The Great Disconnect

>           In the New York Times of January 25, 2009, journalist Ethan Bronner describes vastly divergent narratives of anti-Zionists and defenders of Israel. The anti-Zionist construct is that Israel is a neo-colonialist aggressor uninterested in peace (Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and Israel’s unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza to the contrary notwithstanding). From my observation point in Tel Aviv, I get to witness all too clearly the great disconnect between anti-Zionist rhetoric and reality. I get to see Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas striving to destroy Israel with missiles getting closer and closer to my balcony.

Along with the neo-colonialist myth, the anti-Zionists have invented new definitions of human rights as we once knew them. Here are a couple of examples.

National Self Defense 
          We know that Hamas fired more than 8,000 rockets and mortars at civilians in Israel, increasing the rate to 80 per day as of December 21, 2008. Even the anti-Zionists concede that Israel has a right to self defense. But they define it in a peculiar fashion.
According to the anti-Zionists, efforts to eliminate hostile assaults must be carefully calibrated in terms of weaponry and casualties – at least if the people ultimately being protected are disfavored Zionist Jews. Jet planes, even if precision targeted, are grossly unfair. Casualty rates cannot be too unbalanced, and a 10 to 1 ratio is improper. However, when the civilian victims being protected against hostile assault were Muslims, as in the Balkans in 1999, none of this mattered. When NATO forces were using high-altitude bombing to protect Muslims, and when civilian Serbian casualties were 3 times as great as military casualties, not a single suggestion of disproportionate force was heard. Hamas’ dedication to the destruction of Israel by any means possible doesn’t matter to anti-Zionists in assessing proportionality. Never mind that Hamas’ version of self defense features liquidating civilians and leaving as many Jewish bodies as possible plastered to the walls of pizzerias and other gathering places.

Freedom of Expression
           Democracy depends on diversity of views. Anti-Zionists relish free speech – so long as it supports their own doctrinaire positions. Hamas in Gaza provides some examples. Hamas is all for a free press reporting Israeli aggression. But if a Gazan wants to report Hamas atrocities – e.g., firing missiles from civilian-crowded areas – that person is subject to liquidation. When a N.Y. Times reporter witnessed a summary civilian execution by Hamas fighters in a Gazan hospital, she was immediately subject to threats. Every foreign correspondent in Gaza is well aware of Hamas’ intimidation.

Gazan leaders now want to bar the BBC from Gaza because, they say, the BBC is too biased. They’ve got that wrong. The BBC is biased, all right, which is why I’m fond of calling them the unofficial propaganda wing of Hamas. But in the topsy-turvy lexicon of anti-Zionists, free speech means “unbiased” only in the sense of uninhibitedly supporting the orthodox view. In other words, the BBC is not biased enough in favor of Hamas to enjoy free speech in Gaza.
Another, more peripheral example of anti-Zionist freedom of expression comes out of Malmo, Sweden. On January 25, 2009, a couple of hundred Swedes got a permit and held a pro-Israel demonstration. This was an orderly demonstration featuring songs like Hinai Ma Tov. Suddenly, pro-Hamas counter-demonstrators started hurling rocks and bottles at the pro-Israel demonstrators. Swedish police promptly dispersed the pro-Israel demonstration. (For the incredulous, it’s on You Tube). You don’t have to be a former constitutional law professor to know that this is the antithesis of freedom of expression. Both U.S. Supreme Court precedent and Israeli Supreme Court precedent establish that freedom of expression entails protection of demonstrators regardless of their point of view. Try telling that to Hamas or Hezbollah or any other anti-Zionist advocate of “free speech.” Or perhaps get busy learning the new anti-Zionist lexicon of human rights.

