Middle East Notes (A Continuing Series)

1. There is a cease-fire. Let us hope and pray that it holds. Israel has decided to act unilaterally in order to end operations in Gaza, “[w]ith Israeli troops essentially finished destroying Hamas’s tunnels into Israel and having dealt Hamas’s military capacity a significant blow.” Israel, of course, has been helped by the fact that it no longer has to deal with an Egyptian government that openly sympathized with Hamas:

Few believe that Hamas will voluntarily disarm or stop trying to resist Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. But Hamas’s effectiveness may be much weaker.

For Israel, the strategic situation has changed with the takeover in Egypt by the former military general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who a year ago overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an ally of Hamas. Mr. Morsi did little to prevent smuggling through tunnels, which gave Hamas tax receipts and a mechanism to import cement, weapons and military advisers, Israeli officials insist, from Iran and Hezbollah.

“The big difference this time is that you have an Egyptian leader who understands that Hamas is not just a problem for Israel, but for Egypt, too,” one senior Israeli official said. “So the ability of Hamas to bring stuff in is much, much more limited. And because the Gaza tunnels are mostly shut down, the Egyptians have leverage with reopening Rafah. So it is possible to deal far more effectively with illicit transfers, which could make an end game more stable.”

Mr. Sisi’s antipathy toward Hamas is even stronger than that of Hosni Mubarak, the former president who saw the group as Israel’s problem and only intermittently suppressed the smuggling.

I am sure that there are any number of people who are upset that Israel has achieved significant strategic and tactical goals, and has dealt Hamas a major blow. Let me say for the record that I not only don’t care, I revel in their unhappiness. I am equally sure that there are people who will claim that Israel has somehow lost in the court of public opinion, to which my reply is that Israel has no more lost the public relations war this time than it has in other times, and to the extent that Israel has failed to win hearts and minds, it is likely because those hearts and those minds are predisposed to hating Jewish people and believing that Israel is in the wrong, no matter what the facts on the ground may be.

2. I suppose another thing that Israel’s critics may do is to try to exploit a perceived split between Israel and the United States–a split that is discussed in articles like this one. Having read the article, the following jumped out at me:

With public opinion in both Israel and the United States solidly behind the Israeli military’s campaign against Hamas, no outcry from Israel’s Arab neighbors, and unstinting support for Israel on Capitol Hill, President Obama has had few obvious levers to force Mr. Netanyahu to stop pounding targets in Gaza until he was ready to do it.

On Monday, the Israeli prime minister signaled that moment had come. Amid signs it was prepared to wind down the conflict unilaterally, Israel announced it would accept a 72-hour cease-fire, effective Tuesday, and send a delegation to Cairo to negotiate for a lasting end to the violence.

Even as the White House harshly criticized the Israeli strike on the school, the Pentagon confirmed that last Friday it had resupplied the Israeli military with ammunition under a longstanding military aid agreement. Mr. Obama swiftly signed a bill Monday giving Israel $225 million in emergency aid for its Iron Dome antimissile system.

For all its outrage over civilian casualties, the United States steadfastly backs Israel’s right to defend itself and shares Israel’s view that Hamas is a terrorist organization. In a world of bitter enmities, the Israeli-American dispute is more akin to a family quarrel.

All spats should be this bad. I should note that American foreign policy concerning the Middle East peace process has been remarkably consistent, and has generally acknowledged that four basic conditions have to be met for a just and lasting peace to take hold: (1) Israel must halt and dismantle the settlements; (2) Israel must consent to sharing Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state; (3) Israel’s right to exist and its right to be safe and secure from terror attacks must be fully recognized; and (4) Palestinians must give up the right of return. I don’t see any real deviation from that set of policy demands on the part of the Obama administration. Additionally, it should be said that whenever Israel undertakes military action against Palestinian terrorists, the United States tries to work to pull Israel back since apparently, we are all supposed to feel guilty when Jews can outgun terrorists in a fight that the terrorists themselves started. So there is rather little new about the Obama administration’s efforts to get Israel to show “restraint.”

3. In the event that you have forgotten, Jimmy Carter never had any business being president of the United StatesHere, by the way, is some useful information about the organization that Carter believes to be a “legitimate political actor”:

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer gave Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan the opportunity to retract his public claim that Jews use Christian blood for matzos, but Hamdan failed to do so.

Wolf played him the video clip, and asked if Hamdan truly believed what he had said.

Hamdan refused to answer, instead discussing Israel’s “genocide” of Palestinians.

[. . .]

Wolf didn’t let Hamdan get away with his non-answer.

“I was hoping to get a flat denial from you that you would utter such ridiculous words that Jews would kill Christians in order to use their blood to bake matzo,” he said.

