These are all the Blogs posted on Thursday, 12, 2012.
Thursday, 12 July 2012
Our leaders are insufficiently rounded and horny of hand. From the BBC:
A person who has never toiled at grimy, physical or monotonous labour has somehow missed out. It goes beyond career development, to the idea of shaping a more rounded person.
The three main party political leaders have at times been accused of failing the proper job test. They are perceived to be career politicians who have done nothing outside media or politics.
For MP Dennis Skinner, who worked as a miner for 21 years, parliament has become far too homogeneous. "It's a very narrow band in parliament. A lot more people used to come from different areas of work when I was first an MP." He believes his time working in the pits gave him "hinterland".
Shouldn't that be "unterland"? In any case, Mr Skinner's hinterland is behind him.
In the old days MPs never needed hinterland -- they made do with gravitas.
Recently, the Times of London carried a large, bold headline that practically vibrated with moral indignation: THE TAX AVOIDERS. It headed a story about wealthy people who use a loophole to avoid almost all of their income tax, paying only 1.25 percent instead of nearly 50 percent. The government revenue supposedly lost annually was about $7 billion.
The scheme, for the moment legal, allows the rich to pay their income into a trust established in Jersey, an offshore island completely independent of the British government (though a possession of the British crown). The trust then returns the money in the form of a loan which, strictly speaking, could be called in—but since the trustees are the accountants whom the rich pay $64,000 per year to administer the scheme, it’s unlikely that they ever would be.
High rates of taxation are to accountants what anabolic steroids are to athletes: they stimulate performance. Or, as one accountant said: “It’s a game of cat and mouse. The Revenue closes one scheme, we find another way round it. It’s like a sat-nav. I’m driving, get a message there’s been a smash, press the button to re-route. That’s all we do with tax avoidance. The Revenue puts a block in, we just go round the block.”
Whether this is the finest use to which formidable intelligence can be put may be doubted; but in high-tax regimes, it is all but inevitable. The British chancellor of the exchequer, popularly though unjustly criticized for having been born with a large trust fund, said that he found the tax-avoidance scheme “morally repugnant,” thus establishing his credentials as a man of the people. Could he be a member of the same government, I wonder, whose head, David Cameron, is reported on page 12 of the same newspaper—after several pages of almost undiluted indignation at the conduct of the rich—to have offered financial asylum to the French who want to flee President François Hollande’s proposed 75 percent tax on incomes greater than $1.25 million? WE WILL ROLL OUT THE RED CARPET FOR FRENCH TAX REFUGEES, SAYS CAMERON, the headline read. Not since the Revolutionary Terror or the expulsion of the Huguenots have there been so many French refugees in London, and that was before Hollande’s proposed tax increase.
There is surely something inconsistent about a government that welcomes foreigners fleeing their own country to avoid tax, but excoriates its own citizens who do everything legally possible to do the same. The inconsistency can, perhaps, be explained by the fact that 50 percent of the population is now dependent, directly or indirectly, on the government for its income. That is why the government will never draw any general conclusion from this paradox.
As a more fitting subject for the moral indignation of members of Cameron’s government, I suggest the following question: How and why is it that, after 11 years of compulsory attendance at schools, at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000 per head, more than one-fifth of British children leave state schools barely able to read or write?
For Prophet, if not for pleasure, I often dip into the website Khilafah.com, whence came the hadith of the shoelace of fire. Today I stumbled across their Islamic Khilafah, A Manifesto for Change. Aimed at fellow Muslims rather than gullible infidels, this shamelessly advocates a worldwide Islamic Caliphate as the “only solution”. But while refreshingly free from taqiyya, it nevertheless borrows the clichés of politics and management-speak, not least in the title of one of its chapters: An Effective Visionary Executive. Lest the silliness of this title give false reassurance – aren't the Muslims as absurd, and as harmless, as our own corporate drones? – it pays to remember that words we think we know do not mean the same in Islam. Here are a few examples:
“Innocent” as in “Muslims are forbidden from killing innocent people” = “Muslim”. Non-Muslims are never innocent.
“Peace” = “submission”, that of the whole world to Islam
“Knowledge” as in the much-quoted “Seek knowledge even as far as China” = religious knowledge. In practice, since only one religion is allowed, this means Koranic knowledge
“Freedom” as in the Arab Spring to which the Manifesto for Change pays tribute = freedom from secular rule and all opposition to Islam. Effectively, free rein – and free reign – to Islam.
Armed with my inner English to Muslim-English dictionary, I read the first paragraph of the Effective Visionary Executive chapter:
The Shari'ah puts extensive executive powers in the hands of the Khaleefah thus empowering him to make radical and far-reaching decisions in the long term interests of the people. There is a contract (bayah) between the people and the Khaleefah, where the people pledge obedience and the Khaleefah pledges to rule by Islam.
A contract? Something has been lost in translation. Bayah means something like “oath of allegiance”. To translate it as contract, with all the latter word’s connotations of common law, fair dealing and Englishness, is incompetent at best, or plain disingenuous.
A contract, as any schoolboy ought to know, requires offer, acceptance, intention to create legal relations and consideration. Does the empowered Khaleefah pass these tests?
Well, there is an offer, to be sure, one that the offeree cannot refuse, on pain of death or crippling poll-tax and humiliation. An invitation to threat, perhaps?
World's Greatest Authority Martha Nussbaum Tells Us Not To Worry About Islam
Well, not the world's greatest authority. The world's greatest female authority. The world's greatest male authority is, of course, Jeffrey Sachs.
