Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Indigenous? Native American Studies and Big Lies About Israel. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Indigenous? Native American Studies and Big Lies About Israel. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, December 18, 2013.


We’ve reported about the decision of the American Studies Association to join the boycott of Israel. Supporters of the economic war against the Jewish state calling for institutions to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel have failed to gain much traction even in academia, let alone mainstream sectors of American society. As Jonathan Marks noted here the national council of the ASA that endorse the BDS resolution is largely compose of radicals. But they are not alone. The latest group of academic outliers to back the boycott is the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. As the Jerusalem Post reports:
Ohio State English professor Chadwick Allen, the president of the association and coordinator of American Indian Studies at Ohio State, wrote on the association’s website that the move followed a “member-generated” petition asking that the group “formally support the Boycott of Israeli Academic and Cultural Institutions that was initiated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”
Over the course of several months, Allen wrote, the NAISA council reached a consensus to support the boycott, and wrote their own declaration of support for the boycott. The document reads that the NAISA Council “protests the infringement of the academic freedom of Indigenous Palestinian academics and intellectuals in the Occupied Territories and Israel who are denied fundamental freedoms of movement, expression, and assembly, which we uphold.”
That another group of campus radicals with doctorates in subjects that are geared toward furthering left-wing theories would join the boycott of Israel is no surprise. That they don’t boycott China in sympathy with Tibet or any number of Arab and Muslim countries for their oppression of minorities is just the usual hypocrisy to be found on campus these days. But there are two points in their rant worth responding to.
One is the notion that Palestinians in the territories and Israel are denied “fundamental freedoms of movement, expression, and assembly.” This is simply false.
Academics in the West Bank are not suppressed. Quite the contrary, they work, publish, and pontificate in public while working in the many Palestinian institutions of higher education that were all founded after Israel took control of the area in 1967. Far from censoring activity at those schools, Israel has no input or ability to influence them whatsoever. All Palestinian colleges exist as hotbeds of support for terror and the delegitimization of Israel. The Palestinian media, especially that run by the Palestinian Authority which governs the daily lives of Palestinians in almost all of the West Bank, is similarly unrestrained by Israel and, as Palestine Media Watch reports on a regular basis, is a steady source of incitement to hatred against Israel and Jews. Nor are there any restrictions on the right of assembly for academics as the kerfuffle over the student body-supported Islamic Jihad fascist-style military parade at Al Quds University in Jerusalem proved. As for freedom of movement, it is true that Palestinians must deal with some Israeli army checkpoints that make travel difficult at times. But that doesn’t prevent them from moving about as they please.
It is also interesting that the Native American Studies Association include Arabs living in the State of Israel in their rant. This is entirely risible as Israeli Arabs have the same full rights that Jewish Israelis enjoy including the right to call for Israel’s destruction. The irony is that the institutions that these allege scholars want to boycott are the places in Israel that are friendliest to anti-Zionist incitement.
But there is a broader, more important point to make about their ridiculous manifesto. They say:
As the elected council of an international community of Indigenous and allied non-Indigenous scholars, students, and public intellectuals who have studied and resisted the colonization and domination of Indigenous lands via settler state structures throughout the world, we strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples.
By attempting to portray the Palestinians as the “indigenous people” of the territory on which the State of Israel and the administered territories exist and the Jews as the colonial settlers, they are perpetrating the big lie of Palestinian history. Jews are not foreigners in Israel as Europeans were in Africa. They happen to be the indigenous people of their ancient homeland and efforts to deny this isn’t scholarship. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and those who would deny them the same rights accorded other peoples are practicing bias, not scholarship. As with Palestinian attempts to deny the Jewish connection with the country or with Jerusalem and ancient Jewish holy sites such as the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, attempts to cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one between foreign occupiers and natives is revisionist myth recast as left-wing politicized scholarship.
There can be honest disagreement and debate about Israel’s policies in the territories, settlements, and borders. But by extending their argument to all of pre-1967 Israel as well as by smearing the Jews as colonists in their own country, the Native American studies group forfeits its credibility. Rather than being seen as the cutting edge of enlightened opinion, their support for BDS should mark them as a pack of incorrigible haters who should be treated with the same disdain and isolation that they would like to dish out to Israelis.

