Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No Peace with Hamas

Two weeks ago Mahmoud al-Zahar, by some accounts the most influential Hamas leader in Gaza, published an op-ed in the Washington Post. At the time I blogged about it here. It seems an appropriate topic with which to launch my first challenge to Ibrahim here on Judeo-Arab Conflict, precisely because Hamas is so important. The movement handily won the previous Palestinian elections, in January 2006, elections which were basically free and democratic; many of us feel that the Palestinian voters behaved like voters everywhere, and chose the party they most identified with. When leading Hamas figures describe their positions, these are the positions of the freely chosen representatives of the Palestinian people. They need to be listened to, and taken seriously.

It is safe to assume that al-Zahar wrote this piece in full deliberation and assisted by colleagues. It’s not every day that he has the opportunity to reach such an important readership as the Washington Post can offer him. There are no Freudian slips or sloppy formulations in this op-ed. The man chose every word with care.

The full text, free of my comments, can be read here.

No Peace Without Hamas

President Jimmy Carter's sensible plan to visit the Hamas leadership this week brings honesty and pragmatism to the Middle East while underscoring the fact that American policy has reached its dead end. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acts as if a few alterations here and there would make the hideous straitjacket of apartheid fit better. While Rice persuades Israeli occupation forces to cut a few dozen meaningless roadblocks from among the more than 500 West Bank control points, these forces simultaneously choke off fuel supplies to Gaza; blockade its 1.5 million people; approve illegal housing projects on West Bank land; and attack Gaza City with F-16s, killing men, women and children. Sadly, this is "business as usual" for the Palestinians.

Carter represents no one, and has no diplomatic standing. Preferring him over the officials of the Administration is akin to thumbing your nose at the American government. Al-Zahar does so because he prefers Carter over the Administration, whom he sees as complicit in Israeli crimes. The depiction of the crimes assumes the readers cannot remember that the Palestinian campaign of murder preceded the Israeli response to it.

Last week's attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot should not surprise critics in the West. Palestinians are fighting a total war waged on us by a nation that mobilizes against our people with every means at its disposal -- from its high-tech military to its economic stranglehold, from its falsified history to its judiciary that "legalizes" the infrastructure of apartheid. Resistance remains our only option. Sixty-five years ago, the courageous Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose in defense of their people. We Gazans, living in the world's largest open-air prison, can do no less.

The attack on the fuel depot was designed to hurt the Palestinian populace, not the Israelis, but al-Zahar is proud of it, because of the totality of the war between Palestine and Israel, which includes a war over history: Israel has invented a false version of it so as to harm the Palestinians.

The comparison with the Warsaw ghetto is obscene, and I won’t respond to its content. But notice that twice in one paragraph al-Zahar has denied the Jews of their right to their own history, once in regard to their land, once in regard to the persecutions they suffered.

The U.S.-Israeli alliance has sought to negate the results of the January 2006 elections, when the Palestinian people handed our party a mandate to rule. Hundreds of independent monitors, Carter among them, declared this the fairest election ever held in the Arab Middle East. Yet efforts to subvert our democratic experience include the American coup d'etat that created the new sectarian paradigm with Fatah and the continuing warfare against and enforced isolation of Gazans.

On the contrary. Sanctions against countries which democratically elect unacceptable leaders are the price voters pay for their decisions. It is their right to choose horrendous leaders, and it is the right of others to respond appropriately. This is what was done to Apartheid South Africa, but also, on a smaller scale, to Austria under president Waldheim, and later to the same Austria when a quarter of its electorate supported Haider. It might also be worthwhile to add that the sanctions against Hamas are maintained by the EU, not only Israel and the US. How the Americans or Israelis can be blamed for the internal Palestinian war of 2007 is a puzzle al-Zahar does not resolve.

Now, finally, we have the welcome tonic of Carter saying what any independent, uncorrupted thinker should conclude: that no "peace plan," "road map" or "legacy" can succeed unless we are sitting at the negotiating table and without any preconditions.

Had Carter had been listening to himself on the need for peace, and to al-Zahar on the need for war until Israel disappears, he would have gone home a disillusioned man. But he had no intention of listening, only of preaching.

Israel's escalation of violence since the staged Annapolis "peace conference" in November has been consistent with its policy of illegal, often deadly collective punishment -- in violation of international conventions. Israeli military strikes on Gaza have killed hundreds of Palestinians since then with unwavering White House approval; in 2007 alone the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed was 40 to 1, up from 4 to 1 during the period from 2000 to 2005.