Professor of Law and Ethics and possibly, by now, Literature too, Martha Nussbaum is embalmed in amber -- the only immortality I expect she's going to get -- by Rebecca Goldstein in her "36 Arguments For the Existence of God." It was inevitable that she would become a sudden expert on the subject of Islam, without however bothering to read, inter alia, Joseph Schacht, C.Snouck Hurgronje, gnaz Goldziher, Claude Cahen, Bat Ye'or, Antoine Fattal, Henri Lammens, K. S. La, Sir William Muir, St. Clair Tisdall, Arthur Jeffrey, Georges Vajda, David Margoliouth, and dozens of others. Nor, I suspect, has she been reading Ibn Warraq, Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasrin, or dozens of other apostates, many of them just as, or even more, articulate than M. Nussbaum herself.. But she has known, on good old Hilliard Street, Amartya Sen, who is originally from India and, therefore, must surely be a great expert on Islam, or at least he is apparently regarded by some non-Indians as such (he even wrote an article in The New Republic , on the basis of his deep knowledge of the subject, about how splendidly compatible were Islam and democracy), and she has also had conversations with Muslims who come to her after her lectures, and enlighten her in ways that mere study of the Islamic texts, and of Islamic history, could ever do.
If the nussbaums of this world drive you crazy, just think about the teachers --quiet, unassuming, piercingly intelligent, but for some reason never acting as if they knew everything about everything -- whom you most respect. Think about Jacques Barzun. Or Alexander Bickel. Or Aaron Klug. Or William Alfred. Or Theodore Baird. Just think about people like that, to stay your mind on, and be staid.
David Johnson: The idea for the book came from a column you wrote on burqa bans for “The Stone,” The New York Times’s “Opinionator” section dedicated to philosophy. Some academics and scholars shy away from such platforms for fear of dealing with public hostility and hyperbolic comments. Your column certainly garnered its share of both. Why do you think that, nevertheless, such outreach is worth your time?
Martha Nussbaum: Actually, I think few academics are more reluctant to write for blogs than I am. I have a standing policy never to read or write for blogs. I feel it will devour my time and distract from writing that I personally prefer. I made an exception in this case only because it was a series devoted to philosophy, and the media in the United States do not in general do a good job portraying philosophical debates. (Many other countries do much better.) Also, and even more important, they gave me space and time so that I could write a real article: about 10,000 words total including the initial blog and reply.
But in general I think my time is best spent writing books and articles, teaching my students, and interacting with my colleagues. Through my books I reach a broader audience than through The New York Times, in part because the audience for my books is international. Of course, I do not criticize others who like the blog medium. It is a matter of personal skill and taste.
DJ: In chapter two you analyze fear as the emotion principally responsible for religious intolerance. You label fear the “narcissistic emotion.” But why think that the logic of fear—erring on the side of caution (“better to be safe than sorry”)—is narcissism rather than just good common sense, especially in an era of global terrorism and instability?
MN: Biological and psychological research on fear shows that it is in some respects more primitive than other emotions, involving parts of the brain that do not deal in reflection and balancing. It also focuses narrowly on the person’s own survival, which is useful in evolutionary terms, but not so useful if one wants a good society. These tendencies to narrowness can be augmented, as I show in my book, through rhetorical manipulation. Fear is a major source of the denial of equal respect to others. Fear is sometimes appropriate, of course, and I give numerous examples of this. But its tendencies toward narrowness make it easily manipulable by false information and rhetorical hype.
DJ: In comparing fear and empathy, you say that empathy “has its own narcissism.” Do all emotions have their own forms of narcissism, and if so, why call fear "a narcissistic emotion"?
MN: What I meant by my remarks about empathy is that empathy typically functions within a small circle, and is activated by vivid narratives, as Daniel Batson’s wonderful research has shown. So it is uneven and partial. But it is not primarily self-focused, as fear is. As John Stuart Mill said, fear tells us what we need to protect against for ourselves, and empathy helps us extend that protection to others.
DJ: You argue that reading literature is a valuable way to engage the imagination, step outside of one’s point of view, and see things from others’ perspectives. What about teaching the Qur’an and other religious texts as literature? Do you think this should be a required part of education to enhance religious tolerance?
MN: I think it’s OK to teach religious texts as literature, but better to teach them as history and social reality as part of learning what other people in one’s society believe and take seriously. I urge that all young people should get a rich and non-stereotypical understanding of all the major world religions. In the process, of course, the teacher must be aware of the multiplicity of interpretations and sects within each religion. If one were to teach that all Christians and Jews believe in literal implementation of all of the prohibitions in the Bible, that would be grossly incorrect. And of course they don’t all even believe in the literal truth of scripture. Islam is similarly diverse. The fact that so many Americans associated the Sufis who wanted to set up an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan with the perpetrators of 9/11 shows gross ignorance of the history and variety of Islam.
DJ: Of the basic values of French liberalism—liberty, equality, and fraternity—the last, fraternity, always seems to get short shrift. Your book, by contrast, argues that religious tolerance and liberalism in general can only flourish if people cultivate active respect, civility, and civic friendship with their fellow citizens. If this is so crucial, why do traditional liberals fail to make it more central to their program? How do we achieve genuine civic friendship in a diverse society such as ours? Are there any countries that do this especially well?