The Unique Tragedy of the Palestinian Refugees. By Avi Jorisch.

The unique tragedy of the Palestinian refugees. By Avi Jorisch. Al Arabiya, December 19, 2013.

The Palestinian refugees – a realitycheck. By Yoram Ettinger. Israel Hayom, December 13, 2013.

The “refugee” diversion. By Einat Wilf. Israel Hayom, December 17, 2013.


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees. The films, pictures, slides and prints the organization has collected on the plight of the refugees will now be displayed in Jerusalem’s Old City in an exhibit entitled “The Long Journey,” which will then tour Europe and North America. The images are heartbreakingly powerful and emotive.
Like all refugee stories, Palestinian stories of displacement and loss needs to be told. The question is what lessons one takes out of it. For Israel, as many prominent Israeli intellectuals, historians and politicians have argued for decades, the Palestinian plight is one that must be confronted and acknowledged with honesty.
What about the rest of the world, and particularly Muslims, Arabs and the Palestinians themselves?
The Palestinian refugees have an emotional hold in the Muslim world unlike any other refugee group. No other Muslim refugee problem, including those of conflicts in Sudan, Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, generates such indignation.
Why is that? What makes the Palestinians unique? Remarkably, Palestinian refugees in the Levant are the only refugee group to have a special U.N. agency dedicated to them. All others across the world are handled by one agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). According to the UN, the special treatment of the Palestinians is justified by “the scale and uniqueness of the Palestinian refugee problem.”
Yet by any measure, the scale of the Palestinian refugee problem is dwarfed by numerous refugee events of the 20th Century. In 1948, credible estimates recorded approximately 700,000 refugees, and in 1967 approximately 300,000.
To put these numbers in perspective, the displacement of the Palestinians occurred within the context of the largest population transfers in history, in the aftermath of World War II. In 1947, around the same time that the British mandate of Palestine was being portioned into one state for Jews and one for Arabs, India was partitioned to create a state for Muslims - Pakistan. This resulted in the largest movement of refugees in history, with over 14 million people displaced and the death of over 1 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
Meanwhile, at least 12 million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from Eastern and Central Europe (where they had lived for centuries) from 1944–1950, in the largest population transfer in modern European history.
In 1923, Greece and Turkey engaged in a forcible population exchange that turned 2 million people into refugees. And since the 1950s, numerous African nations have fought civil wars that led to massive refugee flight. The UNHCR estimates that in 1992, there were over 6.5 million refugees across Africa, with that number remaining high in 2004 at over 2.7 million.
How many people have studied these events or were even aware of them? Most were forgotten because after one generation, or two at most, the refugees were integrated into other countries.
A long lasting dilemma
And that points to one aspect of the Palestinian problem that is in fact unique: unlike most others, it has lasted for generations. The original estimated 700,000-1 million refugees now number approximately 6.5 million. That is not just a problem, it is a tragedy.
Imagine if the Palestinians had been allowed to integrate into neighboring Arab countries – often less than 20 miles away from their original homes? Germany took in ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern and Central Europe, though they had not lived in Germany for centuries. India accepted Hindu refugees from the newly created state of Pakistan. Israel absorbed an estimated 800,000–1 million Jewish refugees who were expelled or fled from Arab countries between 1948 and the early 1970s.
The Arab League has instructed Arab states to deny citizenship to Palestinian refugees and their descendants “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland.” The result is that six decades later, Palestinians languish in camps throughout Lebanon, Jordan and Syria – instead of becoming productive citizens, as they have in other countries where they have emigrated. While the Arab world urges Israel to face its responsibility, it should not be an excuse to ignore its own.
A common issue
Painting the Palestinian problem as the most serious issue facing Muslims today minimizes the plight of refugees everywhere. Even through the narrower lens of the Muslim world, the Palestinian experience is not exceptional.
Pakistan is far from the only case. In Darfur, an estimated 2.5 million people have become refugees since 2003 because of the Janjaweed militia, backed by the Sudanese army. In Afghanistan, from the Soviet invasion in 1979 until the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, 6 million refugees fled to Pakistan and Iran (5 million of whom have been repatriated since).
Today an estimated 2 million Syrians have left their country to escape the civil war that began in 2011. Other refugees in the Muslim world include 1.6 million Iraqis fleeing civil war in the past decade and several hundred thousand Feyli Kurds forcibly expelled by Saddam Hussein starting in the 1970s.
Displacement as a result of war is not distinctive. History is replete with refugee suffering, and it would be difficult to argue that Palestinians have suffered infinitely more than others in recent times.
It is hard to see what good can come from this false sense of uniqueness. Arguable, it causes even greater pain and trauma. It also makes it harder for Palestinians to envisage peacemaking rather than revenge, and strengthens extremists who feed on hatred and oppose any prospect for peace.
Is it possible to have a more nuanced understanding of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict that does not absolve Israel of all wrongdoing, but doesn’t demonize it either? Similarly, is it feasible to recognize the pain individual Palestinians underwent but concedes that this tragedy is similar to that experienced by millions of others? Answers to both questions may ultimately help bring an end to this sad Middle Eastern chapter.