I don’t expect this appalling little glimpse into the dark heart of Hamas to have any effect whatsoever on the likes of Jimmy Carter, but the rest of us should be revolted. If this is the standard for “legitimate political actor[s],” then I would hate to see how the illegitimate ones behave. If only Jimmy Carter had a millionth of Jeffrey Goldberg’s perspicacity:

While it is true that Hamas is expert at getting innocent Palestinians killed, it has made it very plain, in word and deed, that it would rather kill Jews. The following blood-freezing statement is from the group’s charter: “The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The day of judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jews will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

This is a frank and open call for genocide, embedded in one of the most thoroughly anti-Semitic documents you’ll read this side of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Not many people seem to know that Hamas’s founding document is genocidal. Sometimes, the reasons for this lack of knowledge are benign; other times, as the New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch argues in his recent dismantling of Rashid Khalidi’s apologia for Hamas, this ignorance is a direct byproduct of a decision to mask evidence of Hamas’s innate theocratic fascism.

The historian of totalitarianism Jeffrey Herf, in an article on the American Interest website, places the Hamas charter in context:

[T]he Hamas Covenant of 1988 notably replaced the Marxist-Leninist conspiracy theory of world politics with the classic anti-Semitic tropes of Nazism and European fascism, which the Islamists had absorbed when they collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. That influence is apparent in Article 22, which asserts that “supportive forces behind the enemy” have amassed great wealth: “With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. With their money, they took control of the world media. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about here and there. With their money, they formed secret societies, such as Freemason, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.”

The above paragraph of Article 22 could have been taken, almost word for word, from Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish propaganda texts and broadcasts.

It amazes me that we still have to have a debate about the nature, aims and ideology of Hamas.

4. I am going to link to the Gourevitch article that Goldberg linked to in the excerpt immediately above. It is worth highlighting because it is worth examining the difference between Amos Oz on the one hand, and Rashid Khalidi on the other:

Oz is no hawk. He is the godfather of Israeli peaceniks: in 1967, right after the Six-Day War—in which he fought—left Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he was the first Israeli to call publicly for the creation of an independent Palestinian state in those territories, writing, “Even unavoidable occupation is a corrupting occupation.” He has always opposed the establishment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and, in 1978, he was a founder of Peace Now. He is a steadfast critic of the policies toward Palestinians of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and, in the Deutsche Welle interview, advocated once again an Israeli deal with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. “My suggestion,” he said, is “a two-state solution and coexistence between Israel and the West Bank: two capitals in Jerusalem, a mutually agreed territorial modification, removal of most of the Jewish settlements from the West Bank.”

Although Netanyahu has said that he accepts the two-state idea, he has doggedly resisted efforts to realize it, and his resistance has carried a terrible price for both Israelis and Palestinians. Oz argues cogently that such an agreement, followed by heavy Israeli investment in the success of the West Bank, would do more to destroy Hamas’s hold over Gaza than all of Israel’s wars there have managed. “The people in Gaza will be very jealous of the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by their brothers and sisters on the West Bank in the state of Palestine,” he said.

Oz’s interview is not only one of the most sober reckonings of Israel’s current position that you can find, his insistence that Israel and Palestine really could do vastly better by each other also makes it one of the most optimistic. While Oz finds it impossible to oppose Israel’s current war on principle—he calls it “justified, but excessive”—his longstanding commitment to the end of settlements and a two-state peace deal means that he is convinced that this war could have been avoided. In this, the peacenik novelist sounds very much like the six former Israeli spy chiefs profiled in the powerful documentary “The Gatekeepers,” all of whom left Israel’s national-security apparatus convinced that there can be no military solution to their conflict with the Palestinians, only a political one. That is Oz’s point in asking the brutal questions at the start of his interview: “For Israel,” he said, “it is a lose-lose situation.”

Meanwhile, on newyorker.com, the Columbia professor and former Palestinian diplomat Rashid Khalidi brushes aside the sort of questions that Oz poses—“What would you do if … ”—as mere “pretexts” and “red herrings” to excuse wanton Israeli aggression. Just last month, Netanyahu told Israelis, as he has repeatedly, that they must never relinquish “security control” over the West Bank, and Khalidi interprets this to mean that Israel’s war in Gaza “is not really about Hamas.” No, he writes, “It is not about rockets. It is not about ‘human shields’ or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives.” In short, Khalidi claims, Israel’s only purpose is the collective punishment of Palestinians for resisting Israeli subjugation, and it follows that the unjustifiability of Israeli violence justifies Palestinian violence. After all, he writes, “Gaza is a ghetto and ghettos will inevitably fight back against those who ghettoize them.”