MN: I think liberals associate the cultivation of public emotion with fascism and other illiberal ideologies. But if they study history more closely they will find many instances in which emotions are deliberately cultivated in the service of liberal ideals. My next book, Political Emotions, will study all of this in great detail. Any political principles that ask people to go beyond their own self-interest for the sake of justice requires the cultivation of emotion. In the history of philosophy this was well understood, and figures as diverse as [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau, [Johann Gottfried von] Herder, [Giuseppe] Mazzini, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill, and John Rawls had a lot to say about the issue. In Mill’s case, he set about solving the problem posed by the confluence of liberalism and emotion: how can a society that cultivates emotion to support its political principles also preserve enough space for dissent, critique, and experimentation? My own proposal in the forthcoming book follows the lead of Mill—and, in India, of Rabindranath Tagore—and tries to show how a public culture of emotions, supporting the stability of good political principles, can also be liberal and protective of dissent. Some of the historical figures I study in this regard are Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Nehru.
When we criticize intimate aspects of strangers’ lives, we should always ask whether we are being nosy.
DJ: You argue that Catholic universities that restrict their presidencies to priests (i.e., males) should lose their tax-exempt status, because there is a compelling state interest to open such positions to both sexes. But isn’t that a slippery slope? Don’t most religions have objectionable views about sexual equality?
MN: I was making a specific point about the logic of the Bob Jones v. U.S. case, which dealt with that university’s policy banning interracial dating. The Supreme Court held that to withdraw the university’s tax exemption did indeed impose a “substantial burden” on the group’s free exercise of religion, but was justified by a “compelling state interest” in not cooperating with and strengthening racism. The government was in effect giving Bob Jones a massive gift of money. The same is true today of Catholic universities, all of which (excepting Georgetown, which now has a lay president) have statutory prohibitions against a female candidate for president. By giving them a large gift, the government is cooperating with sexism. I think that refusing to give someone a gift is quite different from making their activities illegal, and nobody was proposing to do that in either case. Moreover, these were not just tendencies or social facts—after all, lots people of all religions prefer to date only people of the same race, as many studies show— we are talking in both cases about mandatory rules, official university policies. I think it’s fine to refuse to give someone a huge gift when they have such mandatory policies, so what I was saying was that if a case parallel to Bob Jones were brought concerning the Catholic universities and their presidencies, it ought to come out the same way. Or rather, it ought to have come out the same say—since of course the legal standard under which we currently operate is a slightly different and weaker one than the one that prevailed when Bob Jones was decided, so we don’t know how either case would come out today.
DJ: You argue that we should carefully distinguish between permitting something as a constitutional right and permitting people to criticize things that are constitutionally protected. To what extent should it be morally permissible to criticize wearing a burqa, as a practice that reflects a sexist, male-dominated culture? Should we refrain from such comments as violating the robust religious tolerance you espouse?
MN: I think that when we criticize intimate aspects of strangers’ lives, whether their marriages or their children or their religion, we should always ask whether we are being nosy. But here there’s a yet deeper issue: critics of the burqa typically look at the practices of others and find sexism and “objectification” of women there, while failing to look at the practices of the dominant culture, which are certainly suffused with sexism and objectification. I was one of the feminist philosophers who wrote about objectification as a fundamental problem, and what we were talking about was the portrayal of women as commodities for male use and control in violent pornography, in a great deal of our media culture, and in other cultural practices, such as plastic surgery. I would say that this type of objectification is not on the retreat but may even be growing. Go to a high school dance—even at a high-brow school such as the John Dewey Laboratory School on our campus [at the University of Chicago]—and you will see highly individual and intelligent teenage girls marketing themselves for male consumption in indistinguishable microskirts, prior to engaging in a form of group dancing that mimes sex, and effaces their individuality. (Boys wear regular and not particularly sexy clothing.) My sources for this observation are young men whom it distresses, since they have learned to see women as individuals. But culture is very powerful. So it seems to me quite ridiculous to gripe about the burqa, which some might actually see as a good antidote to the high school dance, and not to gripe about the high school dance. Of course it’s hard to change the dominant culture, and very easy to make the burqa illegal, since in France only about 150 women actually wear it.
Now I personally do not think that any of these practices should be illegal. Lots of bad things are and will remain legal: unkindness, emotional blackmail, selfishness. And though I think the culture of pornographic objectification does great damage to personal relations, I don’t think that legal bans are the answer. I always had problems even with Catharine MacKinnon’s idea of civil-damage suits for violent pornography, although I think that she located the problem in the right place (rather than in the area of “sexual explicitness” all by itself, which is how obscenity law frames the problem, even now). I think that we should confront sexism by argument and persuasion, and that to render all practices that objectify women illegal would be both too difficult (who would judge?) and too tyrannical. But I also think that it’s absurd to go after the burqa and not to go after pornography and the high school dance. Since virtually no feminist, even, wants to ban pornography these days, I conclude that if we had a consistent and clear-headed public discussion, that treated all these cases together, there would be no support for a ban on the burqa.
When I first wore a long evening skirt I tripped too, but should long evening dresses be illegal?
DJ: You discuss [Gotthold Ephraim] Lessing’s play Nathan der Weise and note that it is compulsory reading in Germany and Austria for 14-year-old students. Is there a text or set of texts you would make compulsory for 14 year olds in America?