>Playing Tennis and Politics at the Same Time

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           Tears of joy are infrequently seen at Israeli appearances in international sports competitions. But yesterday the tears spilled freely from the members of the Israeli Davis Cup tennis squad after the team upset Sweden, 3 matches to 2, to advance to the quarter-finals of this year’s international Davis Cup competition. After Harel Levy won the deciding match 8 to 6 in the fifth set, the winning squad wildly celebrated as though they had won the Davis Cup outright rather than just the prospect of meeting a very strong Russian squad in the next round. The Swedish loser in the final match, Andreas Vinciguerra, hurled his racquet into the (empty) stands and stalked off the court in frustration.
           Why all this emotional upheaval around a tennis match between two mediocre teams like Sweden and Israel? Neither squad had a player ranked in the top 50 in the world. Amir Hadad, one of the Israeli doubles players, is ranked 331 in the world. Vinciguerra, the #2 player for Sweden, hadn’t played world class tennis since October of 2006. Ordinarily, this match would produce yawns even from the most avid tennis fans in each country.
The key to the furor was that Sweden turned this piddling tennis match into an international cause célèbre. Palestinian supporters in Sweden had urged that the entire match be canceled. Leaders in the host city of Malmo responded by barring spectators from the Davis Cup matches in the 4,000 seat Baltic Hall arena. (This is the same city that weeks ago broke up a peaceful pro-Israel rally after pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators began throwing stones).

The stated rationale for barring spectators was that Malmo could not guarantee security in the arena. But the local public safety director had said that security could in fact be handled for the arena and Israeli basketball teams have played before hostile audiences in Spain and Greece without serious incident. The intended insult to the visiting country was patent. Israeli tennis players were being told, in effect: “you are invited to participate in this cultural event, but your appearance will be closed to the public. Your nation is too repulsive to warrant better treatment.” Beyond the intended insult of the empty stands, a further element of extreme hostility faced the Israeli players. Thousands of Palestinian supporters, still upset that the match had not been cancelled entirely, demonstrated and rioted right outside the Malmo arena on the first 2 match days. They screamed their anti-Israel vitriol. Some masked demonstrators threw rocks and paving stones at the police. Some demonstrators tried to storm the arena gates.
In the face of all this hostility and insult, the Israeli players, not surprisingly, felt a strong emotional surge. They desperately wanted to salvage national pride by beating the ungracious hosts. Every one of the five matches became a titanic struggle. All four singles matches went to the fifth set. Players on both teams spilled their guts trying for every ball and every advantage. The level of tennis was only moderate, but then again every player on both squads was obviously feeling the weight of emotion generated by the atmosphere surrounding the competition. It isn’t easy to play top-level tennis while carrying a national flag in one hand; serving becomes especially problematic.
Despite the pressure, the Israeli players ultimately exploited their motivation and hung on for the overall victory. Dudi Sela, Israel’s #1 player, won two incredible five-set matches, the last against the wily veteran Thomas Johanson.
After Harel Levy’s last winning shot, the Israeli squad paraded around the near-empty arena waving a giant Israeli flag. Their pride in their nation and in themselves was palpable. The tears of joy spilled out. The Israeli television commentator shouted: “There is a God.” I don’t know about divine intervention, but what I see, in the wake of this tennis event, is a speck of justice in the world. In their zeal to bash and delegitimate Israel, the Malmo hosts shot themselves and the Swedish players in the foot. For if the arena had been filled with supportive Swedish fans, the Swedish squad would probably have prevailed. The hostile Malmo hosts engineered Israel’s advance to the round of 8 for the first time in 22 years. And they engineered the Swedish Davis Cup squad’s first loss ever after leading by a 2-1 margin after 2 days.
This Purim I’m dressing up as either Harel Levi or Dudi Sela. They’re my super-heroes.
– Norman L. Cantor

>Israel’s Turn Inward in its 2009 Elections

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        The rightward drift visible in Israel’s latest election results is doubtless attributable to numerous factors including force (or lack of force) of personalities and changing demographics. From a perspective of the last several years, though, a few key influences are apparent. Whether you sympathize with the Israeli population’s perceptions of events or not, here are several of the most important perspectives. 