Boycott Me. Please. By Martin Kramer.

Boycott me. Please. By Martin Kramer. Foreign Policy, December 20, 2013. Also here. Sandbox.

Whatever Happened to the Arab Spring? By Madawi al-Rasheed.

Whatever happened to the Arab Spring? By Madawi Al-Rasheed. Al-Monitor, December 17, 2013.


Three years after the Arab Spring, the dominant narrative about this region remains articulated in terms of binary opposites: vanishing republics versus resilient monarchies, the secular versus Islamist divide and the Sunni versus Shiite schism.
While not denying the violent manifestations of these opposites, it is time to go beyond the apparent multiple polarizations that conceal a fundamental truth, namely the collapse or near-collapse of an old republican and monarchical order without successfully moving toward a new, stable configuration. Even after three years of protest and bloodshed in the republics and low-level mobilization in the monarchies, the Arab world is still far from shaking off the old order or a stable transition toward something that I would call democracy.
The old political order consisted of either militarized governments ruled by the post-colonial nationalist elite or hereditary dynasties that had been fixed in their positions by departing colonial powers. In both republics and monarchies, ruling classes consolidated as a result of achieving military hegemony, monopolizing economic resources, foreign support and a kind of nationalist or religious legitimacy. In practice, no serious structural differences between republics and monarchies were apparent, for both forms of government exercised power without representation, accountability, transparency or equality.
In both republics and monarchies, the ruling classes became larger but without real attempts to be inclusive or equitable. Rulers tried to liberalize their authoritarian rule, introducing empty quasi-parliaments lacking any power, expanding state bureaucracy to absorb the unemployed and opening up centralized economies in a drive toward a neoliberal market model, whose benefits unsurprisingly went to power-holders and their cohorts, a large coterie with undisputed loyalty. A service economy concealed the reality of crony capitalism and opaque markets, where corruption and nepotism flourished in the absence of legal structures and transparency.
After destroying any viable political society on the left, center and right, there emerged a vacuum which many Arab leaders thought could be filled with vigorous Islamism that focuses on issues such as Islamizing society, returning to God’s law and purifying the landscape of external undesirable values and norms.
As long as this Islamism remained focused on society and its piety, Arab presidents and monarchs thought they were immune from the winds of political change. They tolerated socially conservative trends such as Salafism and oppressed the vocal politicized Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Salafists delivered a society obsessed by its purity, piety and conformity and conducive to perpetuating absolute monarchy. In Egypt, Salafists were seen as a good alternative to the politicized Brotherhood.
All Islamists strove to control their share in the market, promoting a pious capitalism that might guarantee the newly emerging entrepreneurs a place on the political economic map of the Arab world, and now this world was increasingly drawn into global markets by the prospect of profit. Islamizing everything from banks to Barbie, Islamists struggled to have their narrative shape not only societies but also economies. Politics remained elusive, as this domain remained well controlled by the old guard.
At the same time, Arab leaders of all shades nourished their so-called liberal or secular constituencies, in case they needed them in future confrontations with Islamists. This instigated a deep rift between so-called liberal and Islamist constituencies, amounting to an unbridgeable ideological divide that not only affected society at large but was also felt in the sphere of the family. Ideological schisms concealed that the secular-Islamist divide was often a masquerade for deeper economic divisions and competition. In many countries, though secularists and Islamists were trying to win regimes to their sides, those regimes saw no benefit in compromise, for as long as constituencies remained divided, they could play the old game of divide and rule.
The Islamists were not the destiny of the Arab world, but they certainly filled a vaccuum created by oppression and exclusion at a time when liberation from authoritarian rule lacked the language under which it could be pursued. Hence the secular-Islamist divide was important to fragment Arab publics and ensure the persistence of authoritarian rule. From North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, regimes flirted with Islamism even while they might have appeared to be confronting it. There was a love-hate relationship between the two despite the multiple confrontations. Islamism served important purposes and was only curbed when it became a threat to regimes, not societies.