MN: Well, I think we can make progress by reading the works about the Jews that I mention in that chapter and then extending that reflection to other minorities whom we may fear. The reason I focused on the Jews was that in hindsight we can see how culpably obtuse much of the world was toward the Jews, and we can appreciate the contribution of these works that tried to open people’s eyes. We could also profit from reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which is one of the greatest works addressing the whole topic of the “inner eyes” and how they need cultivation so that they can see the reality of minorities whom people fear. But we do need works about Muslims too, and I am no expert on contemporary fiction about Muslims; most of what I know is by Indian authors, and that would not be as directly applicable to the American scene. And I have no knowledge at all of literature specifically aimed at teens on this question. So, in the book I mentioned a few names suggested to me by my colleague Aziz Huq, but I’d love more input from my readers. To stick to my favorites about India: I would recommend Forster’s A Passage to India, but only if the instructor is prepared to point out that his portrayal of Muslims is nuanced and rich, while his portrayal of Hindus is lamentably full of stereotypes. Far better are Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, both of which give a rich picture of Islamic culture—but they both have the disadvantage of being extremely long.
We should also turn to other arts. I have just come back from a wonderful exhibit in Cologne of 16th-17th century India paintings illustrating the classic epic Ramayana, many of which were commissioned by Muslim rulers and executed at Muslim courts, although it is a Hindu text. They present a wonderful picture of cultural pluralism and understanding. More down to earth would be Bollywood films: I especially love Lagaan, which would give American 14-year-olds a rich picture of the interaction of different religions and groups in India.
DJ: In your discussion of New York City’s Park51/Cordoba House controversy, you praise Sarah Palin and others for distinguishing the question whether the owners have a constitutional right to construct the project (they do) from the question whether they’re exercising good judgment in doing so (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s more ambitious Cordoba House, you argue, does not show good judgment). But even if we accept the distinction, doesn’t taking the latter position generate problems for religious tolerance? If those who oppose the site succeed in stopping it, won’t that do damage to the constitutional right that we claim that the owners have? Why not think in cases of such heated controversies that it’s better to abstain from judging the owners’ decision or even to support their plans without qualification?
MN: Well, I actually side with Mayor Bloomberg, who holds more or less that view, and points out that showing respect for pluralism strengthens New York. But what I was saying was that the Palin reaction was a whole lot better than the standard reaction in Europe, which is that we should just ban things that we fear. It is really unbelievable, having just lectured on this topic here in Germany: my views, which are pretty mainstream in America, are found “extreme” and even “offensive” in Germany, and all sorts of quite refined people think that Islam poses a unique problem and that the law should be dragged in to protect the culture. One woman who purported to represent a human rights organization actually disrupted the question period after my lecture by making a long speech, culminating in an attempt to refute my critique of the “health argument” (“the burqa is unhealthy”) by pointing out that she has a burqa at home and when she tries it on she trips over things. Please. When I first wore a long evening skirt I tripped too, but should long evening dresses be illegal? If we apply that standard, there are some candidates for a ban that stand far above these: platform shoes, for example, which even shoe-lovers like me find very hard to walk in without turning one’s ankle. I myself have sprained my ankle twice wearing shoes with two-inch platforms. But I don’t want to ban them either, of course! The problem with these Europeans is that they don’t want to ban platform shoes or spike heels either; they just want to ban practices of others which they have never tried to understand.
A very impressive young graduate student at Cologne whose parents are from Syria talked to me after my lecture there about the complicated discussions his family had about veiling, and how his mother ultimately made a free choice to wear the hijab—her father protecting her free choice against a strict brother—and how she is, in turn, protecting his sister’s freedom of choice. (In a similar way, of course, many Jewish women make a free choice to join ultraorthodox groups.) But he told me that people here think that I am really extreme. I told him that when I talk about social and economic rights, I feel really at home in Europe and not so at home in the American political discussion. So it’s nice for a change to feel so American.
A LIterary Interlude: Choose Something Like A Star (Robert Frost)
Choose Something Like a Star
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud—
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says, 'I burn.'
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
Martin Sherman On Those Seemingly "Intelligent" People Who Miss The Main Point
From The Jerusalem Post
Photo by: (Courtesy of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Into the Fray: Disputing Dershowitz – again
By MARTIN SHERMAN 12/07/2012
What is it about the Palestinian issue that induces the total eclipse of common sense in otherwise ostensibly intelligent people?
A [Palestinian] state is liable to be an arrowhead directed at the very heart of Israel with all the force of the Arab world behind it.... this is the terrible danger involved in the establishment of a third independent sovereign state between us and the Jordan River – Amnon Rubinstein, former Meretz MK and education minister, Haaretz, 1976
What is it about the Palestinian issue that induces the total eclipse of common sense in otherwise ostensibly intelligent people? How long can two-staters cling to disastrously failed concepts? How long can they obdurately adhere to patently unfeasible policy proposals? How long can they continue to mouth meaningless mantras that fly in the face of painfully evident facts? How long can they go on resolutely ignoring reality – no matter how ruinous the consequences?
How long can they maintain the mendacious masquerade that their futile pursuit of fatal fantasy somehow validates their absurd claim to the moral and intellectual high ground?
How long will it take until intellectual integrity asserts itself and compels them to admit error?
These irksome questions keep pushing themselves into my mind whenever I encounter an new declaration of support for the two-state notion by people of the stature of Alan Dershowitz.
Oxymorons and non sequiturs
As I have stated before in prefacing previous critiques of his positions, I feel a certain discomfort in engaging in public dispute with such a staunch supporter of Israel as Dershowitz. But his good intentions are no guarantee of the quality – or the consequences – of his political prescriptions, and given his significant public influence and considerable media access, his well-meaning but ill-advised proposals cannot go unchallenged.
This is particularly true of his recent offering in The Wall Street Journal, “A Settlement Freeze Can Advance Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” The piece, reposted in several high profile sites on the Web, was a masterpiece of logical inconsistency, with its oxymorons surpassed only by its non sequiturs.
Excessively harsh criticism? Consider this.
Dershowitz correctly observes: “Israel accepted a 10-month freeze in 2009, but the Palestinian Authority didn’t come to the bargaining table until weeks before the freeze expired. Its negotiators demanded that the freeze be extended indefinitely. When Israel refused, they walked away from the table.”
He then cautions that if the government imposed a similar freeze now: “There is every reason to believe that... they would continue such game-playing especially in light of current efforts by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to form their own unity government, which would likely include elements opposed to any negotiation with the Jewish state.”
But what conclusion does Dershowitz draw from his recognition of proven bad faith in the past, and of probable increased rejectionism in the future? Rather than following the logic that his own analysis seems to dictate, i.e. either that negotiations are futile, or that more generous offers be made, he advocates neither.
Instead, he makes the astounding suggestion that the Palestinians be coaxed back to the negotiating table by offering them... less than what they have already rejected. Go figure.
Bold or bonkers
According to Dershowitz, given the giant-sized ruling coalition in Israel, “the time is ripe for that government to make a bold peace offer to the Palestinian Authority” – as if in the past the size of the coalition has prevented Israel from making wildly irresponsible concessionary proposals to the Palestinians, all of which were resoundingly rejected.
The problem with making “bold peace offers” is not that they endanger the ruling coalition, but that they have proved totally unproductive – indeed counter-productive – resulting in nothing but Palestinian demands for yet further concessions.
At some stage, repeating increasingly risky offers ceases to be “bold” and become just “bonkers.” As I pointed out in last week’s column, apart from the unrequited unilateral 10-month freeze on construction in the “settlements,” Israel has, among other things:
• Withdrawn from major populations centers in Judea and Samaria;
• Unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip, erasing every vestige of Jewish presence;
• Unearthed its dead from graveyards;
• Demolished settlements in northern Samaria; and
• Allowed armed militias to deploy adjacent to its capital, within mortar range of its parliament.
The Palestinians have responded with vitriolic Judeophobic incitement and vicious Judeocidal terror, even from within – especially from within – areas transferred to their control. (Imagine the storm of international outrage that would erupt if the mainstream Israeli media dared to depict the Palestinians as the mainstream Palestinian media depicts the Israelis. Ah! The soft racism of low expectations.)
Misguided moral equivalence
Yet none of this seems to have any perceptible impact on Dershwitz’s perceptions of political realities.
Despite the accumulation of unequivocal evidence, he still appears loath to recognize the recurring bad faith on the part of the Palestinians and to acknowledge the continual and concrete good faith shown by Israel.
In a breathtaking display of misplaced moral equivalence, he has the temerity to suggest that his proposal will not only provide “a good test of the bona fides of the Palestinian side [but].. would also test the bona fides of the Israeli government.”
This is a stunning assertion for someone purportedly familiar with the twists and turns of the “peace process.”
For – as we shall soon see – Israel has made the Palestinians offers more farreaching than Dershowitz’s proposal, which were all rejected.
So not only should this be completely adequate to determine unequivocally the respective bona fides (or lack thereof) of the two sides, but it is entirely unclear why his proposal should have any chance of acceptance by the Palestinians – or how it could contribute to any further clarification of the two sides’ bone fides.
But I digress. Getting back to the substance of Dershowitz’s proposal: As I mentioned earlier, he not only concedes that the Palestinians spurned the construction freeze, but that they are likely to do so again.
Moreover, he cautions that the future Palestinian government may well include elements opposed to any negotiations. Yet despite all this, he suggests that negotiations be commenced with an Israeli offer of a “conditional freeze,” to commence “as soon as the Palestinian Authority sits down at the bargaining table, and... continue as long as the talks continue in good faith.”
This, of course, leaves us to puzzle over two things:
(a) If the implementation of the previous unconditional freeze did not induce the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table, why on earth should the mere promise of a conditional one do so?
(b) Even assuming that it did, given the past acrimony, reproach and disagreement between the sides, what would be the criteria for determining – and who would be the arbiter to determine – whether the talks were in fact “continuing in good faith”? Obama? The State Department? The EU? Egypt? The Arab League?
I am sure that, on reflection, Dershowitz might admit that this could be a touch problematic, with Israel risking being locked into a perpetual construction freeze by a biased adjudicator of Palestinian “good faith.”
Or would Israel be able to decide this unilaterally and revoke the freeze at will whenever disagreement arose? If so, why would the Palestinians agree to an arrangement which give Israel the power to judge their good faith?
Curiouser and curiouser
But things get even more perplexing.
Dershowitz asserts: “The first issue on the table should be the rough borders of a Palestinian state.” Oh really! What a good idea! So the good professor blithely suggests that we kick off with a perfunctory agreement over a “trifling” matter that in effect has been a principal – arguably the principal – bone of contention for at least a quarter of a century.
But fear not. The redoubtable Dershowitz has a formula for success where others have failed. Presumably with a straight face, he prescribes: “Setting those [rough borders] would require recognizing that the West Bank can be realistically divided into three effective areas: Those that are relatively certain to remain part of Israel, such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Gilo and other areas close to the center of Jerusalem [presumably Gush Etzion with a population of about 70,000 Israelis – M.S.].
“Those that are relatively certain to become part of a Palestinian state, such as the vast majority of the heavily populated Arab areas of the West Bank beyond Israel’s security barrier.
“Those reasonably in dispute, including some of the large settlement blocs several miles from Jerusalem such as Ariel (which may well remain part of Israel, but subject to negotiated land swaps).”
On seeing such proposals, one can only wonder whether Dershowitz reads newspapers or follows the news. Does he seriously imagine that there is any relevant Palestinian negotiating partner who would agree – a priori – that the areas he designates as “relatively certain to remain part of Israel” are indeed relatively certain to remain part of Israel? Does he know of any Palestinian who would agree that the areas that include “the large settlement blocs such as Ariel” are “reasonably in dispute”?
Although Dershowitz continues that “this rough division is based on prior negotiations and positions already articulated by each side,” it is not at all clear to what – or to whom – he is referring, certainly not with regard to the Palestinians.
For to launch Dershowitz’s initiative, some mealy-mouthed, ambiguous – and deniable – inference, surreptitiously whispered in some covert meeting in some discrete location, scrupulously shielded from the public eye – and hence totally devoid of any binding political commitment – will not suffice.
What is needed is for it to be declared, overtly and officially, as the Palestinians’ publicly proclaimed position for the commencement of negotiations. Good luck with that.
Can any Palestinian afford to be seen to be less Palestinian than Barack Obama, who stipulated the pre-1967 lines as the starting point for delineating the “rough borders of the Palestinian state,” especially, as we have seen, Dershowitz himself notes the PA is striving to set up a unity government with Hamas, which opposes any negotiations with Israel.
Durability and discrimination
Given the winds blowing throughout the Arab world, the durability and credibility of Palestinian “good faith” becomes crucial, not only because of the grave consequences of territorial concessions for Israel’s security. It is equally crucial for the application of the core element of Dershowitz’s proposal – “conditional freeze” of settlement construction – which if anything is even more problematic than his geographical division of the “West Bank.”
For he is completely mistaken when he claims: “If there can be agreement concerning this preliminary division – even tentative or conditional – then the settlement-building dispute would quickly disappear.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, or more conducive to potential friction – especially the part about the agreement being “tentative or conditioned.”
He stipulates that “there would be no Israeli building in those areas likely to become part of a Palestinian state” but refrains from precluding Palestinian building “within areas likely to remain part of Israel” – which fair and balanced impartiality would seem to call for. Wouldn’t it?
His attitude to the “disputed areas” is even more discriminatory.
He states: “The conditional freeze would continue in disputed areas until it was decided which will remain part of Israel and which will become part of the new Palestinian state.... An absolute building freeze would be... a painful but necessary compromise.”
But would the Palestinians be prevented from building in these disputed areas “until it was decided which will remain part of Israel and which will become part of the new Palestinian state”? You know, so as not to prejudge the outcome? And if not, why not?
Significantly, he adds: “It might also encourage residents of settlements to move to areas that will remain part of Israel, especially if accompanied by financial inducements to relocate.” Really! Financial inducements for relocation of Jews in “disputed areas”– but not for Arabs?
These are weighty issues and deserve careful consideration and detailed discussion.
However, to avert the wrath of my very patient editor, I will have to have to defer further analysis to next week, when I will continue the critique of Dershowitz’s proposal, and, I hope, take up related issues. Until then...
By a two-vote margin (333-331), the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided not to sell the church’s stock in three companies that make equipment used by the Israeli military – Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola. Instead, the General Assembly voted to engage in positive investment in the West Bank.
With this vote, which took place last week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the PC (USA) General Assembly – the church’s legislative body – defeated a proposal made by the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee, which is charged with ensuring that the church’s funds are invested in peaceful pursuits.
The MRTI had informed the General Assembly that it was time to remove the companies from the PC (USA)’s investment portfolio because they would either not talk to church officials or had made it clear that they were not going to prevent the use of their products by Israel despite the church’s complaints.
On a pragmatic level, the companies in question were absolutely right to ignore PC (USA)’s complaints.
Simply put, the church is dying.
In 1998, it had close to 2.6 million members. Today, it has approximately 1.9 million members. In 2008, less than nine percent of the members of this denomination were between the ages of 18 and 34.
But on a moral plane, the overture demonizes Israel by highlighting and singling out its alleged sins in an unmistakable way. All three companies that the denomination was contemplating divesting from do business in China, an oppressive regime that uses prison labor (lagoai) to boost its economic productivity, harvests organs from death row inmates, and forces young mothers to abort their children against their will.
MRTI was not targeting these companies for doing business with China, but because their products were used by Israel against Palestinians whose leaders have refused to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and have, to varying degrees, allowed terrorists to attack Israeli civilians from the territory they control.
Despite this obvious double standard, MRTI’s recommendation was supported by the denomination’s leadership in Louisville, Kentucky, peace and justice activists in the denomination, and activists from Jewish Voice for Peace, who were out in force at the General Assembly.
While these activists were disappointed by their failure to convince the church to divest from Caterpillar and the other targeted companies, they were able to convince the General Assembly to approve a boycott of Israeli goods made in the West Bank.
Noushin Framke, a prominent Presbyterian “peace” activist.
This boycott resolution passed after the General Assembly heard testimony from Noushin Framke, a prominent Presbyterian “peace” activist who denies the need for and legitimacy of a Jewish state, has written that Israeli soldiers “are not human beings” and once encouraged Hamas to hold onto kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit as a bargaining chip in its conflict with Israel. Despite this, Framke was called up to the front of the General Assembly and provide information about the boycott overture.
Framke was given this honor because of her involvement in the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC (USA), an organization created by the denomination’s General Assembly in 2004. Since its creation, the organization has been trafficking in anti-Zionist, and in some instances, anti-Semitic imagery and propaganda. For example, it once posted cartoon of President Barack Obama with Jewish stars hanging from his ears like earrings on its Facebook page. (Framke, by the way, clicked “like” on this image.)
These are the type of people who provide information about the Arab-Israeli conflict to the PC (USA) which has been fighting about its stance on Israel since 2004 when its General Assembly approved an overture that instructed MRTI initiate process of phased, selective divestment from companies that do business with Israel.
The text of this overture declared that the occupation had “proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.” Even Rabbis for Human Rights, a pro-Palestinian organization headquartered in Israel, condemned the passage of this overture.
Two years later, the 2006 General Assembly apologized for the hurt feelings caused by the 2004 vote, rescinded the overture singling Israel out for divestment, but did not stop the divestment process that had been set in motion by the 2004.
In fact, the General Assembly instructed MRTI to use the “customary corporate engagement process” in ensuring the peaceful nature of its investments in Israel and the territories. In other words, the General Assembly reaffirmed a pre-existing process by which MRTI could call on the denomination to divest from companies that do business with Israel. It was this process that led to divestment being on the GA’s agenda in Pittsburgh.
This bureaucratic mechanism used to single Israel out for condemnation is still in place and it is highly like that yet another divestment overture targeting the Jewish state will be on the agenda at the PC (USA)’s next General Assembly, scheduled to take place in 2014. The denomination’s so-called peace and human rights activists are simply obsessed with Israel.
The obsession these activists have with Israel is reflected in the General Assembly’s agenda which included a dozen overtures related to Israel and none whatsoever related to the ethnic cleansing of Christians from Iraq and attacks against Christians in Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya. There was however a proposal (which failed to make it out of committee) to condemn Israel for failing to “protect Christian Holy sites throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.”
Just to make it clear, Christians are murdered and churches are torched and bombed in Muslim-majority countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, but Presbyterians say virtually nothing. They do however, proffer an overture that condemns Israel, the one country in the region where the population of indigenous Christians is growing, for failing to protect the rights of Christians.
On a rational level, this does not make any sense, but rationality has nothing to do with the so-called peace and human rights activism that takes place in the PC (USA).
The people who submit the resolutions targeting Israel are not interested in human rights, or peace in the Middle East.
They are offended by Jewish power and sovereignty, pure and simple.
Former Mossad Chief Yatom: Israel Must Be Prepared to Take Out Syriaâ€™s CBW Threat
Former Mossad chief, Danny Yatom
Former Mossad head Danny Yatom’s comment captured in a Sky News interview about the threat of Syria’s Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) arsenal falling into terrorist hands mirror warnings that we and former Israeli diplomat Lenny Ben David made earlier this year. An Algemeiner article, noted Yatom’s concerns about Syria’s CBW capabilities:
“The conventional wisdom should be that we cannot exclude a non-conventional attack on Israel.” said Yatom in an interview with British news network Sky News. “We would have to pre-empt in order to prevent it. We need to be prepared to launch even military attacks… and military attacks mean maybe a deterioration to war.”
Syria has numerous chemical weapons production sites, including Al Safiria and Lataka, and its combined output of bio-chemical arms, including mustard gas and the nerve gases VX and Sarin, has secured the country one of the largest stockpiles in the Middle East. Many dual-use civilian pharmaceutical laboratories also have the capabilities to produce bio-weapons, including anthrax and botulism. The successfully weaponized chemicals are installed into the heads of war-missiles, whose delivery systems can reach the entire Israel, said Sky News.
Syria’s bio- weapons are a potential threat to Israel because of Syria’s avowed support of the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah. The fear is that the Syrian government under president Bashar al-Assad will supply terrorist groups with chemical weapons that can be used against Israel. Israeli officials are also concerned because of Syria’s political upheaval; a collapse like that of Libyan dictator Muamar Qaddafi of last year could allow Syrian rebels to access chemical weapons. Many storage and production sites are also located in suburbs of the nation’s capital, making them particularly vulnerable to seizure by dissidents.
The reports yield a bleak prognosis that is difficult to strategize against. Syria’s weapons are excessive in number, pervade the entire region, and are heavily defended by the Syrian army which is said to number 100,000 troops. According to a Pentagon study, uprooting Syria’s arsenal would require troops numbering 75,000.
“The truth is that no one has much of a clue what to do about Syria – it’s too well defended and too full of weapons of mass destruction to mean that there can be any meaningful military intervention.”
Here is what we wrote in a February 2012 post on the Syrian CBW threat that bears repeating:
Last year in an exchange of email on this topic, Prof. Barry Rubin called the 2007 NER Syrian bio-warfare expose, “breathtaking”.
We noted at the time in our interview with Dr. Jill Dekker the threat to Israel and even here in the US if Syria’s unconventional weaponry fell into terrorist hands:
Dr. Dekker’s answers give a foreboding picture of how large and refined the Syrian bio-warfare programs are and how little Western Intelligence knows about how the programs were developed. The potential exists for a significant WMD threat in the Middle East and the West, especially, against America. Syria is a proxy ally of Iran, North Korea (DPRK) and terror groups such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Thus, the supply of bio-weapons and delivery platforms that could results in mass casualties makes it a real and present danger.
Note this exchange with Dr. Dekker on the incorporation of Syria’s advanced bio-warfare capabilities into its defense system:
Gordon: What have your investigations revealed about the level of commitment and investment in Bio-warfare programs by the Syrian military establishment?
Dekker: Contrary to how the US State Department and other agencies tend to downplay the sophistication of the Syrian biological and nuclear programs, they are very advanced. Syria has always had the most advanced chemical weapons program in the Middle East. The US and other western agencies have in a sense been distracted by this, but their biological programs and the “concept of use” are robust. Syria’s biological weapons capability today is closely tied to the former and current Soviet and Russian programs respectively, the DPRK, Iran and the former Iraq regime. A major concern is their strategic concept of use - which has gone from one of ‘special weapons’ to incorporation into their ‘conventional arsenal.’
[. . .]
Syrians cannot reach parity with US and Israeli conventional weapons. However, they view their bio-chemical arsenal as part of a normal weapons program. This is a huge shift in thinking by the Syrian military. It means they condone the use of biological pathogens as 'offensive' weapons. NATO and the United States should be very concerned about that re-designation.
Then there is this about the threat to the IDF:
Gordon: How much of a threat is the Syrian Bio-warfare capability to Israel and US forces in the Middle East, e.g. Iraq?
Dekker: Syria poses an immediate and imminent threat to the United States and Israel. The most likely use of their biological weapons arsenal against Israel would be to reduce IDF fighting forces prior to an attack on the Golan. It’s conceivable they could incapacitate the IDF for a few days even with non-lethal pathogens or repetitively weaken civilians in Lebanon, where the water supplies are unprotected. This could be an optimum use of their bio-arsenal. That might not be as catastrophic as some fear, but it would be very effective. Obviously, there are more serious scenarios one can imagine in terms of deniability, if they have produced vaccines to protect their military and maybe their civilians against more lethal strains of virus such as smallpox.
And this comment about the relative lack of US understanding about Syria’s bio-warfare capabilities:
Gordon: How much does the US Bio-warfare establishment and intelligence community know about the Syrian Bio-warfare threat?
Dekker: It is similar to the US negligent underestimation and denial that the Soviets had a massive biological weapons program. The US Intelligence Community negligently underestimates and denies the sophistication of the Syrian biological weapons programs which is very unfortunate. I think it has been very difficult for the US Intelligence Community to procure knowledgeable sources due to internal institutional problems. Former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton has tried since 2001 to warn the US about the threat the Syrian biological weapons programs poses. His warnings have fallen on deaf ears. I hope Israel is helping the United States because it would appear the US is really not up to this challenge.
Ben-David’s concerns reflect those of Dr. Dekker from our 2007 interview. The issue is what Israel can do about destroying these unconventional warfare caches in Syria? This is especially concerning given the question of whether the Assad regime can survive via bloody repression of its people. Even more sinister elements like the Muslim Brotherhood leaders of the Syrian National Council could control the country should Assad be toppled.
A sobering Pentagon assessment of Iran’s military capabilities prompted the top elected Republican in Congress to criticize President Obama for not doing enough to check the threat posed by the Islamic regime.
“The threat from Iran is real,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday. “It's real for our closest ally, Israel, and it's real for all of the countries in the region.”
Boehner cited the passage of a Iran sanctions package by Congress and suggested Mr. Obama had not fully exploited it. “We gave the president a full toolbox of tools to use, sanctions to use, to help bring the Iranians to heel,” Boehner said. “The president ought to use more of the tools that were given to him to get Iran to declare that they're not going to produce nuclear weapons.”
Iran has, in fact, declared many times that it has no intention of producing nuclear weapons. But inspectors for the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have concluded that Iran’s nuclear activities, far from being aimed exclusively at a civilian energy program, contain a “military dimension” that suggests the regime is developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Tehran has faced a decade’s worth of U.N. Security Council reprimands and international sanctions aimed at compelling the regime to halt its enrichment of uranium and other nuclear-related work. But several rounds of high-level talks between Iran and Western powers have failed to produce any breakthrough in the impasse.
“This administration has been very clear and very strong on the issue of Iran and its military and nuclear capabilities,” said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little on Thursday, adding that President Obama and his aides have succeeded in “developing widespread international consensus to bring pressure to bear on the Iranians, to help impose sanctions that are biting on the Iranian regime.”
An unclassified report by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, prepared in April and sent to four congressional committees on June 29, provided lawmakers with an overview of a regime making large strides in virtually all conventional, unconventional, and nuclear categories. It was first obtained by Bloomberg.
“Iran’s principles of military strategy remain deterrence, asymmetrical retaliation, and attrition warfare,” the report said. It focused most extensively on the regime’s inventory of ballistic missiles, already the largest in the Middle East, and warned that, with foreign assistance, Iran may be able to test-fly an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of striking American soil, within three years’ time.
That point struck analysts as especially noteworthy, because such a capability, if matched with the ability to produce a nuclear warhead that could be fitted onto the ICBM, would effectively make Iran a nuclear-armed power.
“This report talking about an intercontinental ballistic missile being flight-tested possibly as soon as 2015 just adds another reason why we need to settle [the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program] sooner rather than later,” said weapons expert David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. “I would assess that they have the intention to build a nuclear weapon, but they have not made a decision to do so.”
The Panetta report also saw no let-up in Iran’s longstanding support for Mideast terror groups, saying Tehran continues to supply men, money, training, and even sophisticated weapons systems to some of the world’s best-known terror groups: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Taliban, among others.
To “offset” the impact of international sanctions – including a European Union embargo on the purchase of Iranian crude oil that took effect July 1 – the DOD report said Iran has been expanding its defense and commercial ties with African and Latin American countries