Thursday, September 5, 2013

Talking to Palestinians Who Won’t Talk Back. By Yair Rosenberg.

Talking to Palestinians Who Won’t Talk Back. By Yair Rosenberg. Tablet, September 4, 2013.

NY Times, MSNBC Whitewash BDS. By Yair Rosenberg. Tablet, February 6, 2013.


When I was an undergraduate, the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance invited the Palestine Solidarity Committee to the movies–specifically Boston’s Jewish and Palestine Film Festivals. It was a creative concept for a coexistence event. The response from the PSC, however, was less inspired. The organization explained that while PJA was welcome to join them at the Palestine Film Festival, and that some PSC members might be interested in attending the Jewish one, under no circumstances could the fact that Palestinians accompanied PJA to the Jewish Film Festival be advertised. PSC would not officially co-sponsor such an outing. In other words, the Jewish community was welcome to offer its empathy and legitimacy to the Palestinian perspective, but the Palestinian community would not reciprocate. The event did not take place.
This was not an isolated incident. As hostilities raged in Gaza in early 2009, PJA, Harvard Students for Israel, the Society of Arab Students, and the Harvard Islamic Society organized a peace vigil with a simple email: “Join us as we mourn the loss of human life in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. We pray that one day we will be able to truly co-exist in peace, security, and health.” Candles were held aloft while both Jewish and Islamic prayers for peace were movingly recited in the cold evening air. The only organization that boycotted the gathering was the Palestine Solidarity Committee. Some months later, one of their board members published an op-ed arguing that Israel’s ambassador and former Harvard professor Michael Oren should be barred from campus.
I was reminded of these stories, and many others, when reading Peter Beinart’s latest article in the New York Review of Books, “American Jewish Cocoon.” In it, Beinart rightly calls out American Jews for historically failing to engage with their Palestinian counterparts. “For the most part, Palestinians do not speak in American synagogues or write in the Jewish press.” As a consequence, he says, “the organized American Jewish community [is] a closed intellectual space, isolated from the experiences and perspectives of roughly half the people under Israeli control. And the result is that American Jewish leaders, even those who harbor no animosity toward Palestinians, know little about the reality of their lives.”
This is all true, which is why you should read and consider Beinart’s eloquent essay in full. But it is not the whole truth–and those seeking to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need to understand why. Because as it turns out, more and more Jews are reaching out to Palestinians, only to find that they no longer have anyone to talk to. As one officer for OneVoice, the grassroots peace-building movement, has observed, where once it was difficult to get Jews into a room with Palestinians, now it has become difficult to find a Palestinian who will share the stage with a Zionist Jew.
On Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to share a pre-Rosh Hashana toast with the over 30 members of the Knesset’s two-state solution caucus. Abbas had invited the Jewish lawmakers to Ramallah to reciprocate their hosting him at the Knesset on July 31–only the second time a Palestinian flag was unfurled at the Israeli parliament. But on Monday, he cancelled the toast, reportedly “because he came under pressure from the anti-normalization movement in Ramallah.” This, too, was not an isolated incident.
For its August issue, Forbes ran a cover story entitled “Peace Through Profits? Inside the Secret Tech Ventures that are Reshaping the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian World.” In the piece, investigative journalist Richard Behar detailed how Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs have been quietly working together on high-tech projects, effectively forging the economic infrastructure for coexistence. Its optimism was rare and refreshing. It was also short-lived. This past Wednesday, Behar published a follow-up about his story’s reception. “Virtually every Israeli who contacted me reacted positively,” he wrote. “But the vast majority of Palestinians who were featured by Forbes reacted with disappointment, upset, and sometimes fear or fury… Some worry that the story will harm their businesses by sparking retaliation from Arab extremists. One says he’s already seeing such a backlash.” A Palestinian CEO even asked Behar to take down the article, adding, “You should have run it by us first. The first thing we would have told you is move the word ‘peace’ out of the article.”
These examples are just from the last week. Innumerable others–from boycotts of mixed Israeli-Palestinian soccer teams, to crusades against the Israeli-Palestinian orchestra founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, to successful shuttering of coexistence concerts by threats of violence–can easily be adduced. The anti-normalization movement–which advocates total boycott of all institutions and organizations that do not openly disavow Zionism, and works to exact a social, political, and economic price from those who breach it–grows every day. A representative manifesto, signed by Palestinian student unions in the occupied territories and around the world, explicitly condemns the work of “organizations like Seeds of Peace, One Voice, NIR School, IPCRI, Panorama, and others specifically target Palestinian youth to engage them in dialog with Israelis.”
Beinart is aware of anti-normalization’s perils, but he devotes only two of his essay’s 46 paragraphs to it. Given his target audience–American Jews–this focus on one side’s sins is understandable. But it has the effect of indicting Jews in the pages of the NYRB for a lamentable situation that is not entirely their fault, while casting Palestinian isolationism as a mere footnote to American Jewry’s malaise. Moreover, such a narrow frame does not merely elide Palestinians; it also brackets out the many younger members of the Jewish community who have gone to great lengths to interact with their Palestinian counterparts–only to be rebuffed by the acolytes of anti-normalization.