Anxiety about Long-term Survival 

Israelis see constantly increasing existential threats. Iran’s advances in missile technology keep in lock step with Iran’s strident rejection of Israel’s right to exist. Iran vigorously upgrades and replenishes the weapons available to its surrogates Hamas and Hezbollah, both perched on Israel’s borders and equally dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Each generation of rockets extends the Iranian reach to a higher percentage of the Israeli population.
It would only take one nuclear strike to devastate Israel’s highly concentrated population. It is not reassuring that Israel has its own atomic weaponry, nor that part of Europe might also feel threatened by Iran’s weaponry. Nor is it any reassurance that an Iranian atomic strike would kill tens of thousands of Muslims along with Jews. Logic does not seem to constrain lethal events in the Middle East. Recall the hundreds and hundreds of thousands who died in the struggle between Iran and Iraq. That carnage had far less justification than the Jihadists have found in their current demonization of Israel  
Given this perceived, looming threat to Israel’s existence, it’s not surprising that the Israeli electorate moved in the direction of those in Israeli politics taking the Iranian threat most seriously.    
Frustration from Making Concessions without Peace or Security 
The formula of land for peace motivated then Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s 2000 offer to Yasir Arafat of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem on almost all of pre-1967 Palestinian territory. The Palestinians then spit on the extended hand. In the wake of rejection of that offer, over a thousand Israelis have died – the bulk of them civilians blown to bits in buses and public places.
From the perspective of Israel’s political center, Israel similarly pursued peace in Gaza (and Lebanon) only to see its efforts boomerang into hostilities. Israel unilaterally ousted thousands of settlers and withdrew from Gaza. Hamas promptly utilized that vacuum by violently wrenching control from Fatah (killing hundreds of Fatah activists) and launching thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers. (Don’t buy the Hamas myth that Israel itself provoked the rockets by closing down passages into Gaza; the Hamas bombardments preceded and provoked Israeli manipulation of the crossings). In short, the unilateral Israeli withdrawals (strongly supported by, if not engineered by, the left) have left public skepticism in their wake.
Resentment Against Moral Myopia 
After years of ad-hoc responses to the cross-border bombardments, Israel in December 2008 sent military forces into Gaza in an effort to uproot and destroy the Hamas structure responsible for the years of terror directed at Israel’s civilian population. Moral outrage followed in the world press as though the Gaza operation was unprovoked or unfocused on permanently ending the Hamas attacks. Hamas’ pre-war atrocities were ostensibly ignored as were their wartime tactics of using civilian structures and human shields. Accusations of war crimes flowed after Israeli forces, seeking out all sources of rocket attacks, destroyed thousands of civilian-owned structures used and often booby-trapped by Hamas’ soldiers
These international responses over the last 2 months have caused severe moral whiplash to Israelis. The majority of Israelis have been startled and appalled by what they perceive as international indifference or hostility to their acutely felt security needs.

At the same time, the Israeli left showed little appreciation of the justifications for the use of force in Gaza. For example, left-wing Meretz (a party now reduced to 3 seats in the 120 member Knesset) wanted to end hostilities after 3 days – long before Israeli forces had attained their legitimate objectives. Part of the reason why a portion of the Israeli left migrated toward Tzipi Livni was her firm grasp of the reasons for force and the objectives of force in Gaza. (Note that after militarily crushing Hamas in Gaza, Israel is likely to enjoy at least a one and one-half year respite from Hamas’ bombardment, along with an increased chance of cutting the Iranian arms flow to Gaza). 

Resentment toward Israeli Arabs’ pan-Arab Sympathies 
         Arab-Israelis have every right to be politically restive. Their abstract rights to full citizenship have not translated into equal status in the social, economic, and political spheres in Israel. They face plenty of hardship and frustration domestically, and they empathize strongly with suffering of their brethren in Gaza and the West Bank.
         All that emotion had, and still has, the potential to propel Arab-Israelis to struggle within the democratic framework that gives every Israeli citizen an equal vote. Based on recent history, though, Arab-Israelis have cast their ballots with rejectionist parties that do not want Israel to survive as a democratic state. These rejectionist parties showed little or no sympathy with the plight of 300,000 Israeli fellow-citizens subjected to bombardment over the course of years. These parties tended to portray the Gaza operation as unprovoked, unrestrained violence. These Arab-Israeli political parties have also recoiled from the idea of national civilian service as though they were being conscripted to spread the bubonic plague rather than promote the national welfare.
          Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party attracted many thousands of votes by their efforts to associate these separatist party positions with disloyalty to the multi-cultural, democratic state of Israel. At the same time, Arab-Israelis now have a golden opportunity to correct the temporary tilt in Israeli politics simply by exercising their potential political muscle in a positive way. Arab-Israelis can continue their legitimate struggle for full equality in Israel by pursuing mainstream representation to advance that struggle. I know a couple of parties (Labor and Meretz) that could really use that infusion of energy and purpose.