When Oz speaks of the neighbor who shoots at you with a child on his lap, he is speaking, of course, of Hamas, and he consistently makes the distinction clear between Hamas and Palestinian civilians, for whom this war has been a devastating bloodbath. Oz does not absolve Israel from its responsibility for the death and destruction in Gaza—that would be impossible—but he sees Hamas as more than an equal partner in it.  That is what he means, he explains, when he describes the war as lose-lose for Israel: “The more Israeli casualties, the better it is for Hamas. The more Palestinian civilian casualties, the better it is for Hamas.” There is no end of argument about how to parcel out responsibility for this war and its ghastly toll on Gazans, but Oz is hardly alone in his view of Hamas’s strategy. My colleague Lawrence Wright, in his deep reporting and one-man theatre piece about Gaza, is unsparingly critical of the Israeli occupation. But, when he turns to Hamas’s attitude towards Gaza’s disproportionately young population, he concludes, “These children are being groomed to die.”

Khalidi, however, hasn’t got a bad word for Hamas. He says, “We might not like Hamas or some of its methods, but that is not the same as accepting the proposition that Palestinians should supinely accept the denial of their right to exist as a free people in their ancestral homeland.” Right—of course it’s not the same. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Hamas doesn’t accept, or even nominally recognize, the right of Israelis to exist as a free people. As Khalidi says, we should pay attention when Netanyahu tells Israelis about controlling their security on the West Bank. So shouldn’t we also listen when Hamas tells Palestinians that they should never accept the existence of Israel—and that victory will not come until they have wiped out not only the Jewish state but all the Jews?

If you take an interest in the war in Gaza, you should read the Hamas charter, but Oz sums up its biggest idea handily enough: “It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew, everywhere in the world.” If Khalidi has a problem with this, he keeps it to himself. While Oz has no problem saying that Israel’s violent occupation is unjust to Palestinians and endangers its own people, Khalidi refuses to acknowledge that Hamas exists to end Israel’s existence and thrives on Palestinian wretchedness. In the heat of his moral condemnation of Israel—and of America for supporting Israel against Hamas—the hardest line that he will allow himself against Gaza’s categorically genocidal leadership is that “we may not like” it. What would he lose to say that we must not?

I don’t have nearly the problems with Israel’s actions in self-defense that Oz does, but at the very least, Oz is not delusional. Either Khalidi is, or he understands full well that the policies he espouses are meant to destroy Israel and leave Jews stateless, and he is fine with that outcome. Either way, who other than a moral monster would want Khalidi’s mindset to be the basis for Middle East policy?

5. Oh, look: More evidence that anti-Semitism in the West isn’t “scarce”:

It was sadly predictable that the latest war in Gaza would lead to an uptick in public anti-Semitism in Europe. All the same, the last few weeks have been disturbing, with reports of attacks and hate speech becoming staples in the daily news. It would be a mistake, though, to assume that events in the Middle East are the primary driver of European hostility to Jews. The reality is that anti-Semitic attitudes are far more widespread and mainstream than European governments would like to admit.

The rise of anti-Jewish sentiment has been most notable in France, home to Europe’s largest populations of both Jews and Muslims. While most pro-Gaza demonstrations have been peaceful, on July 20 demonstrators attacked Jewish-owned stores in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris with a large Jewish community. A synagogue in central Paris was also attacked, and protestors have chanted “gas the Jews” and “kill the Jews” at various rallies. The number of French Jews emigrating to Israel has increased.

Germany has also seen an alarming uptick in anti-Semitism. Demonstrators chanted “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone” during a protest on July 17, and last week explosives were thrown at a synagogue in western Germany. Anti-Semitic graffiti has appeared throughout Rome, and reports of hate speech are up dramatically in Britain.

When European government ministers talk about anti-Semitism, they tend to focus on the continent’s growing Muslim community—see French President Francois Hollande expressing concern about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being “imported” to his country. This may accurately describe many of the incidents of the past few weeks—the Sarcelles riots, in particular, do appear to have been carried out by young Muslims—but the problem may be more widespread.

A recent Anti-Defamation League survey found that 24 percent of the French population and 21 percent of the German population harbor some anti-Semitic attitudes. A recent study of anti-Semitic letters received by Germany’s main Jewish organization found that 60 percent of the hate mail came from well-educated Germans. So this isn’t just a problem with young, disaffected Muslim men.

I will leave it to readers to decide whether those who deny the evidence of anti-Semitism in the West are merely massively cognitively deficient, or just plain malevolent when it comes to how they see and deal with Jewish people.

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