“I recently spoke to a group of Jewish high school students who are being trained to become advocates for Israel when they go to college,” writes Beinart. “They were smart, earnest, passionate. When I asked if any had read a book by a Palestinian, barely any raised their hands.” Open up the New York Times, however, and one will find a very different story. “Several years ago, six teenagers at the SAR yeshiva high school in Riverdale came to the principal with a request,” reported the Times in 2009. “They wanted to study Arabic.” The principal said yes, and today there are over 40 students studying the language. “I feel like lots of people have misconceptions about Arabs and Palestinians,” one of those students told the Times, “and if I speak Arabic I can better understand the culture and understand what is really going on.”
SAR High School, which regularly sends graduates to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, is not alone. Ramaz, the elite Manhattan Modern Orthodox prep school, offers Arabic as well. “A small but growing number of Jewish day schools across the United States–including Modern Orthodox, Conservative and community schools,” The Forward noted in 2009, “have started to teach Arabic.” Why? A student from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland told The Forward, “One day I want an Arab to feel like a random American Jewish girl cares about him and his culture. I know that nothing I could possibly do could change the situation in the Middle East, but maybe if one Arab could meet a Jewish girl that cares, that could do something to tip the scale.” This phenomenon is not restricted to high school. At Harvard, it was a source of constant amusement that the university’s Arabic language classes were filled with American Jews. One was more likely to find students hawking Arabic textbooks on the Hillel listserv than a Jewish Study Bible.
University campuses are a particular source of concern for Beinart. He spends four paragraphs critiquing the Israel engagement guidelines of Hillel International, noting that they are “vague” and arguing that they tend to stifle conversation. “Those standards make it almost impossible for Jewish campus organizations to invite a Palestinian speaker,” he writes, adding “even moderate Palestinians like former prime minister Salam Fayyad, a favorite of America and Israel, support boycotting goods produced in the settlements,” and would therefore be unwelcome in Hillel. This was news to me, as I first learned about the idea of boycotting settlement goods at Harvard Hillel from Palestinian peace activist Aziz Abu Sarah. Indeed, in practice, the vagueness of Hillel’s non-binding guidelines has often given individual Hillel directors across the country the latitude to allow for a wide range of views. Which is why one prominent settlement boycott activist has become a fixture in campus Hillel houses: Peter Beinart.
In other words, for every anecdote of American Jewish isolation Beinart provides, one can easily find a countervailing instance of openness, particularly among young Jews. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for their prospective Palestinian partners.
Who are the faces of Palestine on campus? As Beinart acknowledges in his piece, they are activists like Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, who not only vehemently opposes a two-state solution, but repeatedly claims that “Zionism is anti-Semitism,” and actively shames those who engage with Zionists. He personally shouted down former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the University of Chicago. And when Columbia University professor Katherine Franke–who supports Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Jewish state but not anti-normalization–dared to meet with J Street and other liberal Zionist activists in an effort to forge common ground, Abunimah’s site publicly criticized her.
Another prominent Palestinian intellectual on campus, Joseph Massad, associate professor Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, has made a career out of scholarship that attempts to equate Zionism with anti-Semitism, as well as link it with Nazism. And Omar Barghoutti, the master spokesperson for the BDS and anti-normalization movements, refuses to engage whatsoever with Zionists, and famously asserted that Israel “was Palestine, and there is no reason why it should not be renamed Palestine.” These individuals and their many disciples on campus work assiduously to undermine any prospect of Jewish Zionist-Palestinian rapprochement: they have shouted down Israel’s most dovish leader, Ehud Olmert, in multiple forums; assailed Ambassador Michael Oren and called for him to be banned from campus; and even disrupted Israeli cultural events abroad with no actual political component. For the advocates of anti-normalization, it is not enough to reject dialogue with Zionist groups–such conversation must be actively silenced.
Thus, the tragic irony of the rise of anti-normalization among Palestinians is that it coincides with the rise of a new generation of American Jews who are most open to dialogue. Unlike their elders, these young Jews didn’t grow up in the shadow of war and intifada. They’ve experienced Israel as a secure and powerful state, and so are themselves secure enough to reach out to their Palestinian interlocutors. But in a cruel twist of fate, even as many American Jews have finally emerged from their cocoon, they’ve found that there isn’t anyone outside who wants to talk to them. Where in the past, many Palestinians were eager to press their case, years of stagnation and occupation have empowered the rejectionists, who accept nothing less than the dissolution of Israel.
“When I was an undergrad student, there were many panels and debates between Israelis and Palestinians, or their surrogates,” recounts one longtime peace activist in Haaretz. “But today you can count on one hand the number of events where Israelis and Palestinians have joint public events.” While young American Jews are increasingly bringing a positive-sum outlook to their campus communities, their Palestinian counterparts have increasingly accepted a zero-sum approach. “As we in the Jewish community finally come out of our own internal Jewish conversation,” the activist laments, “we will face a Palestinian community that is only willing to speak to us about a one-state solution.”
Ultimately, then, the best metaphor for the sad saga of Jewish-Palestinian dialogue is not Beinart’s image of a cocoon. Rather, the two communities have been like ships passing in the night, each just missing the window of opportunity to see and reach the other. Admittedly, this is not as satisfying a narrative as an indictment of the American Jewish establishment, or a simple condemnation of Palestinian extremism. It doesn’t have heroes and villains, or a straightforward reckoning of right and wrong. But then, few things about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict actually do.