Equally, neither is the sectarian Sunni-Shiite schism in the dominant narrative about the region an inevitable destiny unfolding in every corner of the Arab world. Yes, sectarian tension and even killing are rife and tend to show their ugly faces in diverse societies such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain. Yet this sectarianism flourished specifically in those corners where either exclusion was entrenched or the regimes themselves were sectarian. Both republics and monarchies co-opted sectarian elites and rewarded them for their loyalty, but continued to exclude the rest of the communities. The regimes searched for token mediators rather than representatives, thus allowing grass-roots sectarian populist entrepreneurs to inflame the imaginations of their followers with utopias of identity politics that promise future emancipation, equality and power. Resisting exclusion from the corridors of power and the economy found a disturbing niche in the language of sectarian identity. Both Sunnis and Shiites adopted the discourse of mathloumiya, historical injustice inflicted on them because of their sect, to the detriment of seeing clearly the roots of exclusion that have grown under authoritarian rule. So sects were either indulged by the regimes in an attempt to use them against political rivals or suppressed to please their wider constituencies.
Negotiating this complex and explosive sectarian terrain proved to lead to cumulative problems that the Arab world is now facing, with no foreseeable chance of going beyond this Sunni-Shiite divide. The divide is not about majorities and minorities, but about authoritarian rule and the political games it entails.
Arab regimes can hardly be described as either Sunni or Shiite. Their loyalty is to members of their families and a circle of loyalists who may or may not necessarily share their faith. These regimes have developed a distorted “secular” logic of their own, nourished by the requirements of ruling over a disenfranchised population that includes both Sunnis and Shiites, not to mention other non-Muslim groups. There is great doubt about their commitment to promoting the interests of their own co-religionists, as their main focus remains on keeping their grip on power and resources. While the piety of presidents and monarchs remains their own business, it is clear that any religiosity they express or resources they spend on religious projects are above all strategies to achieve political ends. Before Islamists fused religion and politics, Arab dictators had already mastered the art. They saw in religion a political capital that could be invested for profit, but this transaction proved in some instances to be drenched in killing and bloodshed. It is no surprise then that those who opposed them used the same old game, namely finding salvation in religion to achieve political and economic ends.
Before we start inventing magical solutions for a region struggling with the outcomes of a crumbling old political order and unequitable distribution of dwindling resources, it is important to identify the real causes that have prevented a movement toward stable politics, let alone democracy. It does not help to continue to recite the set of binary opposites mentioned here.
It has become urgent for the foundation of the old Arab order to be shaken. This does not mean replacing one ruler with another who may turn to be nastier than the previous one. It means a structural change to replace the narrow foundation of government with a wider base that promises both political and economic inclusion. Anything less than this will prove to be futile and prolong the confrontations. Perhaps the Arab uprisings were simply the first round of a marathon that had already started. It can pause, but this marathon is certainly destined to be re-launched in the future. The last three years may be a fourth democratic wave, but all indications point to future ones waiting for their moment.

Bashar al-Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer. By Anna Ciezadlo.

Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer. By Anna Ciezadlo. The New Republic, December 19, 2013.

Lawrence of Arabia: The Stranger in a Strange Land. By Fouad Ajami.

Lawrence of Arabia: The Stranger in a Strange Land. By Fouad Ajami. Hoover Institution, December 19, 2013. Also at Real Clear World.

How Peter O’Toole Saved the Arabs (According to David Lean). By Juan Cole. Informed Comment, December 16, 2013. Also at History News Network.

Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia.