Ray Close

Ray Close is from a long line of Middle East experts. From the outset of the Iraq campaign, he fearlessly organized fellow colleagues from the CIA to speak out against the misuse of intelligence. He has been a relentless campaigner to return professionalism to our intelligence community and to rebuild the firewall separating it from politics. Here is a short bio: Ray Close comes from a family with deep roots in the Middle East. He and many of his immediate relatives have been teachers, diplomats or businessmen in the Arab Middle East for four generations, since his maternal great-grandfather arrived in 1853 and began establishing schools in southern Lebanon. His father, Harold Close, was a professor and later Dean of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Beirut from 1910 until 1955. His mother's brother, Colonel William Eddy, served as the interpreter between President Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud at their historic meeting aboard a US Navy cruiser in the Suez Canal immediately following the Yalta Conference in February 1945. After graduating from Princeton University in 1951, Ray served for 26 years as a Middle East specialist with the Operations Directorate of the CIA. During his career, he served under cover as a political officer at American Embassies in Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. For seven years before his retirement in 1977, he was the CIA's senior representative in Saudi Arabia. Source: http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/2004/05/more-dubious-def-dept-allegations.htm

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Bravo, Brandon Davis

This was sent to me today by Ilene Cohen, Executive Editor of World Politics, journal of Princeton’s Institute for International and Regional Studies.  

October 7, 2010  

Here I am sitting in an office at Princeton University and I missed this incredible opinion column (following). Thanks to my friend Asli, sitting in her office at UCLA, for sending me this piece from The Daily Princetonian. Davis has put his finger on the core of the problem, that so much of Jewish identity and Judaism is bound up with that other, I would say toxic, faith: nationalism. With its attendant tribalism. And his exhortation:  

It is time for American Jews to stand up against oppression, violence and religious fundamentalism. The tribalism that has persuaded the Jewish people to categorically stand up for Israel for so many years is foolish and outdated. The occupation of the West Bank is wrong. The blockade of Gaza is wrong. The displacement of Palestinian villages is wrong. The continued construction of settlements is wrong. And American Jews have enabled all of it. It’s about time a Jew stood up and said so.
My heart soared when I read this. Bravo, Brandon Davis.  


PS I am sure that the Princetonian will be flooded with responses filled with the usual talking points…


OPINION | Column | Oct. 6 

 The politicization of Judaism 

By Brandon Davis
Contributing Columnist 

 Published: Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 

If you’ve been listening to Newt Gingrich recently, you might be fearful of Muslims turning the United States of America into the Islamic Republic of America. You might be under the impression that Islamic religion is nothing more than a political front. You might be under the impression that Christianity is also fast becoming a political tool. But in all of the recent ranting about religion and politics, the third Abrahamic faith is flying under the radar. 

Few people think of Judaism as a political movement the way they might consider Islam or Christianity. When I think of Judaism, I think of latkes, challah, Woody Allen and Passover seders. I think of my mother yelling “oy vey” when I did badly on a quiz or when she burned the Rosh Hashanah brisket. If you’re an American of any religion, this is probably the image you have of Jewish people as well.  

But there’s a whole other section of the world that has a very different perception of Jewish people. To them, Judaism is nothing but a political movement. They think of Jewish people — Israelis — who rode in on military jeeps and evicted them from their homes. They think of Jewish people who have blocked them off from the rest of the world, by physical wall or economic blockade. They think of Jewish people who have stolen their land and denied their history.  

I agree that it would be wrong to draw conclusions about Israelis or Jews in general because of some Israeli policies and military actions — just as it would be wrong to judge any community by the actions of its worst representatives. But how do we deal with Judaism when almost all American Jewish organizations unconditionally support Israeli policies?  

In the secular, post-religion age in which many of us live, Judaism has been preserved by another faith: nationalism. Allegiance to Israel is integral to the American Jewish experience, perhaps even more so than the religious and cultural tradition born out of the Diaspora. And organized Judaism’s political leanings are nearly monolithic.  

Questioning this allegiance is the worst taboo within the organized Jewish community. Academics like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein GS ’88 who criticize Israel are dubbed “self-hating Jews” by the American Jewish mainstream. Jewish pro-Palestinian groups like Jews Say No or Jewish Voices for Peace are on the ultimate fringe. There are a few semi-mainstream Jewish groups that do criticize Israel, but there are none that will even entertain the idea of a non-Jewish Israeli-Palestinian state.  

The result is a near-total politicization of Judaism, analogous to Islamism in the Middle East or Sarah Palin’s brand of political Christianity here. While, unlike these ideologies, American Jews do not advocate for our government to be founded on Jewish values, we do advocate specific policies in the Middle East. Like the Sabbath prayers and the stories of the Torah, the history of modern Israel — often stripped of its unsavory bits — is an integral part of Jewish education. The Israeli independence fighters are heroes for American Jews, just like George Washington or Paul Revere. Millions of dollars are spent to teach young Jews to love Israel and to defend Israel from its critics. The proof is overwhelming and undeniable: Maintaining a Jewish nation-state in Palestine has become one of organized Judaism’s core goals.    

And just as it is fair to criticize Israeli policies, it is fair to criticize its apologists — groups that claim to represent the entire American Jewish community. American Jews have traditionally been at the forefront of progressive movements. But in recent years, American Jewish institutions have trended toward the ugly side of Zionism, defending — or at least apologizing for — the Israeli hard right in its continuation of the occupation of the West Bank and repression of Palestinian identity. The undeniable injustices of the Israeli government and military warrant criticism; silence in the face of these injustices warrants criticism as well.  

It is time for American Jews to stand up against oppression, violence and religious fundamentalism. The tribalism that has persuaded the Jewish people to categorically stand up for Israel for so many years is foolish and outdated. The occupation of the West Bank is wrong. The blockade of Gaza is wrong. The displacement of Palestinian villages is wrong. The continued construction of settlements is wrong. And American Jews have enabled all of it. It’s about time a Jew stood up and said so.  

Brandon Davis is a sophomore from Westport, Conn. He can be reached at bsdavis@princeton.edu.  

Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2010/10/06/26459/  

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War talk

MEC Analytical Group
21 September 2010
War talk

We are grateful to Richard Dalton for bringing to our attention the account below of an exchange of views on 17 September on the prospect of another war between Israel and Lebanon. Jeffrey White of the generally pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy (where the exchange took place) sets the scene for a war which would be even more destructive than previous wars. In language which uncomfortably recalls American positions from 1982 to 2006 and the dilemma they posed for America’s allies, he concludes that America “should look for opportunities to achieve long-term stability, which may mean giving the Israeli military sufficient time to inflict severe damage on Hizballah, and on Syria, if the latter becomes directly involved.” The text of the paper on which his presentation is based is at http://washingtoninstitute.org/pubPDFs/PolicyFocus106.pdf.

The reply is by Richard Exum of the Center for a New American Security, a relatively new think-tank regarded as influential with the Obama administration. He sums it up on the Abu Muqawama blog:

Jeff feels confident that Israel would “win”, operationally and tactically, in the event of another war with Hizballah. I, by contrast, think the scenario he envisions amounts to a nightmare for all parties in the region and do not think either Israel or Hizballah would end the war with a better peace than the one they enjoy now.

If War Comes: Israel vs. Hizballah and Its Allies

The past several months have seen much discussion of growing tensions between Israel and Hizballah, and many observers speculate that another war between the two entities may well occur in the near term. If so, it will likely have a transformative, even fateful impact on Israel, Lebanon, and the region as a whole.

Jeffrey White:

A war could result from a miscalculation or a deliberate decision by Israel or Hizballah. Such a war will likely be intense, destructive, and broad in scope, involving Israel, Hizballah, Lebanon’s military, and possibly Syria, Iran, and Hamas.

All potential participants have been preparing for war. Israel is preparing its ground forces for action in Lebanon, bolstering its intelligence apparatus, and strengthening its defenses against expected strikes by Hizballah rockets and missiles. In a conflict, Israel’s strategy will be essentially offensive, with its ground forces likely crossing the Litani River and driving into the Beqa Valley, its air force conducting offensive operations over Lebanon and probably Syria, and its navy operating aggressively off the coast of Lebanon. And while the Israeli military will take measures to reduce civilian losses, Hizballah’s defensive concept and the nature of the fighting will result in civilian casualties among the Lebanese population.

Hizballah has also been preparing for war. It has built up its rocket and missile forces and air defenses, and now has four times as many rockets and more accurate missiles than in 2006. In a new war, the group would likely conduct heavy and sustained rocket and missile attacks on both military and civilian targets in northern and central Israel, attacks that will have implications for how Israel fights the war, especially regarding offensive operations deep in Lebanon. Hizballah has also organized its forces to defend southern Lebanon — its political base and primary rocket launching area — and to prevent the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from pushing deep into Lebanon. In doing so, it has emphasized the importance of fighting in urban areas and villages. Hizballah will not easily cede ground in southern Lebanon and will likely try to make a stand there.

Syria and Iran are both prepared for war, though it is unclear whether they will provide Hizballah with more than communications, command, control, and intelligence assistance. If Hizballah appears to be losing, Syria and Iran may feel pressure to assist the group in order to keep it in the fight.

If Hamas joins the fighting, the Israeli military will likely take control of most, if not all, of Gaza following the conclusion of major combat operations in Lebanon. Such an occupation would entail “finishing the job” started by the IDF during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza.

Both sides plan to wage offensive operations and are prepared for a major war. As a result, a war is likely to escalate rapidly. Given the potential for escalation, the more flexible and adaptable side will hold an advantage. It is unclear, however, how the resolve of key leaders, the relationship among Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, the effects of international intervention prior to and during combat, domestic and international opinion, and the possible use of chemical weapons by Syria will affect the course of fighting.

At the war’s end, the IDF will most likely control southern Lebanon and perhaps, as suggested earlier, all of Gaza, an outcome that is likely to involve heavy civilian casualties, political crises, and an urgent need for stabilization measures in Lebanon, Gaza, and possibly Syria. The war will be costly for all involved and could have a transformational effect on the politics of the region.

The United States should be prepared for such a conflict to escalate rapidly. It should not bank on diplomacy to head off or limit the conflict once it begins, and should look for opportunities to achieve long-term stability, which may mean giving the Israeli military sufficient time to inflict severe damage on Hizballah, and on Syria, if the latter becomes directly involved. If necessary, the United States should be prepared to deter Iran from becoming directly involved.

Andrew Exum:

It is unclear how another war will secure for Israel a better peace than the one it currently enjoys along a tense, but largely pacific, border with Lebanon. No matter how bloodied Hizballah might be at the end of a protracted campaign, a future in which Israel once again occupies a large portion of Lebanon would be a strategic nightmare.

In 1993, 1996, and 2006, Israel pursued strategies reliant on brute force to degrade Hizballah’s combat power through air, artillery, and (in 2006) ground combat operations, and to weaken Hizballah politically. In each case, Israel failed because it misunderstood the nature of Hizballah’s political and military strength.

Hizballah has succeeded in combat by employing a “comprehensive” approach to warfare. In 1993, 1996, and 2006, the group utilized nonkinetic lines of operation such as propaganda and the provision of social services to ensure that its political position was strengthened, not weakened, despite the massive punishment absorbed by Hizballah’s constituents during the fighting.

Israel is unlikely to break Hizballah as a military actor in Lebanon or weaken it politically. It is hard to envision an outcome in which Hizballah ceases to be the preeminent military actor in Lebanon, or in which its standing among its core Shiite constituency is in any way threatened. We might also note that previous Israeli punishment campaigns actually galvanized popular support for Hizballah’s armed efforts.

A massive ground war waged in Lebanon might further isolate Israel internationally. Lebanon is not Gaza and it cannot be sealed off from Western and Arabic-language media. Furthermore, Israel is held to a higher humanitarian standard by the international community than even the United States. The inevitable deaths of civilians and UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers, of which there are six times as many in southern Lebanon today as there were before 2006, could further undermine Israel’s media image and its international standing. The Lebanese military will also sustain many more casualties because it will likely participate in the fighting, since the units deployed in the South consist largely of residents from that region who have a vested interest in defending their homes and villages.

Israel has two alternatives. The first is to maintain the status quo. Deterrence is a strategy for peace, and though Hizballah may not seek peace over the long term, the group is clearly trying to dissuade Israel from attacking Lebanon through the credible threat of force. Israel is doing much the same with regard to its own territory.

It would be foolish for Israel to carry out another punishment campaign against Hizballah and the Lebanese people. Such a campaign would not result in a better peace for Israel than the one it enjoys now and would in fact contribute to Israel’s further isolation internationally. Rather, Israel should — as it has done already — continue to implement smart deterrence by communicating in advance what might happen if another conflict were to break out.

If war does occur, Israel should show restraint and pursue achievable objectives. This may mean a smaller, shorter war to degrade, rather than wipe out, Hizballah’s military capabilities. A large war would not be good for Israel, Lebanon, or the United States — but that may indeed be where the region is headed.

This rapporteur’s summary was prepared by Allison LeBlanc.

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Rape of Dulcinea

Note:  The following piece by Israel Shamir, a contemporary Israeli intellectual, was resurrected April 18, 2010 after Wiesel’s open letter appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, and New York Times…


Elie Wiesel wrote a letter to President Obama demanding hands off Jewish hold on Jerusalem.  He recycled his own letter of January 2001, so here is what I answered him then.¹   

– Israel Shamir


The touching words of Elie Wiesel painted a beautiful portrait of the Jewish people, yearning, loving and praying for Jerusalem over the centuries and cherishing its name from generation to generation. 

This potent image reminded me, an Israeli writer from Jaffa, of something familiar yet elusive.  I finally made the connection by revisiting my well-thumbed volume of Don Quixote.  Wiesel’s evocative article is so wonderfully reminiscent of the immortal love of the Knight of Sad Visage for his belle Dulcinea de Toboso.  Don Quixote travelled all over Spain proclaiming her name.  He performed formidable feats, defeated giants, who turned out to be windmills, brought justice to the oppressed, all for the sake of his beloved.  When he decided that his achievements made him worthy, he sent his arms-bearer, Sancho Panza, to his Dame with a message of adoration.

Now I find myself in the somewhat embarrassing position of Sancho Panza.  I have to inform my master, Don Wiesel Quixote, that his Dulcinea is well.  She is happily married, has a bunch of kids, and she is quite busy with laundry and other domestic chores.  While he fought brigands and restored governors, somebody else took care of his beloved, fed her, provided her with food, made love to her, made her a mother and grandmother.  Do not rush, dear knight, to Toboso, lest it break your heart.

Elie, the Jerusalem that you write of so movingly is not now and never has been desolate.  She has lived happily across the centuries in the embrace of another people, the Palestinians of Jerusalem, who have taken good care of her.  They made her the beautiful city she is, adorned her with a magnificent piece of jewelry, the Golden Dome of Haram al Sharif, built her houses with pointed arches and wide porches and planted cypresses and palm trees. 

They do not mind if the knight-errant visits their beloved city on his way from New York to Saragosa.  But be reasonable, old man.  Stay within the frame of the story and within the bounds of common decency.  Don Quixote did not drive his jeep into Toboso to rape his old flame.  OK, you loved her, and thought about her, but it does not give you the right to kill her children, bulldoze her rose garden and put your boots on her dining room table.  All your words just prove that you confuse your desires with reality.  You ask why the Palestinians want Jerusalem?  Because she belongs to them, because they live there and it is their hometown.  Granted, you dreamed about her in your remote Transylvania.  So did many people around the world.  She is so wonderful and certainly worth dreaming about.


Many people have adored this city across the ages.  Swedish farmers left their villages and moved there to build the lovely American Colony together with the Vesters, a devout Christian family from Chicago.  You can read about it in the works of Selma Lagerlof, another Nobel Prize winner.  On the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the Russians built the dainty church of Mary Magdalene.  Ethiopians erected their Resurrection monastery amid the ruins left by the Crusaders.

The British died for her and left as their architectural legacy the St. George Cathedral and St. Andrew’s.  The Germans built the lovely German Colony and nursed the city’s sick in the Schneller Hospital.  My devout great-grandfather moved into the protection of her thick walls in the 1870s from a Lithuanian Jewish village and threw his lot in with the hospitable Jerusalemites.  He found his eternal rest until the day of Resurrection on the slopes of the Mount of Olives.  None of them thought to rape their Dulcinea.  They just left bouquets of architectural flowers as testament of their adoration.

Those who love Jerusalem are legion.  It is disingenuous of Elie Wiesel to reduce the struggle for this city to a tug-of-war between Muslims and Jews.  It is a question of coveting property versus having the deed of ownership.  The resolution of this case should be based on the Tenth Commandment that our fathers observed.  They knew that veneration does not amount to the right of ownership.  Millions of Protestants venerate the Catholic-owned Gethsemane Garden, but it does not transfer the garden into their hands.  Millions of Catholics visit the Tomb of Mary, but it still belongs to the Eastern Church.  For generations, the Moslems have come to kneel at the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, but the church remains Christian.


What water did to the Gremlins in Spielberg’s movies, Zionism has inflicted on the jolly Jewish folk of Eastern Europe.  It caused them to carry out an ethnic cleansing of Gentiles in West Jerusalem, to convert the Schneller hospital and church into a military base and to build a Holiday Inn on top of the venerated shrine of Sheik Bader.  The Jewish State forbids the Christians of Bethlehem to pray in the Holy Sepulchre and bans Moslems below the age of forty from attending Friday prayers at the Aqsa Mosque.  This is the rape of the Holy City you profess to love.

In order to justify this rape, you invoke the names of King Solomon and Jeremiah, quote the Koran and the Bible.  Let me tell you a Jewish Hassidic tale, one you might have heard in your childhood.  A Jewish midrash, a legend, mentions that Abraham had a daughter.  A simple-minded Hassid asked his Rabbi why Abraham did not wed his daughter and his son Isaac.  The Rabbi responded that Abraham did not want to marry a real son to a legendary daughter.

Legends are the stuff that dreams are made of.  Some are charming, some are horrible, and none is valid as a land deed or as a political platform.  Elie, you certainly would not like to lose your private home in New York because of a few verses written in the Book of Mormon.  This game is rather irrelevant, but I will play one more round with you for the entertainment of the crowd.  As every archaeologist will tell you, King Solomon and his temple belong to the fantasy realm of Abraham’s daughter.  Moreover, not that it matters, but the name ‘Jerusalem’ does not occur even once in the Jewish Holy Book, the Torah.

Do you want to play some more games?  I’ll show you more.  The Jews are not even mentioned in the Jewish Bible.  Get that thick book off of your shelf and check it.  None of the great and legendary men you named, from King David to the prophets, were called ‘the Jews’.  This ethnonym appears for the first and only time in the Bible in the Persian story of the very late Book of Esther.  The self-identification of the Jews with the tribes of Israel and with the heroes of the Bible is as valid as the story of Rome being founded by the Trojan prince Aeneas.  If the modern Turks, who call themselves ‘the descendants of Troy’ would conquer Rome, dynamite Borromini’s baroque masterpieces and expel her inhabitants in order to re-establish the legacy of Aeneas, they would just be repeating the folly of the Zionists.


Our ancestors, the humble East European folk of Yids, whose language was Yiddish, had a tradition of adorning themselves with the impressive heraldic lions of Biblical heroes.  Their claim of descent from these legends was as valid as the claims of Thomas Hardy’s ambitious farmer girl Tess.  But even the fictional Tess did not conspire to evict the lords from their castle and claim the manor for herself.

Once, walking with the Christian pilgrims to the great Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I was stopped by a Hassidic Jew.  He inquired whether my companions were Jews, and, receiving a negative reply, exclaimed in amazement: “What are these Goyim (Gentiles) looking for in the Holy City?” He had never heard of the Passion of Jesus Christ, whose name he used as a swear word.  I am equally amazed that a Jewish professor from Boston University is as ignorant as the simple-minded Hassidic Jew.  Jerusalem is holy to billions of believers:  Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Christians, Sunni and Shia Moslems, to thousands of Hassidic and Sephardi Jews.  Still, as a city, Jerusalem is not different from any other place in the world; she belongs to her citizens.

Twenty more years of Zionist control of this ancient city will turn her into another Newark and forever ruin her charm.  Jerusalem needs to be restored to its inhabitants.  The seized properties in Talbieh and Lifta, Katamon and Malcha should be returned to their owners.  Professor Wiesel, respect Gentile property rights as you would like Gentiles to respect your right to your lovely house.  The holy sites of Jerusalem are regulated by the 150-year-old international statute (Status Quo) that should not be tampered with.  The last attempt to touch it caused the siege of Sevastopol and the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava.  The next attempt could cause a nuclear war.

¹ It was written as a response to a long article by Elie Wiesel, “Jerusalem in My Heart,” New York Times, 1/25/2001.


Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/09/05/rape-of-dulcinea/


Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 2010 1:57 PM
Subject: Chas Freeman’s Brilliant Speech in Oslo

TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck

Miraculously, almost instantly after I circulated the interview with Chas Freeman earlier today, one of my distinguished recipients sent me the text of his speech in Oslo this morning, to which I had referred in my lead-in to his interview. It is transmitted below.


I fervently urge taking the time to read it and further circulating it as widely as possible.

America’s Faltering Search for Peace in the Middle East: Openings for Others?

Remarks to staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, separately, to members of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
1 September 2010, Oslo, Norway                      

You have asked me to speak to current American policies in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the prospects for peace in the Holy Land.  You have further suggested that I touch on the relationship of the Gulf Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, to this.  It is both an honor and a challenge to address this subject in this capital / at this ministry. 

The declaration of principles worked out in Oslo seventeen years ago was the last direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to reach consequential, positive results.  The Oslo accords were a real step toward peace, not another deceptive pseudo-event in an endlessly unproductive, so-called “peace process.”  And if that one step forward in Oslo in 1993 was followed by several steps backwards, there is a great deal to be learned from how and why that happened.

There can be no doubt about the importance of today’s topic.  The ongoing conflict in the Holy Land increasingly disturbs the world’s conscience as well as its tranquility.  The Israel-Palestine issue began as a struggle in the context of European colonialism.  In the post-colonial era, tension between Israelis and the Palestinians they dispossessed became, by degrees, the principal source of radicalization and instability in the Arab East and then the Arab world as a whole.  It stimulated escalating terrorism against Israelis at home and their allies abroad.  Since the end of the Cold War, the interaction between Israel and its captive Palestinian population has emerged as the fountainhead of global strife.  It is increasingly difficult to distinguish this strife from a war of religions or a conflict of civilizations. 

For better or ill, my own country, the United States has played and continues to play the key international part in this contest.  American policies, more than those of any other external actor, have the capacity to stoke or stifle the hatreds in the Middle East and to spread or reverse their infection of the wider world.  American policies and actions in the Middle East thus affect much more than that region.

Yet, as I will argue, the United States has been obsessed with process rather than substance.  It has failed to involve parties who are essential to peace.  It has acted on Israel’s behalf to preempt rather than enlist international and regional support for peace.  It has defined the issues in ways that preclude rather than promote progress.  Its concept of a “peace process” has therefore become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than a driver for peace.  There are alternatives to tomorrow’s diplomatic peace pageant on the Potomac.  And, as Norway has shown, there is a role for powers other than America in crafting peace in the Holy Land.

Over thirty years ago, at Camp David, Jimmy Carter pushed Israel through the door to peace that Egypt’s Anwar Sadat had opened.  Twenty years ago, the first Bush administration pressed Israel to the negotiating table with Palestinian leaders, setting the stage for their clandestine meetings in Oslo.  The capacity of the United States to rally other governments behind a cause that it espouses may have atrophied, but American power remains far greater than that of any other nation.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East.

For more than four decades, Israel has been able to rely on aid from the United States to dominate its region militarily and to sustain its economic prosperity.  It has counted on its leverage in American politics to block the application of international law and to protect itself from the political repercussions of its policies and actions.  Unquestioning American support has enabled Israel to put the seizure of ever more land ahead of the achievement of a modus vivendi with the Palestinians or other Arabs.  Neither violent resistance from the dispossessed nor objections from abroad have brought successive Israeli governments to question, let alone alter the priority they assign to land over peace. 

Ironically, Palestinians too have developed a dependency relationship with America. This has locked them into a political framework over which Israel exercises decisive influence.  They have been powerless to end occupation, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and other humiliations by Jewish soldiers and settlers.  Nor have they been able to prevent their progressive confinement in checkpoint-encircled ghettos on the West Bank and the great open-air prison of Gaza.        

Despite this appalling record of failure, the American monopoly on the management of the search for peace in Palestine remains unchallenged.  Since the end of the Cold War, Russia – once a contender for countervailing influence in the region – has lapsed into impotence.  The former colonial powers of the European Union, having earlier laid the basis for conflict in the region, have largely sat on their hands while wringing them, content to let America take the lead.  China, India, and other Asian powers have prudently kept their political and military distance.  In the region itself, Iran has postured and exploited the Palestinian cause without doing anything to advance it.  Until recently, Turkey remained aloof. 

On rare occasions, as in the case of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the Arabs have backed their verbal opposition to Israel with action.  Egypt and Jordan have settled into an unpopular coexistence with Israel that is now sustained only by U.S. subventions.  Saudi Arabia has twice taken the initiative to offer Israel diplomatic concessions if it were to conclude arrangements for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians.  But, overall, Arab governments have earned the contempt of the Palestinians and their own people for their lack of serious engagement.  For the most part, Arab leaders have timorously demanded that America solve the Israel-Palestine problem for them, while obsequiously courting American protection against Israel, each other, Iran, and – in some cases – their own increasingly frustrated and angry subjects and citizens. 

Islam charges rulers with the duty to defend the faithful and to uphold justice.  It demands that they embody righteousness.  The resentment of mostly Muslim Arabs at their governing elites’ failure to meet these standards generates sympathy for terrorism directed not just at Israel but at both the United States and Arab governments associated with it.

The perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States saw it in part as reprisal for American complicity in Israeli cruelties to Palestinians and other Arabs.  They justified it as a strike against Washington’s protection of Arab governments willing to overlook American contributions to Muslim suffering.  Washington’s response to the attack included suspending its efforts to make peace in the Holy Land as well as invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq.  All three actions inadvertently strengthened the terrorist case for further attacks on America and its allies.  The armed struggle between Americans and Muslim radicals has already spilled over to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries.  Authoritative voices in Israel now call for adding Iran to the list of countries at war with America.  They are echoed by Zionist and neo-conservative spokesmen in the United States,

The widening involvement of Americans in combat in Muslim lands has inflamed anti-American passions and catalyzed a metastasis of terrorism.  It has caused a growing majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to see the United States as a menace to their faith, their way of life, their homelands, and their personal security.  American populists and European xenophobes have meanwhile undercut liberal and centrist Muslim arguments against the intolerance that empowers terrorism by equating terrorism and its extremist advocates with Islam and its followers.  The current outburst of bigoted demagoguery over the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York is merely the most recent illustration of this.  It suggests that the blatant racism and Islamophobia of contemporary Israeli politics is contagious.  It rules out the global alliances against religious extremists that are essential to encompass their political defeat.

President Obama’s inability to break this pattern must be an enormous personal disappointment to him.  He came into office committed to crafting a new relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds.  His first interview with the international media was with Arab satellite television.  He reached out publicly and privately to Iran.  He addressed the Turkish parliament with persuasive empathy.  He traveled to a great center of Islamic learning in Cairo to deliver a remarkably eloquent message of conciliation to Muslims everywhere.  He made it clear that he understood the centrality of injustices in the Holy Land to Muslim estrangement from the West.  He promised a responsible withdrawal from Iraq and a judicious recrafting of strategy in Afghanistan.  Few doubt Mr. Obama’s sincerity.  Yet none of his initiatives has led to policy change anyone can detect, let alone believe in

It is not for me to analyze or explain the wide gaps between rhetoric and achievement in the Obama Administration’s stewardship of so many aspects of my country’s affairs.  American voters will render their first formal verdict on this two months from tomorrow, on the 2nd of November.  The situation in the Holy Land, Iraq, Afghanistan, and adjacent areas is only part of what they will consider as they do so.  But I do think it worthwhile briefly to examine some of the changes in the situation that ensure that many policies that once helped us to get by in the Middle East will no longer do this.

Let me begin with the “peace process,” a hardy perennial of America’s diplomatic repertoire that the Obama Administration will put back on public display tomorrow.  In the Cold War, the appearance of an earnest and “even-handed” American search for peace in the Holy Land was the price of U.S. access and influence in the Middle East.  It provided political cover for conservative Arab governments to set aside their anger at American backing of Israel so as to stand with America and the Western bloc against Soviet Communism.  It kept American relations with Israel and the Arabs from becoming a zero-sum game.  It mobilized domestic Jewish support for incumbent presidents.  Of course, there hasn’t been an American-led “peace process” in the Middle East for at least a decade.  Still the conceit of a “peace process” became an essential political convenience for all concerned.  No one could bear to admit that the “peace process” had expired.  It therefore lived on in phantom form.

Even when there was no “peace process,” the possibility of resurrecting one provided hope to the gullible, cover to the guileful, beguilement for the press, an excuse for doing nothing to those gaining from the status quo, and – last but far from least –  lifetime employment for career “peace processors.”  The perpetual processing of peace without the requirement to produce it has been especially appreciated by Israeli leaders.  It has enabled them to behave like magicians, riveting foreign attention on meaningless distractions as they systematically removed Palestinians from their homes, settled half a million or more Jews in newly vacated areas of the occupied territories, and annexed a widening swath of land to a Jerusalem they insist belongs only to Israel. 

Palestinian leaders with legitimacy problems have also had reason to collaborate in the search for a “peace process.”  It’s not just that there has been no obviously better way to end their people’s suffering.  Playing “peace process” charades justifies the international patronage and Israeli backing these leaders need to retain their status in the occupied territories.  It ensures that they have media access and high-level visiting rights in Washington.  Meanwhile, for American leaders, engagement in some sort of Middle East “peace process” has been essential to credibility in the Arab and Islamic worlds, as well as with the ever-generous American Jewish community.  Polls show that most American Jews are impatient for peace.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they are eager to believe in the willingness of the government of Israel to trade land for it.

Previous “peace processes” have exploited all these impulses.  In practice, however, these diplomatic distractions have served to obscure Israeli actions and evasions that were more often prejudicial to peace than helpful in achieving it.  Behind all the blather, the rumble of bulldozers has never stopped.  Given this history, it has taken a year and a half of relentless effort by U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell to persuade the parties even to meet directly to talk about talks as they first did here in Oslo, seventeen years ago.  When the curtain goes up on the diplomatic show in Washington tomorrow, will the players put on a different skit?  There are many reasons to doubt that they will. 

One is that the Obama administration has engaged the same aging impresarios who staged all the previously failed “peace processes” to produce and direct this one with no agreed script.  The last time these guys staged such an ill-prepared meeting, at Camp David in 2000, it cost both heads of delegation, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, their political authority.  It led not to peace but to escalating violence.  The parties are showing up this time to minimize President Obama’s political embarrassment in advance of midterm elections in the United States, not to address his agenda – still less to address each other’s agendas. These are indeed difficulties.  But the problems with this latest – and possibly final – iteration of the perpetually ineffectual “peace process” are more fundamental.

The Likud Party charter flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River and stipulates that: “The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.”  This Israeli government is committed to that charter as well as to the Jewish holy war for land in Palestine.  It has no interest in trading land it covets for a peace that might thwart further territorial expansion.  It considers itself unbound by the applicable UN resolutions, agreements from past peace talks, the “Roadmap,” or the premise of the “two-state solution.”

The Palestinians are desperate for the dignity and security that only the end of the Israeli occupation can provide.  But the authority of Palestinian negotiators to negotiate rests on their recognition by Israel and the United States, not on their standing in the occupied territories, Gaza, or the Palestinian diaspora.  Fatah is the ruling faction in part of Palestine.  Its authority to govern was repudiated by voters in the last Palestinian elections.  The Mahmoud Abbas administration retains power by grace of the Israeli occupation authorities and the United States, which prefer it to the government empowered by the Palestinian people at the polls.  Mr. Abbas’s constitutional term of office has long since expired.  He presides over a parliament whose most influential members are locked up in Israeli jails.   It is not clear for whom he, his faction, or his administration can now speak. 

So the talks that begin tomorrow promise to be a case of the disinterested going through the motions of negotiating with the mandate-less.  The parties to these talks seek to mollify an America that has severely lessened international credibility.  The United States government had to borrow the modest reputations for objectivity of others – the EU, Russia, and the UN – to be able to convene this discussion.  It will be held under the auspices of an American president who was publicly humiliated by Israel’s prime minister on the issue that is at the center of the Israel-Palestine dispute – Israel’s continuing seizure and colonization of Arab land. 

Vague promises of a Palestinian state within a year now waft through the air.  But the “peace process” has always sneered at deadlines, even much, much firmer ones.  A more definitive promise of an independent Palestine within a year was made at Annapolis three years ago.  Analogous promises of Palestinian self-determination have preceded or resulted from previous meetings over the decades, beginning with the Camp David accords of 1979.  Many in this audience will recall the five-year deadline fixed at Oslo.  The talks about talks that begin tomorrow can yield concrete results only if the international community is prepared this time to insist on the one-year deadline put forward for recognizing a Palestinian state.  Even then there will be no peace unless long-neglected issues are addressed.

Peace is a pattern of stability acceptable to those with the capacity to disturb it by violence.  It is almost impossible to impose.  It cannot become a reality, still less be sustained, if those who must accept it are excluded from it.  This reality directs our attention to who is not at this gathering in Washington and what must be done to remedy the problems these absences create.

Obviously, the party that won the democratically expressed mandate of the Palestinian people to represent them – Hamas – is not there.  Yet there can be no peace without its buy-in.  Egypt and Jordan have been invited as observers.  Yet they have nothing to add to the separate peace agreements each long ago made with Israel.  (Both these agreements were explicitly premised on  grudging Israeli undertakings to accept Palestinian self-determination.  The Jewish state quickly finessed both.)   Activists from the Jewish diaspora disproportionately staff the American delegation.  A failure to reconcile either American Jews or the Palestine diaspora to peace would doom any accord.  But the Palestinian diaspora will be represented in Washington only in tenuous theory, not in fact.

Other Arabs, including the Arab League and the author of its peace initiative, Saudi Arabia, will not be at the talks tomorrow.  The reasons for this are both simple and complex.  At one level they reflect both a conviction that this latest installment of the “peace process” is just another in a long series of public entertainments for the American electorate and also a lack of confidence in the authenticity of the Palestinian delegation.  At another level, they result from the way the United States has defined the problems to be solved and the indifference to Arab interests and views this definition evidences.  Then too, they reflect disconnects in political culture and negotiating style between Israelis, Arabs, and Americans. 

To begin with, neither Israel nor the conveners of this proposed new “peace process” have officially acknowledged or responded to the Arab peace initiative of 2002.  This offered normalization of relations with the Jewish state, should Israel make peace with the Palestinians.  Instead, the United States and the Quartet have seemed to pocket the Arab offer, ignore its  precondition that Israelis come to terms with Palestinians, and gone on to levy new demands.

In this connection, making Arab recognition of Israel’s “right to exist” the central purpose of the “peace process” offends Arabs on many levels.  In framing the issue this way, Israel and the United States appear to be asking for something well beyond pragmatic accommodation of the reality of a Jewish state in the Middle East.  To the Arabs, Americans now seem to be insisting on Arab endorsement of the idea of the state of Israel, the means by which that state was established, and the manner in which it has comported itself.  Must Arabs really embrace Zionism before Israel can cease expansion and accept peace?

Arabs and Muslims familiar with European history can accept that European anti-Semitism justified the establishment of a homeland for traumatized European Jews.  But asking them even implicitly to agree that the forcible eviction of Palestinian Arabs was a morally appropriate means to this end is both a nonstarter and seriously off-putting.  So is asking them to affirm that resistance to such displacement was and is sinful.  Similarly, the Arabs see the demand that they recognize a Jewish state with no fixed borders as a clever attempt to extract their endorsement of Israel’s unilateral expansion at Palestinian expense.

The lack of appeal in this approach has been compounded by a longstanding American habit of treating Arab concerns about Israel as a form of anti-Semitism and tuning them out.  Instead of hearing out and addressing Arab views, U.S. peace processors have repeatedly focused on soliciting Arab acts of kindness toward Israel.  They argue that gestures of acceptance can help Israelis overcome their Holocaust-inspired political neuroses and take risks for peace. 

Each time this notion of Arab diplomacy as psychotherapy for Israelis has been trotted out, it has been met with incredulity.  To most in the region, it encapsulates the contrast between Washington’s sympathy and solicitude for Israelis and its condescendingly exploitative view of Arabs.  Some see it as a barely disguised appeal for a policy of appeasement of Israel.  Still others suspect an attempt to construct a “peace process” in which Arabs begin to supply Israel with gifts of carrots so that Americans can continue to avoid applying sticks to it. 

The effort to encourage Arab generosity as an offset to American political pusillanimity vis-à-vis Israel is ludicrously unpersuasive.  It has failed so many times that it should be obvious that it will not work.  Yet it was a central element of George Mitchell’s mandate for “peace process” diplomacy.  And it appears to have resurfaced as part of the proposed follow-up to tomorrow’s meeting between the parties in Washington.  It should be no puzzle why the Saudis and other Arabs could not be persuaded to join this gathering.

As a last thought before turning to what must be done, let me make a quick comment on a relevant cultural factor.  Arabic has two quite different words that are both translated as “negotiation,” making a distinction that doesn’t exist in either English or Hebrew.  One word, “musaawama,” refers to the no-holds-barred bargaining process that takes place in bazaars between strangers who may never see each other again and who therefore feel no obligation not to scam each other.  Another, “mufaawadhat,” describes the dignified formal discussions about matters of honor and high principle that take place on a basis of mutual respect and equality between statesmen who seek a continuing relationship. 

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s travel to Jerusalem was a grand act of statesmanship to initiate a process of mufaawadhat – relationship-building between leaders and their polities.  So was the Arab peace initiative of 2002.  It called for a response in kind.  The West muttered approvingly but did not act.   After a while, Israel responded with intermittent, somewhat oblique suggestions of willingness to haggle over terms.  But an offer to bicker over the terms on which a grand gesture has been granted is, not surprisingly, seen as insultingly unresponsive.

I cite this not to suggest that non-Arabs should adopt Arabic canons of thought, but to make a point about diplomatic effectiveness.  To move a negotiating partner in a desired direction, one must understand how that partner understands things and help him to see a way forward that will bring him to an end he has been persuaded to want.  One of the reasons we can’t seem to move things as we desire in the Middle East is that we don’t make much effort to understand how others reason and how they rank their interests.  In the case of the Israel-Palestine conundrum, we Americans are long on empathy and expertise about Israel and very, very short on these for the various Arab parties.  The essential militarism of U.S. policies in the Middle East adds to our difficulties.  We have become skilled at killing Arabs.  We have forgotten how to listen to them or persuade them.

I am not myself an “Arabist,” but I am old enough to remember when there were more than a few such people in the American diplomatic service.  These were officers who had devoted themselves to the cultivation of understanding and empathy with Arab leaders so as to be able to convince these leaders that it was in their own interest to do things we saw as in our interest.  If we still have such people, we are hiding them well; we are certainly not applying their skills in our Middle East diplomacy.

This brings me to a few thoughts about the Western and Arab interests at stake in the Holy Land and their implications for what must be done. 

In foreign affairs, interests are the measure of all things.  My assumption is that Americans and Norwegians, indeed Europeans in general, share common interests that require peace in the Holy Land.  To my mind, these interests include – but are, of course, not limited to – gaining security and acceptance for a democratic state of Israel; eliminating the gross injustices and daily humiliations that foster Arab terrorism against Israel and its foreign allies and supporters, as well as friendly Arab regimes; and reversing the global spread of religious strife and prejudice, including, very likely, a revival of anti-Semitism in the West if current trends are not arrested.  None of these aspirations can be fulfilled without an end to the Israeli occupation and freedom  for Palestinians.

Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, also have compelling reasons to want relief from occupation as well as self-determination for Palestinians.  They may not be concerned to preserve Israel’s democracy, as we are, but they share an urgent interest in ending the radicalization of their own populations, curbing the spread of Islamist terrorism, and eliminating the tensions with the West that the conflict in the Holy Land fuels.  These are the concerns that have driven them to propose peace, as they very clearly did eight years ago.   For related reasons, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has made inter-faith dialogue and the promotion of religious tolerance a main focus of his domestic and international policy. 

As the custodian of two of Islam’s three sacred places of pilgrimage – Mecca and Medina – Saudi Arabia has long transcended its own notorious religious narrow-mindedness to hold the holy places in its charge open to Muslims of all sects and persuasions.  This experience, joined with Islamic piety, reinforces a Saudi insistence on the exemption of religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem from political interference or manipulation.  The Ottoman Turks were careful to ensure freedom of access for worship to adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths when they administered the city.  It is an interest that Jews, Christians, and Muslims share. 

There is, in short, far greater congruity between Western and Arab interests affecting the Israel-Palestine dispute than is generally recognized.  This can be the basis for creative diplomacy.  The fact that this has not occurred reflects pathologies of political life in the United States that paralyze the American diplomatic imagination.  Tomorrow’s meeting may well demonstrate that, the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding, the United States is still unfit to manage the achievement of peace between Israel and the Arabs.  If so, it is in the American interest as well as everyone else’s that others become the path-breakers, enlisting the United States as best they can in support of what they achieve, but not expecting America to overcome its incapacity to lead. 

Here, I think, there is a lesson to be drawn from the Norwegian experience in the 1990s.  The Clinton Administration was happy to organize the public relations for the Oslo accords but did not take ownership of them.  It did little to protect them from subversion and overthrow, and nothing to insist on their implementation.   Only a peace process that is protected from Israel’s ability to manipulate American politics can succeed.

This brings me to how Europeans and Arabs might work together to realize the objectives both share with most Americans: establishing internationally recognized borders for Israel, securing freedom for the Palestinians, and ending the stimulus to terrorism in the region and beyond it that strife in the Holy Land entails.  I have only four suggestions to present today.  I expect that more ideas will emerge from the discussion period.  A serious effort to cooperate with the Arabs of the sort that Norway is uniquely capable of contriving could lead to the development of still more options for joint or parallel action on behalf of peace.

Now to my suggestions, presented in ascending order of difficulty, from the least to the most controversial.

First, get behind the Arab peace initiative.  Saudi Arab culture frowns on self-promotion and the Kingdom is less gifted than most at public diplomacy.  Political factors inhibit official Arab access to the Israeli press.  The Israeli media have published some – mostly dismissive – commentary on the Arab peace initiative but left most Israelis ignorant of its contents and unfamiliar with its text.  Why not buy space in the Israeli media to give Israelis a chance to read the Arab League declaration and consider the opportunities it presents?  I suspect the Saudis, as well as other members of the Arab League, would consider it constructive for an outside party to do this.  It might facilitate other sorts of cooperation with them in which European capabilities can also compensate for Arab reticence.  The Turks and other non-Arab Muslims should be brought in as full participants in any such efforts.  This wouldn’t be bad for Europe’s relations with both.  By the way, given the U.S. media’s notorious one-sidedness and American ignorance about the Arab peace plan, a well-targeted advertising campaign in the United States might not be a bad idea either.

Second, help create a Palestinian partner for peace.   There can be no peace with Israel unless there are officials who are empowered by the Palestinian people to negotiate and ratify it.  Israel has worked hard to divide the Palestinians so as to consolidate its conquest of their homeland.  Saudi Arabia has several times sought to create a Palestinian peace partner for Israel by bringing Fatah, Hamas, and other factions together.  On each occasion, Israel, with U.S. support, has acted to preclude this.  Active organization of non-American Western support for diplomacy aimed at restoring a unity government to the Palestinian Authority could make a big difference.  The Obama Administration would be under strong domestic political pressure to join Israel in blocking a joint European-Arab effort to accomplish this.  Under some circumstances, however, it might welcome being put to this test.

Third, reaffirm and enforce international law.  The UN Security Council is charged with enforcing the rule of law internationally.  In the case of the Middle East, however, the Council’s position at the apex of the international system has served to erode and subvert the ideal of a rule-bound international order.  Almost forty American vetoes have prevented the application to the Israeli occupying authorities of the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg precedents, human rights conventions, and relevant Security Council directives.  American diplomacy on behalf of the Jewish state has silenced the collective voice of the international community as Israel has illegally colonized and annexed broad swaths of occupied territory, administered collective punishment to a captive people, assassinated their political leaders, massacred civilians, barred UN investigators, defied mandatory Security Council resolutions, and otherwise engaged in scofflaw behavior, usually with only the flimsiest of legally irrelevant excuses. 

If ethnic cleansing, settlement activity, and the like are not just “unhelpful” but illegal, the international community should find a way to say so, even if the UN Security Council cannot.  Otherwise, the most valuable legacy of Atlantic civilization – its vision of the rule of law – will be lost.  When one side to a dispute is routinely exempted  from principles, all exempt themselves, and the law of the jungle prevails.  The international community needs collectively to affirm that Israel, both as occupier and as regional military hegemon, is legally accountable internationally for its actions.  If the UN General Assembly cannot “unite for peace” to do what an incapacitated Security Council cannot, member states should not shrink from working in conference outside the UN framework.  All sides in the murder and mayhem in the Holy Land and beyond need to understand that they are not above the law.  If this message is firmly delivered and enforced, there will be a better chance for peace.

Fourth, set a deadline linked to an ultimatum.  Accept that the United States will frustrate any attempt by the UN Security Council to address the continuing impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.  Organize a global conference outside the UN system to coordinate a decision to inform the parties to the dispute that if they cannot reach agreement in a year, one of two solutions will be imposed.  Schedule a follow-up conference for  a year later.  The second conference would consider whether to recommend universal recognition of a Palestinian state in the area beyond Israel’s 1967 borders or recognition of Israel’s achievement of de jure as well as de facto sovereignty throughout Palestine (requiring Israel to grant all governed by it citizenship and equal rights at pain of international sanctions, boycott, and disinvestment).  Either formula would force the parties to make a serious effort to strike a deal or to face the consequences of their recalcitrance.  Either formula could be implemented directly by the states members of the international community.   Admittedly, any serious deadline would provoke a political crisis in Israel and lead to diplomatic confrontation with the United States as well as Israel, despite the Obama Administration itself having proclaimed a one-year deadline in order to entice the Palestinians to tomorrow’s talks.  Yet both Israel and the United States would benefit immensely from peace with the Palestinians.

Time is running out.  The two-state solution may already have been overtaken by Israeli land grabs and settlement activity.  Another cycle of violence is likely in the offing.  If so, it will not be local or regional, but global in its reach.  Israel’s actions are delegitimizing and isolating it even as they multiply the numbers of those in the region and beyond who are determined to destroy it.  Palestinian suffering is a reproach to all humanity that posturing alone cannot begin to alleviate.  It has become a cancer on the Islamic body politic.  It is infecting every extremity of the globe with the rage against injustice that incites terrorism. 

It is time to try new approaches.  That is why the question of whether there is a basis for expanded diplomatic cooperation between Europeans and Arabs is such a timely one.  And it is why I was pleased as well as honored to have been asked to set the stage for a discussion of this issue.


Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/09/01/brilliant/

A Dangerous New Threat


This young Jewish PhD candidate at the University of Chicago has written what I believe is an extremely insightful and timely essay — one that merits the urgent attention and concern of leaders in the fields of politics, religion and academia, not just in America and Europe, but in Israel, as well. 

Monsieur d’Nalgar: To clarify, Ray Close is introducing the essay of student/scholar Daniel Luban below.  Not to be confused with the photo I added of Dutch MP Geert Wilders at left…

The New Anti-Semitism

By Daniel Luban | Aug 19, 2010 7:00 AM

Note: Daniel Luban is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago.

After Abraham Foxman waded into the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, opposing [1] plans to construct an Islamic community center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, the Anti-Defamation League chief was assailed by critics who charged that the ADL was giving license to bigotry and betraying its historic mission “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” A week after initially coming out against the mosque, Foxman announced that the ADL was bowing out of the controversy, but the damage to the group’s reputation had been done.

The problem for the ADL is that there simply isn’t much anti-Semitism of consequence in the United States these days. While anti-Semitism continues to thrive elsewhere in the world and to molder on the fringes of American society, Jews have by now been fully assimilated into the American ruling class and into the mainstream of American life. A mundane event like the recent wedding of Protestant Chelsea Clinton and Jewish Marc Mezvinsky drove this point home. What was notable was not the question “will she convert?” but how little importance anyone attached to the answer; the former first daughter’s choice between Judaism and Christianity seemed as inconsequential as the choice between Episcopalianism and Presbyterianism would have a few decades ago.

At the same time, many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.

While the political operatives behind the anti-mosque campaign speak the language of nativism and American exceptionalism, their ideology is itself something of a European import. Most of the tropes of the American “anti-jihadists,” as they call themselves, are taken from European models: a “creeping” imposition of sharia, Muslim allegiance to the ummah [2] rather than to the nation-state, the coming demographic crisis as Muslims outbreed their Judeo-Christian counterparts. In recent years the call-to-arms about the impending Islamicization of Europe has become a well-worn genre [3], ranging from more sophisticated treatments like Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe to cruder polemics like Mark Steyn’s America Alone and Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia
It would be a mistake to seek too precise a correspondence between the new Islamophobia and the old anti-Semitism, which differ in some key respects. Jews have never threatened to become a numerical majority, or even a sizable minority, in any European country, so anxiety about Jewish power naturally gravitated toward the myth of the shadowy elite manipulating the majority from behind the scenes. By contrast, anti-Muslim anxiety has focused on the supposed demographic threat posed by Muslims, in which the dusky hordes overwhelm the West by sheer weight of numbers. (“The sons of Allah breed like rats,” as the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci put it.) It may be that in many ways this Islamophobia shares more of the tropes of traditional anti-Catholicism than classic anti-Semitism.

But if the tropes do not always line up, there is some notable continuity in the players involved. One of the most striking stories of recent years has been the realignment of segments of the European far right behind a form of militant support for Israel. Much of the traditional neofascist right remains both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic, but savvier far-right leaders have realized that by dropping the anti-Semitic elements of their platforms and doubling down on Islamophobia, they can tap into a new base of support from pro-Israel hawks across the Atlantic. Both the British National Party and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium have gone this route, although it remains questionable whether the move away from anti-Semitism is more than skin-deep. (The Vlaams Belang’s predecessor party, for instance, was disbanded after a controversy [4] concerning Holocaust-denying statements made by one of its top officials.) Equally striking has been the rise of Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician whose Islamophobia, virulent enough to draw the condemnation [5] of even the ADL, has made him a darling of “anti-jihadists” in the United States.

Although there was a predictable upsurge in anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States following the Sept. 11 attacks, much of the most virulent Islamophobic discourse remained marginal on this side of the Atlantic in the early years of the war on terror. There are several possible reasons for this, but one of the most important is simply that George W. Bush, as president, was committed to a rhetoric about Islam as a “religion of peace” divided into a moderate majority and an extremist minority. The justification for the Iraq war came to depend heavily on this distinction, and right-wing hawks, with some grumbling, generally fell into line. The election of Obama, however, freed the hawks from any obligation to temper their rhetoric and simultaneously provided ample material for conspiracy theories about Muslims and fellow travelers in the White House. The result has been an intensification both in the amount of Islamophobia and in its political prominence, as ideas that were once marginal have moved to the center of political debate.

The two years since Obama’s election have seen a sudden flood of books describing an alleged Muslim conspiracy against the United States. Examples include Robert Spencer’s Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns Or Bombs, Spencer and Pamela Geller’s new The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War On America, Paul Sperry’s Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington, and Sperry and P. David Gaubatz’s Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America.

The works share a set of common themes. Radical Muslims who engage in violence are only the tip of the iceberg, goes the argument; the more insidious threat comes from the far larger group of religious Muslims (most, perhaps all) who aim to subjugate the United States under sharia law through ostensibly peaceful and legal means. In this they are aided and abetted by the leftist elites controlling the government, media, and academy—above all, the ambiguously Muslim Obama himself—and a cast of villains that includes some mix of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jeremiah Wright, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Obama adviser Dalia Mogahed, ACORN, and George Soros. Some of the authors of these works have ties to the European far right themselves; Geller and Spencer, for instance, have alienated former political allies by championing Geert Wilders and the Vlaams Belang.

Andrew C. McCarthy’s The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America is among the most recent, and likely the most comprehensive, contributions to the genre. McCarthy is, on the surface, a credible figure: A former federal prosecutor, he came to prominence by winning convictions against Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and others linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. During the Bush years, he was a vociferous defender of the administration’s detainee policies, while Obama’s election caused him to venture into nuttier territory. (He has speculated [6], for instance, that Bill Ayers may have been the real author of Obama’s Dreams From My Father.) His book helps illustrate both the potency of the Muslim-conspiracy myth and the extent to which it has taken hold of mainstream right-wing discourse.

McCarthy’s thesis is simple: Muslims aiming “to supplant American constitutional democracy with sharia law” have joined forces with leftists—including Obama himself—to impose a shared “totalitarian, collectivist” vision. Which Muslims? McCarthy hints that the real problem is Islam itself but that for reasons of political correctness it is wiser to stick to the term “Islamist”—a distinction that loses some of its force given his estimation that two-thirds of Muslims are Islamists. (Indeed, he applies the term to some, like Edward Said, who were not Muslims at all.)

The bulk of the Muslim population, then, aims to impose sharia over every aspect of American life. How will they do this? Through violence, if need be—but McCarthy is keen to note that Islamists are above all master dissimulators who will seek to impose sharia through legal means if they can (“grand-jihad-by-sabotage,” he calls it). This means that even peaceful attempts to follow Islam through strictly private means (for instance, through sharia-compliant finance) are simply precursors to a takeover of the overall system. Muslims who live within religious or ethnic enclaves are not merely trying to remain within a familiar community or preserve shared values; rather, they are presented as deviously following the “voluntary apartheid” strategy of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood—the group whose “global tentacles” extend into nearly every Muslim-American civil society organization. It is too obvious to be worth belaboring that no one would dream of applying a similar logic to Orthodox Jews or evangelical Christian homeschoolers.

At times, McCarthy speaks the language of religious tolerance, arguing simply that Islam should not have a “sacrosanct status” denied to other religions. Yet it becomes increasingly clear that he is in fact arguing for special targeting and discriminatory measures against Islam, and he eventually concedes that he believes it is wrong to place Judaism and Christianity “on a par with an inherently discriminatory, supremacist doctrine.” As a result, “foreign Muslims should not be permitted to reside in America unless they can demonstrate their acceptance of American constitutional principles.” (But how, given the Muslim propensity for dissimulation, can we be sure that their professions of loyalty are genuine?)

The Islamist threat to the United States, McCarthy further argues, would not be so dire if it weren’t for their alliance with the leftists who “dominate policy circles, the academy, and the media.” The most important of these, of course, is Obama himself. Obama “publicly professes” to be a Christian, and McCarthy generously allows that there is no reason to doubt him—although he goes on to include two full chapters on Obama’s Muslim roots—before asserting that the “faith to which Obama actually clings is neocommunism.” This distinction ultimately matters little, however, for the Marxism of Obama and the rest of the American elite coalesces in key respects with the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and its American minions.

The overall tone and content of McCarthy’s polemic will be familiar to students of 1850s Know-Nothing anti-Catholicism or 1950s anti-Communism—or, for that matter, late-19th-century European anti-Semitism. It is tempting to dismiss him as a crackpot, and on an obvious level he is one. But his speculations and those of his fellows are far from irrelevant to the political moment. They are not being published in anonymous blog comments sections, but in widely publicized and bestselling books. More to the point, they have already made a notable impact on American political discourse.

The mosque furor is only the most recent and revealing demonstration of the anti-jihadists’ political influence; from the beginning of the controversy, McCarthy and his allies have dictated the terms of debate on the right. In his July 28 statement attacking the Islamic center, Newt Gingrich cited The Grand Jihad and framed the controversy in McCarthy’s terms of Western civilization under siege from creeping sharia. More recently, the American Family Association—a leading fundamentalist Christian group—cited the book to argue that no more mosques should be built anywhere in the United States because “each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.” A campaign spearheaded by Pamela Geller, the right-wing blogger who was previously most notorious for publishing a lengthy piece alleging that Obama is the illegitimate child of Malcolm X, will place ads on New York City buses opposing the Islamic center. On September 11, she and Gingrich will lead a major rally against the center that will also feature Wilders, the Islamophobic Dutch politician. What was once a lunatic fringe now appears to be running the show, aided and abetted by mainstream figures like Gingrich.

It is quite possible that the next Republican president will also be a party to what can justly be called the new McCarthyism; for that reason alone, McCarthy and his allies deserve our attention. But even more important is the impact of this steady stream of anti-Muslim vitriol on the popular consciousness. Cynical politicians like Gingrich may know that all the talk of the Islamic center as a “9/11 victory monument” and of ordinary Muslims as stealth sharia operatives is mere agitprop designed to win votes in an election year, but ordinary citizens may take them at their word and act accordingly.

While activists like Pam Geller have led the anti-mosque campaign and the broader demonization of Muslims that has accompanied it, leaders like Abe Foxman have acquiesced in it. In doing so they risk providing an ugly and ironic illustration of the extent of Jewish assimilation in 21st-century America. We know that Jews can grow up to be senators and Supreme Court justices. Let’s not also discover that they can grow up to incite a pogrom.

Daniel Luban is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago.  

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/08/20/a-dangerous-new-threat/

We did it right


Over the past few days, there has been some interesting debate going on about the relative merits of the ‘spy swap’ concluded with the Russians.  I have my own views of the case, and thought I’d share them with you.  I’ve already sent these views to a number of former CIA colleagues and to a former US ambassador to Moscow, all of whom (so far) have agreed fully with my analysis.  (That, in itself, I have found to be quite interesting.)  But there are counterarguments that deserve to be respectfully considered, of course.  See what you think.

These are my own views on the subject:

Personally, I strongly approve of the deal.  I think critics are stuck in the Cold War mind warp, and fail to appreciate sufficiently the long-term benefits of dealing with the Russians today as if we and they are both civilized, mature and realistic players in the modern world.  Secondly:  far from making us look weak and irresolute, their ten agents looked like harmless amateurs compared to those hardened spies returned to us by Moscow, which helps to overcome the (always false) image of KGB/SVR agents as ruthless supermen.

Similarly, the disparity in numbers of those swapped (10 vs 4) only accentuates the impression that our spies are more significant and valuable than theirs as individuals (which they clearly are).  Experienced and high-ranking officers of the Russian intel service vs unprepossessing American middle class nobodies.  The fact that we have had them under very close observation for at least ten years without either they themselves or their Russian handlers detecting the FBI’s surveillance should be counted as a very strong psychological factor in our favor.  That undenied reality greatly cheapens their individual and collective net worth and exposes the unprofessional performance of the Russian intelligence organization that thought it was in control but failed to notice that we were playing them all for suckers the whole time.  It appears to the watching world that the awesome Russians failed over an extraordinarily long period to develop their “top secret agents” into effective intelligence assets.  In short, they were made fools of, and cannot deny it.

The division running Soviet/Russian “illegal” agent operations like this has always been considered within their service(s) as their most sensitive and prestigious department — the creme de la creme.  This current “spy swap” event, especially the way it has been stage-managed by the Administration as a dignified and civilized diplomatic action, makes them look like bumblers and us look like sophisticated professionals, in my opinion.  If I were a Russian, I would be embarrassed.  By contrast, I think our FBI must be feeling very good about themselves.  They scored big.

As it happens, I have had personal experience with related operations.  I handled a KGB double agent in Beirut many years ago who, among other things, identified to us a deeply-embedded Russian illegal in America.  It was a woman of White Russian origin, a long-time resident and citizen of the U.S., who was a nun serving at the Russian Orthodox seminary in New York City.  She had been recruited originally by the Soviets back in the mid-1930’s while she was in religious training at an Orthodox seminary in Athens, Greece.  A “sweet little old lady” by all outward appearances, she was actually a critically important communications manager for a network of high-level agents that the KGB had among third-country diplomats based at United Nations headquarters in New York.  I have to acknowledge, therefore, that the group of ten Russian agents that we have just repatriated may well have included some who were either currently or potentially engaged in a similar game of elaborate dissimulation. 

(Among the group of ten just uncovered, however, I spotted none who looked like  possible modern versions of the classic Scarlet Pimpernel character.) 

On balance, my opinion rests as stated above.  We did it right.


Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/07/11/we-did-it-right/

Small minds, big snowballs

 “Did the U.S. Incite Iran’s Crackdown?”

Let me start by making it clear that I have absolutely no specific evidence to support the following assertions.  My views are based purely on intuition, developed I suppose over several decades of experience in observing and participating in covert actions of every imaginable variety.

There is an obnoxious but deeply-imbedded subculture in the US intelligence community that began to appear most noticeably during the period when “Cowboy Bill” Casey was director of the CIA, and is probably most clearly exemplified by the amateur antics misrepresented as professional covert action that we remember as Iran-Contra.  I call it the “can-do conceit”.  It is a peculiarly American cultural phenomenon.  It springs from the dangerous illusion that any challenge can be overcome and any objective gained if you approach the problem with enough good old red-blooded American machismo.  It’s the image that Don Rumsfeld was posing for when he declared that the threat of terrorism could only be overcome if the United States mounted an unremittingly ”forward-leaning” campaign to kill all terrorists everywhere, and it is the same American conceit to which President Bush and others like John McCain are appealing when they continually insist that only by aggressive offensive action “over there” can we defend our own homeland against the subtle and elusive foes whom we call terrorists.  Absolute rubbish — the antithesis of sensible and professional treatment of the infinitely complex variety of threats we face today all over the globe.

You will all remember that it was very shortly after we first began to hear reports of Iranian covert assistance to anti-American militias and insurgents in Iraq that U.S. forces boldly snatched five Iranian officials at Irbil —  an action that has since been almost universally recognized as an offense to the sovereignty of both the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish regional authority — to say nothing of its provocative consequences in the specific area of US-Iranian bilateral relations. Despite cheers for our chutzpah at the time, the incident has since become, in fact, a petard on which we never should have hoisted ourselves.  I suspected immediately that this was a calculated retaliatory action on our part, mistakenly intended to frighten off the Iranians by demonstrating that they would pay a heavy price for messing around in Mr. Bush’s private little war, and I think most of you agreed with me then that starting a tit-for-tat competition of dirty tricks with the Iranians was a foolish and dangerous game that we would surely regret having started.  But we succumbed to our own worst instincts, and allowed our macho compulsions to override cooler professional judgments.  Some too-smart young officer, either from the CIA or from the Army’s newly-empowered covert action arm, ambitious to make a name for himself as a “can-do kind of guy”, probably suggested the operation to his superior officer, who was also eager to appear “forward-leaning”.  As these things often develop, the excessive zeal of these young men ignited the fires of ambition at higher ranks, and before anyone could think clearly about possible unintended consequences, everyone agreed that it would be a dandy idea to teach the meddlesome Iranians a well-deserved lesson by snatching a bunch of their people in a brilliant, daredevil coup.  I can clearly visualize the whole scene. That started the foolhardy tit-for-tat game — for which we are now paying a heavy price.

So if you want my vote on the question at hand:  “Did the U.S. Incite the Iranian Crack-Down?”, my answer is yes, we probably made a major contribution to the present impasse by outsmarting ourselves right at the outset.  Now we’re stuck.  Do we exchange our captives for theirs?  That would represent no loss of face for the Iranians.  That’s their game, being played on their turf, after all.  They invented the rules, and they control the arena of competition much more than we do.   But for the United States, and especially for the Bush team, a prisoner exchange would be an ignominious, and thus unacceptable, contradiction of all our own proudly declared principles of never dealing with “terrorists”. (Today, even old veteran Joe Lieberman, not one to be underrated if we are measuring “can-do conceit”, has thoughtlessly joined the chorus of those wanting to raise the temperature of confrontation with Iran — asserting that we should seriously consider taking overt military action against suspected secret bases in Iran that support the killing of Americans in Iraq.)

This is how small minds and small acts of mischief can snowball into major hostilities.

Ray Close

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2007/06/11/small-minds-big-snowballs/