What Peter Beinart Overlooks in His “American Jewish Cocoon” Article. By Gil Troy.

What Beinart Overlooks in His “American Jewish Cocoon” Article. By Gil Troy. The Daily Beast, September 4, 2013.

Fight the Delegitimizing Lies, Don’t Embrace Them. By Gil Troy. NJBR, July 3, 2013.


A decade or so ago, as Palestinian suicide bombers and snipers were destroying the hopes for peace that were launched by the Oslo peace process twenty years ago, I visited a Hillel in the Midwest. The students were upset because they had recently been attacked for a program called “A Piece for Peace.” Trying to appeal to other students’ hearts through their stomachs, the activists distributed a piece of cake with a list of Israeli attempts at peace—which Palestinians had spurned repeatedly, culminating with Oslo. Campus Progressives attacked the stunt as “one-sided,” accusing the students of ignoring the Palestinian narrative. I replied: “Do gays give out literature justifying homophobia? Do feminists make the argument for sexism?  You are doing activism not academics. It’s legitimate to give your pro-Israel narrative—just as most Palestinians activists give their narrative without ever feeling guilty about ignoring our narrative—or even denying our legitimate national rights.”
I thought of those guilt-ridden activists while reading Peter Beinart’s recent essay critiquing the “American Jewish Cocoon” and calling for more “information” and “empathy” in approaching Palestinians.  It is thoughtful—detailing some intellectual and moral blindspots in the mainstream American Jewish mentality. He is right that learning more about the Palestinian perspective and establishing dialogue with Israel’s critics can be informative and constructive. It is challenging—calling out some Jewish intolerance and insensitivity. But, the essay is also myopic—once again exaggerating Jewish guilt and minimizing Palestinian blame and responsibility.
Beinart writes: “One can understand Palestinians’ reluctance to participate in events that make them appear to consent to an unjust occupation.” Why is it so difficult, then, for him to understand Jews’ reluctance to host events that make them appear to consent to an unjust repudiation of their most basic national rights? The widespread, systematic delegitimization of Israel and the less popular yet still prevalent genocidal agenda of many anti-Zionists, remain the proverbial elephants in Beinart’s room, and the mostly overlooked phenomena in his essay.
The hatred against Israel is so great, so intense, so bracing, that there are weeks on campus comparing Israel to South Africa, syllabi on campus that one-sidedly demean Zionism and caricature Jews as oppressors, and an entire network of haters devoted to repudiating the Jewish State. This widespread aversion to Israel, sours even the most innocent of interactions—as Richard Behar of Forbes learned when he recently wrote a story about Palestinian-Israeli hi tech cooperation, and the Palestinian heroes forging a modern path toward peace and progress for their people pilloried him for making them appear to be “collaborators”; as I learned when I participated in a successful Jewish-Muslim dialogue, which the Muslims insisted remain secret, because they feared their own community critics.
This epidemic of bigotry and hatred plays on a Jewish culture of guilt and a Palestinian culture of blame, that feeds one-sided Palestinian narratives, and tortured Jewish responses when we admit that we are being hated, targeted, repudiated. Given that context, and judging Jews by the standards applied to everyone else, I ask what I asked those students:  how many Muslim organizations invite settlers? Grading on that standard, two Palestinian voices at AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby is revolutionary. Similarly, the many Birthright groups that hear Palestinian speakers and devote time to learning something about the “other side” is truly remarkable, as is the recent American Jewish Committee Global Access Forum for younger activists that focused on Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

In fact, the American Jewish community does more to welcome critical voices than most—note Beinart’s rise to pop star status and the many Jewish community invitations he receives now annually.  I acknowledge that Beinart’s essay noted some of the anti-Zionist animus, and I admit that the American Jewish community nevertheless should stretch, but his analysis needs to be more generous in acknowledging American Jewish trauma and efforts.
Similarly, this sentence struck me as unfair: “Now, I fear, because Jews enjoy power in Israel and America, especially vis-à-vis Palestinians, we’ve forgotten the importance of listening.” I have already suggested that perhaps Beinart is not hearing all that is going on. Much of what he sees as American Jewish and Israeli closemindedness comes from very rational fear, justifiable anger, true anguish.
Most important in understanding American Jewish “reluctance” is that fact that the pro-Israel community remains traumatized by the collapse of Oslo and the rise of the suicide bombers, especially when those phenomena overlapped with 9/11. That’s not about “Islamaphobia” or power politics. The feeling of being burned after hoping for peace and the feeling of being hunted down, victimized and targeted is real. One benefit of the dialogue Beinart advocates and of humanizing Palestinians would be to get beyond the victimization sweepstakes, wherein each side tries to outdo the other in its claim to having suffered more. But that kind of dialogue will only work by balancing Beinart’s empathy for Palestinians with empathy for Jews.
Still, despite my desire for more balance and more sensitivity to the toxic context anti-Zionists foster, I salute Beinart’s vision of hope and his call for true dialogue. I would challenge him in a follow up to give some examples of successful interactions, examples of actual successes that are not off-the-record and didn't just degenerate into food fights or blame games. I’d like to know what elements were most essential in making those events succeed. We need to learn how dialogues can be encouraged, what kinds of formats work. A major push for American Jews to change their approach to Palestinians needs more concrete suggestions and less finger-wagging.
For example,  a central question in Muslim-Jewish dialogue is: do we start with the conflict or do we start with commonalities?”  I have heard arguments on both sides. I’d like to know where Beinart stands, why, and if he can back up his examples with evidence. I think it would also help to acknowledge the distinctions between Muslim-Jewish dialogues, Palestinian-Jewish dialogues, and Arab-Jewish dialogues. They overlap but are also distinct.
In 1999, the first article I ever published in the Canadian Jewish News chided the Jewish community for not using Oslo as an opportunity to open channels of communication with Muslims and Arabs in Canada. I said that if the process ever breaks down, we will not have build up any relationships that could possibly cushion the blow.
So I agree with Beinart in principle. Unfortunately, until recently, I had only experienced disastrous interactions when I attended formal Palestinian-Jewish dialogues, because the Palestinian culture of blame—and the self-defeating boycott Beinart himself denounced in his essay—played on the liberal Jewish culture of guilt.  On the whole, the Jews tried accommodating, the Palestinians kept pushing, and the whole thing felt one-sided.
I have heard that open-minded religious Israelis do better in dialogue frequently because they hold their ground but do it substantively, respectfully, rather than the frequent mass American Jewish liberal cave-ins.  I, for one, learned in the recent off-the-record dialogue I attended, that my new Muslim friends were tired of just hearing from radical Jews who tell them exactly what they want to hear. They wanted to hear from mainstream Zionists like me who were open enough to engage in dialogue but not willing to abandon our own pro-Israel narrative.
In short, I agree with Peter Beinart that it is suffocating to live in a closed intellectual space. It threatens us intellectually, ideologically, morally, psychologically, and diplomatically. But what he calls a “cocoon,” with its implications of indulgence and self-control, I call a “bunker,” with its implications of unhappy necessity due to unreasonable and dangerous enmity.  A more honest acknowledgment of why this bunker exists will ultimately make it easier for all of us to leave it.

Rush Limbaugh Blames the Arab Spring on Obama.

What the Arab Spring is All About. By Rush Limbaugh., September 5, 2013.

Radical Left British MP George Galloway Blames Syrian Civil War on Zionism.

George Galloway tweets on the Syrian Civil War. Twitter, September 5, 2013.

IT’s NOT about Assad. But about ANOTHER Imperial/Zionist destruction of an Arab country. Arabs, Muslims, open your eyes. US/Israeli freedom?

So what else is new?

FSA Threatens Chemical Weapons in Syria.

FSA Threatens Chemical Weapons in Syria. Video. Syrian Perspective 2. Facebook, August 23, 2013. YouTube. Also here.

Syrian Perspective. Pro-Assad website.

Syrian Perspective 1. Facebook.

Syrian Perspective 2. Facebook.

King Richard III Had Stomach Worms. By Dana Ford and Laura Smith-Sparks.

King Richard III had worms, scientists say. By Dana Ford and Laura Smith-Sparks. CNN, September 5, 2013.

Also see articles at: Arab News, BBC News, The Telegraph.

Arab Spring: Death to Humanity. By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

Arab Spring: Death to Humanity. By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Arab News, August 28, 2013.


Since the start of the Arab Spring, we have seen men, women and children get killed by stray bullets, tank shells, scud missiles, attack helicopters and fighter jets.
There are innocent people in Syria under attack by chemical weapons, regardless of which side is guilty of using them, and nothing has been done by world communities. So, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting to see nuclear bombs used to kill innocents indiscriminately?
The Arab Spring erupted in many Arab countries, from Tunisia to Libya and from Egypt to Syria. Yet I have always maintained that the Arab Spring was dead on arrival although I have the highest respect for people’s demands for better living standards, social equality, freedom to think and ask questions and to eradicate corruption.
I also have no fond sentiment for Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and his sons, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and Syria’s Bashar Assad, but I wasn’t optimistic about the outcome of their departure.
The Arab and Western media welcomed the changes, but apparently, many analysts don’t know the complexity of the Arab world.
When you talk to a Syrian from Damascus and a Syrian from Aleppo, it is like talking to two people from two different planets. A Libyan from Benghazi is completely different to a Libyan from Tripoli. An Egyptian from Cairo would not be welcome in Egypt’s Sinai. A Yemeni from Sanaa considers a Yemini from Aden his sworn enemy. The simple fact is that these countries are already divided beyond imagination.
Ironically, it was those ousted dictators who held these countries together. Yes, dictatorship is inexcusable, but this is the reality of the Arab world. Just look at Iraq after Saddam Hussein. Who would have imagined that many Iraqis now miss the good old days of Saddam? How can people miss someone who was behind the death of at least one member of every single Iraqi family, including his own?
The answer is easy. Arabs are not ready to be ruled by a democratic system and dictatorship is the norm. Somehow, the Arab world always enjoys having a leader with charisma regardless of what he does or doesn’t do for them.
Former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s legacy is still lamented [celebrated?] in Egypt although it was him who made the Arab world as divided as we see it today and lost every war he dragged Egypt into. Saddam Hussein gassed his own people and many still regard him as a hero. In other words, if democracy is good for one place, then so is dictatorship. This is why I thought the quest for democracy during the Arab Spring was dead on arrival. But, it isn’t only the Arab Spring that has died. Respect for humanity is dead too.
We now see chemical weapons being used against innocent men, women and children. What atrocity can be more ghastly than this?

The sad story in the Middle East is that we distort reality. Over the past few decades, the world saw extensive use of chemical weapons on two occasions and not during a state of war between two enemies, but by governments against their own people. Iraq used it against the Kurds and Syria used it against Syrians.
And it is ironic that the area saw many wars, but no chemical weapons were used except against civilians by their own government, with the exception of Iraq using such weapons against the Iranians during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
So now, the question is: What would make a dictator stage an all-out war against his own people? The answer is simple. Because he knows that he can get away with it.
Everyone in the area is waiting for the United States Navy and other Western countries to carry out their routine checks and surveillance and wait for the green light from the White House. Whatever the outcome of the intervention, we will hear many voices. If the attack takes place and its results go as planned, many people will say the United States did it for its own interest.

If the attacks don’t go as planned, then we will blame Washington and never ourselves.
Isn’t it ironic that we’re so anti-American and yet the first thing we ask for during conflict is American intervention?
The bigger question is: What would happen to Syria and the Syrian people if Bashar Assad is gone or killed? Who will run the country and who will prevent any future atrocities when the time for revenge and counter-revenge comes?
There will be more killings and the dust will not settle for a long time. So, the question that people in the Arab world have to answer is: What really led to the Arab Spring and how can civilian death be avoided during times of unrest?
The Arab world will continue to suffer very unstable conditions unless they eradicate corruption and promote social equality. We should educate our children to respect the others and not teach them to hate others. Killing in the countries of the Arab Spring, including Iraq, is becoming daily news.
The sad fact is that the killings are carried out in the most gruesome of manners in the name of religion and the killing is based on sect and ethnicity. Your identity could be a blessing in one place but could be the reason for a lengthy interrogation and brutal execution the next.
The bottom line is that this Arab Spring has exposed how divided the Arabs really are. The Arabs’ No. 1 enemy is not foreigners but themselves. Indeed, many Arab countries have been sleeping with the enemy for a long time. The Arab Spring has taught us that a there is no respect for the human soul.
Finally, the billion-dollar question. Many in the Arab world want to see the US attack the Syrian government’s strongholds, but what if the American military has to use Israeli military data links, intelligence data, air space, radar coverage and search-and-rescue cooperation to do so?

Star MOOC Professor Giving Up the Experiment. By Walter Russell Mead.

Star MOOC Professor Giving Up the Experiment. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, September 5, 2013.

A Star MOOC Professor Defects—at Least for Now. By Marc Parry. The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2013.

Syrian Girl Reports on the Orchestrated Syrian Conflict.

Syrian Girl Reports on the Orchestrated Syrian Conflict. Video., August 24, 2013. YouTube. YouTube.

SyrianGirlpartisan’s YouTube channel.

Arm and Shame. By Thomas L. Friedman.

Arm and Shame. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, September 3, 2013.

Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in the West. By C. J. Chivers.

Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in the West. By C. J. Chivers. New York Times, September 5, 2013. Video. YouTube.

Savage Online Videos Fuel Syria’s Descent Into Madness. By Aryn Baker. NJBR, May 16, 2013.

Peace Through Profits? Palestinians Say No. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Peace Through Profits? Palestinians Say No. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, September 3, 2013.

Peace Through Profits? Inside the Secret Tech Ventures That are Reshaping the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian World. By Richard Behar. Forbes, July 24, 2013. From the August 12, 2013 issue.

Why So Many Palestinian High-Tech Entrepreneurs Hate My FORBES Cover Story. By Richard Behar. Forbes, August 28, 2013.


Journalist Richard Behar thought he had discovered the real road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In the August 12 cover story of Forbes magazine, Behar wrote about the way Israeli high-tech businesses were striving to work with Palestinian counterparts. The result of this cooperation was not only helping to create much-needed development in the West Bank. It was also creating a larger potential constituency for peace. The relationships as well as the business ties that this movement was driving could help transform Palestinian politics, moving it away from confrontation and violence and giving rise to a middle class with an interest in peace. In particular, the efforts of companies like CISCO to bridge the gap between the two peoples in pursuit of a common business goal seemed to be a model that could be expanded upon that gives genuine hope for an end to the conflict.
But in the aftermath of the publication of his article, Behar has learned an interesting lesson. As he writes in a follow-up article in Forbes, Palestinian businessmen named in the piece as working with Israelis were horrified about what he had written. They were happy about their businesses being highlighted in a prestigious business magazine, but any mention of working with Israel or, even worse, promoting peace, was regarded as treason to the Palestinian cause. They were soon demanding that the piece be retracted or taken down from the Forbes website. The very idea of “Peace Through Profits,” as the original Forbes headline read, exposed these businesspeople to being ostracized as “collaborators” or even exposing them to violence. Ironically, rather than discovering the path to peace, Behar has illustrated why the chances for an agreement to end the conflict are virtually nonexistent right now. So long as the culture of Palestinian politics is focused almost entirely on hostility and hatred toward Israel, neither top-down negotiations nor economic cooperation will make it possible for leaders or businessmen to do anything to move the region toward peace.
This is sobering stuff for those Americans and Israelis who have clung to the vision of a “New Middle East” that Shimon Peres first promulgated 20 years ago at the height of the post-Oslo euphoria. The notion that the region could be transformed into another version of the Benelux countries was also more of a flight of a fancy than a fact-based economic or political plan. The gap between Israel’s Start-Up Nation economy and that of its neighbors was always too great for such plans to be viewed as realistic. But the idea that Israeli expertise could be used to help Palestinians transform their society remains seductive. As Behar reported, there is a genuine desire on the part of many Palestinians for more economic development as well as for releasing their national life from the iron grip of Palestinian Authority corruption and mismanagement.
But the allergic reaction of the Palestinian businessmen he wrote about to the word “peace” tells us all we need to know about the inability of the PA to ever sign an accord that would end the conflict with Israel. As Behar notes in his follow-up, 34 years after Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel, Egyptian professionals and businesses still regard any dealings with Israelis as beyond the pale. That has made for an ice-cold peace between Israel and Egypt, but it is possible for the treaty to survive even in the absence of a breaking down of the wall of hatred toward Israel and Jews that exists in Egyptian society. But Egypt’s national identity exists outside of the context of anger against Israel’s existence. Not so for the Palestinians, whose national movement was born as a reaction to Zionism more than any other factor.
As Behar has learned, the debate among the Palestinians is not so much about peace as it is which tactics will be effective in pursuing their war against Israel. Those who say they reject violence are instead advocating for using economic boycotts and diplomatic isolation to bring Israel to its knees. In that context, cooperation with Israeli businesses undermines their cause even if it means helping to build a rational economy that would actually help ordinary Palestinians. Even those Palestinians who say they are willing to make a deal with Israel in order to force the Jewish state to give up land don’t want to give up their hate for it as part of the exchange.
Long before Peres dreamed of his new Benelux on the Med, Jews have dreamed about development being the path to peace. But today’s high-tech entrepreneurs aren’t being any more realistic than the Labor Zionist socialists who thought Palestinian workers and peasants would embrace peace once they realized the Jews wanted to build the country up for the benefit of all. Though even in his follow-up Behar still finds seeds of hope for cooperation, it must be understood that until a sea change occurs in Palestinian culture that turns away from hatred of Jews, this won’t lead anywhere.
Economics is important, but it doesn’t trump nationalism or religion. So long as Palestinians who work with Israeli businesses are branded as collaborators rather than innovators, peace negotiators are wasting their time and setting the region up for new disappointments and violence.

The Democrats’ “Smart Power” Lies in Ruins. By Jim Geraghty.

The Democrats’ “Smart Power” Lies in Ruins. By Jim Geraghty. National Review Online, September 3, 2013.

Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters. By Andrew Sullivan. The Atlantic, December 2007. Also here.

Michigan State Prof. William Penn’s First-Day Rant Against Republicans.

Old “cheap” Republicans “raped” America: Video captures award-winning professor’s anti-Republican rant. By Josiah Ryan and Caleb Bonham. Campus Reform, September 3, 2013. Video excerpt on YouTube. Full video on YouTube.

Michigan State prof’s first-day rant: “old,” “cheap” Republicans “raped” country.” By Eric Owens. The Daily Caller, September 4, 2013.

Michigan Professor Tells Creative Writing Class “Republicans Have Raped This Country.” By Noel Sheppard. NewsBusters, September 4, 2013.

Rush Limbaugh’s comments., September 5, 2013.