Duration of the Tilt 
         A multiplicity of factors determine Israel’s political fate. The leanings of Israel’s political center, though, will most immediately depend on whether the potential peacemakers – especially Presidents Obama and Sarkozy – are sufficiently responsive to the reality that Israel cannot make peace with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran lurking at Israel’s borders and smacking their collective, bloodthirsty lips
– Norman L. Cantor

>The Favorite Shibboleths of Israel’s So-called Well-wishers

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Norman L. Cantor

Okay, I’ve had it! I’ve had my fill of the pontifications of people who sit comfortably in their secure digs in New York or London or Paris and ignore Middle East reality while telling Israel, “for its own good,” how to act. I had grown accustomed to the BBC’s egregious moral myopia; after all, for years they’ve unabashedly served as the propaganda wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This weekend, though, Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times and Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post wheeled out all the tired clichés of Israel’s alarmed “supporters.” I can’t take it anymore! Here are my favorite shibboleths, with short dissections of each.

Israel is Entitled to Defend Its People, but It Has Responded Disproportionately

Both Times writers point out that only 20 Israeli civilians have been killed by Hamas rockets over the years. All this Gaza violence over 20 deaths!!

Well, how about the 200,000 civilian residents of Southern Israel targeted and traumatized by 8,000 rockets and missiles over those years? (Make that 800,000 residents with the recent addition of Ashdod and Be’er Sheva to missile range). It’s not that Hamas hasn’t been trying to kill and maim Israeli children; to Hamas’ eternal frustration, the numerous shattered classrooms were vacant. The targeted, traumatized children have been huddling in shelters and internal stairwells or have been uprooted and shipped to more distant locales.

Consider some other “disproportionate” Israeli defense measures. The Israelis destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor before he had a chance to develop a single atomic warhead. The world howled in moral outrage. Likewise with Hafaz Assad’s unfinished atomic installation in Syria in 2008. In 1967, Israel attacked Egypt in a (gasp!) preventive war just because Egyptian forces were massing with the declared object of destroying Israel. And the Israelis went and destroyed the entire Egyptian air force, not just those planes that were being armed for sorties into Israel. Excessive force?


Israel’s Violent Action Entrenches Arab Hatred

Well, no question that Arab rage is being triggered. The mosques in Arab states are bubbling with bitter condemnations of the Jews – the “monkeys and pigs” responsible for the deaths of prophets and for most evil in the world. I would be pretty enraged, too, if all I saw were Al Jazeera’s images of dead and bleeding civilians (without any coverage of the years of Hamas’ attacks on civilians and without any images of the hundreds of missiles raining down throughout southern Israel).

Somehow, though, I can’t attribute all this hatred to Israel’s conduct in Gaza. Since 1948, Israel has been treated by the bulk of the Arab world as a hated cancer to be destroyed by any means. The Egyptian fedayeen started terrorism against Israel in the 1950’s by infiltrating (from Gaza) and attacking kibbutzim. The PLO charter vowing to destroy Israel dated to 1964, before a single Israeli set foot in either Gaza or the West Bank. For all 60 years of Israel’s existence, the Middle East mosques have been ringing with fierce tirades and threats against the Jews. Palestinian schoolbooks have for decades demonized the Jews as sub-humans fit only to be killed. Hamas’ suicide bombers had blown 400 Israelis to bits long before Hamas got angry about the current Gaza operation. Ahmadinejad didn’t need any invasion of Gaza to pronounce Iran’s hate and intention to liquidate Israel. So pardon me if I’m not any more alarmed now about Arab hatred than I was before the Gaza operation began.

