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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Two Zionists walk into an elevator

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on May 18, 2012

an Elevator Pitch is, according to one definition:

 a very concise presentation of an idea covering all of its critical aspects, and delivered within a few seconds (the approximate duration of an elevator ride).

A fascinating debate about the role of Israel, Judaism and elevator pitches, has been taking place online of late.

It all started two weeks ago, during the much-discussed debate between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart, when the two were apparently asked the following question:

Both of you have written about the tragedy of young American Jews who have no connection to Judaism and the fate of the Jewish State. So let’s say you were stuck in an elevator with one of the people from that demographic and you had two minutes to sell them about why they should re-engage with Jewishness and Zionism and the Jewish people. What would you say?

Putting aside the ridiculous, oft-repeated concept of a put-you-to-sleep-two-minute elevator pitch (you can get to the top of the CN Tower in 58 seconds; pitches should last 30 seconds max). The question, put in other words, was how do you answer, “Why be Jewish,” briefly? Going back to our original definition, they were asked how to concisely present, “Why be Jewish (and by extension, care about the Jewish people and state)?” covering all of its critical aspects in two minutes.

Gordis and Beinart dodged the question. They simply chose to hear a different question altogether. In their ears, the moderator was not asking for an answer to “why be Jewish?” He was asking, “Can ‘why be Jewish?’ be summarized in a few words or thoughts?” Gordis said no. He wouldn’t engage in this conversation at all:

There are certain conversations that don’t deserve two minutes; they deserve years of upbringing… Let’s spend months and years studying together and then we’ll begin to talk.

Surprising. But what I found even more surprising was that Beinart, the self-appointed representative of young American Jews, agreed. They both essentially answered no to the question they had heard (not that which was asked). Such a noble and complicated idea cannot be summarized, and we should resist attempts to water Judaism or Zionism down.

Leonard Fein takes them both to task in The Forward:

No, there’s no way to summarize the whole Torah in the time available. But there is plenty of time to suggest a course just down the street for would-be converts, or to list with pride some of the extraordinary accomplishments of the Jews and to suggest that there may be a connection between the Torah of the Jews and the ways of the Jews and then to invite the rude skeptic for a leisurely coffee… ‘No,’ I’d say, ‘I’m not going to go the ‘on one foot route,’ which is insulting. But neither am I going to tell you that because you were failed as a child, you’re lost forever.

LA Jewish Journal writer David Suissa chimes in:

Are Gordis and Beinart being too dismissive? Fein thinks so, and I very much agree with him. The sad state of Jewish education today is even more reason why Judaism can’t afford to be too dismissive or pessimistic. As Fein says, our approach should be that it’s never too late to try to light a Jewish spark.

Fein and Suissa are right, of course. The question was, “What is your elevator pitch?” Not, “Can an elevator pitch be formulated?” To have a discussion over whether complex and noble ideas (and ideals) can be watered down to sound bites is archaic. Consider the times we live in, when complex entities such as countries engage in branding, when presidential candidates can “water down” their agenda to one or two words (Change and Hope were much more than that, of course), and when technology significantly decreases the attention span of today’s students. In such times, we can’t afford not to speak about Judaism and Israel in two minutes.

Additionally, one could also argue that pitches, slogans, symbols and short, snappy stories are nothing new. Consider “A Land without a people for a people without a land,” Herzl’s “If you Will it, and the Tanach (supposedly divine revelation watered down into a collection of simple motifs, symbols and catchy narratives). Symbolism is the secret to Christianity’s victory over Paganism (and to a lesser degree, Islam and Judaism’s success too), and, in the end, what is nationalism if not a nation coming together around one common, simple narrative, a land and a symbol. Herzl wrote in 1895 to Baron Hirsch that flags are the only thing people will die for en masse.

What does Israel mean to you? How do you tell a brief story and make your Zionism relevant to other students on campus? What is your elevator pitch?

These are some of the questions we posed on a recent Shabbaton to The David Project Israel Fellows, an impressive group of students ending Masa Israel Journey gap-year programs in Israel and heading back to American college campuses.

Nobody had an answer, but we challenged them to start thinking in these terms; to develop a brief articulation of this entire world of meaning. Not because it will answer all of the questions other students have on campus. On the contrary; it will hopefully lead to more questions, to a follow up conversation over a cup of coffee.

So what would a pitch look like? Why care about Israel?

Here’s one attempt at an elevator pitch:

Were Israel just a state, the high cost it exacts might not be justified. But Israel is not just a state. It breathed life into the Jewish people at precisely the moment when the Jews might have given up. It gives possibility and meaning to a Jewish future. It enables the Jews to reenter the stage of history.

And another:

But comfortable Zionism has become a moral abdication. Let’s hope that (young American) students, in solidarity with their (liberal Israeli) counterparts, can foster an uncomfortable Zionism, a Zionism angry at what Israel risks becoming, and in love with what it still could be. Let’s hope they care enough to try.

Breathing life into the Jewish people? Uncomfortable Zionism? These are catch phrases, sound bites, parts of a 30-second elevator pitch on Zionism.

These are not my words, of course, but those of Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart in Saving Israel and The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment, respectively. These don’t provide the full answers, but are just enough of a pitch to cover main ideas and lead to followup conversations and engagement.

Now, was that so hard?

