Thursday, 18 November 2010

Shooting the Messenger

Yesterday, Rabbi Ahron Hoch, Rabbi of the Village Shul in Toronto, received a letter from York University threatening legal action for casting aspersions on its President, and encouraging non students to participate in a rally against the appearance of the infamous George Galloway at York, funded by student fees. I have the honour to have known Rabbi Hoch for about 20 years. He is a gentle, humorous, extraordinarily welcoming individual, someone who respects all of God’s creations. If Rabbi Hoch felt moved to motivate others to stand up and be counted at York, it is because he, like me, has been listening to Jewish students at York describing the increasingly hostile environment for far too long. It is not only Rabbi Hoch who has been moved by this growing problem.

This fall, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced its intention to more strictly enforce the provisions of an important policy benefiting Jewish students in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools. In a letter issued on October 26, OCR declared that it will enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect Jewish students from harassment, intimidation and discrimination at federally funded schools.

In Canada, the federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made its position clear, even though education is regulated at the provincial rather than the federal level. When it has had the opportunity to be involved, including in funding decisions, it has acted decisively. In a recent speech, Prime Minister Harper stated:

“Anti-Semitism has gained a place at our universities, where at times it is not the mob who are removed, but the Jewish students under attack (This is a direct reference to events at York University last year)… There are, after all, a lot more votes, a lot more, in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But, as long as I am Prime Minister…Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are, in the longer term, a threat to all of us.”

Jewish York University students have been testifying for years that the environment created on their campus - by anti-Israel activists; by anti-Israel student governments; by University administrators who are at best bewildered, possibly intimidated or at the very least ambivalent  - is a noxious, hate filled, poisoned environment. The standards of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission protecting individuals from a poisoned environment in the workplace or at school are simply not being met. 

The responsibility for enforcing those standards lies with the institution, and ultimately with President Shoukri himself. Now, I don’t presume to know President Shoukri’s conscience. I don’t assume he is an anti-Semite. He may even have an earnest desire to work with the Jewish community, especially considering how much of York’s fund-raising comes from within it. Nonetheless, I know that he and his predecessor Lorna Marsden (with whom I sat along with colleagues discussing similar problems more than seven years ago) have utterly failed to protect Jewish students as is their responsibility under the Charter. Graffiti, physical attacks, verbal attacks (Hillel @ York reported shouted comments such as ““Die Jew,” “Get the hell off campus,” “Go back to Israel,” and “F---ing Jew,”), blockades in rooms, disrupted events, even allegations (with signed affidavits) that Mr. Shoukri engaged in supportive discourse with Hammam Farah, an anti-Israel activist with SAIA – these all evidence a fundamental disregard for the Charter rights of thousands of York students.

As the former Director of Israel Affairs for National Jewish Campus Life, and the former Campus Coordinator for B’nai Brith Canada, I have spent countless hours working with students, student groups, Jewish professional staff, security, and even York administrators to solve and confront these problems. I have stood in the Vari Link and debated anti-Israel activists, and with more wise experience I have helped organize and execute campaigns aimed at creating a better climate through engaging the 90% who do not have an interest in the conflict in a positive way. My experience tells me that there must be a point at which the Jewish community stands up and says “Enough!” as Rabbi Hoch has done. And I would go further than that.

There are two avenues for Jewish students and the Jewish community to take that they have not yet done as effectively as they might.

  • Students have a right to redress under York’s Code of Conduct, as well as through the Ontario Charter of Rights. Not one, not ten, but HUNDREDS of students should avail themselves of these avenues as often and as loudly as necessary, and the legal talent of the Jewish community must be harnessed to support them.  The York Federation of Students, SAIA, and the York administration must be held to account using their own rules and procedures, if necessary to the point of paralyzing their administrative and legal resources unless they address the issues.
  • York University is the beneficiary of millions of dollars every year from donors within the Jewish community, and the choice of thousands of Jewish families for the education of their children. Many of these have been increasingly dismayed by events at York, and some of them have withdrawn their support. Students, donors, and community professionals should draw up a campaign to finally use the leverage they have been accused of holding for years by the likes of Professor David Noble. The consequences of inaction should be spelled out to York’s administration. The potential withdrawal of thousands of students and millions of dollars will send a message that is hard to ignore.