Military Force Cannot Solve Israel’s Probems, Only Bolster Hamas and Hezbollah

Israel’s sanctimonious well-wishers say that only a negotiated settlement can end the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Every image of Palestinian casualties, they say, just brings more shaheeds to the suicide bomber recruiting offices.

Duh!! Israel understands the long-range need for a political resolution. But when terrorist Hezbollah was shooting rockets from Lebanon into Kiryat Shmona in the north, there was zero chance of a political solution. After a painful campaign, Israel pushed Hezbollah away from Northern Israel and got international observers into the area. For some period at least, Israel’s northern residents will be not be daily missile targets. In Gaza, Hamas had zero interest in a negotiated end to its terrorist missile attacks on civilians. On December 21, 2007, despite desperate warnings from Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, and despite express Israeli willingness to keep passages to Gaza open, Hamas rejected a continuation of the so-called cease fire and increased its launches to 50 to 80 per day. Israel was left with no choice but to protect its Southern residents. And Israel today has no way to protect those citizens other than by ensuring that Hamas cannot be resupplied with Iranian missiles. Without prevention of missile smuggling into Gaza, the Gaza violence will only recur and escalate – with Iranian-supplied rocketry soon to reach Tel Aviv and a theater near me. So pardon me again if I see the daily terrorist rocket launchings as a more immediate concern than the possibility of Hamas gaining more fanatical converts.

The Israeli Army Cruelly Ignores Civilian Interests

Use self-defense, our morally upset well-wishers urge, but the bodies of 200 Palestinian children speak for themselves. They testify to utter Israeli disregard for innocent human life.

Yes, and no. Intentional targeting of civilians is indeed atrocious; that’s what Hamas has been doing for decades. Yes, the Israeli bombing of the U.N. school was a reckless, and deplorable act that needlessly killed civilians. That action deserves condemnation. Though it is true that a Hamas mortar squad had just fired from the façade of the U.N. school building, the ensuing destruction of the populated building was unwarranted. Hamas’ intentional illegal use of civilian shields notwithstanding, the Israeli conduct in that instance seems unjustifiable.

No, the Israeli army is not indifferent to civilian lives. American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan confirms that even a highly moral army striving to minimize civilian casualties cannot avoid them. The Israeli army does strive to avoid civilian casualties. Intelligence data about every potential aerial target is screened and targets disqualified when risk to civilians is excessive. Palestinian-generated casualty figures do not accurately distinguish between civilians and Hamas fighters. Hamas’ 16,000 soldiers have long discarded their black uniforms in an effort to blend in with civilians. The assertions about Gaza are reminiscent of the reported “carnage” in Jenin in the West Bank during the 2d Intifada in 2002. Palestinians and international sources screamed that Israeli troops were sweeping through the Palestinian camp just mowing down civilians. They proclaimed that the death toll was between 500 and 3,000 Palestinians. The truth, as later confirmed by a Time Magazine investigation, was that Israeli forces had advanced house to house in order to avoid civilian casualties and at a cost of a number of Israeli soldiers’ lives. The actual number of Palestinian deaths in Jenin was 56.

The Jenin phenomenon of gross distortion of fact is surely taking place in Gaza now. On Thursday, an Arab truck driver in a humanitarian relief convoy was shot as the empty truck approached the Erez crossing leaving Israel. U.N. aid officials in Gaza promptly blamed Israeli tank fire and suspended the humanitarian shipments. It now appears that the malefactors were Hamas snipers.

An instinctive reaction to the bombing of mosques is horror and upset. What a gross violation of civilian interests! Except that the mosques hit in Gaza all had weapons storehouses and/or tunnel networks. The photos show the secondary explosions of the arms caches. Even Hamas does not have the chutzpah to deny the military employment of these “houses of worship.”

My Bottom Line

Israel has made plenty of errors over the years deserving of criticism. (Don’t start me on the settlements in Hevron and some other parts of the West Bank! Or on ill-considered treatment of Israeli Arabs!) Just spare me the sanctimonious, morally myopic, reality-distorting preaching of our “friends” and “well-wishers” who think they know and care more about Israeli security than those under fire.