Ah, the good old days in 2002 when the Palestinians were united in violating international conventions by massacring Israeli civilians, how fine they were! Such a sad state of the matter that the Israelis have figured out how to suffer less from Palestinian murder campaigns.

Only three months ago I buried my son Hussam, who studied finance at college and wanted to be an accountant; he was killed by an Israeli airstrike. In 2003, I buried Khaled -- my first-born -- after an Israeli F-16 targeting me wounded my daughter and my wife and flattened the apartment building where we lived, injuring and killing many of our neighbors. Last year, my son-in-law was killed.

Hussam was only 21, but like most young men in Gaza he had grown up fast out of necessity. When I was his age, I wanted to be a surgeon; in the 1960s, we were already refugees, but there was no humiliating blockade then. But now, after decades of imprisonment, killing, statelessness and impoverishment, we ask: What peace can there be if there is no dignity first? And where does dignity come from if not from justice?

Was Hussam only a student, or perhaps also a Hamas fighter? Further down it will appear he was a fighter, meaning his death could have been part of a war. It is however tragic, because when Hussam was 19, Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip with the intention of never returning, and had Hussam and his fellows determined to dedicate all their efforts and ingenuity to building a better future for themselves and their people, Israel would have applauded them for their efforts, and would have moved out of most of the West Bank just as Olmert was explicitly elected to do in Spring 2006. As Hussam’s father will relate in the next paragraph, however, he raised Hussam not to wish for a better life, but to kill and be killed for a life without Israel.

Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state -- the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees -- to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away. Judaism -- which gave so much to human culture in the contributions of its ancient lawgivers and modern proponents of tikkun olam -- has corrupted itself in the detour into Zionism, nationalism and apartheid.

This is the crux of the matter, indeed. The war with Israel is about its existence and the “fundamental crime” of its ever having been founded. Al-Zahar, who elsewhere (in the Hamas Charter) professes to believe that the Jews are the source of most evil in human history, here pretends to admire them for their contributions, while insisting that they have no right to their own history, their own culture, their own dreams. Only Palestinians can have those.

A "peace process" with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently. This would provide the starting point for just negotiations and would lay the groundwork for the return of millions of refugees. Given what we have lost, it is the only basis by which we can start to be whole again.

Israel must first undo its victory in its war of self defense in 1967, before any peace negotiations may even begin (“without preconditions”). Once it has done so, it will be possible to dismantle the Jewish State, for only so can the Palestinians “be whole again”, whatever that might mean, because that’s their unilateral decision: that they not have to live with a Jewish State.

I am eternally proud of my sons and miss them every day. I think of them as fathers everywhere, even in Israel, think of their sons -- as innocent boys, as curious students, as young men with limitless potential -- not as "gunmen" or "militants." But better that they were defenders of their people than parties to their ultimate dispossession; better that they were active in the Palestinian struggle for survival than passive witnesses to our subjugation.

Better that they did their utmost to kill Israeli civilians on the long road to destroying Israel, rather than trying to make a better future for themselves in the real world. (Which could be what Tikkun Olam is about, since he professes to admire it so).

History teaches us that everything is in flux. Our fight to redress the material crimes of 1948 is scarcely begun, and adversity has taught us patience. As for the Israeli state and its Spartan culture of permanent war, it is all too vulnerable to time, fatigue and demographics: In the end, it is always a question of our children and those who come after us.

If we wage war long enough, someday we’ll win, and the result will prove everything was justified.

Everything clear, President Carter?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Tale of Countless Cartoons

La Stampa (Italy) April 2002. “Surely they don’t want to kill me again?”

First, my appreciation to Ibrahim for publishing that Mohammad cartoon on our joint blog. I might not have, for fear of offending perhaps, but he’s gone and done it for me. Clearly, Judeo-Arab Conspiracy is a place where civility is important, but political correctness may be left at the door.

Ibrahim’s post can be responded to on many levels. His thesis, if I follow him correctly, is that there are these two caricatures that offended, but while the one offensive to Muslims was never retracted, the creator of the one offensive to Jews (or Zionists?) was punished, because Zionists (or Jews) have that kind of power, even though this can’t openly be said for fear of Jewish/Zionist retribution.

My response would be to note that neither of the caricatures is particularly offensive unless you relate to their contexts; the contexts are very different and it’s instructive to understand the differences; the negative consequences for the Mohammad caricaturist were actually far more severe than for the Nierenstein one; that Ibrahim himself confuses Zionism and Judaism – or that if he doesn’t, then the distinction between anti-first and anti-second really isn’t easy to make; and finally, that it’s meaningless to say that anyone – Zionists or Jews – have the power to halt the torrent of hatred directed at them, unlike the Muslims who do rather well at gagging their critics.

Kurt Westergaard’s “turban” caricature states that there is a connection between Islam and terrorism. It’s only a caricature, and he didn’t analyze the matter in book-length detail and complexity, but as a dry statement of fact it’s unassailable. Unfortunately, at this point of history there really are connections and relationships between Islam and terrorism. Some Islam and the main forms of contemporary terrorism, to be accurate. I’d point out, in passing, that the man wearing the turban is not obviously Mohammad. To me he seems merely a caricature of a generic Muslim type; perhaps the words on his turban say more, but I – and probably 99% of the Western consumers – can’t read them. (Ibrahim is welcome to educate us).

The offensiveness of the caricature, therefore, is in the eye of the beholder: Muslims react strongly to defamations of their religion, partly perhaps because it hasn’t faced the centuries of criticism that (Western) Christianity and Judaism have been living with these past 500 years. That’s their right, of course, but they shouldn’t really expect of the rest of us to treat their religion with the reverence we don’t accord our own, and to shut off our critical capacities just because they do.

The Nierenstein caricature is merely tasteless, and tells more about the level of argumentation that some people stoop to than anything else. I wouldn’t give it a second glance. Still, somebody apparently did take it seriously, probably for two reasons. One, because of the implication of similarity between Ms. Nierenstein and the Fascists, the second because of it’s general imagery. The first mostly shows the ignorance of the caricaturist (and perhaps of Ibrahim), in that it confuses the historical Italian Fascism with today’s voodoo term of Fascism. Italian fascism was a nasty, ugly and destructive movement, which however was not particularly antisemitic most of the time; quite a number of powerful Fascists took concrete action to protect Jews from the Nazi policy of murder, and saved many lives. (To an extent this was true also in Bulgaria, and even in a way in France and Hungary, though these are complex topics beyond our present scope). The voodoo term is merely that: fascism has become the term for whoever we don’t like, sort of a softer version of the term Nazism for whomever we really don’t like. Better to control oneself – or, if one has nothing more serious to say, better to remain silent.

It’s at the second level of the Nierenstein caricature that Ibrahim’s comparison fully breaks down. The caricaturist intended to offend by using ancient images – something the Danish caricaturist couldn’t do because there is no tradition he could tap into. In spite of the fact that the Muslim world and Christian Europe have been warring off and on since the beginning of Islam almost 1,500 years ago, there isn’t any mainstream or well-developed vocabulary or imagery to bash Muslims with; when it comes to Jews, the vocabulary and imagery are immense.

Just for the intellectual fun of it, take Shakespeare’s depiction of an Arab – Othello’s Moor – and his depiction of a Jew. Othello is a bumbling war hero who can be maneuvered out of his senses. Shylock is, well, Shylock. And Shakespeare not only lived centuries before Zionism, he also lived in an England with no Jews. They had been deported centuries earlier, leaving only the hatred of them to fester in their absence.

Once you’ve finished contemplating Shakespeare, note that Ibrahim can’t seem to keep his Zionists and his Jews separate. Which is probably a good thing, because it means we can dispense entirely with that part of the discussion.

Ibrahim’s attempt to turn reality on it’s head and claim that the aftermath of the Nierenstein caricature – here today, gone tomorrow – was somehow harsher than the response to the Muhammad caricature, is not worthy of response. Though I do recommend the (English version of) Wikipedia on the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoons Controversy. This is Wikipedia at its best, with a veritable treasure trove of factual information – and note that it has been blocked and frozen in its present version, because some people kept insisting on trying to re-write the story. I was interested to learn that Kurt Westergaard needed police bodyguards, and may perhaps still need them till this very day, since there have been concrete attempts to kill him, not only calls by politicians for his beheading.

I tend to agree with Ibrahim that the ADL over reacted to the Nierenstein caricature. I can think of various explanations for this, but it wasn’t a good idea. An Italian fool drew a tasteless caricature: what’s the news? The editor should have fired him for being foolish, perhaps, but suspending him because of ADL pressure was the wrong thing to do. Free speech allows for lying, for offensiveness, and it certainly allows for stupidity.

Still, even free speech has its limits, and when it clashes with danger to people’s lives you need to balance basic rights. This is not easy to do, and there is no foolproof objective right or wrong to it. Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany but not in the USA, for example, because the danger is greater in the former than in the latter. Given the long and destructive history of hatred of Jews, it’s not easy to know when the fundamental right to free speech needs to be curtailed in the face of the right of the Jews to live safe lives. It seems that in Europe these past few years the right to free speech has at times tilted too far, and that it has contributed to physical harm to Jews, most notably in France. That Italian caricature up at the top of this post is an example: The Jews are about to kill Jesus again? In a respectable newspaper in the 21st century? And this in the name of legitimate criticism of Israeli actions? Huh?

All one needs to do is a spot of simple googling to find mountains of such hate that has been spewed over the past few years all over Europe, without the ADL, or the Zionists, or the Elders of Zion or any of their henchman being able to stop it. (Here’s a collection from the West, and here’s a collection from the Arab world). This one even got a prize:

Published in The Independent in January 2003, it raised a storm of criticism and defense, and after it all the British Political Cartoon Society gave it first prize as the best cartoon of the year. You can see the story here.

Yehuda Bauer used to sum up his classes on the “all-powerful Jews” version of antisemitism with the wry quip that “Alas, the Jews never remotely approached having the power their enemies hated them for having”.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tale of two cartoons

Quiz: spot the difference between the following two images.

Admittedly, the two cartoons don't look much alike.

The first, of course, is one of the famous Danish cartoons, and depicts prophet Muhammad, of the Islamic religion, wearing a bomb as a turban. It was published in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper and successively reprinted by more than 150 publications around the world.

The second is nowhere as well-known. It depicts stridently pro-Zionist Italian politician and journalist Fiamma Nirensztejn, a.k.a. Nirenstein, who successfully ran for Parliament in the recent Italian elections as a candidate for Silvio Berlusconi's rightwing Partito delle Libertà (PdL). Under the caption "Electoral monsters," Fiamma is renamed Frankenstein, and is shown wearing a ragged dress to which both the Fascio Littorale (the Fascist emblem) and a Star of David have been stitched. It was published in the Italian leftwing daily Il Manifesto by cartoonist Vauro.

Of course, both cartoons can be perceived as offensive by members of, respectively, the Muslim and Jewish communities. The first can be interpreted as a suggestion that Muslims are inherently prone to blow themselves up. The second can be thought of as a denunciation of the candidate's Jewishness, as though there were something wrong with this; or as an effort to link Judaism to Fascism.

A difference arises when one tries to look for other possible meanings of the cartoons. In the case of Vauro's, the alternative interpretation is quite straightforward: Fiamma was depicted wearing both the Fascio and the Star of David to illustrate the contradiction between her taking pride in her Jewish heritage and her going on a ticket that also featured avowed fascists, such as Giuseppe Ciarrapico and Alessandra Mussolini, the Duce's granddaughter (not that having family ties to a totalitarian person will automatically make you one, but Alessandra has been consistent in her racist remarks, such as her calling all Romanians thieves -- which, by the way, cost her her alliance with Romania's own fascists). A contradiction that seems to be in line with a disturbing pattern of Israel receiving support from some of the world's nastiest parties and politicians, the same ones who the day before yesterday were spewing antisemitism.

Now there doesn't seem to be any similar alternative explanation for the Danish cartoons, other than sheer provocation. The cartoons didn't focus on Hizbullah leader Nasrallah or any other current terrorist leader; they focused on prophet Muhammad. Of course, one could argue that Muhammad was a fanatic, which would be true, but fanaticism is a feature of all religions, as illustrated by Judaism's and Christianity's attitude towards gays. A clumsy explanation was given that the cartoons' intent was not to offend anyone, but to make a point about freedom of expression; but no one can claim with a straight face that he wasn't aware of the potentially offensive efect. To put it mildly, the Danish cartoons are much more gratuitous and unwarranted than Vauro's, which centered on a politician whose commitment to Judaism and Israel is part and parcel of her worldview, not on Jews in general or on any person representative of the whole ethnic group.

The aftermath

But the truly interesting aspect of the cartoons is the reactions they elicited, with diametrically different consequences in each case.

Predictably, the whole Muslim world was enraged by the Danish cartoons. Calls were made by ambassadors from Muslim countries on the Danish government to declare that it didn't share the cartoons' spirit. To no avail; the government refused to meddle with the press, which it must be commended for.

Next, the newspaper itself was asked to retract the cartoons. It didn't, but instead claimed that the drawings had been incorrectly interpreted, and it apologized for the wrong interpretations, not for having printed something so difficult to interpret as a picture of Muhammad carrying a bomb on his head. The Danish cartoonists, meanwhile, were universally praised for various reasons, ranging from their strong commitment to freedom of expression to their courageous denunciation of Muslim terrorism.

In the Italian case, the cartoon was protested by the Anti Defamation League, a Zionist organization that specializes in seeing antisemitism in all events, be it a Nazi desecrating a Jewish cemetery or a hen laying an egg. It called on the editors of Il Manifesto to apologize in the following terms:

"We are outraged that il manifesto published an indisputably anti-Semitic cartoon," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "Whether intentional or not, the clear effect of the cartoon was to associate Jews with the Fascists who persecuted them, denigrate the PdL by associating it with Jews, and highlight the presence of an Italian Jew on the PdL electoral list.
"In any case, the result is the same: anti-Semitism."

Missing from the ADL's analysis was any reference to the fact that the depicted Jew had "indisputably" associated herself voluntarily with Fascists. The fact that the cartoon was more or less telling the truth did not make it less antisemitic, in the ADL's view.

What happened next? As the Jerusalem Post reports:

After being condemned by the Anti-Defamation League and other groups, the Italian press association suspended the membership of the cartoonist for three months.

It is difficult to imagine that this shameful reaction from the Italian press association, which bordered on witch hunt and punished free speech, would have taken place if it had been a Colombian association complaining of a supposedly anti-Colombian cartoon. Or a Norwegian society protesting a perceivedly anti-Norwegian drawing. Or the Arab Anti-Defamation Committee denouncing an Islamophobic picture.

To summarize: dozens of ambassadors from Muslim countries failed to censor the Danish cartoonists, which is an encouraging event. On the other hand, the intervention of a single non-governmental Zionist organization brought about the punishment of the Italian cartoonist, whose artwork was arguably much less offensive and unwarranted than the Danes'. While the Danish cartoons were described as an instance of free speech, the Italian one was considered an example of hate speech. Talk about double standards.


One is tempted to think that while all people try to censor what they don't like, Zionists seem to have the means to succeed more often than other people. It happened with Norman Finkelstein's tenure denial at DePaul; it happened again with the withholding of over $5 M in donations following Jimmy Carter's visit to Brandeis; and it has happened yet again with the Italian cartoonist Vauro. This would suggest that, as irrationals and judeophobes alike use to point out, there does exist a certain degree of Zionist, or, more generally, (gulp!) Jewish control of both the press and the academia; a control that other groups, such as Arabs or Muslims, do not enjoy (you see: no money refused to universities where Alan Dershowitz talks; no punishment meted out to the Danish cartoonists who publish truly outrageous caricatures of Muhammad).

One is tempted to think all of that, but of course one doesn't think it; because thinking it, let alone saying it, would be antisemitic.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Judeo-Arab Conspiracy is an attempt to discuss and disagree on issues pertaining to Jews and Arabs in a thoughtful and civilized way. The authors do not expect to convince each other, nor do they see their blog as in any way constructing a bridge towards peace. They truly disagree with one another on matters of great importance, but they think that the disagreements need not preclude rational discussion.

Rules of Engagement: One author posts on a topic of his choice, and then remains silent irrespective of the comments that may be made by the public. The second author has a full week to respond; if he has not done so, the original author may re-engage; after the initial response commenting is unlimited. The right to start a new thread, however, has now passed to the second author (even if discussion of the previous post hasn't ended), and the first has a week to respond.

No shouting is allowed, and commentors are encouraged to abide by the rules of courtesy. There is no restriction, however, as to the comment contents. You may express outrageous ideas, so long as you express them politely.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf holds a degree in linguistics and does teaching and research in the field of minority languages. He has also authored three books of short stories, one volume of children's poetry and over one-hundred short pieces for the piano, as well as about two dozen chess problems. He believes the creation of Israel as a Jewish state to be a major, but reversible, historical mistake.

Dr. Yaacov Lozowick is a historian by training, an author, blogger, and a businessman by vocation. He is the author of "Right to Exist, A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars" (Doubleday 2003), lives in Jerusalem, and is a staunch Zionist. His blog is here, and his business is here.