“How Can You Defend Israel?” Part II

January 2, 2011

An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, Januar 2, 2011

Since writing “How can you defend Israel?” last month, I’ve been deluged by comments. Some have been supportive, others harshly critical. The latter warrant closer examination.

The harsh criticism falls into two basic categories.

One is over the top.

It ranges from denying Israel’s very right to nationhood, to ascribing to Israel responsibility for every global malady, to peddling vague, or not so vague, anti-Semitic tropes.

There’s no point in dwelling at length on card-carrying members of these schools of thought. They’re living on another planet.

Israel is a fact. That fact has been confirmed by the UN, which, in 1947, recommended the creation of a Jewish state. The UN admitted Israel to membership in 1949. The combination of ancient and modern links between Israel and the Jewish people is almost unprecedented in history. And Israel has contributed its share, and then some, to advancing humankind.

If there are those on a legitimacy kick, let them examine the credentials of some others in the region, created by Western mapmakers eager to protect their own interests and ensure friendly leaders in power.

Or let them consider the basis for legitimacy of many countries worldwide created by invasion, occupation, and conquest. Israel’s case beats them by a mile.

And if there are people out there who don’t like all Jews, frankly, it’s their problem, not mine. Are there Jewish scoundrels? You bet. Are there Christian, Muslim, atheist, and agnostic scoundrels? No shortage. But are all members of any such community by definition scoundrels? Only if you’re an out-and-out bigot.

The other group of harsh critics assails Israeli policies, but generally tries to stop short of overt anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism. But many of these relentless critics, at the slightest opportunity, robotically repeat claims about Israel that are not factually correct.

There are a couple of methodological threads that run through their analysis.

The first is called confirmation bias. This is the habit of favoring information that confirms what you believe, whether it’s true or not, and ignoring the rest.

While Israel engages in a full-throttled debate on policies and strategies, rights and wrongs, do Israel’s fiercest critics do the same? Hardly.

Can the chorus of critics admit, for example, that the UN recommended the creation of two states – one Jewish, the other Arab – and that the Jews accepted the proposal, while the Arabs did not and launched a war?

Can they acknowledge that wars inevitably create refugee populations and lead to border adjustments in favor of the (attacked) victors?

Can they recognize that, when the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands until 1967, there was no move whatsoever toward Palestinian statehood?

Can they explain why Arafat launched a “second intifada” just as Israel and the U.S. were proposing a path-breaking two-state solution?

Or what the Hamas Charter says about the group’s goals?

Or what armed-to-the-teeth Hezbollah thinks of Israel’s right to exist?

Or how nuclear-weapons-aspiring Iran views Israel’s future?

Or why President Abbas rejected Prime Minister Olmert’s two-state plan, when the Palestinian chief negotiator himself admitted it would have given his side the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank?

Or why Palestinian leaders refuse to recognize the Western Wall or Rachel’s Tomb as Jewish sites, while demanding recognition of Muslim holy sites?

Or why Israel is expected to have an Arab minority, but a state of Palestine is not expected to have any Jewish minority?

Can they admit that, when Arab leaders are prepared to pursue peace with Israel rather than wage war, the results have been treaties, as the experiences of Egypt and Jordan show?

And can they own up to the fact that when it comes to liberal and democratic values in the region, no country comes remotely close to Israel, whatever its flaws, in protecting these rights?

Apropos, how many other countries in the Middle East – or beyond – would have tried and convicted an ex-president? This was the case, just last week, with Moshe Katsav, sending the message that no one is above the law – in a process, it should be noted, presided over by an Israeli Arab justice.

And if the harsh critics can’t acknowledge any of these points, what’s the explanation? Does their antipathy for Israel – and resultant confirmation bias – blind them to anything that might puncture their airtight thinking?

Then there is the other malady. It’s called reverse causality, or switching cause and effect.

Take the case of Gaza.

These critics focus only on Israel’s alleged actions against Gaza, as if they were the cause of the problem. In reality, they are the opposite – the effect.

When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it gave local residents their first chance in history – I repeat, in history – to govern themselves.

Neighboring Israel had only one concern – security. It wanted to ensure that whatever emerged in Gaza would not endanger Israelis. In fact, the more prosperous, stable, and peaceful Gaza became, the better for everyone. Tragically, Israel’s worst fears were realized. Rather than focus on Gaza’s construction, its leaders – Hamas since 2007 – preferred to contemplate Israel’s destruction. Missiles and mortars came raining down on southern Israel. Israel’s critics, though, were silent. Only when Israel could no longer tolerate the terror did the critics awaken – to focus on Israel’s reaction, not Gaza’s provocative action.

Yet, what would any other nation have done in Israel’s position?

Just imagine terrorists in power in British Columbia – and Washington State’s cities and towns being the regular targets of deadly projectiles. How long would it take for the U.S. to go in and try to put a stop to the terror attacks, and what kind of force would be used?

Or consider the security barrier.

It didn’t exist for nearly 40 years. Then it was built by Israel in response to a wave of deadly attacks originating in the West Bank, with well over 1000 Israeli fatalities (more than 40,000 Americans in proportional terms). Even so, Israel made clear that such barriers cannot only be erected, but also moved and ultimately dismantled.

Yet the outcry of Israel’s critics began not when Israelis were being killed in pizzerias, at Passover Seders, and on buses, but only when the barrier went up.

Another case of reverse causality – ignoring the cause entirely and focusing only on the effect, as if it were a stand-alone issue disconnected from anything else.

So, again, in answer to the question of my erstwhile British colleague, “How can you defend Israel?” I respond: Proudly.

In doing so, I am defending a liberal, democratic, and peace-seeking nation in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood, where liberalism, democracy, and peace are in woefully short supply.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Jerusalem Post.


In Memoriam: Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010)

December 15, 2010

“The controlled chaos is one way to get creativity. The intensity of it, the physical rush, the intimacy created the kind of dialogue that leads to synergy.” Richard Holbrooke

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke was the most ubiquitous and brilliant diplomat of his generation, distinguished for his legendary toughness as a negotiator in Asia, Europe, and beyond. As a diplomat, writer, and investment banker, he has stood near the pinnacle of power, renewing the credibility of U.S. diplomacy.

To commemorate the passing of the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, and Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, we reproduce some articles and stories related to this giant of U.S. foreign policy.

United States presidential election, 2008: The Next President

Former U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke discusses Russia, Georgia and Kosovo

Bosnian Crisis

U.S. President Obama appoints envoys to Middle East and South Asia

Afpak: Richard Holbrooke’ U.S. Strategy for South Asia


Endgame with Iran? / Endspiel mit Iran?

November 15, 2010

Der Tagesspiegel, one of Germany’s leading newspapers, asked our beloved friend David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, to write the following op-ed in German: Endspiel mit Iran? English translation is below.

Endgame with Iran?

by David Harris
November 15, 2010

Iran's Nuclear Facilities

Iran's Nuclear Facilities

Another round of talks of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on the Iranian nuclear program is expected shortly. Or is it?

Iran’s contradictory statements make it difficult to predict. One moment, Iranian leaders indicate openness to renewed negotiations. Next, they assert there is nothing to talk about.

There is much to talk about. Iran is in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions regarding its nuclear program. The issue has nothing to do with Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy. It has to do with Iran’s aim to acquire nuclear-weapons capability, a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which it signed.

There are those who believe a nuclear-armed Iran is manageable. They assert that containment can work.

But can it? During the Cold War, Moscow and Washington understood the concept of mutual assured destruction. Though the world came close during the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear weapons were never used. Iran may be a different story. It is driven by a theology which believes in hastening the coming of the so-called Hidden Imam. If unleashing war would help, it cannot be ruled out.

Even if Iran had weapons it did not use, the world would be a more dangerous place.

First, it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia would likely seek their own weapons. If so, the risks of nuclear war, accidents, theft of nuclear material, and technology sharing grow exponentially.

Second, if Turkey followed suit, what would that mean for Greece and Cyprus, two EU members long embroiled in tense relations with Ankara? One Greek official told us that Greece might have to respond by starting its own program.

Third, what about Iran’s neighbors who do not have the capacity to keep up? Would they fall under the Iranian sphere of influence, their foreign policies neutered as Finland’s was during the Cold War?

And fourth, Israel would be forced to live with a frightening new reality—a regime that not only calls for wiping Israel off the map, but then also has the tools to do it. The situation would be made still worse by the fact that three of Israel’s neighbors – Syria, Hamas-run Gaza, and Hezbollah’s state-within-a state in Lebanon – are already within Iran’s orbit.

In other words, an Iranian nuclear capacity is a global game-changer.

Will negotiations stop the Iranian march to the goal line? The record to date is discouraging. The EU began talks with Iran in 2003 and was outwitted in the ensuing years, as Iran bought time to install more centrifuges and enrich more uranium. Some believed the absence of the U.S. from those talks during the Bush era prevented progress. Yet President Obama’s extended hand has been spurned more than once by Iran.

There is nothing inherently wrong with more talks, as long as they do not merely allow Tehran to buy time. To increase the likelihood of success, Iran must understand that when Europe and the U.S. say that it will not be allowed to produce and possess nuclear weapons, they mean it.

That requires enforcing existing sanctions, pressing other countries to do the same, and monitoring those nations helping Iran bypass the measures. It also means that Europe’s trade with Iran cannot go up, as it has this year for many countries, including Germany.

Lastly, there is the question of the military option. The best way to avoid it is by making clear that it is on the table in all dealings with Iran. Only if Iran’s leaders grasp that the world is truly serious about preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons can we hope for a diplomatic solution.


They Think They Can Destroy Israel

November 3, 2010

Dear Friend of Israel,

They’ve tried to destroy Israel through warfare.

They’ve tried to destroy Israel through suicide bombings.

They’ve tried to destroy Israel by firing thousands of rockets into Israeli cities.

Now, Israel’s enemies are launching another attack. And it’s going to succeed, unless we as pro-Israel Americans and Europeans come to Israel’s defense.

Their new plan of attack — to delegitimatize Israel’s very right to exist – and this plan is well underway.

Just look at the Goldstone Report, which seeks to question Israel’s right as a sovereign nation to defend its citizens.

At no time in history, have we seen any other nation be condemned for taking defensive action after having more than 6,300 rockets and mortars launched on its cities.

And Goldstone is just the beginning.

Since 2006 alone, the U.N. Human Rights Council (led by some of the world’s leading human rights violators) has targeted 27 out of 34 censures against Israel.

Throughout these attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, the only country that has consistently stood by Israel’s side has been the United States of America.

Goldstone is a prime example of this. By a vote of 344-36, the U.S. House of Representatives issued a resolution that soundly rejected the findings of the report and called on the administration to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration by the U.N.

This stands in stark contrast to the European Parliament, which just last month (by a vote of 335-387) urged its member states to “monitor actively the implementation of recommendations included in the Goldstone Report.”

It is vital we ensure that consistent U.S. support for Israel continue, which is why I urge you to become a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee today.

For nearly 60 years, AIPAC has worked to make Israel more secure by ensuring American support remains strong.

By joining AIPAC, you help us work year-round with both Democratic and Republican political leaders to enact public policy that strengthens the vital U.S.-Israel relationship.

Please don’t delay. Join AIPAC and help us ensure continued U.S. support for the Jewish state.

U.S. Congress will soon consider the FY 2011 foreign aid budget, which includes $3 billion in security assistance for Israel. Please make a special donation today to ensure AIPAC has the resources to work with Congress in support of this critical security assistance Israel needs to protect her citizens.

Thank You,

David Berger
Editor & Publisher HIRAM7 REVIEW


Searching for Stability in Sudan

September 24, 2010

World leaders meet today at the United Nations to discuss growing fears over the possible collapse of Sudan, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called a “ticking time bomb.

Map of Northeast Africa highlighting the Darfur region of Sudan

Map of Northeast Africa highlighting the Darfur region of Sudan

U.S. legislators sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging his administration to “take additional steps” to define its policy on Sudan and to “publicly articulate” the consequences should the Sudanese government break his word on commitments to the 2005 peace accord.

There is large disagreement about the best policy course for the United States to pursue in Sudan, but analysts concur that any effective policy will have to consider Sudan’s internal politics and the center’s relationship with its periphery.

Read full story.


U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess said Iran could build nuclear weapon in a year

April 21, 2010

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are set to begin a three-day military drill in the Persian Gulf on April 22, during which Iranian-made missiles will be tested.

Meanwhile, at an hearing of the United States Senate Armed Services Committee on April 14, 2010, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, was asked how long it would take Iran to produce a single nuclear weapon. Burgess told the committee,”We’re talking one year.”

Read full story.


Iran: Prospects for Regime Change

April 1, 2010

As the Obama administration attempts to garner international support for strengthened sanctions against Iran, Iran continues to make progress in its nuclear program. Despite increased international attention, Iran continues to pose perhaps the greatest threat to peace of any country in the world.

The ongoing turmoil in Iran almost nine months after 2009′s fraudulent presidential election raises questions about the continued viability of the Iranian regime.

With the United States exploring sanctions at the United Nations and key members of Congress calling for increased support to the Iranian opposition, the Foreign Policy Initiative will host a half-day conference on “Iran: Prospects for Regime Change,” on Tuesday, April 6th.  Leading Iran experts will examine the state of the opposition and discuss U.S. policy options.

With a growing consensus in Washington that the actions of the Iranian regime make a negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear crisis unlikely, this timely conference will explore the prospects for change in Iran from within and what the United States should be doing to support Iran’s democrats and resolve the Iranian nuclear question once and for all.

Also, the ability of the regime to clamp down on the Green Movement in recent months, especially its efforts on February 11, have caused some outside observers to argue that Iran’s opposition movement has fizzled out roughly nine months after the election that brought thousands of protesters into the streets.  In the wake of last month’s events, many questions have been raised regarding the ability of the opposition to succeed against the regime’s brutal tactics.

***

The Foreign Policy Initiative
Iran: Prospects for Regime Change

Tuesday, April 6, 2010
(Rescheduled from February 11, 2010)
8:30AM – 12:00PM
1777 F Street NW

8:30 – 9:00        Registration and Breakfast
9:00 – 10:15      State of the Green Movement

Panelists: 
Reuel Gerecht, Foundation for Defense of Democracies 
Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute for Near East Policy 
Mohsen Sazegara, Research Institute for Contemporary Iran

Moderator: 
William Kristol, The Weekly Standard and The Foreign Policy Initiative

10:15 – 10:30     Break

10:30 – 12:00     U.S. Policy Options

Panelists:     
Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations 
Danielle Pletka, The American Enterprise Institute 
Ray Takeyh, Council on Foreign Relations

Moderator: 
Robert Kagan, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and  The Foreign Policy Initiative

For more information or to arrange an interview with Jamie Fly, head of the Foreign Policy Initiative, please contact MNS Publicity:

Sandy Schulz, (202) 244-1460 or sandy@mnspublicity.com


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