There were two songs that played a formative role in my musical life. They are Shto Mi e Milo, recorded by the Pennywhistlers (1966) and Si Bheag, Si Mor, by Planxty (1973). The Pennywhistlers came first. They were the mother lode. Ethel Raim and her sisters created one of the first, if not THE first, American ensemble to perform world music. Until that time, American popular culture embraced the music and art of other cultures in a scattershot way. There were Carmen Miranda’s outrageous hats, Richie Valens’ La Bamba, Jose Feliciano’s Hispanic-inflected Light My Fire in the late 1960s. But these were one-off hits. Novelties.
The Pennywhistlers’ first album (1963)
It wasn’t until the Pennywhistlers came along that a musical group devoted its entire repertoire to the music of other cultures. Wonderful groups like the Bay Area’s Kitka could not exist without the Pennywhistlers being a forerunner. Even a native Bulgarian choir would never have had the enormous world success of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares had not the American group first popularized the music in this country.
When I first heard this song, it was a revelation. The female vocal harmonies were like none I had ever heard. It was as if I was hearing a sound from another universe. It was a revelation. I lived on planet earth but had never heard the music of the culture which produced this. It made me realize there was a whole other world out there that American culture ignored.
I have been trying to find the song for 20 years. Before YouTube existed I tried using music sharing sites, but no one appeared to have mp3 files of their music (probably because they were never transferred from LP to any other format). Though the social media revolution has brought much bad with the good, it’s an undeniable good to be able to find old musical friends like the Pennywhistlers through YouTube. With all its hyper-commercialization, YouTube has enabled the archiving and retrieval of the sounds of the world.
In the true spirit of capitalism, I’ve identified a niche in the academic market and plan to fill it. First, let’s state the problem: the recent spate of campus firings from Yale to the University of Illinois (with earlier episodes at Princeton, Brooklyn College and other institutions) have left schools in the messy position of having to rid themselves of controversial, undesirable prospective faculty and, God knows, sometimes even chaplains. The ensuing bad publicity generated by activist troublemakers too often gives these institutions a black eye they don’t deserve.
Wouldn’t it be better if schools could vet job candidates with a group of trusted consultants who would explore their background (especially their Twitter feeds), seeking embarrassing material and ideologically suspect expression in order to save administrators the trouble of learning about it when it’s too late? I call this new product I plan on offering, ZioCredit™. It’s based on the model of accreditation committees which travel the country examining the fitness of universities to call themselves legitimate academic institutions.
In my case, for a small fee, schools throughout the United States (but especially in communities with large pro-Israel markets) may hire my company to ensure peace of mind. A few of the more cynical among you may liken what I propose to protection rackets in which the Mafia offered businesses protection from assault. Those who refused often met unpleasant ends. If that’s what you’re thinking, you can put your mind at ease. This is the 21st century after all. Not Little Italy in the 1950s. We don’t operate that way. We’re as clean and classy as our clients and sport academic pedigrees to prove it.
So this is how the process works: if we find a candidate in the ideologically lower-tier it would be best to be rid of him or her immediately. We can take care of that for you (no, you won’t find him at the bottom of the East River in cement shoes–I kid!). Why should you get your hands dirty?
We will accredit your university, department by department to ensure each one hews to a proper line. We will even examine course curricula and weed out overly contentious books, essays and ideas. We will examine individual job candidates and prepare them and their case files for presentation to hiring committees and boards of trustees. Earning our accreditation (hence the company name, ZioCredit™), is the pro-Israel Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Working with us will guarantee that you will never face the unwanted attention of the Israel Lobby because after all, we are the Israel Lobby! But we’re a manageable and cooperative version. We don’t aim to embarrass you publicly. And we ask for so little in return.
There may be a few of you Old School academics worried about values like free speech and academic freedom. I can assure you that your concerns are unwarranted. After all, these values are overrated. Like tenure, they’ve outlived their usefulness in the modern age.
The premise behind ZioCredit™ is that in this new academic age what students really want is comfort. They want to enjoy their academic experience. They want civility. They don’t want unpleasant interactions with alien groups they’ve never met in their life. Ideas should be challenging but not too challenging. After all, you don’t want to scare off your students by forcing them to face realities better off avoided.