Rabbi Hoch, you have the esteem of the entire community, as well as that of concerned Canadians from sea to sea. You are in good company. Prime Minister Harper agrees with you. The US government agrees with you. Thousands of Jewish students at York University and across the country agree with you. The administration at York University has countenanced actions which create a poisoned environment for far too long. The obscenity of hosting George Galloway at York follows from a long series of events, and a long history of ineffective “leadership” on the issue by York University senior administrators. This crisis has been a decade in the making. It is past time to ensure the security, safety and the peace of mind of thousands of Jewish students at York and around the country.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Credit Where Credit is Due

In a recent column, the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer delivered a rare note of praise to President Obama. Instead of lambasting him over the expense of the recent Presidential trip to India, Krauthammer explained that India’s key role in counterbalancing China’s expansionist agenda in South Asia was an excellent reason to foster better relations and to advocate for India’s inclusion as a sixth permanent member of the UN Security Council.

The sinecure of Security Council membership is no great shakes in and of itself. Take note of the fact that two Security Council members, Great Britain and France, have descended to sharing aircraft carriers and command structures as cost saving measures, and compare that with India’s projection of military and naval power in its region, and one determines that India already has the power and influence of the seat without holding it. No. Calling for India’s accession is a demonstration of respect for its growing influence.

India’s importance, though, goes much farther. As early as 1992, when Israel’s relationship with Turkey was still growing and positive, geopolitical observers were noting the growing convergence of interests between Israel, India, and Turkey, and the vise-like geographic grip they placed on nascent fundamentalism in the Islamic world. Ilan Berman, writing in the Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2002) reflected on the practical implications of this in the post 9/11 world. Berman argued that the roots of this alignment lay in the end of the Cold War, and the shifting of alliances therein. I believe that Berman was only right as far as the impetus, but mistaken about the glue. What would hold this alliance together, or tear it apart, would be the responses of its constituents to the geopolitics of identity and the demographic realities of a Near East filled with undereducated, underemployed, and grievance filled young men in countries from Pakistan to Jordan, and places in between.

Turkey proved to be the weak link. As its fear of the Soviets receded, some of the rationale for backing an army-dominated government evaporated. Into the vacuum came the resurgent Islamists, culminating in the current Islamist government. Disappointed with Europe’s intransigence on its accession to the EU, and unhappy with the Americans for not speaking up on its behalf, Turkey has withdrawn into petulance and recrimination. These emotions suit an alliance with the aggrieved Islamists of Iran and its proxies perfectly. With most opposition leaders in jail or under close watch, no changes can be expected in Turkey’s   political environment. As such, neither India nor Israel will see any part of the cooperation that was so evident in the late 90’s and early 00’s.

India has both a pragmatic and ideological rationale for partnership with Israel and the US. As the US’s more reliable ally in the sub-continent, it will benefit from American restraints on its increasingly more volatile adversary and neighbor, Pakistan. It is one of Israel’s largest customers for military hardware, but more importantly it has developed very close intelligence sharing protocols with both the Israelis and the Americans. As a country isolated by religion and looked upon as heathen by many of its neighbors, it shares an ideological position with Israel and the West in opposition to radical Islam of both the Wahabi and Shia varieties.

What should also be recognized are the economic relationships India shares with the West. Challenged by its massive population, India has developed a growing information based sector in its economy, a growing entrepreneurial “class”, and a nascent replacement of the societal caste structure with a meritocracy.

Finally, there is the shared experience of terrorism, on a large scale, in the streets of its largest cities. The Mumbai attacks reflected the experience of 9/11, of the London Subway bombings, and of the suicide bombings of Israel’s Al Aksa War. Whereas India’s experience with Sikh or Tamil extremist terror was perceived as a local phenomenon, its encounter with Islamist annihilationist terror is part and parcel of a global phenomenon.  It is for these, but especially this last reason that President Obama made such a powerful gesture to India.

If the UN is to recover any of its shattered credibility, it is through the actions of a revitalized Security Council prepared to confront the greatest threat to the ideals upon which the UN was founded six decades ago – Islamist terror and its quest for a global Caliphate.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Back To the Future

In a speech today lamenting Canada’s failure to achieve a seat on the UN Security Council, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff set out his vision for Canada’s foreign policy direction. John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail described Ignatieff’s plan as “turning back the clock”. Ignatieff’s suggestions look alarmingly like the policies of Jean Chretien, Prime Minister from 1993 to 2005. Here are the back to the future policies as Ibbitson described them, and the flawed, morally bankrupt ways in which the Chretien government and subsequent Liberal leadership has handled them.

