioned the accuracy of the student accounts in “Columbia Unbecoming,” many on campus, like biology professor Robert Pollack, have been left wondering how one of the best-funded, most vibrant Jewish communities on any campus in America has become the symbol of all that is wrong for Jewish students at American universities.

“As the first Jewish dean of an Ivy league school, in 1982, and as the president of the board that built this Hillel,” Pollack said, referring to the six-story center for Jewish students, “I can tell you this is not an anti-Semitic place.”

Pollack added: “The question is, why am I not believed? Why do people pick the weak film over the strong reality of the place itself?” [from an article in the Forward]
The reason why, of course, is because it suits those like Sharansky and major pro-Israel American Jewish groups to perpetuate the myth of the "weak film" over the "strong reality." And this political stance that united Sharansky and major pro-Israel American Jewish groups, and, as a result, most Jewish campus groups, is what actually leads many Jewish students to be "silent," says Spigelman.
At universities across the world from Europe to Australia to the U.S., Jewish students - inclined, as are all students, to lean towards the left during this period of life - are in a bind. They are torn between the communal message of unquestioning support for the state of Israel and their real concerns about the corrosive effects of occupying another people. There has been no room for a middle ground....

Minister Sharansky - if you want the future leaders of the Jewish community to stop being silent, to stop feeling like they are in Soviet Russia - encourage criticism and all streams of Jewish thought, left, right and in between to get out and make their many voices heard. Let them speak about Israel for good and for bad, warts and all.
And while I disagree with Spigelman's views on the conflict (which are pretty typical Labor party views), I think he is right on this point. While pro-Israel student groups are obviously much stronger on campuses in the US than pro-Palestinian groups (any belief that it is the opposite is probably fueled by scare tactics and propaganda rather than reality), the reason that there are so many Jewish students choosing to "sit it out" is partly the result of the fact that most of the powerfully organized groups are affiliated with organizations that tow a pretty uncompromising line on Israel, one that fits in better with the Likud and the right wing than the more moderate parties that students might feel closer to. (Of course, the other major factor is that college kids would rather party or play videogames than organize a rally, no matter what their political affiliation.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Bush appointed special counsel sells out whistleblowers

According to a news release by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Bush-appointed U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch has dismissed over 1,000 whistleblower cases in the past year.
According to the figures released by Bloch, in the past year the Office of Special Counsel:

-Dismissed or otherwise disposed of 600 whistleblower disclosures where civil servants have reported waste, fraud, threats to public safety and violations of law. Bloch has yet to announce a single case where he has ordered an investigation into the employee’s charges. Bloch says that 100 disclosures are still pending; and

-Made 470 claims of retaliation disappear. In not one of these cases did Bloch’s office affirmatively represent a whistleblower to obtain relief before the civil service court system, called the Merit Systems Protection Board. Bloch says that another 30 retaliation cases remain in the backlog.

In order to speed dismissals, Bloch instituted a rule forbidding his staff from contacting a whistleblower if their disclosure was deemed incomplete or ambiguous. Instead, OSC would simply dismiss the matter. As a result, hundreds of whistleblowers never had a chance to justify why their cases had merit.
Given that this is antithetical to the entire purpose of the existence of Scott Bloch's position, how the hell does he justify this? Well, you see, he claims that he's cut down on the number of backlogged cases. True, he's accomplished that by simply dismissing them. And who cares about whistleblowers? Just a bunch of whiners, probably (right, Aunt Deb?).

Seriously, this kind of justification is laughable, if it weren't so sad.


New Palestinian Cabinet, A Wobbly Step Forward for Fateh

After a bit of a delay and much maneuvering, the Palestinian Legislative Council agreed to Ahmad Qurei`'s latest list of cabinet appointments, leading to 17 new faces out of 23 (24 if you include Qurei`). Not a bad turnover, if you ask me. Unfortunately, the al-Jazeera "biographies" of selected members of the cabinet mostly looks at some of the established players, and ignores most of the fresh faces, which is a shame.

Nabil Shaath is being held up as one of the few remaining Arafat stalwarts, but even his position has shifted from that of foreign minister to deputy prime minister, essentially a symbolic senior minister without portfolio (as seen in the Israeli government with Shimon Peres).

Danny Rubinstein's analysis in Ha'aretz indicates that the maneuvering was a victory for the "young guard" of Fateh that is more powerful in the PLC and a step away from the cronyism of Arafat and the "old guard." In fact, many in the PLC had hoped for Qurei`'s resignation.

All this probably is going to be helpful for Fateh in the upcoming parliamentary elections. As Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki has pointed out, one of the stronger draws of Hamas in terms of public opinion is the belief that the PA (dominated by Fateh) is a corrupt body and that Hamas is relatively free of corruption. The cabinet overhaul does much to combat the image of corruption in the PA and Fateh by tossing out the Arafat cronies. Furthermore, it gives Fateh a younger, more dynamic image. While Fateh continues to represent the status quo, this could shake some of its image of being stagnant, outdated, and inflexible.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Bad News

The New York City Department of Education decided today to prohibit Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, from participating further in a training program for secondary-school teachers that brought in university professors to speak at workshops. The NYCDoE thus caved to pressure that was brought to bear on them by the New York Sun (a pathetic rag of the worst kind). According to an article by Brock Read for the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, no link - I received the article in an email and did not see it anywhere up online, either on the Chronicle website or elsewhere):
last week, after The New York Sun published an article assailing Mr. Khalidi's involvement in the program, Joel I. Klein, the city's schools chancellor, announced that the professor would no longer be allowed to participate.

"Considering his past statements, Rashid Khalidi should not have been included in a program that provided professional development for DOE teachers, and he won't be participating in the future," Jerry Russo, Mr. Klein's press secretary, wrote in an e-mail message to the Sun.

In the past year Mr. Khalidi has participated in two training sessions. Neither generated any controversy.
Yes, no controversy. But that was before the attack on Columbia and MEALAC (the Middle East studies department at Columbia) was in full swing. So then, it was no big deal (in fact, NYC schools should be overjoyed to have somebody of Rashid Khalidi's knowledge and faculties speaking at workshops for their schools), but now that there is some momentum, the neofascists behind Campus Watch, etc., are starting to cash in. They are starting small (I'm sure that, other than the principle involved, Rashid Khalidi isn't going to miss giving one or two talks to NYC Dept. of Education workshops) but it is small victories like these that build momentum for the attack on the campuses.
Mr. Khalidi, in an interview on Monday, criticized Mr. Wiener and the Sun for attacking his institute and the field of Arab studies in general. "I think there's a broad attack on professors of the Middle East, and it's based on calumnies, innuendo, and taking situations out of context," he said.

Mr. Khalidi also blamed the Columbia administration's "supine" response to the controversy, which, he said, has emboldened the institute's critics.
Indeed, the anti-Arab right is crowing over this on the internet (an example here at the repugnant Little Green Footballs). I have noticed that many online commentators are more than happy to make sure that the word "Muslim" or "Arab" appears somewhere around Khalidi's name, as though he were some kind of religious nut (which could not be further from the truth) or as though he is not American (in fact, on one comment's section - I do not recall where - this was specifically stated for one of the reasons he is admired in academia) - this again, could not be further from the truth. The racist and anti-Muslim hysteria that is driving this neo-McCarthyism is simply disgusting.


Good News

In today's Haaretz there is an article about the World Council of Churches Central Committee's decision to encourage members to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. The WCC CC report is online here and:
The Central Committee, meeting in Geneva 15-22 February 2005 therefore:

encourages member churches to work for peace in new ways and to give serious consideration to economic measures that are equitable, transparent and non-violent;

persuades member churches to keep in good contact with sister churches embarking on such initiatives with a view to support and counsel one another;

urges the establishment of more and wider avenues of engagement between Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities pursuing peace;

reminds churches with investment funds that they have an opportunity to use those funds responsibly in support of peaceful solutions to conflict. Economic pressure, appropriately and openly applied, is one such means of action.
This is very encouraging. Having spoken to people who have been very active in trying to push divestment on campuses, I think that pursuing the divestment issue through churches, where you have a degree of unity of worldview, is much more effective and will precede any substancial campus divestment movement. Anyhow, there are a number of "progressive" stands taken by the WCC CC at its most recent meeting, including emphasizing international law (calling for the creation of the International Criminal Court and condemning the U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay) and calling on governments to remove laws that discriminate against indigenous languages and their speakers and to support indigenous rights.

And it looks especially progressive given the release of the pope's new book, Memory and Identity, which compared abortion to the Holocaust and characterized gay marriage as part of an "ideology of evil." How enlightened.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Outposts vs. Settlements

Dror Etkes, head of the Peace Now Settlement Monitoring Unit (which does a really great job), write on the Bitter Lemons website that in focusing public attention on the problem of the "outposts" (sometimes called "unauthorized settlements"), the settlement movement has achieved a victory.
[W]hat is the point of distinguishing between a discussion of outposts and a discussion of the entire settlement enterprise? Clearly the outposts are nothing less than new or expanded settlements, established in recent years.

In this sense, institutionalizing the "outposts issue" as a separate topic for discussion is simply one more expression of the success of the settler right wing in normalizing a prolonged situation in which the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis are lived beyond the state's sovereign borders, in an area where for generations there has lived another population devoid of basic rights. Moreover, the mere fact of a separate discussion of the outposts serves the settlers as an additional line of defense: anyone who tries to breach it, in the process causing political and media casualties, will wake up one day to discover that the "legal settlements" have in the interim tripled and quadrupled in size.
If it is a victory in affecting debate inside Israel, it is even more so in the United States, where the public has no familiarity with the geography of the region or with the history of the settlements, with the terminology of the occupation. And so by using words that confuse the issue "freezing settlement development", "natural growth", "outposts", "unauthorized settlements" (which become "illegal settlements" as if to imply that there could be no possible reason to oppose the rest of the "legal" settlements). Settlements on one side of the wall and settlements on the other. Built up areas, greater Jerusalem, on and on and on. And on and on. And so Israel makes more and more "concessions" and more and more "goodwill gestures" by dividing the problem into a million pieces, so that each piece can be given away as a "painful concession" and evidence of Israel's willing to compromise. And so the problem remains, with millions of pieces, but no peace.

Cmon, you gotta give me some credit for that cheesy play on words. (Although now that I think about it, I just ripped that off from Dennis Ross. Oh well.)


Juan Cole on Iraqi PM wheeling and dealing

Juan Cole has a very interesting take on the wheeling and dealing that allowed Ahmad Chalabi to emerge as one of the top two candidates for Iraqi prime minister (which I'm sure boggled many minds, including my own) as well as possible strategy behind Allawi throwing his hat into the ring. Although this was obviously written before it became clear that Ibrahim Jaafari had beaten out Chalabi for the United Iraqi Alliance endorsement, it is still interesting and gives one a good insight into the power structures that are being formed in the Iraqi interim government.


The Angry Arab News Service Arab TV Media Guide

As`ad AbuKhalil, outraged at the New York Times Arab Media "Who's Who" written by Hassan Fattah, has begun composing his own Arab Media guide, beginning with television. It is informative and witty and worth reading. My favorite description:
Saudi TV: if you want to know whether a green toothbrush is preferable to a blue toothbrush from the Islamic point of view, and if you are dying to know whether it is permissible from the Islamic point of view to listen to female voices on the radio, this TV is for you. And if you really are eager to know the name of every person who met Crown Prince Abdullah when he arrived to Riyadh airport from Jiddah, this is your TV. Enjoy.

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