We will help transform the campus environment from a raucous free-for-all, in which feelings become bruised and identities confused, into a polite, civil society in which everyone takes their turn and knowledge is parceled out in nice, bite-sized packages.
Back to my product, it takes into account that there may be some candidates who, though suspect, are still for various reasons beneficial to the faculty. They may fill an unspoken race or gender quota; or even an ideological quota. They may help promote the school within certain demographic profiles and market niches.
For an extra fee, my company will work with such candidates to reframe academic interests so as to be acceptable within the community. After all, academics are such unusual individuals raised like hothouse flowers in intellectual environments so alien to the average person (by which I mean any supporter of Israel). They need to be coaxed into the real world, to be shown proper manners and etiquette, if you will. In particularly awkward situations, we may even be engaged to cleanse reputations and eliminate particularly egregious examples of anti-Israel hate speech from a candidate’s internet identity.
If the University of Illinois had only had such a product available, it could’ve avoided all that Steve Salaita unpleasantness. So messy and so unnecessary.
Now I can hear a skeptic or two among you (a small minority of course) wondering how this consultancy will be structured. I assure you we will engage some of the foremost experts in the field of internet surveillance and Zionist identity politics. These will be individuals with impressive resumes and who are lionized by everyone who matters. Discussions have already commenced to hire such luminaries as Ayan Hirsi Ali, Carey Nelson and Alan Dershowitz. They know what a good candidate should bring to the table. Either they will help your job seeker to become the best pro-Israel candidate he can be; or they will tell you in no uncertain terms to toss him aside. After all, who wants to waste time on hopeless causes?
Since there is a growing acknowledgement that the customer should be represented at the table, we’re engaging students too, who’ve proven their allegiance to the cause, to sit on these vetting committees. Two of the stars of the field are Daniel Mael and Chloe Valdary. It’s a pretty tough environment for hiring such stellar young people. They have offers of employment at FoxNews and the Wall Street Journal respectively. But we hope to lure them with promises they will make the campuses of America safe for Israel. A more sacred mission I can’t conceive.
Though we believe this is a lucrative field we’re entering (creating, really), we don’t want our clients to think of as money-grubbing capitalists. To that end, we plan on donating 5% of our net revenues (you didn’t think we were nuts enough to base this on gross revenues, did you?) to various worthy, non-political causes like Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum, and one of our sister Israeli organizations, Im Tirzu. We’re proud of our association with our Israeli brethren who are bringing a “second Zionist revolution” to Israeli academe.
Please don’t get the idea that any of this is political. Zionism, after all, knows no denominations or sects. There are Christian, Jewish and heck, even Muslim Zionists. It’s entirely non-partisan. And that’s as it should be. There are so many enemies of the Jewish people out there flapping their mouths. God knows what they might say. But we know what’s right. And there isn’t a political bone in our body.
Don’t get the idea that we’re affiliated with one Israel Lobby group like Aipac. After all, how would it sound to say: Aipac Certified? That’s thinking too small. No, we’re going big. We want the whole enchilada. That’s why we call our process Zio Certification.
There may be a few holdout institutions who think they can do things the old-fashioned way. They can honor all the old cliches like academic freedom and pay the price by standing by faculty who speak inconveniently in public settings. To them I say, God speed. You don’t need our help. You need a time machine. You’ll find that you’re dinosaurs and this Brave New World we’re entering will soon pass you by.
My message to academe is: we’re ready to go–are you? Zionize or die.
Unit 8200 base, Ofrit, in Occupied East Jerusalem, which spies on the West Bank.
43 reserve members of the IDF’s prestigious intelligence group, Unit 8200, signed a letter (original letter here) refusing to take part in operations targeting Palestinians or in furthering the military Occupation. Activists who’ve paid attention to Israeli military affairs over the past decade or more know that hundreds of soldiers and inductees have similarly refused military service in the West Bank. But this group is different. Unit 8200 is the equivalent of the NSA. It is one of the most critical weapons in the IDF arsenal to defend the nation’s security. It participates in myriad ways supporting, and even initiating IDF operations. It is the biggest intelligence unit in the Israeli army. This is the first time any such officers have publicly protested.