·         A renewed commitment to peacekeeping operations, which Canada largely abandoned to concentrate on the war in Afghanistan. 

Canada’s departure from the peacekeeping scene occurred largely on the watch of the Chretien government. Canadian peacekeepers in Bosnia and Croatia during the Balkan wars were repeatedly handcuffed by idiotic rules of engagement and often under fire from all sides, watching helplessly sometimes as ethnic cleansing played out over years. Peacekeeping missions in Somalia – begun under a Conservative government - ended in utter failure for the “human security” agenda, as well as disgrace for the Parachute regiment given a mission with no chance of success. The final disgrace to the idea of peacekeeping as it was practiced on the Liberal watch was the murder of a million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, as a powerless Canadian commander of UN forces looked on, as Belgian peacekeepers were gunned down, and as the UN Secretariat under Kofi Annan sat on its hands. The concept has been discredited, and trying to revivify it will not change the new security environment, the threat of terrorism that the Conservative government has tried to address. 

·         Spearheading efforts to ban cluster bombs 

The most dangerous thing about cluster munitions is their capacity for inflicting harm – after the battle – on civilian populations. It is a fair and civilized notion to seek their reduction or elimination. But an even more ethical approach is to call out and criticize countries and non-state actors like Hezbollah in South Lebanon who operate from and hide within civilian neighborhoods, and who launched thousands of rockets at the one million plus people of the northern Galilee from these areas, drawing defensive fire using these and other munitions on the launch sites. The Conservative approach was to do just that, while some Liberals were marching in demonstrations under Hezbollah flags, and Mr. Ignatieff himself (though he later apologized) was describing Israel’s response as a “war crime”.

·         Repudiating the Conservative government’s refusal to repatriate Omar Khadr from his Guantanamo prison. 

It has now become clear that Mr. Khadr was indeed the individual who threw the grenade that killed a US army medic; that he was involved in the placement of IED’s; that he was still reveling in his accomplishment well into his incarceration; and that his presence on the battlefield was at least as much a result of volition as of indoctrination. Notwithstanding the question of his status as a combatant, he is now an admitted murderer, and as such, as Minister Cannon’s spokesperson has said, he will have to engage in a process with no guarantees of repatriation as any other murderer might do. Like it or not, that is in keeping with existing jurisprudence. Mr. Ignatieff might do better than to adjudicate from the commons, as it were.

·         Renewing Canada’s commitment to limit global warming to within 2 degrees C.

The limitation of global warming will start and finish with the conversion of emerging massive economies like China, Brazil and India from dirty carbon-based fuels and energy production to cleaner alternatives like hydro-electric and nuclear energy. Canada’s commitment, while admirable, will be meaningless if these countries don’t stop building coal fired plants at the rate of 2 or 3 every week. Any representation Ignatieff makes that ignores these realities is disingenuous. It speaks to the inaction of former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who as Environment Minister ignored the Kyoto protocols until it was too late, exclaiming “It is not Fair!” and then trying to blame his successors when the Liberal governments of Chretien and martin left them with a legacy of doing nothing.

·         Increasing the number of African countries receiving aid.

Most international endeavours in providing aid to Africa have encountered gross mismanagement, corruption, delay, and failure in the past five decades. UN agencies have proven inept and unaccountable. Hunger, disease, civil strife, war, and social disintegration still plague many parts of Africa. In Congo alone, over five million people have died in the fighting in the last fifteen years. In Darfur, the international partners Mr. Ignatieff would like to return to have refused to describe the horrors perpetrated by the Sudanese government as genocide. In Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe’s government continues to slowly strangle the country, without relinquishing an iota of control over the distribution of aid. The Liberals have fallen prey to the oldest of mistakes – doing things the same way and expecting different results.  

·         Rebalancing the emphasis on the Middle East to focus less on defending the rights of Israel and more on promoting the rights of Palestinians.

Looking around the world, the Palestinians do not suffer from a lack of advocates for their cause. Indeed, Mr. Ignatieff, both in personal conversation with me last November and in public statements has insisted that there is no daylight between Conservative and Liberal support for Israel. And yet, with the exception of one autumn under Paul Martin,  recent Liberal governments have voted with grave inconsistency on Israel in the UN General Assembly. Their MPs, from Colleen Beaumier to Carolyn Parrish, from Borys Wrzesnewskyj to Denis Coderre have used many opportunities to not only advocate FOR Palestinian and Arab causes – which is entirely legitimate, but to advocate AGAINST Israel and its defensive actions. In 2002, Liberal MP and Foreign Minister Bill Graham berated hundreds of Jewish leaders in an Ottawa speech for their support for Israeli intransigence and disproportionality at a time when Palestinian terrorists were lynching lost reservists, blowing up buses and gunning down families. If that is the kind of rebalancing Mr. Ignatieff is interested in, Canadians with conscience, fortitude, and perspective will say no thank you.

I have no doubt that Mr. Ignatieff is a man of goodwill, good intentions, unquestionable intelligence, and great erudition. He has the rare quality of focusing all of his attention and his formidable gaze on the individual he is conversing with, and in the conversation I was part of, his words were well considered and precise. He is, however, anchored to a bankrupt mindset which supports a broken international system focused on a corrupt and hypocritical world organization known as the United Nations. It is time for a Liberal reevaluation of the realities of the international system and Canada’s place within it. The Conservatives have already made that evaluation, and found that principle once again has primacy of place in making foreign policy.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Poker Face

Former Israeli UN Ambassador and Foreign Minister Abba Eban famously chastised the Palestinians for ‘Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Well, times seem to have changed. Responding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to extend the settlement freeze by 60 days in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the most senior politicians within the PLO and the PA, stated that the PA would recognize Israel as “whatever it wants” – if Israel would recognize a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem.

For those who follow the give and take of Mideast diplomacy, Abed Rabbo’s gambit is a non-starter on many levels. Firstly, from a purely political perspective, no Israeli Prime Minister has made concessions on Jerusalem since its reunification, and none interested in maintaining power will do so. Further, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conditions set out in his Bar-Ilan speech last year also include the total demilitarization of a nascent Palestinian state, and the solution of the Palestinian refugee issue outside of Israel’s borders. These are predicates that no Palestinian leader interested in maintaining power (or even staying among the living) could ever countenance.

Notwithstanding the posturing, a number of remarkable things are happening in this conversation. Though they have determined not to continue direct talks for the moment, the Palestinians are, in fact, negotiating in the court of public opinion. Positions are responded to, and new positions taken. These may ultimately lead nowhere, but the fact that this discussion is occurring at all represents a give-and-take that hasn’t been seen in years.

Another remarkable element of the conversation is the fact that the Palestinian leadership has seemingly outmaneuvered Prime Minister Netanyahu. In this high stakes poker game, the Palestinians have seen the Prime Minister’s “Jewish state” and raised him “1967 borders”. As the Palestinians know, Israel has over the past 15 years frittered away its leverage. Gaza is gone, roadblocks are reduced, settlements restrained, if not still frozen. It has received precious little in return, except perhaps some time, which has now run out. A 60 day settlement freeze was a transparent and far too limited offer to be taken seriously, if that was its intent. If it was simply a PR bone thrown to the Americans, it has been chewed up and thrown back.

It might seem that Israel is in tough, but the PA is in no less of a difficult spot. Its recent prosperity depends on Israeli cooperation (one last bit of leverage left), it continues to be an economic supplicant to the Arab League, the EU, and the UN, it can’t maintain credibility even when it is refusing concessions, and its President Mahmoud Abbas is constantly looking over his shoulder at Hamas and Iran.

No amount of American pressure will force either Netanyahu or Abbas to commit political suicide, so little progress can be expected, even if the conversation continues. Abba Eban also famously said “Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives.” If there is an alternative to be found, perhaps there is some hope in the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians are approaching the point of exhaustion.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The BDS Harvard Blues

Many supporters of peace and democracy in the Middle East woke up on Monday morning and were dismayed to find a widely disseminated report that Harvard University had sold off its shares in Israeli companies and was divesting from Israel in support of the International Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). It was, frankly, a disturbing and flabbergasting prospect. One of America’s largest and oldest University endowments falling in line with the perilous notion of boycotting Israel would be an enormous victory for the so far inept and entirely unsuccessful BDS movement, and a body blow to supporters of Israel. Harvard was uncharacteristically silent for some time on the issue. When it did finally clarify the issue, what became clear was that once again, the BDS movement exposed itself as an opportunistic, dishonest, and frankly second rate political movement, further burnishing its credentials of rank hypocrisy and utter failure.

Harvard spokesman John Longbrake told reporters clearly “The University has not divested from Israel.” In fact, the sales of shares in Israeli companies took place primarily because of Israel’s success and maturation from an emerging to a developed market. Israel’s sustained leadership in high tech and software development, its unique venture capital environment, its highly educated workforce, and its economic resilience during two wars and a global recession put it squarely among countries and regions not represented in Harvard’s emerging markets portfolio. Taking, for example five Israeli companies – pharmaceutical giant Teva, Checkpoint software, Nice Systems, Partner Communications and Cellcom Israel, institutional investors with a six month to six year horizon would have realized significant returns by selling these stocks at this time, even though some of them have underperformed in recent months. Israel’s recent accession to the OECD – The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, cemented its position as a developed economy.

Longbrake also indicated that Harvard also has “…holdings in developed markets, including Israel, through outside managers in commingled accounts and indexes.” Indeed, Israeli companies account for the largest number of NASDAQ listings after the US, having recently surpassed Canada. These holdings represent in excess of $100 billion, most of which is held institutionally and privately outside of Israel.

Harvard has come a long way since the days of quotas; in any case, dollar signs have always meant more to the Boston Brahmins who run Harvard than have protest movements. Intellectual and technological progress have meant more to them as well. From its summer school in Ashkelon, to the proud support of Israel rendered by former Law School Deans Alan Dershowitz and Supreme Court Justice Elaine Kagan, to the dozens of Israeli researchers, visiting scholars, and guest speakers at Harvard, divestment from Israel is as far and foreign an idea as could be imagined on the banks of the Charles River.

To what end, then, did the BDS movement publicize this falsehood? One answer, it seems, is desperation. Over the past three years every BDS campaign aimed at retailers has provoked a frenzy of purchasing of Israeli products, backfiring on BDS campaigners in Baltimore, Toronto, New York, and elsewhere. There has, to my knowledge, not been one single successful divestment campaign at any American University or college. Not even at the People’s Republic of Berkeley (UC Berkeley) or at Montreal’s Concordia University, site of the infamous 2002 riot, has there been a successful campaign. An attempt to boycott the Toronto Film Festival last fall created a groundswell of anger and disdain against the BDS instigators, even prompting Jane Fonda (!!) to reverse her original support.

Yes, there have been a number of artists and musicians who have cancelled appearances; a number of trade unions around the world who have predictably joined the chorus; and indeed some Christian denominations in the US who have followed suit – apparently not content with traditional Replacement Theology, they would seem to have graduated to the Elimination Theology that the BDS movement clearly states that it adheres to. The mainstream has rejected the call. Investment, celebration, dialogue, and innovation continue to be sought out by the world in Israel at an amazing rate. Beset by failure and blowback on all sides, it fell to intrepid researchers to find these details in Harvard’s 13-F filings for the second quarter 2010. BDS campaigners at that point faced a choice. They could ask Harvard if there had been a policy change (as any responsible journalist, advocate, or Harvard alumnus would do) or they could simply flood the media with a wildly inaccurate story, knowing that the initial story would play far wider than any subsequent clarification. Lacking any substantive successes in a years long campaign, the BDS decision makers did not disappoint. What a predictable shame that they took the liar’s route.

Abject failure does sometimes have a nobility of its own, and thus if the BDS cause was only a simple plaintive cry on behalf of those Palestinians who have suffered in the conflict, it might be able to generate more sympathy. The cause goes well beyond a plaintive cry, though. BDS leaders Diana Buttu, Ali Abunimah, Omar Barghouti (who is redefining the meaning of hypocrisy by pursuing studies at Tel Aviv University) and others are very clear that they will accept no solution other than a single bi-national state with an Arab majority – no solution other than the elimination of Israel. So, in fact, a boycott is not enough, and those who may support it but would perhaps balk at the elimination of Israel are being hoodwinked. The hypocrisy goes well beyond Barghouti, though. Ali Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada spearheaded the online campaign ten years ago. The technologies powering his computer then, and those powering PCs now were developed in Israel. A number of years ago I led a group of Jewish students to Israel. We had planned to meet with Buttu, in the interest of hearing the Palestinian narrative. She was not able to come, and we left her a voice mail to see if she could reschedule. She was, then as now, perfectly comfortable using voice mail (and her cell phone, for that matter) even though these technologies were developed in Israel.

If there are any lessons to be drawn from the Harvard non-divestment episode, they are these:

The BDS movement can not be trusted to tell the truth about events close to home. How can it be believed to accurately portray events and disputes halfway around the world?

Israel’s successful economy, as well as its immense contributions to science, academia, culture, and innovation has demonstrated the value of a modern democratic state to its partners, investors, tourists, and the beneficiaries of its contributions. The people of disaster wracked Haiti, the children of Save A Child’s Heart, those around the world who make better lives for their families using Israeli inventions like drip irrigation, even the forgetful people who welcomed Israeli rescuers to Turkey a decade ago – they know that they owe their lives to a country Omar Barghouti wants to boycott and ultimately eradicate. This episode most emphatically underlines the fact that it’s time the rest of the world knows too.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Boycott hypocrisy and the courage of one's convictions

I recently sent the following letter to the board of the Olympia Food Co-op, upon hearing that it had decided to boycott Israeli products. I have yet to receive a response.

A colleague recently made me aware of the board's decision to boycott Israeli products. I understand that the board has undertaken this decision for what it sees as moral and just reasons. I would ask, though, for some clarification, as I am writing an article for an international publication about the issue. The points I would hope to see some response on are:

1. Does the co-op intend to stop using cellular telephone technology? Given the fact that much of the technology in cell phones right up to and including 3G and 4G phones was developed in Israel, It would seem to be hypocritical and morally incoherent to benefit from a country's technological know-how while refusing to sell its products.

2. Does the co-op intend to stop using any Intel-based chips (essentially any PC desktops or laptops, such as any core-duo, centrino, Pentium)? Every generation of Intel chips and those based upon the Intel chip designs for the last 15 years was either wholly or partly developed in Israel. The same goes for IM, ICQ, and other messaging software, as well as Windows XP. Has the co-op determined to meet the moral obligations of the BDS movement by refusing to use these technologies?

3. Does the co-op intend to stop using USB key drives, invented in Israel? How about voice mail, conceived and developed first in Israel? Like many retailers, your stores may use scanning technology likely developed by world leader Retalix, from Israel. Will you replace these systems?

4. Are the members of the board prepared to utilize substandard medical imaging in the unfortunate event that a loved one needs or has needed a diagnosis? Israeli technology permeates the field of diagnostic medical imaging, such as MRI, CT and other scanning technology. Many of the leading therapies for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Multiple Sclerosis have been developed in Israel. Will the members of the board be certain to refuse treatment for their loved ones with these therapies?

These are some of the practical questions my readers would like to see clarified. You will no doubt agree that it is important to have the courage of one's convictions in taking steps such as boycotts. Perhaps you could respond to this email before throwing out your computer and your cell phone.

I also hoped that the board could illuminate my readers and the buying public on a number of philosophical issues that the boycott brings up.

1. Given the record of China in destroying Tibetan culture, killing tens of thousands of Tibetans, suppressing and killing indigenous Uighur Muslims; given its suppression of Christian practice and congregation; given its support for the genocidal regime in Sudan that has killed hundreds of thousands in Darfur; and given its complete disregard for the irreparable damage its energy, manufacturing, and infrastructure projects continue to wreak on the planet, has the board determined to boycott Chinese-made products and products with parts made in China? Considering the scale of havoc and destruction is hundreds if not thousands of times greater than that which Israel stands accused of in your eyes, does it not create even a scintilla of discomfort for the board to ignore such egregious harm while addressing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?

2. Has the board addressed the occupation of the Olympia region and the displacement of the native Coastal Salish indigenous peoples by Edmund Sylvester and his compatriots in the 1840s and 50s? Would it not follow the clear spirit of the BDS movement and the theme of occupation the board has accepted for the Olympia Co-op to remove itself to lands not claimed by indigenous peoples such as outlined in Miller's "Be of Good Mind" (2008, Washington University Press)?

3. Has the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus occasioned a boycott of Turkish merchandise? Have the continuing French colonial occupations of the South Pacific occasioned a boycott of French merchandise? The list, as I am sure you can imagine, is long. But the question is, has the board acted in a just and equitable fashion by not acting on these issues as well?

I thank you in advance for taking the time to read and hopefully to respond to these questions, asked in earnest and addressing the members honorably. I look forward to your considered response.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Didn't You Get The Memo?

Politics and stupidity have a long, unhappy history together. Their confluence last week in the announcement of 1600 new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem demonstrated to all that no one, Israeli, Palestinian, or American, has a patent on screwing up.

You may love Prime Minister Netanyahu, or you may hate him. Neither camp considers him an unintelligent man. Thus, the announcement during Vice President Biden’s visit of the approval of the new neighborhood, such a slap, or spit in the face of the Americans, is unlikely to have been timed by him or by his office. Beholden as he is to a number of elements in his government who feel marginalized by his partnership with Ehud Barak and his startling, though limited statements regarding the Palestinians in his Bar Ilan speech, perhaps he should have realized this was in the offing. It is instructive to note that two weeks ago, when Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat delayed a plan for civic improvement and limited construction in Silwan (also in East Jerusalem) at Netanyahu’s request, there was only muted criticism from his right wing coalition partners. Perhaps they knew a bigger opportunity was waiting. Regardless of one’s political stripe, there is simply no excuse for ignorance if you are the Prime Minister of a country. Netanyahu should have known, and his apparent ignorance of the announcement was simply incompetent management.

The Palestinian Authority would seem to be pouncing on the brouhaha as an opportunity to step back from the negotiations they were dragged kicking and screaming to less than two weeks ago. They now refuse to engage in even the limited talks they agreed upon. Their well oiled propaganda machine has been stirring the pot of resentment over Israeli decisions to improve access for all to Jewish Holy sites such as the Machpela cave in Hebron (which would include funding for the mosque there as well) and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. There is even outrage over the rededication this week of the Hurva Synagogue in the heart of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, finally rebuilt after being blown to pieces by a Palestinian working with the Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948. Yet the PA has never been more needful of Israeli goodwill. Its internal corruption has reached astronomical proportions, with whistleblowers seeking asylum in Israel, and the only effective bureaucrat in government, Salam Fayyad, more and more marginalized. The increasingly professional PA security forces are all that is holding back a Hamas flood in the West Bank, and they are working more closely with the Israelis now than ever before, putting the lie to the PA’s noisemaking on the Ramat Shlomo issue. The step back reeks of fear and opportunism. Fear of looking weak to its Arab League enablers and the “Arab street”, opportunism in seeking to exploit a narrow wedge between the Americans and Israel. Regardless of how upset the Americans are this week, no real or apparent concession from Netanyahu will have a tangible effect on the PA’s predicament.

It has long been a “donne” or a given of American politics that in order to distract attention from dropping poll numbers and economic gloom at home, Presidents should embark on dynamic ventures abroad. Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel would seem to fall in this category. President Obama is, plainly put, suffering enormous drag on his dreams and reputation given the precarious nature of the economic recovery, spiraling federal debt, the jeopardization of his health care plans, and the defeat of a number of incumbent Democrats in recent one off elections. Sending a well known friend of Israel on a feel-good mission with ample opportunity for photos and smiles would have seemed an ideal way to demonstrate that the Obama inspired proximity talks were a grand idea.

What President Obama’s advisors, including David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, should have known is that there is a deep mistrust and some anger towards President Obama in Israel. It doesn’t stem, as some may think, from racism. Many Israelis were furious at the President for making the suffering of the Holocaust the sole justification for a Jewish state in his Cairo speech last year. In one sentence he managed to qualify Jewish rights by dint of persecution, ignore the ancestral, aboriginal rights of the Jewish people in their homeland, and elevate the credibility of the vicious radical left’s anti colonialist screed. Many wondered why he chose not to visit and speak to the USA’s strongest ally in the Middle East. Many question his State Department’s amnesia regarding commitments made to Israel in writing by the previous administration.

It also seems to have escaped the notice of much of the media that the Palestinian Authority has spent much of the last year refusing to start negotiations with the Israelis, ignoring Israeli concessions (narrow though they may have been) and maintaining maximalist demands that make real progress as much of a non starter as does Israeli construction in Ramat Shlomo. Far from a slap in the face, the Palestinian assault on American peacemaking has been a steady, unrelenting series of blows, and even its acquiescence last week to indirect talks fell far short of President Obama’s initial plan.

Most shockingly, didn’t the US get the memo? Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated from the outset of his conciliatory gestures such as the temporary halt in building in the West Bank that Jerusalem was not and would not be part of the equation. It is simply disingenuous of the Obama administration to expect and demand that which they knew they were not going to get. As stupid as the timing was on Israel’s part, the Obama administration should have realized, as the late House Speaker Tip O’Neil put it, that “All politics is local.” It is axiomatic that no Israeli government will survive a meaningful concession on Jerusalem. Netanyahu knows it, the Palestinians know it, and the Americans should have known.

Not one of them comes out of this situation looking good.