May 17, 2012, 6:04 pm 3
Ari Applbaum is Director of Israel Operations for The David Project, a non-profit that positively shapes campus opinion on Israel, and has been with the organization since 2007… [More]. Ari manages all aspects of the organization’s work in Israel such as overseeing operations and budget, a staff of three, strategic partnerships with other organizations and all educational programming. He also lectures to thousands of Americans visiting the Jewish state each year.From 2008 to 2010, Ari served as a Middle East Analyst for The David Project. Based out of Boston, MA, Ari travelled extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada to educate and inspire effective supporters of Israel. He spoke to thousands of adults and students and lectured at hundreds of venus, including Ivy League universities such as Harvard and prestigious conferences such as AIPAC’s Saban Leadership conference. While in Boston, Ari also served as marketing and communications manager for the organization. In this role, Ari was responsible for the organization’s overall media, public relations and marketing activities.Prior to The David Project, Ari served as Senior Account Executive at the Israel branch of Ruder Finn, one of the world’s largest marketing and communications consultancies. There he specialized in strategic planning, media and analyst relations, marketing material development, market research, and branding. Ari provided these services to non-profit organizations, global telecommunications and technology companies (including several Fortune 100 companies), Israeli start-ups and financial institutions.As a student activist, Ari was sent numerous times by the MFA, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and other organizations to represent Israel in the U.S., Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, and The Netherlands.Ari holds a Master of the Arts degree in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and a Bachelor of the Arts degree in Communication & Journalism and Islam & Middle-East Studies from Hebrew University. Ari is currently working on his first book, a compilation of inspirational Zionist quotes. He is married to Na’ama; Their twin sons Yuval and Roni were born in Boston but are eighth-generation Jerusalemites. [Less]


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1967 All Over Again?

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on May 13, 2012

Israel’s new coalition echoes the unity government that came together on the eve of the Six Day War



Top: Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan touring the West Bank in September 1967. Bottom: Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz during a joint press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 8, 2012. (Top Israel National Photo Collection; bottom Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

One thing’s certain: Tuesday’s sudden and dramatic expansion of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government—he now has the support of 94 Knesset members in the 120-seat house—considerably strengthens Netanyahu’s mandate to take what commentators insist on calling “historic steps.” But it is unclear whether the cooption of Shaul Mofaz and his Kadima faction makes an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities more likely or more remote.
We’ve been here before. Likud’s political coup carries echoes of another fateful moment: the establishment of a national unity government on June 1, 1967, the eve of the Six Day War, when Israel felt threatened by a burgeoning, militant Arab coalition headed by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Back then, a left-wing government, led by Labor Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, was joined under popular pressure by right-wing parties (Menachem Begin’s Herut and Moshe Dayan’s Rafi) to present a united front mere days before Israel, on June 5, launched its devastating preemptive strike against Egypt.
Eshkol and Dayan could not have been more different. The prime minister was soft-spoken, with a wry sense of humor and European manners. Dayan, on the other hand, was brash, bold, and outspoken. One could only imagine how Eshkol felt when he had to abandon the ministry of defense—following Ben-Gurion’s precedent, the prime minister also claimed for himself what was clearly the Cabinet’s most important portfolio—forced by intense public pressure to hand it over to his polar opposite. But Eshkol made the difficult call for the sake of national security.
Today Israel faces the threat of a nuclear Iran—and the prospect of attacking Iranian nuclear facilities without a green light from Washington. But Mofaz is no Dayan.
The Iranian-born politician is known as “Mr. Zigzag”—the Israeli equivalent of flip-flopper. A former IDF paratroop commander and chief of general staff, back in the early 2000s Mofaz was a Likud stalwart (and defense minister). But he bolted the party, which he had called his “home,” in 2005 for Kadima when he realized he wouldn’t become the head of Likud. Six weeks ago, he was elected by Kadima’s rank and file as the new leader of the party, replacing Tzipi Livni, who had inherited Kadima leadership with the fall of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2009.
Just days ago, Mofaz vowed not to join Netanyahu’s “crumbling” government and had publicly called the prime minister “a liar” in whom he had no trust. During the past months, he has been a public and staunch opponent of bombing Iran anytime soon, arguing that the nuclear problem must be resolved by the international community through sanctions and diplomacy. In any case, he argued, there was still substantial time before the military option had to be considered.
And yet now, Mofaz will join Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a three-man kitchen Cabinet or the fuller eight-man “Inner Cabinet,” where the call of whether or not to launch a military strike against Iran will be decided. Both Netanyahu and Barak are on record as pessimists when it comes to the possibility that sanctions or diplomacy will stop Tehran’s march toward nuclear weapons. Both have made it clear that Israel will have to rely on its armed forces to resolve the problem, whether or not Washington gives Jerusalem a green light.
Thinking in Jerusalem is currently focused on the period between July, when a further round of sanctions against Iran will kick in, and the American presidential elections in November. Netanyahu and Barak believe that President Obama will find it very difficult to punish Israel for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities just before the elections, since Obama will need the help of Jewish donors and voters, and other supporters of Israel, to win. On the other hand, an Israeli strike after the November elections will incur Obama’s wrath—and, some fear, could translate into sanctions against Israel.
No one knows whether Netanyahu elicited from Mofaz a secret promise to support, or at least a vow not to block, a strike against Iran as the price of his entry into the government, where he will serve as a minister without portfolio. But clearly Netanyahu—recently under attack from a number of senior defense figures, including Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet and ex-Mossad head Meir Dagan, both of whom oppose attacking Iran at present; and, more mutedly, by current IDF chief of general staff Benny Gantz, who said he doesn’t believe Iran will “go the extra mile” and build a bomb—was clearly happy to have Mofaz on board. With the backing of 94 MKs, Netanyahu will present a far more solid antagonist for Obama or any other external or internal doubting Thomases in the coming months.
Mofaz was eager to join the government. The day before striking the deal, the Cabinet had voted for early general elections, to be held on Sept. 4. Opinion polls had predicted that Netanyahu would triumph and emerge as the only politician able to form a new government. Meanwhile, Kadima was predicted to win fewer than 10 seats, which would have relegated Mofaz to political oblivion. (Currently, Kadima has 28 seats, won by Livni in the 2009 elections.) The opinion polls predicted that the lost Kadima seats would have been divided between Labor, with its current leader Shelly Yachimovich replacing Mofaz as leader of the opposition, and Yair Lapid, a popular journalist and son of former center-right politician Tommy Lapid. At least in the short term, Lapid and Yachimovich are the losers in the Netanyahu-Mofaz coup.
Mofaz and Netanyahu—who was not eager to hold general elections because a recent Supreme Court ruling demanded that the government remove an illegal West Bank settlement by July, which would have embroiled the prime minister in bitter controversy with his right-wing allies—have clearly come out the winners. But the Israeli public, too, may well have gained a genuinely unified government, which is why instant opinion polls suggested that the bulk of Israelis supports the Kadima-Likud alliance.
The public opposed early elections as a waste of money that would have delivered no real change. According to the official coalition deal signed between Mofaz and Netanyahu, the new government will promote legislation that will force the ultra-Orthodox community to, at long last, send its sons to do military or other national service and join the labor market (until now, they have basically lived off state subsidies, paid for by the taxes of the largely secular middle and working classes). Getting the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army and work has been a basic demand of most Israelis, left and right, for decades.
Netanyahu and Mofaz have also agreed to radically change the Israeli political system, which is based on proportional representation. The system has tended to give small, mainly religious parties too much power and the ability to extort political concessions and financial subsidies from the coalitions in which they almost inevitably participate. (Yet most Israeli political commentators have suggested that Netanyahu will balk at implementing such reform, fearing that next time around, the religious parties will take revenge by preferring Labor or a centrist party to the Likud as their potential coalition partners.)
Lastly, Mofaz and Netanyahu agreed to make concessions to last year’s street protesters, who demanded increased government subsidies in education, housing, and other services. Whether the new coalition will indeed deliver is yet to be seen.
Most Israelis are now thinking about their summer vacations in Europe or their unpaid bills (or both). Not Netanyahu. Last week, Netanyahu buried his 102-year-old father, Benzion Netanyahu, a historian of the Spanish Inquisition and, in the 1930s, a vociferous publicist and prophet warning against the impending Holocaust. In interviews in recent years, the elder Netanyahu loudly decried the Iranian nuclear project as a threat to Israel’s very existence. His son, who has in the past three years repeatedly compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler, clearly sees neutralizing the Iranian threat as his historic duty and future legacy. He may well have given his father his word on this.
In 1967, the Eshkol-Dayan coalition was a prelude to war. Was adding Mofaz—and 27 other Kadima members of Knesset—part of Netanyahu’s strategy to carry out a risky mission against a similarly brutal enemy? Stay tuned.

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Dozens hurt as Christian march attacked in Cairo

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 18, 2011

Hundreds of Coptic Christians marching in Cairo on Thursday came under attack by assailants throwing stones and bottles and 25 people were lightly injured in subsequent clashes, a security official said.
They were marching to demand justice for the Christian victims of a clash with soldiers in October that left at least 25 people dead, most of them Christians.
The official said the Copts were attacked in the northern Shoubra neighbourhood with stones and bottles, and that some among them responded in kind.
He said supporters of an Islamist candidate for upcoming parliamentary election joined in the attack on the Copts.
An AFP correspondent on the scene said hundreds of riot police were deployed to the area and that the clashes had eventually subsided.
Copts, who make up roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people, complain of discrimination in the Muslim-majority country.
There has been a spike in sectarian clashes since a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.
The deadliest took place on October 9, when thousands of Christians protesting an attack on a church clashed with soldiers.
Witnesses said the soldiers fired on the demonstrators and ran them over with military vehicles, which the military denies.
The military said a number its soldiers were killed in the clash.


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Laughter, Hamlet’s Ghost, and the Insanity of Our Present Age

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on August 3, 2011

Ghost: “Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing To what I shall unfold.” –Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1

By Barry Rubin

This is a test. Does this story make you laugh or cry?

A friend of mine wrote an article that, while it did make fun of a left-wing group, was a pretty sober and factual presentation on a simple point.

My concern here is NOT the specific story involved but the ending. Some people pointed out that Herman Cain, a presidential candidate, in apologizing to Muslims for something he said, just happened to do the apologizing to a specific group that’s a front for the Muslim Brotherhood in America. A site that’s part of President Obama’s favorite thinktank and is well funded by a certain billionaire (no extra credit for guessing) ridiculed this claim. So what did this author do? Research! In the finest scholarly tradition, he found some U.S. court judgments that concluded, based on documentary evidence, that the group in question is indeed a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. So he proved his argument to be correct. The result? Retraction? Apology? Hey, it’s 2011! How, then, did a non-profit group–not the one he was responding to but one of similar ilk–respond to the article? See below: Response 1: “Take your head out of your ass….You live in America, even though you don’t deserve to.” Response 2: “Hey…how’s your application to the Nazi Party going?” Now you have to laugh, right? Here’s an author who irrefutably proves his case and that’s the response he gets. This is the level of sophistication of our adversaries. They cannot come up with good arguments so they either have to name-call or distort. A lot of them sound more sophisticated than the above two quotes but what they say basically amounts to the same thing. What’s especially ironic is that the author of the article comes from a family persecuted by the Nazis (response 2), and arrived in America–legally–as penniless refugees from Communism (response 1). Remember that those responses did not come from some deranged individual hiding behind an alias but a non-profit organization whose name isn’t concealed and that is given exemption from paying taxes because it serves an “educational” purpose. Fortunately, since the Federal budget is balanced, America doesn’t need its tax money! So please be civil when you respond to people you disagree with; provide facts and good arguments; try to avoid insults. If you have facts and good arguments on your side that should be enough in a democratic country that’s ultimately a free marketplace of ideas (even if considerable sections of that marketplace have been hijacked and turned into propaganda organs). You won’t convince the haters and extremists but you will convince the openminded majority even if it takes a while. Going back to the exchange above, you either have to laugh or cry. I suggest laughter. It’s more fun and he who laughs last laughs best. Become a historian; live long; and write about this era in 30 or 40 years. Sure, many people won’t believe these things happened but show them the quotes and documents. Ghost: “Do not forget: this visitation Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.” –Hamlet, too.

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Obama Administration Gets Tough On Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on May 12, 2011

There are a couple of articles that seemed important to include on IsraelAmerica today. The first is a Jerusalem Post report about the administration’s view about the Fatah-Hamas rerconcilliation agreement.
Next up is a piece on the report that the President is going to address the world’s Muslims in the near future, and ask them to reject radical Islam.
So far, the administration is looking good on Hamas.
It remains to be seen what the President can do to change the outlook of a people, I mean here, the Persians, and the Arabs,President Obama who have practiced a rather brutal and racist version of Islam for hundreds of years.
Prior to Islam the Arabs were described by a fourth century Roman historian thusly:
Fighting and war are their delights.
The man who dies in battle is considered the happiest man of all, one who dies old, and in bed, is considered shamed.”
President Obama is known by many Muslims as the man who triumphed over Bin Laden, who ordered his death.
Arabs respect strength, so perhaps an Obama who is respected in this way may actually get through to these people.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that the United States will not deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless the Islamist group reforms, The Jerusalem Post reported. “We’ve made it very clear that we cannot support any government that consists [sic] of Hamas unless and until Hamas adopts the Quartet principles,”Clinton said. The Quartet conditions require Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and respect previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Clinton’s comments came in the wake of the unity deal signed between Hamas and Fatah on Wednesday.

Obama To Speak to Muslims About Rejecting Islamic Militancy


Published May 11, 2011.

WASHINGTON — President Obama reportedly is planning a new speech to the Muslim world that would call for a rejection of Islamic militancy.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the White House is planning for such a speech within the next two weeks, just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to roll out proposals for reviving peace talks with the Palestinians in a meeting with Obama and in a speech to the U.S. Congress.

The United States and Israel share concerns that the pro-democracy movements now roiling the Arab world could be overtaken in some cases by Islamist forces.

According to the Journal, Obama wants to exploit the recent U.S. killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to deliver a message that the United States embraces democracy but rejects militancy.

“It’s an interesting coincidence of timing,” the newspaper quoted deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes as saying. “That he is killed at the same time that you have a model emerging in the region of change that is completely the opposite of bin Laden’s model.”

Obama delivered a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009 proposing a new era of engagement.

Conservatives criticized the speech for not emphasizing democratization.

Read more:

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The U.S. State Department is Chastising the Israeli government

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on May 10, 2011

The U.S. State Department is severely chastising the Israeli government for withholding tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel is responding to the PA’s creation of a “Unity Government” with Hamas; Hamas, whose stated mission is the destruction of Israel and has been designated by the U.S. as a “terrorist organization.” According to news reports, the State Dept. says it’s “premature” to stop funding the PA – that Israel and the United States should “wait and see” what kind of policies this new terrorist-related government puts in place.  The fact is that the Administration is asking us and Israel to provide taxpayer funds to terrorists. We cannot let this stand. The ACLJ has already sent a team of senior attorneys to Israel. We are mobilizing our legal and legislative teams in Washington, D.C., to meet this challenge at the United Nations (U.N.) and in Congress. And we are calling on President Barack Obama, the United States Senate and House, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to reject any government which embraces Hamas and its radical Islamic terrorists. Please add your voice in this important fight for our national security and the security of Israel. Sign the Petition to Reject Terrorists in “Unity Government” now.

We must take action in this critical fight.  In response to the death of Osama bin Laden, Hamas condemned the United States and called bin Laden a “holy warrior.”  The United States has been providing billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority over the years, with more than $500 million going to them last year alone.  Clearly, it is time for the U.S. to send a very strong message – we cannot send our tax dollars to support a terrorist-linked government. Either the Palestinian Authority rejects Hamas, or we stop sending U.S. funds to them.  The U.N. is currently evaluating whether or not it will officially recognize the Palestinian Authority and this new “Unity Government” with Hamas. While it seems impossible that the U.N. would vote to recognize a Palestinian state governed by any terrorist-based group, we’ve seen things just as outrageous in the past.  We must demand that the United Nations refuse to recognize any government that includes Hamas. To deal with this radical Islamic terrorist group as if it were a legitimate government flies in the face of everything good and honorable in America and represents a grave threat to Israel.  Thank you in advance for standing with us and signing the Petition to Reject Terrorists in “Unity Government.”  We must stand by our ally, Israel, and do all we can to foster peace in the Middle East.  Hamas will only bring further violence to the region and destabilize an already tumultuous landscape.

Petition to Reject Terrorists in “Unity Government”

Sincerely, Jay Sekulow ACLJ Chief Counsel

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Salman Rushdie on why it’s time to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on May 2, 2011

Salmon Rushdie, truly, one of our greatest living writers, has been under a Fatwa, a sentence of death, by proponents of militant Islam for many years.

In the following article he makes a good case for questioning our rerlationship with Pakistan.

Are we really supposed to believe that Pakistan didn’t know Osama bin Laden was living there for five years? Salman Rushdie on why it’s time to declare the country a terrorist state.

Osama bin Laden died on Walpurgisnacht, the night of black sabbaths and bonfires. Not an inappropriate night for the Chief Witch to fall off his broomstick and perish in a fierce firefight. One of the most common status updates on Facebook after the news broke was “Ding, Dong, the witch is dead,” and that spirit of Munchkin celebration was apparent in the faces of the crowds chanting “U-S-A!” last night outside the White House and at ground zero and elsewhere. Almost a decade after the horror of 9/11, the long manhunt had found its quarry, and Americans will be feeling less helpless this morning, and pleased at the message that his death sends: “Attack us and we will hunt you down, and you will not escape.”

HP Main - Rushdie PakistanAnjum Naveed / AP Photo

Many of us didn’t believe in the image of bin Laden as a wandering Old Man of the Mountains, living on plants and insects in an inhospitable cave somewhere on the porous Pakistan-Afghan border. An extremely big man, 6-foot 4-inches tall in a country where the average male height is around 5-foot 8, wandering around unnoticed for ten years while half the satellites above the earth were looking for him? It didn’t make sense. Bin Laden was born filthy rich and died in a rich man’s house, which he had painstakingly built to the highest specifications. The U.S. administration confesses it was “shocked” by the elaborate nature of the compound.

We had heard—I certainly had, from more than one Pakistani journalist—that Mullah Omar was (is) being protected in a safe house run by the powerful and feared Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) somewhere in the vicinity of the city of Quetta in Baluchistan, and it seemed likely that bin Laden, too, would acquire a home of his own.

In the aftermath of the raid on Abbottabad, the old flim-flam (“Who, us? We knew nothing!”) just isn’t going to wash.

In the aftermath of the raid on Abbottabad, all the big questions need to be answered by Pakistan. The old flim-flam (“Who, us? We knew nothing!”) just isn’t going to wash, must not be allowed to wash by countries such as the United States that have persisted in treating Pakistan as an ally even though they have long known about the Pakistani double game—its support, for example, for the Haqqani network that has killed hundreds of Americans in Afghanistan.

This time the facts speak too loudly to be hushed up. Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, was found living at the end of a dirt road 800 yards from the Abbottabad military academy, Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst, in a military cantonment where soldiers are on every street corner, just about 80 miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. This extremely large house had neither a telephone nor an Internet connection. And in spite of this we are supposed to believe that Pakistan didn’t know he was there, and that the Pakistani intelligence, and/or military, and/or civilian authorities did nothing to facilitate his presence in Abbottabad, while he ran al Qaeda, with couriers coming and going, for five years?

Pakistan’s neighbor India, badly wounded by the November 26, 2008, terrorist attacks on Mumbai, is already demanding answers. As far as the anti-Indian jihadist groups are concerned—Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad—Pakistan’s support for such groups, its willingness to provide them with safe havens, its encouragement of such groups as a means of waging a proxy war in Kashmir and, of course, in Mumbai—is established beyond all argument. In recent years these groups have been reaching out to the so-called Pakistani Taliban to form new networks of violence, and it is worth noting that the first threats of retaliation for bin Laden’s death have been made by the Pakistani Taliban, not by any al Qaeda spokesman.

India, as always Pakistan’s unhealthy obsession, is the reason for the double game. Pakistan is alarmed by the rising Indian influence in Afghanistan, and fears that an Afghanistan cleansed of the Taliban would be an Indian client state, thus sandwiching Pakistan between two hostile countries. The paranoia of Pakistan about India’s supposed dark machinations should never be underestimated.

For a long time now America has been tolerating the Pakistani double game in the knowledge that it needs Pakistani support in its Afghan enterprise, and in the hope that Pakistan’s leaders will understand that they are miscalculating badly, that the jihadists want their jobs. Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons, is a far greater prize than poor Afghanistan, and the generals and spymasters who are playing al Qaeda’s game today may, if the worst were to happen, become the extremists’ victims tomorrow.

There is not very much evidence that the Pakistani power elite is likely to come to its senses any time soon. Osama bin Laden’s compound provides further proof of Pakistan’s dangerous folly.

As the world braces for the terrorists’ response to the death of their leader, it should also demand that Pakistan give satisfactory answers to the very tough questions it must now be asked. If it does not provide those answers, perhaps the time has come to declare it a terrorist state and expel it from the comity of nations.

Salman Rushdie is the author of eleven novels—GrimusMidnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and, recently, the Booker of all Bookers), ShameThe Satanic VersesHaroun and the Sea of StoriesThe Moor’s Last SighThe Ground Beneath Her FeetFuryShalimar the ClownThe Enchantress of Florence, and Luka and the Fire of Life—and one collection of short stories, East, West. He has also published three works of nonfiction—The Jaguar SmileImaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991, and Step Across This Line—and co-edited two anthologies,Mirrorwork and Best American Short Stories 2008. He is a former president of American PEN.

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Osama bin Laden dead: Mission Actually accomplished

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden dead: Mission accomplished

Monday, May 2, 2011






Mazhar Ali Khan / AP

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• Oakland Zoo’s expanding mission05.02.11

• Keeping up the San Francisco parks05.02.11

• Letters to the editor, May 205.02.11

No matter how many top-level al Qaeda operatives were captured or killed, the counterattack against the terrorists who murdered nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, was incomplete as long as Osama bin Laden was alive and taunting this nation in his periodic taped rants.

On Sunday night, the welcome news came that bin Laden had been killed, nearly a decade after this nation’s sense of invincibility – and, indeed, its way of life – was forever altered by the plot that turned hijacked jetliners into deadly weapons against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

His death at the hands of a U.S. operation was a moment for celebration. Gone is bin Laden’s own aura of invincibility.

President Obama announced that a “small team of Americans” carried out the operation in a compound “deep within Pakistan,” engaging in a firefight, killing bin Laden and taking his body into custody. It was with great relief that we learned that no members of the American team were harmed in this operation.

No one should be under the illusion that the threat of terrorism will go away with the death of bin Laden. Al Qaeda has splintered into various groups and countries in recent years, and there still will be jihadists determined to do us harm. But his death leaves no doubt that they cannot do so with impunity.

The fact that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, and not in a remote cave along a remote and lawless border region, raises sensitive questions about U.S. relations with an ostensible ally.

Obama emphasized Sunday night that the targeting of bin Laden was this nation’s No. 1 intelligence priority. It was the right mission, and, finally and gratefully, it was accomplished without any further loss of U.S. life.

This article appeared on page A – 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle





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Middle East: Strange Things of the Day

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on April 4, 2011


Posted: 30 Mar 2011 07:56 PM PDT

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hinted that the United States and Britain might arm the Libyan rebels. Don’t you think it’s important to know who these people are before arming them and putting them in power? U.S. officials are basically admitting that they simply don’t know the political composition of the opposition so how can they be given full backing?

Oh, right, that’s just what they did in Egypt.

Now it is being reported that two weeks ago President Obama authorized covert operations on the ground in support of the rebels. Consider this scenario: The rebels attack and perhaps capture a pro-Qadhafi town (Sirte, for example), levelling it in the process, and killing civilians either through indifference to casualties or murder of those considered tribal enemies and supporters of the dictatorship.

How would this compare to a mission defined as protecting civilians?

At the same time, though, the use of covert operations makes sense and the CIA will be able to get a better picture of the rebels. But the CIA has been the U.S. government institution that seems to believe that if an Islamist isn’t in al-Qaida then he’s moderate. So the quality of the reporting is a concern. And what if operatives are worried about the rebels but are ignored or overruled by the White House?

I hope we get some good leaks on what they are finding out in Libya.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the “target dates for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on permanent status issues and completing the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building program are fast-approaching.”

What target dates? This notion that the conflict must be settled right away (or else what? Egypt and Tunisia will have revolutions? Libya will have a civil war? Iran will launch a campaign to get nuclear weapons? Hamas will take over the Gaza Strip?) on the Palestinian Authority’s terms is absurd.

And since when did the PA’s claim that it would be ready for a state in two years become internationally accepted as the framework for global action?


Flash: Bashar al-Assad to Demonstrators: Surrender or Die

Posted: 30 Mar 2011 07:42 PM PDT

By Barry Rubin

Nowadays, Western officials and journalists seem to think that if you are a Middle East dictator and people start demonstrating you might give up, pack your bags, let your Swiss banker know to get the money ready, and make a run for it.

That’s an illusion. The question is really: Who are the people with the guns supporting?
In Egypt and Tunisia, revolutions were easy because the armies supported them. In Algeria, Iran, Jordan, and Syria things are rather different.

And so faced with large demonstrations, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took a traditional approach, which in American cultural terms might be described by a quote from “Dirty Harry”: “Think you’re lucky, punk? Make my day!”

Assad’s message is this: No concessions. American and Zionist agents are attacking me because I’m such a great Arab nationalist and friend of Islam. Rally around me and we’ll repress them no matter how many I have to kill.

I’m not saying I admire this approach but, frankly, it still works, as long as you have a strong base of support and the backing of those with the guns. Assad apparently has both.

To begin with, the Alawite minority community to which he belongs is behind him because it knows that a revolution would mean the end of its wealth, privileges, and even lives. The Christians also back the regime because they fear Islamism. That’s about one-quarter of the population. And the Alawites control the elite armed forces’ units.

Then there are the Sunni Muslims who make up about 60 percent of the population. Some of them are attracted to democratic reform; some to revolutionary Islamism; some to both. Yet many do back the regime because of its record of being so Islamist in its foreign policy: anti-American, anti-Israel, and pro-Iran, Hamas, Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq, and Hizballah.

A lot—but by no means all—of the demonstrations have been in the poor south. The other big bloc of opposition is the Kurdish minority. But they have been cautious since the last time they revolted the Arabs didn’t help them. They don’t want to take a risk. Assad’s hardline is more likely to make them play it safe.

My sympathies are with democratic reformers, but my analysis says that from his own standpoint Assad did the right thing. This is the precise opposite of how Westerners look at the situation. They assume that a hardline policy will make the people angrier and intensify the revolt. In fact, if the regime is serious about repression and has a large base of support, a tough stand it will put down the opposition.

Iran had a revolution in 1978-1979 not because the shah was too tough but because he was too soft—that’s an analysis, not a value judgment. Iraq didn’t have a revolution after the 1991 defeat in Kuwait because Saddam Hussein used his iron fist. In Egypt, the message that the military is for change and the regime is vacillating led to a flood of opposition and the fall of the regime. This is what President Husni Mubarak meant when he said that President Barack Obama didn’t understand Arab culture.

If you show weakness, you’re as good as dead. Needless to say this is a major problem with current U.S. Middle East policy. In the Middle East, nice guys don’t just finish last, they don’t finish at all.

To complete the picture, Assad appeared relaxed during the speech and laughed at several points. The image he’s building is: I’m not worried at all. If he were to show fear and weakness, his allies would start deserting him and going over to the other side. (That’s sentence also applies to U.S. policy.)

True, he gave some lip service to reforms and fighting corruption. But basically that’s what Assad has been saying for 11 years and he has changed nothing. With the U.S. government labeling him a “reformer” with such a record, there’s no pressure to do anything different. From the standpoint of the Syrian dictatorship—and I don’t say this lightly—it has U.S. support. Even to talk as if Assad might actually reform anything is a joke.

His father killed between 10,000 and 20,000 people in a minor revolt in Hama in 1982. So far in this upsurge he’s only killed 60. And Bashar is trying to be his father. He knows that he has nothing to fear internationally no matter what he does. One can almost see Bashar looking up (though looking down would be more accurate!) and saying, “Are you proud of me now, dad?”

The key factor that could prove this analysis wrong is whether Sunni Arabs desert the regime in large numbers. If they do so, they could go toward either Islamism or a moderate pro-democratic stance. Another indication is if the Kurds rise up that will be because they think the Sunni Arabs are likely to make a revolution.

But for the time being my analysis is that this regime is going to survive by being brutal.


Egypt Leaves the Anti-Iran Bloc

Posted: 30 Mar 2011 10:09 AM PDT

By Barry Rubin

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi said, “The Egyptian government doesn’t consider Iran to be an enemy state. We’re opening a new page with all countries, including Iran.” President Anwar al-Sadat cut relations with Iran in 1979, at the time of the Islamist revolution.

For three decades, Egypt’s government has seen Tehran as a threat and a rival on many levels:

–Persian versus Arab.

–Shia versus Sunni.

–A challenge to Egypt’s national interest and leading role in the region.

–A destabilizing factor, producing war, terrorism, and revolution in the region.

–In line with Egypt’s alliance with the United States–albeit for its own interests–Egypt opposed the spread of Iranian influence.

But now, as I pointed out at the beginning of the revolution, this has all changed. Obviously, Egypt’s government has the right to do what it wants in its relations with Iran. But equally obviously this is a big setback for U.S. interests in containing and combatting Iran’s power.

The next step will no doubt be Egypt’s rapprochement with the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

All of this was completely predictable, but nobody in the U.S. government and very few in the media, saw it coming.



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Fire On The Mountain

Posted by Zamir Ben Etzioni on November 2, 2010

By Jonathon Spyer


Our PKK contact and driver arrived at the appointed time outside the hotel in Erbil. We had been told he would identify himself using an agreed term. We hadn’t quite been ready for the fact that this single word would be the sole communication possible between us. The diminutive, scrawny youth who turned up at six that morning knew neither English nor Arabic. Only Kurdish. That was how we began our journey from the Iraqi Kurdish capital toward the Qandil mountains, in the remote border area between Iraq, Turkey and Iran. It is in these mountains that the guerrillas of the Parti Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) live and wage their 26- year-old war against Turkey. They offer ideal terrain for guerrilla fighters. Accessible only through a network of narrow, near impenetrable passes, the mountains serve as a launching ground for the PKK and the allied Iranian Kurdish PEJAK into their respective areas of operation. The writ of the Iraqi Kurdish regional government has little purchase in the Qandil area. The PKK is the de facto ruling authority. Our contact from the Kurdish regional government in Erbil cheerfully wished us luck on the eve of our departure – and told us not to bother calling him if we got into trouble. There was, he said with a broad smile, “absolutely nothing he could do” in such a situation. The PKK is waging a struggle in these mountains for autonomy and recognition for the Turkish Kurds. The Qandil area has become a little known but crucial window into the complex strategic arrangements that dominate today’s Middle East. FOUNDED IN 1978, the PKK began its armed campaign against the Turkish authorities in 1984. The Turkish military responded with ferocity. In the 1984-99 period, around 30,000 people lost their lives in the conflict. The Turks destroyed more than 3,000 Kurdish villages. The capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 led to a sharp downturn in the movement’s fortunes. Turkish governments failed to address Kurdish grievances following the capture of Ocalan. So from its base in Qandil, the PKK slowly rebuilt itself. The movement, which ended a 12-month cease-fire in June, subsequently carried out a number of successful operations before renewing its cease-fire in August. The most daring of these was a mine blast along the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline on July 21. The blast claimed two lives, temporarily halted the flow of oil along the strategic pipeline and served notice of the PKK’s undimmed abilities to strike at its Turkish enemy. As a result of the renewed campaign, Turkish aerial attacks on the mountains took place. Iranian mortar fire is also a common occurrence. The fighters of the PKK live in temporary structures, constantly alert and seeking to avoid the regular attentions of Turkish drone aircraft. Finding our way to the PKK in the mountains had not been easy. It involved a long series of communications with supporters of the movement in Europe. Finally, the word had come and we had made our way to Erbil. But relations between the Erbil-based Kurdish regional government and the PKK are complex. Hence the semi-clandestine arrangements for our trip to the mountains. The KRG has created the most stable and peaceful part of Iraq. The Kurdish regional capital has the feel of a boom town, with new malls, hotels and office blocks springing up all over the city. The cautious, pragmatic Iraqi Kurdish leadership has little in common with the ideologues of the PKK. At the same time, the Erbil leadership is unwilling to undertake the kind of drastic measures that would be necessary to remove the movement from its mountain fastness in Qandil. As a result, the government uneasily tolerates both the presence of the PKK, and the Turkish and Iranian bombings which this presence brings about. Checkpoints manned by the Peshmerga forces of the KRG dotted the highway leading into the mountains. The Peshmerga is one of the most professional and efficient military forces in Iraq. But the soldiers clearly had little interest in blocking the way to foreign journalists very obviously on the way to meet with the guerrillas of the PKK. Our passports were perfunctorily glanced at, and we were waved on. The mountains, as they loomed suddenly before us, were majestic, harsh and beautiful. The way to the heights where the PKK is to be found involves the traversing of near impassable gorges on the narrowest of dirt roads. In places, the paths simply disappear, washed away by mountain streams, and the vehicle must cross directly through the rushing water. The precise points at which Iraq, Turkey and Iran intersect are also not exactly clear. The second intelligible word our driver spoke to us was not reassuring. “Iran,” he suddenly said at one stage in the ascent, pointing toward a narrow fence to our immediate left. The leader We avoided Iran, and managed to stay on the tracks. Finally, we arrived at a house of a PKK sympathizer, where we met our movement contacts for the first time in the flesh. From there, we were driven to a remote house, passing a roadblock manned by PKK fighters, and to a small building, where again we were told to wait. Minutes passed. Finally, Murat Karayalan, acting leader of the PKK, entered, accompanied by an entourage of armed fighters. Karayilan, 67, gray-haired and mustached, is the acknowledged senior figure in the PKK. The pleasantries completed, he quickly turned the conversation to the issue of the AKP government in Turkey. The PKK leader wanted to talk about what he called the “strategic alliance” between the Islamist AKP and Iran. Karayilan first noted a recent visit by Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi to Turkey, in which in a statement with Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, he announced the launching of a joint strategy to develop economic relations. Such a strategy, Karayilan suggested, would serve to help Iran bypass the economic embargo against it. It would also serve as a basis for joint action against the twin Kurdish guerrilla organizations present in the Qandil mountains – the PKK and PEJAK, its counterpart among the Iranian Kurds. “The AKP is currently trying to draw the surrounding countries into hostilities against us,” Karayilan said, “and through the ideology of Islam they want to control and dominate the whole Islamic world, in an attempt to use this power against peaceful coexistence between nations – this is Erdogan’s game.” He also accused Erdogan of “double dealing” in his regional and international alliances. “Turkey has relations with the USA, and also with Iran,” he said, “and both are used against the Kurds. In Qandil, US-made drones fly over the zone. They collect intelligence and bring it back to Turkey. Turkey then comes and bombs the area. But Turkey also passes the information on to Iran, which also bombards us.” The AKP, Karayilan maintained, has a plan to crush the PKK “in Sri Lankan style,” and was in the process of attempting to firm up regional and international alliances – most importantly with Iran and Syria – to put this plan into effect. Karayilan’s manner was calm and friendly throughout the interview, more in the manner of a politician in late middle age than a paramilitary leader, despite his military uniform. (The PKK remains on both the US and the EU list of terror organizations.) He became more animated, however, when he alleged the deaths and jailing of Kurdish children under the Erdogan government. He accused the Turkish prime minister of “lying” in his supposed support for the Palestinians and empathy with their suffering. “On the one hand,” said Karayilan, “he says this shouldn’t happen. On the other, he is doing it himself.” He also related to the issue of Israel. He stressed the empathy felt by Kurds for the Jews, given their joint experience, as he put it, of “tragedies and genocides.” He expressed his “respect” for the people of Israel, while also criticizing the government for its defense relationship with Turkey. Karayilan reiterated the recent allegations that the Turks have used chemical weapons against the movement’s fighters. He mentioned an incident he had dealt with personally in the Sirnak province in southeast Turkey. He said that 20 PKK fighters died as a result of Turkish use of chemical weapons. He said that he had personally sent materials found at the site to a laboratory in Germany for testing, where it was confirmed that chemical weapons had been used. But Karayilan also stressed what he called the “defensive” nature of the PKK’s strategy and its desire for dialogue with Turkey. The impression given was not that of a militant leader hungry for conflict. Rather, the PKK is aware of its isolation, and appears to want to walk a careful line between militancy and political action to advance the cause of the Kurds in Turkey. The fighters The morning after the interview, we were taken to observe a demonstration of tactics by young PKK fighters at a secluded spot high in the mountains. The fighters, a mixed group of young men and women, demonstrated a tactical response to an ambush. They were all very young, none of them much over 20. Nearly all of them from the villages of southeast Turkey. They had signed up with the PKK for the duration, no longer able to reenter Turkey, living all year round in the mountains, constantly in motion to avoid the probing Turkish drones. No way to leave, our interpreter, who had lived for 14 years in Australia, told us, once you have signed up. “They give their lives for the cause.” The PKK fighters looked young and fresh-faced, but there is every reason to believe that they would put up a fierce and capable resistance to any Turkish attempt to move in force against them. They are familiar with the terrain, well skilled in guerrilla tactics, and fiercely devoted to the organization and its overall leader, the jailed Abdullah Ocalan. Karayilan also indicated that should such an attack take place, the organization would undertake to spread the area of combat by initiating attacks in western Turkey, outside of the main area of Kurdish population. Still, there are reasons to believe that such an outcome may not be immediately imminent. The PKK elected to unilaterally continue its cease-fire for a further month after September 20. The organization may well be hoping to benefit from the widespread disillusionment felt by the Kurds of Turkey with Erdogan’s perceived failure to deliver on early promises. Such a path requires patience and political organization, not militancy alone. The road ahead The PKK has abandoned its dreams of a large Kurdish state and today says it seeks only autonomy and language rights for Kurds in Turkey. It has no interest in provoking the Turkish government to a point where a large scale incursion into the Qandil mountains would become inevitable. From the Turkish point of view, too, such an incursion would ultimately solve little. The military could certainly kill a large number of PKK fighters, but the “Sri Lankan” style solution that Karayilan claimed Erdogan seeks may be precluded by political considerations both domestic and international. And for as long as the basic issue of the Turkish Kurds and their status remains unresolved, the PKK would be likely to organize and rise again. So for the moment, at least, the stark Qandil mountains are likely to continue to play host to the isolated but formidable insurgent movement that currently dominates them. The PKK’s cease-fires may continue to come and go. The growing Turkish-Iranian alliance will do its best to make life as unpleasant as possible for the movement’s militants in their mobile bases on the peaks. The Kurdish regional government will go on developing further south, and looking nervously at its uninvited Kurdish compatriots in the mountains. There was mortar fire in the distance as we drove down from the mountains, heading back to Erbil. Maybe it was the Iranian gunners, who fire regularly up at the Qandil area, in the general direction of the PJAK militants waging their own war against the Revolutionary Guards. Maybe it was a PKK training exercise. One thing seemed certain as our driver negotiated the narrow descents and we made it to the highway back to Erbil – that there was no end in sight. The beautiful, blighted border zone of Qandil will be ringing to the sound of gunfire, the shouts of insurgents and the periodic thunder of Turkish aircraft and Iranian cannons, largely out of earshot of a largely indifferent world, for a long time to come. * Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel. His new book, The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict will be released on November 16th. The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya, 46150, Israel Phone: 972-9-960-2736 – Fax: 972-9-960-2736 © 2010 All rights reserved | Terms and Uses

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