These refusers are not Edward Snowden. They are not spilling secrets or naming names. But their motivation for protesting against Israeli intelligence operations is almost the same as Snowden’s. They claim that there is virtually no oversight or restraint against spying on Palestinians. That there is no distinction made between innocent and guilty Palestinians. That their goal as intelligence operatives was to subvert Palestinian society from within. Here is a translation of the letter, which was addressed to the prime minister, IDF chief of staff, and Aman (intelligence) chief:
We the undersigned, veterans of Unit 8200, current and past reserve soldiers, declare that we refuse to take part in activities against the Palestinians and refuse to participate in or enable the deepening of military rule in the Occupied Territories.
There is a view that service in IDF intelligence is devoid of moral dilemmas and contributes only to preventing violence and injury to the innocent. However, during our military service we learned that intelligence is a inseparable part of military rule in the Territories. The Palestinian population, living under a military regime, is completely exposed to spying and surveillance of Israeli intelligence. As opposed to Israeli citizens and citizens of other nations, there is no supervision ["review"] of methods of gathering, tracking or using intelligence information related to the Palestinians, whether they are involved in violence or not. Information gathered damages the innocent and is used for political persecution and creating divisions within Palestinian society through recruitment of collaborators and turning of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents doing proper justice to the accused under military courts through preventing him from seeing the evidence against him. Intelligence enables continuing rule over millions of people, authority that is deep and penetrates into every facet of daily life. These things prevent normal life and spark further violence and further distance any end of the conflict.
Millions of Palestinians have lived under Israeli military rule for 47 years. This rule negates their basic rights and expropriates their lands in order to settle Jews upon them who are subject to a separate police, legal and judicial system. Such a reality is not a part of the efforts of the state to defend itself, but rather a result of a choice. Broadening the settlements has nothing to do with self-defense. Nor does limiting [Palestinan] building and development and economic exploitation of the West Bank, or the collective punishment of residents of Gaza, or the route of the Separation Wall.
In light of this, we have reached the conclusion that we who served in Unit 8200 have a responsibility for this situation and a responsibility to act. Our consciences do not permit us to continue serving this system, which damages the rights of millions of human beings. Therefore those among us who are reservists declare that we will refuse to take part in operations against Palestinians. We call upon intelligence officers, currently and in future, and all Israeli citizens, to make their voices heard against these injustices and to act to bring them to an end. We believe that Israel’s future depends on it.
In an interview with Yediot Achronot, one of the signers expanded on his objections of Israeli intelligence gathering methods. His claims echo Edward Snowden:
As a soldier in Unit 8200 I participated in gathering intelligence on people accused of attacking Israelis. But along this we gathered intelligence on those who were innocent, whose only sin was that they were of interest to the intelligence apparatus for various reasons. Reasons of which no one had any knowledge.
Every Palestinian is exposed to perpetual monitoring without any legal protection. The lowliest army personnel can decide that someone is a target for intelligence gathering. There is no process under which damage to the rights of an individual is weighed to determine if it is justified. The idea of Palestinian rights is non-existent.
The signatories also pointed to another controversial Shin Bet “recruitment” technique, by which they exploit character flaws or vulnerabilities among Palestinians in order to blackmail them to become agents. Intercepting private phone conversations, text messages, and e mails is a prime tool in this process, making Unit 8200 officers complicit.
Like Snowden, signers of the letter are also being accused by the IDF of not using normal internal channels to make their complaints known. The army claims it has internal review processes that would guarantee examination of such complaints.
Unfortunately, in one sense the refusers are on shaky legal footing regarding their claims. Not because they’re not correct in substance–they are. But because, similar to the NSA (which has virtual carte blanche regarding foreign citizens), Palestinians have no standing under Israeli law. They are not citizens and therefore are not afforded even the minimal protections offered to Israelis. One can argue that Unit 8200, like the NSA should have constraints on its operations against non-citizens. But that’s not the case.
To be honest, the letter specifies the refusers will not spy on Palestinians. But there is plenty of other objectionable Unit 8200 activity having nothing to do with Palestinians. It provides intelligence data on Israeli enemies like Hezbollah and Iran. It intercepts private communication used to assassinate militants and even officials of foreign countries. Targeted killings violate international law, whether carried out by the U.S. or Israel. This behavior is no less a product of the same spy regime which has no oversight or restraints, and which the letter criticizes.
The IDF’s response was characteristically mendacious:
The military spokesman’s office said in a statement that Unit 8200 personnel were held to ethical standards “without rival in the intelligence community in Israel or the world”, and had internal mechanisms for filing misconduct complaints.
In terms of how the intelligence personnel’s participation in this letter will be seen by the populace, they will be treated as the Justice Department has treated Snowden. They will be seen as oddballs and in certain circles as traitors. In such a view, these are the creme de la creme of society. The nation gives them everything. Entrusts them with its secrets. And they turn around and bite the hand that feeds. Shameful.
I can’t exaggerate how brave these officers have been. As those who read this blog regularly know, service in Unit 8200 is a steppingstone into Israeli high tech. It offers a wide array of professional opportunities that are not available to those who don’t serve there. Veterans network amongst each other and it’s like a Good Old Boys’ club, only more so. The signers will be blackballed. They will lose privileges, friendships, promotions. This is a big step for them.
The names of the signatories have so far been shielded from public knowledge. Though clearly the IDF knows who they are since the did sign their names to the original letter. I predict that the prime minister will find a way to leak the names.
Here we go again. No sooner did we stop Obama from making a fatal mistake in going to war against Bashar al-Assad almost a year ago today, than we have to put our bodies in the path of another war train rolling down the tracks. This time the bogeyman is called ISIS.
I bet you thought we’d retired that awful phrase, the war on terror. That by-product of the Bush-Cheney years. Wasn’t it Barack Obama who told us we were no longer at war? That we were replacing that spooky Cold War-like phrase with something more positive, constructive. What happened to that guy? Where was he tonight? I missed him.
Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign was so beautiful, so uplifting. He was going to finally embody all those values so many millions of us thought we’d never get a chance to see in the White House. He was going to turn his back on George Bush and restore constitutional government. He was going to restore faith in American democracy, end Mideast wars. Take us back to what we should be: a nation of laws with respect for human rights.
All that is now a shambles. Obama has achieved almost nothing of his original promise. Instead of the bold innovator who was going to remind us of Abraham Lincoln he’s become a Democratic version of Bush-lite. He shambles from crisis to crisis motivated more by fear of being outflanked on the right by his GOP enemies than by any impulse toward original thinking or bold policy initiatives. He reacts. He husbands his resources (for what purpose isn’t clear). He proceeds cautiously.
The only areas in which he’s moved boldly have been those in which he was fully confident his Republican enemies would join him. In other words, Obama’s strongest and most consistent policies have been his counter-terror program, which mirrors the Bush-Cheney doctrine: lots of drone strikes, special forces, targeted assassinations. Domestically, he’s prosecuted federal whistleblowers and invaded the prerogatives of journalists with a gusto not even seen under George Bush.
I say all this by way of talking about tonight’s speech. Obama during his speech seemed to be a robot. He spoke in that decisive manly way of his which we’d grown so used to and comfortable with during the 2008 campaign when he was declaiming meaningful slogans like “Yes, we can.” But the words coming out of his mouth were nothing like those heady time of yesteryear. It reminded me of poor Isaac being tricked by Jacob into giving him the portion rightfully belonging to the first-born, Esau. The blind, befuddled Isaac says:
The hands are those of Esau, but the voice is that of Jacob.
Tonight, the president looked like Barack Obama, but sounded like Dick Cheney. How can I say this any more forcefully: we do not need another Mideast war! We do not need another Muslim enemy. We have enough.
He [Pres. Obama] made clear that “while we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland,” he still “will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”
He called it “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” and not a war. Yet, for all practical purposes, a war seems to be what it will be.
Pundits and journalists are regaling us with the poll numbers documenting the high level of support among Americans for taking on ISIS. The message appears to be that all of us are ready to roll up our sleeves and join the president as he orders those F-16s and F-35s and Green Berets into harm’s way. It’ll be another Osama bin Laden moment when SEAL Team 6 storms the bedroom in a hail of fire and takes out the Bad Guy.
Wipe out ISIS, the senators are saying. Send them to an early grave. No one beheads an American and gets away with it. It insults our national pride to see a fellow-American defiled like that. So we’ll send the Marines in like in the song, From the Halls of Montezuma. Oh wait. Not so fast. We’re not sending the Marines. No ground forces, the president promised tonight. Only air power. Those 1,000 soldiers either in Iraq now or soon to be arriving will only train Iraqi soldiers to do the jobs we were supposed to be training them to do over the past nine years. Yet somehow the lessons evaporated when they were faced with a determined foe like ISIS. Then they tore off their uniforms and disappeared into the smoke like wraiths.
“We have all been here before” to quote Crosby Still & Nash. Remember Iraq I? Where did that $2-trillion go that we spent there over the past nine years? Down the drain. What about those hundreds of millions in sophisticated equipment we left for the Iraqi military? The same ones who turned and ran at the first hint of Islamist trouble? Does anyone remember the 145,000 Iraqi civilians we killed to bring democracy to the Mideast? And the 5,000 U.S. soliders who died?
Here is what a Reuters reporter had to say on the subject:
“…Islamic State’s captured an enormous amount of U.S. weaponry, originally intended for the rebuilt Iraqi Army. You know — the one that collapsed in terror in front of the Islamic State, back when they were just ISIL? The ones who dropped their uniforms, and rifles and ran away? They left behind the bigger equipment, too, including M1 Abrams tanks (about $6 million each), 52 M198 howitzer cannons ($527,337), and MRAPs (about $1 million) similar to the ones in use in Ferguson…”
“Now, U.S. warplanes are flying sorties, at a cost somewhere between $22,000 to $30,000 per hour for the F-16s, to drop bombs that cost at least $20,000 each, to destroy this captured equipment. That means if an F-16 were to take off from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and fly two hours to Erbil, Iraq, and successfully drop both of its bombs on one target each, it costs the United States somewhere between $84,000 to $104,000 for the sortie and destroys a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of $12 million in U.S.-made equipment.”
Imagine if we’d fought harder against Bush’s Iraq war mirage in 2003 and prevented the very nightmare we face tonight. Imagine if we hadn’t invaded Iraq and turned the place into a seething cauldron of inter-ethnic and religious hate spiced with a heavy does of anti-Americanism? But the damage has been done. The question now is whether we’ll compound our earlier error and get bogged down once again in a war against the Arab Mideast.
My fear is that Barack Obama is being dragged into a war that the 2008 Obama would never have been suckered into. The problem is that the 2014 Obama listens to GOP dog whistles. And when he hears them his ears perk up and he assumes the position: attack dog. Break out the guns, fuel up the planes. That seems to be the answer to every problem in the Mideast.
There must be (and are) ways to confront ISIS short of getting ourselves into another war. Here are some examples offered by Phyllis Bennis.
Why would the NY Daily News or any publication believe an anonymous Saudi source concerning any subject?
ISIS has become the scare du jour of world politics. While ISIS is a profoundly disturbing phenomenon for which the world should develop some sort of response, the problem is that the Islamist movement has become a useful foil for many varied political interests from Israel to the U.S. Islamophobes among the Euro-nationalist far-right and the U.S. Tea Party have latched onto ISIS as their political gravy train. Bibi Netanyahu, ever alert to memes he can exploit to promote Israel’s interests, made the memorable, and profoundly mendacious statement: “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.” Senator Bill Nelson, who has a huge elderly Jewish constituency and is allied closely with the Israel Lobby, said this today:
“Any group that sets them [sic] up as a religious caliphate and says that they will not stop until the black flag of ISIS is flying over the White House — I take that pretty seriously,” he said.
No ISIS leader has ever made such a statement. But Nelson appears to be watching FoxNews, because it claimed ISIS said so. The fact that a major national political leader would air such nonsense is disturbing. There is enough to hate about ISIS without making things up out of whole cloth.
Then we have the tried and true Wall Street Journal, always good for a bit of Islamophobic hysteria. This is the headline for Ryan Crocker’s op-ed: Islamic State Is Getting Stronger, and It’s Targeting America. The neo-cons are on the warpath demanding that we “eviscerate” ISIS, that we engage in some sort of a counter-jihad. Which is just what both the world and America need, yet another war against Islam in the Mideast.
Similarly, Israeli media have reported that a freed French journalist held hostage by ISIS identified the Belgian museum attacker as an adherent of ISIS. While the journalist, who worked for the right-wing French daily Le Point, did say Mehdi Nemmouche tortured and abused him and others while he was held in custody, he never made any statement about the alleged terrorist’s affiliations. So when Nemmouche left Syria was he affiliated with ISIS? Why did he leave? Had he broken with ISIS? Had ISIS broken with him? And if so, why?
The implication of this Israeli reporting was that the attack which killed two Israeli intelligence agents may’ve been the work of ISIS. In fact, no one knows whether Nemmouche was acting on his own or on behalf of another Islamist group. Any speculation to the contrary is just that.
Artifact of American zenophobia circa 1968
Open Democracy has published an incisive piece raising uncomfortable similarities between ISIS and Israel’s religion-derived claims of authority and sovereignty. And thank God for this still small sane voice in Congress:
“It’s fear-mongering. It’s what happened after 9/11. ‘Oh my god, they’ve got these planes crashing. Now they’re going to take over America.’ That’s nonsense,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the only lawmaker who unequivocally dismissed the idea that Islamic State militants pose a direct threat to the United States. An indirect threat, yes, he said, but not more.
“We overreacted to 9/11. Most of the people that did 9/11 were Saudis. Why the hell didn’t we invade Saudi Arabia? There wasn’t one Iraqi involved in 9/11,” Harkin said. “We just keep jumping from one mistake to another. I have a feeling we’re going to do the same thing with [the Islamic State].”
All this leads to the next logical question: what threat does ISIS really pose to U.S. national interests? If it doesn’t pose such a threat, then what should our response to it be? Does it threaten other interests or values that are important to us? And what will be the outcome of any form of intervention we choose to take?
Last September, Pres. Obama was on the verge of assaulting Pres. Assad of Syria for alleged use of chemical weapons. In the meantime, a new and more dangerous foe has arisen to take his place as the Arab bogeyman: ISIS. The group was hardly a gleam in Assad’s eye a year ago and now it’s the foremost enemy of western civilization.
It seems to me that stopping America’s reckless pursuit of war against Assad was beneficial to our stance in the world. The question is whether taking on ISIS will lead to good or ill for U.S. foreign policy objectives. To what extent will turning ISIS into the “mother of all evils” help or hinder our objectives? The first Pres. Bush turned Saddam into precisely such a demonic figure. But at least his objectives were somewhat limited thanks to the GOP realists who directed his foreign policy apparatus.
His son tried to complete the unfinished business of the Gulf War to disastrous results. So the question arises: which role will Obama embrace? Will he pursue limited objectives and then have the discipline to withdraw when they are achieved (even if his political opponents deride him for withdrawing)? Or will he gradually get sucked into a expanded presence in Syria and Iraq, as he has in embracing much of Bush’s counter-terror policy (drones, targeted killings, etc.)?
The jury is very much out on this. My hunch is that there is a very real chance Obama could allow himself to get sucked into yet another Mideast quagmire.
Note that a year ago we almost took down Assad. Now he doesn’t look so bad in comparison to ISIS. During that past year many right-wing Americans saw Iran as our number one foreign enemy. Now that ISIS is massacring Shiites, the enemy of my enemy looks a whole lot more like my friend. In other words, Iran is almost looking good by comparison with ISIS. My point is that in the Mideast those you view as your worst enemy become, sometimes in only a matter of months, your ally.
Imagine had we gone to war against Iran when Bibi Netanyahu wanted us to. Would we be able to call upon Iran to act as a stabilizer in the region against the depredations of ISIS? If you overreact in one situation it drastically reduces your flexibility when the next crisis emerges. The ideologues and Arab-haters always forget that.
Let’s take a cold, hard look at ISIS. Though it has coldly and brutally executed western citizens, in broad terms it doesn’t endanger any direct U.S. interest. Indirectly, you may say that we’ve made such a huge investment in Iraq, that threatening that investment as ISIS does, harms our interests. But throwing good money after bad in trying to salvage a dysfunctional, sectarian Iraqi state, may not be the best use of our resources. If Iraq’s leaders can’t manage to form a government and mount a response to the ISIS threat, then why should be come like the cavalry to the rescue? What business is this of ours?
My problem with the U.S. as Mideast policeman is that we refused to play a constructive role when the Arab Spring promised to topple authoritarian regimes and replace them with populists who bore the promise of democracy. Why have circumstances changed now that ISIS threatens to topple other authoritarian Arab leaders and replace them with Islamist authoritarians? In other words, we had a chance to encourage precisely the sorts of governments that would’ve more close reflected our values than their strongmen predecessors. Yet we refused to act. Now, all of a sudden we think those same authoritarian leaders are fine because Islamists might take their place.
This, as I’ve said many times here, is a totally dysfunctional approach to the region. We don’t base our policy on creating societies reflecting democracy and tolerance–positive values we claim to embody. Instead we base it on stopping the worst guy out there from taking power. Instead of sharing a dream, our policy is “anything but them.” How will that inspire anyone to embrace our views or emulate our values?
As a sidebar, I wanted to raise some questions about the tragic case of Steven Sotloff. I’ve asked a number of journalists covering the region what they knew of his case. Two veteran reporters told me they find it almost impossible to believe that ISIS didn’t know Sotloff was Jewish. After all, these are savvy, modern insurgents who know how to use the internet. Sotloff’s reporting included subjects on Jewish themes. He was a citizen of Israel (first traveled there on a Birthright trip).
If ISIS did know that Sotloff was Jewish, then when it killed him it didn’t kill him as a Jew. But rather it killed him as an American. The Islamist group may hate Jews, but it hates the west and Arab leaders more. This means that ISIS has made a deliberate choice of who its enemies are and right now that isn’t Israel. Which means Netanyahu’s attempt to conflate Hamas and ISIS is a total fraud. Both groups have particular interests that are specific to their particular situations. Hamas wants Palestinian freedom. ISIS wants something else entirely. Distorting reality as Bibi does harms Israel’s interests and harms the prospects for creating any equilibrium or stability in the region.
The Jerusalem Post announced that the IDF was testing the latest version of the Arrow missile interceptor. The new upgraded Arrow 2 system tested was designed to respond to improvements in the missiles that Israeli enemies might launch, specifically to intercept potential Iranian nuclear warheads (even though trusted experts I’ve consulted say Iran doesn’t have any!).
This raises the question: why is Israel preparing a weapons system for a threat that doesn’t exist? Talk about provoking a Mideast arms race! Israel possesses WMD when no other nation in the region has them. It possesses anti-missile systems designed to protect against a weapon that doesn’t exist. Israel’s defenders may argue that in a dangerous neighborhood, anticipation of the military strategy of the enemy is critical. But there comes a point when such behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Paranoia, much??
The Arrow is one several layers of missile-defense, the first one being Iron Dome, which is designed to intercept short-range rockets like those fired by Hamas during Operation Protective Edge.
The Post says that the Air Force will know within days about the success of the test. That’s not precisely true. The military knows the result, and according to my Israeli source, it failed. A Sparrow missile was fired at Israel and the Arrow was supposed to intercept it before it reached Israel. Instead the Arrow landed in the Mediterranean north of Israel according to this Russian media source:
The suspected target was suspected of landing some 300 kilometers to the north of Tel Aviv.
Yossi Melman confirms the test failure in this tweet:
It’s clear that today’s Arrow2 test, the Israel-US anti missile defense systen, failed. The aim was to see if extension of its 300+km works
Contrast this to Israeli media like i24, which report the test was a success. Wishful thinking, but thinking that characterizes too much of poodle-like relationship between Israeli reporters and the security establishment.
One test failure doesn’t signify the non-viability of the entire Arrow program. But if there are more, it could signal serious problems.
This statement from the defense ministry seems designed to preempt any criticism that might emerge once it becomes known that the test failed:
“This test has no connection to the operational performance of the Arrow weapons system, which is operated by the Air Defense Command of the air force,” the statement said.
It’s hard to even parse the meaning of this statement. But it seems to say that despite the failed test Arrow remains a viable missile defense system. They might’ve added that since two countries, two militaries, and four defense contractors have billions invested in the system, that it has to remain viable, no matter how many failures there might be. Excuse that bit of cynicism. But one thing you learn when you’re exposing the presumptions of the national security state is that cynicism and irony are critical tools.
Israel’s Channel 2 published a poll which found that in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, one-third of Israelis are considering emigration. 56% would not emigrate were they given the opportunity. Unlike in the past, only 36% would think badly of anyone who did emigrate.
In some ways, this is nothing new. The great national poet of Israel’s post-independence era, Natan Alterman, decried Israeli emigration to West Germany as early as 1953! Pollsters too have produced similar numbers in the past. But it’s interesting that in the aftermath of this particular war, the numbers of those considering abandoning Israel have risen. This may be considered a massive vote of no confidence in the leadership of the nation, and the nation itself.
A major pop hit these days is this song, Berlin, which treats the notion of yeridah (a pejorative reference to emigration) as jolly, fun, hip and cool. This jarring, ironic treatment of emigration is something that is new to Israel, which traditionally views leaving as a traitorous act of abandonment. I don’t particularly like the song musically. It has a robotic rhythm and circus-like melody which I suppose is precisely the intent of the performers, who’ve devised an alienating musical format to convey an alienating social phenomenon.
But in this case, I think the song offers telling commentary on an important development in Israeli society. The truth is that a huge number of young, well-educated, professional Israelis have already decamped, or are making plans to do so, to more hospitable climes in Europe or elsewhere. They do so for many reasons: some are economic, seeking greater financial, professional or educational opportunities. Some are security-related: they simply don’t want their own children facing the same burden of war and danger that they’ve faced. And some find the climate in Israel to be stifling either culturally or politically.
The lyrics of the song savage a number of sacred national institutions from Ha-Tikvah to Naomi Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold. Even Berlin, the city from which the Holocaust emanated and home of the exterminators of European Jewry, becomes a more desirable refuge (“Reichstag of Peace”) than the “Jewish homeland.” Here are the lyrics translated (I’ve amended Emily Hauser’s translation slightly):
Why stay here
When you can catch a plane and begin to breath.
Even the newly Orthodox are leaving
And getting far away from me
How long can family be an excuse?
The neighbor’s lived in LA for 15 years already
She says we need to shut that watchful eye,
And everyone who comes back from abroad
Tells me how good it is there.
Even if I forget my right hand
You’ll wait forever
For us to return to you.
Reichstag of Peace
And of the Euro and of light
For all your songs
I don’t have a passport.
Let’s be honest.
Grandpa and Grandma didn’t come here [Israel] because of Zionism,
They fled because they didn’t want to die.
And now they understand that here there’s no life [possible],
They’d rather we be far away than poor.
No, it’s not a fleeing for convenience’s sake
It’s fleeing flat out
To keep your head above the water.
Even our forefather Jacob went down [emigrated] to Egypt
Because rent there was a third
And salaries double.
The whole world migrates everywhere
Only here is it considered betrayal of the [Jewish] people
By leaders who want us to remain alone
To remain afraid
Because everybody hates Jews.
And every time they open their mouths
They pin the yellow star on me again
Like a medal of honor
Like it’s a boutonniere.
They degrade all of us
Without a scrap of pride.
Liberate the Ghetto already
Let us live like a normal people.
I don’t really want anywhere else.
It’s cold there
And Hebrew is the only language I love speaking.
Give me a bit of the Kinneret
If there’s any left, I’ll be happy.
But how long can we ignore tomorrow?
How can I raise kids in a place that
Chased away Dudu Zar ?
Israel will increasingly become a poorer, more ultra-Orthodox, more settler, Mizrahi society (though of course Mizrahim will be emigrating as well). With this will come a rising tide of hatred, intolerance, ethnic division, and religious extremism. The IDF, already dominated by Orthodox-settler commanders, will become more so. If you think present-day Israel is extreme, the future promises even worse.
Young people with ambition, and their lives and families ahead of them, understand that there is little hope that things can change for the better. Foreign cities beckon and offer the pluralism, opportunity, freedom, tolerance and democracy that Israel lacks. A more reasoned, rhetorically articulate defense of emigration is offered in this Haaretz op-ed by Rogel Alpher.
To be clear, I’m not celebrating this development. I don’t want to see Israel become a backwater, a dysfunctional state. In fact, I’d prefer to see Israel as a thriving, vibrant multi-cultural oasis with opportunities for all and welcoming to all. But I must describe what I see, not what I wished I’d see. That’s the difference between me and liberal Zionists. They see what they think is there or what should be there. Not what is.