Sunday, 28 August 2016

Burkini Ban, Burkina Faso & Israel

Mao Zedong decreed that everybody should dress the same in China. 
I don’t like burqas; just as I did not like the choke-collar suits of Maoist China, the black garb of Charedi Jews or the tophats City bankers wore until not that long ago.

I don’t like them, mostly because I feel that people should not be regimented.  Wearing a uniform is loss of freedom, just like being in the army or in prison.  Plus, people wearing that kind of garb seem to be yearning to go backwards – to 7thcentury Arabia or to 17th century Poland – rather than forwards.

In recent weeks, several municipalities in France have decreed a ‘burkini ban’ – meaning that women using public beaches are fined if they wear that ‘Islamised’ type of costume.  Even more recently, a French ‘administrative court’ – whatever that is – has banned the ban.  Yet, apparently, the story is not over yet: some of the mayors involved (and quite a few national politicians who jumped on the bandwagon) have vowed to overturn the suspension that suspended the ban that banned the burkini… you know how it goes!

Even some burqa-inspired garb looks
trendy when Italians design it! 
Well, I may not like burqas (or indeed burkinis); but the idea of a ban is wrong, stupid and – perhaps worst of all – a populist distraction from the real issues.

It’s wrong because, just as people should not be told what clothes to wear, they shouldn’t be told what not to wear.  It is even more wrong because one particular distinctive garb was singled out and banned.  Yes, I know there are ‘reasons’ – there always are; but no: there are no excuses for double standards.  Or, rather, there are only dishonest excuses.

The burkini ban is stupid, because it completely lacks purpose.  What exactly is it supposed to achieve?  Will it prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims?  How exactly?  Which of France’s recent terrorist attacks would have been prevented, had the burkini bans been in place?

Finally – and worst of all – the burkini ban is a populist distraction.  This trifle of an ‘issue’ deflects attention from the very real and grave concerns: the radicalisation of young Muslims, the religious extremism which begets intolerance and terrorism.

The ban is not just a golden opening for political demagogues – of every tinge – to burnish their credentials; it’s also a cop out for everybody: an excellent excuse to duck the real challenges, while furiously debating a marginal issue.  What a superb opportunity for doing nothing – with great determination!

Even worse – the motivations are, let’s face it, obviously racist.  Granted, there was no obligation for the French state to open its borders and its population registry to a wide variety of people – including some who have not exactly been raised up in the spirit of  ‘liberté, egalité, fraternité’.  But once they did let them in, once they recognised them as French citizens, they can’t tell them what they are allowed to wear, now can they?

‘Special laws’ for one category of people?  Haven’t we seen that before, somewhere?  A bylaw is still a law.  And singling out one particular category of French citizens deserves just one name: no, it’s not ‘love of nudity’ – it’s ‘naked racism’!

Nor am I particularly surprised: in the latest elections for the European Parliament, the far-right Front National won a third of the votes.  And those European Elections took place in 2014, before the latest bout of jihadist terrorism that hit France.  (Contrary to popular belief, the fully proportional European Parliament elections are the best indicator of people’s real political opinions, which are masked by plurality election systems based on geographic constituencies.)

So much for the far-right.  There is, of course, quite a bit of far-left racism in France (and elsewhere in Europe).  In the process of crowning them as ‘oppressed’ and hence in perpetual need of their rights being ‘defended’ by Good (Marxist) Samaritans, the far-left denies Muslims their God-given agency; it infantilises them.  When it comes to Muslims, far-rightists demand a higher standard than for anyone else; far-leftists set the standards lower than for anyone else.  Both positions are racist because both deny Muslims their status as equal members of the human race – with the same rights and obligations everyone else has.

Prefers not to wear hijab (but wouldn’t be fined if she did):
Noura Abu-Shanab, an Arab Israeli and captain
of the women football team Hapoel Petah Tikva. 
Sure, France has seen quite a bit of Islamist terrorism; but Israel has seen more.  Circa 7.5% of French citizens are Muslims; the proportion is roughly 3 times larger in Israel.  And yet, in Israel not even the far-right tries to control how Muslims dress.

If you are a Muslim in Israel, you are entitled to have your personal status matters (such as marriage and divorce) adjudicated according to Shari’a – the Islamic law.  The qadis (traditional Islamic judges) receive their salaries from the state budget, as do the dayanim – their Judaic counterparts; and the Jewish State will apply the decision of the Shari’a court just as it does with that of a Beth Din – the traditional Rabbinical court.  French Muslims can only dream of that level of freedom and consideration.

An Israeli beach: the way to heaven is a matter of opinion...
And yet, it is the French government that, every year, is paying a lot of money to far-left Israeli organisations dedicated to inspecting ‘human rights’ in Israel.  That money, it turns out, would be put to much better use, were it invested in France.  There is, it seems obvious, a lot to be done to root out extremism and racism from the French society – both Muslims and non-Muslims.  Perhaps Israel – a good friend of that troubled country – should weigh in to prop up the increasingly shaky French democracy?  Lest it becomes more like – say – Burkina Faso?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Breaking the Silent?

It’s December 2015 and, as I have done for the past 4 years, I attend the Limmud Conference, this time in Birmingham, UK.  It brings together circa 3,000 people (mostly British, but also American, Israeli and French Jews, and even a few non-Jews), who want to learn about Jewishness, Judaism, Zionism and humanism in general.

I am one of circa 100 people who came to listen to a representative from Breaking the Silence (BtS) – a group of former Israeli soldiers who claim that the IDF systematically and deliberately commits a whole series of wrongful acts, ranging from unethical behaviour to war crimes.

I am a very unusual member of that audience: I have served in the IDF, including (extensively) in the West Bank during two Intifadas.  I am, therefore, able to critically dissect the BtS narrative, gauging how it stacks up against my direct, personal experience.  The rest of the audience is made up, mostly, of British Jews.  Very few of them (if any) have served in the army – any army; they never had to take a weapon in their hands; they’ve never been in Gaza or the West Bank – let alone in Iraq or Afghanistan.  For most of them, this talk by Breaking the Silence is the first time they ever listened to a former Israeli soldier.  Or to any former soldier.

And that particular former soldier is telling them things that make them very uncomfortable: Israeli troops, he implies, systematically burst into peaceful, random Palestinian homes – for no reason other than to oppress; they destroy property for the sake of destruction; they beat people up; they even shoot innocent Palestinians for no good reason.  The IDF this guy describes is not an army conscripted to defend the country; it’s a pogrom mob.

The highlight of the BtS presentation is a short video.  In it, a soldier in IDF uniform and gear is shown beating Palestinian men at a military checkpoint. He even boasts and philosophises about it, attempting to justify his acts.

Stunned, the audience draws its collective breath.  This time, it’s not just a narrative, but a video.  No longer can they deny that things like these truly happened – not even to themselves; it’s all there, straight from the horse’s mouth.

No, the Breaking the Silence chap isn’t lying – that beating did indeed take place. He isn’t technically lying but – I’d strongly suggest – he is engaging in deceit.  Because this video has not been recorded by Breaking the Silence, but by… the IDF’s own Education Corps. There is no ‘silence’ to break: the deed hasn’t been covered up; this video has actually been used by the IDF for training purposes – to teach other soldiers how not to behave. As for the offending soldier in the video, he has been apprehended, tried and sent to prison for his wrongdoing.

In fairness, the BtS guy did mention those facts. But he did so quickly and in passing, after showing the video and not before. And I wonder: how many people, in that stunned, shocked audience, have picked up those rather key details?

During the short Q & A session that followed, I challenge the BtS guy: did his unit really burst into random Palestinian homes, with no reason?  No, his unit didn’t – but other units did.  Did he see those ‘other units’ with his own eyes?  No, he didn’t – but he heard about it…  I want to keep on challenging him, but the ‘fixer’ (a British Jew from a well-known ‘pro-Israel’ – ahem! – organisation) intervenes to shut me up: they have to move on, other people also want a chance to ask…  I have apparently asked the wrong questions; questions that might ‘spoil the effect’ from the ‘pro-Israel’ fixer’s point of view.

I’ve been reminded of all that recently, when I was offered – by the virtual television channel J-TV – a chance to debate with a Breaking the Silence spokesman, a chap called Avner Gvaryahu.  (The short video of that debate can be viewed here or here).

Avner Gvaryahu speaking on J-TV

Fair disclosure: I despise Breaking the Silence.  It’s not that they hold opinions that are very different from mine; frankly [sigh], a lot of people hold opinions very different from mine!  Much as I disagree with them, these BtS chaps are entitled to their opinion; they are even entitled to promote those opinions and try to persuade others.  But the way they go about it is, in my view, thoroughly anti-democratic and intellectually dishonest.

‘The only narrative in town’

Upon reaching the J-TV studio, I learn – to my huge surprise – that the BtS spokesman has refused to be interviewed concurrently with me.  I say ‘huge surprise’ because Avner Gvaryahu does not know me from Adam!  Yet not confronting this unknown individual (me!) is so important to him that he carefully ascertains with the producer that he’d be speaking unopposed – before assenting to be interviewed.  So, rather than a debate, the video had to take the odd format of two separate interviews: first Avner will have his say; only when they’ll finish with him will I be allowed to react.  But why?  I am not a notorious terrorist (or even a not-so-notorious one!)  I do not incite to violence and strife.  Why not share the stage with me?

Well, it turns out (regretfully) that this isn’t about me at all – as mentioned I am not that famous.  It’s just that speaking unopposed and largely unchallenged is what Breaking the Silence activists like to do outside Israel.  And if, by chance, someone like me happens to be in the audience, then that someone is quickly silenced.  Only Breaking the Silence is allowed to… well, break the silence!  It’s the old ‘freedom of speech for me, not for you’.

On some level, it’s understandable: as I mentioned in the interview, Gvaryahu’s own comrades, those who served with him in the same unit,accuse him of lying.  They did so not anonymously, but openly.  And this may be an unpleasant experience, were it to happen face-to-face.

Breaking Israel’s arm

On their website, Breaking the Silence define the group’s aim as
“to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.”
To a naïve foreigner, this might sound logical.  To an Israeli, it sounds a bit weird.  After all, most Israelis – men and women – have served in the army.  And pretty much everybody who did, has at some point (during their regular service – 3 years for boys, 2 for girls – and/or during their annual reserve duty) served in the ‘Occupied Territories’.  They have manned checkpoints, stood guard in sensitive places, patrolled the area and confronted violent riots.  That is, trust me, a lot of ‘reality‘ and plenty of ‘exposure’.  What can Breaking the Silence add to that?

Still, there is nothing wrong with “expos[ing] the Israeli public” to any kind of “reality”.  The only problem is… that’s not what BtS does at all!

Unless one believes that, in order to “expose the Israeli public to the reality”, BtS activists have to travel to Sydney and Cape Town, to Berlin, Brussels and San Diego.  Because that is where the group is most active – abroad.  BtS activists have become true globetrotters: in the past three years or so, they have delivered many dozens of presentations, speeches and interviews not just in North America and Europe, but in places as remote as Australia and South Africa.  Even the BtS ‘guided’ tours of Hebron and East Jerusalem target as a rule foreign visitors, not Israelis.  Hopefully, Avner Gdalyahu still uses Hebrew in conversations with his family and friends; as for his ‘silence’, it is almost always broken in English!

Globetrotters: map of Breaking the Silence international activities (not including interviews, newspaper articles, tours of the West Bank, etc.), September 2012- June 2015. No lecture in Greenland yet, but watch this space! 

Let me be clear: much as I disagree with their narrative, I would find nothing wrong with BtS promoting it in Israel; after all, trying to persuade one’s countrymen is what democracy is all about.  Most Israelis see control over parts of West Bank not as ‘good’ in itself, but as ‘the lesser evil’.  So, if BtS has found a way to relinquish that control without critically endangering the Jewish state (a way that has somehow escaped everybody else’s scrutiny), then they are very welcome to suggest it.  But, as mentioned, that’s not what they are doing.

Avner Gvaryahu was – to put it mildly – liberal with the truth during the interview, when he tried to present BtS overseas activities as ‘occasional’ or ‘opportunistic’:
“I’m here [in the US] to pursue my Master’s [degree], that’s what brought me here.  Breaking the Silence does not have an office in New York  […]  But what we try to do when we have an opportunity like this when I’m here in the States or when we have a representative visiting the UK, for example, then we always try to reach out to communities we believe are crucial for this discourse…”
I do not know who pays for Avner’s academic studies; I do know that he is listed on the group’s website as the Breaking the Silence ‘Diaspora Programming Coordinator U.S.A’.  As for the BtS representative I heard at the Limmud Conference back in December, he wasn’t just “visiting the UK” to do some Christmas shopping!

Unfortunately, their activity abroad reveals the group’s ‘mission statement’ as a naked lie: Breaking the Silence strives not “to expose the Israeli public to the reality”, but to indoctrinate foreigners who know little about that reality.  BtS works “to expose the Israeli public” alright; only not “to the reality”, but to external pressure.  Their chosen tool is not persuasion, but anti-democratic coercion.
In passing, let me remark that, from Breaking the Silence’ point of view, the recourse to external coercion is an admission of failure.  Those who command compelling arguments have no need to twist arms.  Having miserably failed to persuade Israelis – i.e. those who actually serve in the IDF and know the situation on the ground – BtS is now attempting to bully them, by raising the spectre of ‘diplomatic’ and undiplomatic external pressure.

Breaking the deafening noise

One does not need to read as far as the ‘mission statement’ to find deceit.  It is actually blatant even in the group’s name.  Which insidiously suggests that there’s some kind of (imposed, conspiratorial or just ignorant) ‘silence’ around the issue of ‘occupation’; or around IDF ethics.

Is there really a ‘silence’ that needs to be ‘broken’ by some courageous activists endowed with superior moral backbone?  To test that hypothesis, I have performed the following simple experiment: in a Google search box, I have typed the Hebrew words “הכיבוש הישראלי” (“the Israeli occupation”) within quote marks.  Then I hit ‘Enter’.  Wonders of technology: the search took all of 0.32 seconds to return no less than 52,900 hits.  That’s a rather roaring ‘silence’!  And I’m not talking about obscure publications, either: among the top results I noticed articles published on Walla (one of Israel’s top Internet portals) and Ynet (a popular news portal owned by a group that also operates one of Israel’s leading printed newspapers).

As for IDF ethics, just Google “אלאור אזריה” (El’or ‘Azaria, the name of the IDF soldier who shot dead an already wounded and apparently incapacitated Palestinian terrorist).  I did; this time, Google returned… 571,000 hits in just under a second!

But that’s in Israel.  What about global coverage?  Is the world silent about ‘the Occupation’?  A search for the terms BBC, Israel and “West Bank” took 0.36 seconds to return 519,000 hits.  I confess I did not read them all; but the top pages contained links to BBC news items referring to Israel’s occupation of the ‘Palestinian territory’.  By the way, changing the search terms to BBC, Turkey and “North Cyprus” produced only 24,000 hits…

There is no ‘silence’.  It’s a lie.  What BtS wants to ‘break’ is not a non-existent ‘silence’, but those very audible opinions they disagree with.

Breaking the truth

More on Breaking the Silence’ tenuous relationship with the truth:

Part and parcel of the group’s narrative is the systematic attempt to suggest (subliminally at least) that that narrative is dominant, that it is general, typical or prevailing.  As usual, I’ll start from the group’s own website.  It states:
“Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada […]
Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely.  Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases.  Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of Israel’s security. While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that what is done in its name.  Discharged soldiers returning to civilian life discover the gap between the reality they encountered in the Territories, and the silence about this reality they encounter at home. In order to become civilians again, soldiers are forced to ignore what they have seen and done. We strive to make heard the voices of these soldiers, pushing Israeli society to face the reality whose creation it has enabled.”
Note the loose language: BtS appears to speak generally in the name of[s]oldiers who serve in the Territories”, rather than in their own name – a small number of “veteran combatants” (indeed, a negligible minority, considering the IDF headcount)!  In other words – Sancta Chutzpah!! – they presume to speak also in my name (I have served in an IDF fighter unit for many years – as a regular soldier and reservist; may I call myself a “veteran combatant”?).

Note also the attempt to draw a boundary (drive a wedge?) between“Israeli soldiers and commanders” on one hand and “Israeli society” on the other.  But, as I mentioned already, the majority of the “Israeli society” has served in the army; and most have served, at some point at least, in “the Territories”.  How, exactly, is that large majority “forced to ignore what they have seen and done”??

In a democracy, minority opinions are legitimate; but pretending to represent the majority view is simply dishonest.  Nor is that dishonesty deployed unknowingly – it’s deliberate.  Since the group’s most rewarding targets are people who know little about IDF and “the Israeli society”, part of the BtS tactic is to cast as large a shadow as possible.  Hence the term “veteran combatants”, rather than just ‘former soldiers’; hence the refusal to be interviewed together with other “veteran combatants”; and hence the pretence of speaking on behalf of a majority oppressed by some sort of ‘societal’ conspiracy.

‘National crimes’

But such dishonesty – however fundamental – is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  It would take months and tonnes of ink to unravel the entire web of dangerous lies smuggled in among innocuous truths, the character-murdering innuendo, the subliminal rather than obvious deceit.  I’m afraid that my donors, foreign or not (I have none) aren’t paying for all that time and ink.  But let me at least point out a couple of the more insidious lies.

One of the most morally reprehensible parts of the group’s ‘method’ is the sweeping generalisation.  It starts with an unverifiable ‘testimony’; it always ends with that one very shaky ‘data point’ being not just ‘enriched’ beyond recognition, but also declared – evidence be damned – as ‘the way Israel behaves’.

In October 2013, Iran’s Press TV channel broadcast a video starring Avner Gvaryahu.  Press TV’s running commentary explained:
“Avner Gvaryahu, leader of a group called Breaking the Silence, was invited to the United Nations to speak about war crimes he had participated in and witnessed as an Israeli soldier.”
The video than shows Gvaryahu stating, in front of the UN audience:
“When I was a soldier in the West Bank in 2004-2007, the orders we got… any encounters with Palestinians holding a weapon… we shoot to kill.  You can go and seek through our testimonies at different times and in different years… it was someone holding a weapon… sometimes it was enough for someone in a balcony to hold a binocular, or cell phone… or standing on a rooftop…”
Firstly, note the ‘smooth transition’ from the ‘personal testimony’ (“the orders we got…”) to generalised hearsay (“at different times and in different years…”).  Few people listening to Avner’s words would have picked up that subtle shift.  Yet there is a huge difference in the ‘quality of testimony’ between the two.  As there is, of course, morally speaking, between shooting “Palestinians holding a weapon” and those “hold[ing] a binocular, or cell phone… or standing on a rooftop”.

In passing, let me mention that even the ‘personal’ part of that testimony sounds very much like a lie: in my circa 20 years of regular and reserve service (including during the intifadas) I have never heard such an order.  Quite the opposite: we were instructed in IDF’s Open Fire Standard Operating Procedure – the gist of it is that live fire is permitted only when in real and immediate danger to life and limb.  I remember that SOP well – it was drummed into us every time we went out on duty.

Avner Gvaryahu is not the only ‘silence breaker’ who uses sweeping generalisation.  Let me give you another example.

I have already referred to the case of IDF soldier El’or Azaria.  On March 24, 2016, in Hebron on the West Bank, two Palestinian men attacked and stabbed an Israeli soldier.  Both attackers were shot by other troops; one of them apparently survived, though seriously wounded.  Azaria arrived at the scene three minutes later, along with other soldiers present in the area.  He proceeded to shoot the surviving Palestinian attacker, who was lying on the ground, and killed him.  This scene (though not the preceding attack) was captured on camera by a Palestinian working for the BtS ‘sister organisation’ B’tselem – and the group promptly publicised it as yet another example of ‘Israeli crimes’.

Within ten minutes of the shooting, however, the ranking IDF officer on the scene had questioned Azaria and had reported the incident up the chain of command.  Even before B’tselem’s video had been published, a decision was made to open a Military Police investigation.  Azaria was soon indicted for manslaughter and is currently being tried in a military court.  He pleaded ‘not guilty’ and claimed that the wounded attacker had suddenly moved, causing him to suspect that he might either detonate a suicide vest, or reach for the knife.

The incident has caused a great deal of public debate in Israel, with politicians and even high-ranking officers weighing in.  Opinions are divided – in the sense that some tend to believe Azaria’s version of events, while others believe he is lying.  What nobody actually claims is that it is permissible to shoot even a terrorist, once he is ‘hors de combat’.

Whether Azaria is guilty of manslaughter or not boils down to whether he had reason to believe the attacker was still a threat – and that’s a matter for the court to establish.  But a couple of facts are not disputed:
  • Nobody ordered Azaria to open fire; he made the decision himself and acted before anyone could stop him.
  • There was no attempt to cover up the deed – it was reported according to procedure.

But the facts above were not enough to stop Breaking the Silence Executive Director Yuli Novak from turning the incident into an indictment not of El’or Azaria – but of the entire IDF, plus Israel’s political leadership and the Israeli society as a whole.  The kind of en-masse accusation that can never be debated in court; the kind of collective indictment which, had it been uttered by an Israeli against Palestinians, would have been called ‘racist’ by Yuli Novak herself – first and foremost.

From BtS to BDS: placing “all of Israeli society” in the dock

No doubt in order to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of occupation”, Ms. Novak (who, I can assure you, speaks excellent Hebrew) has proffered that all-encompassing accusation in an article she published in English, on a far-left portal.

There, she perorates:
“Azaria exposes, in his testimony, the untruthfulness in that Pavlovian reaction, and in his line of defense, he hits back. No, he accuses: ‘you are willful hypocrites, because this is far from an unusual occurrence. This is what we do there. This is how you have taught me to act. The violence, the light finger on the trigger, the disregard for human life, the use of force and the oppression – that is the policy, that is the worldview held by you and me, that is the reality being upheld over there in the West Bank. So if I am tried in court, you all are culpable.’In this sense, Azaria joins those soldiers who have broken their silence. He places a mirror before us, the public, and lets us see our real face, the true face of the occupation. And in this respect he is correct: not only he should face trial, everyone should. We all should. All those who support the occupation, the hatred, the violence, the racism, and the settlements; not to mention all those who believe the occupation must be ended yet divert their gaze from the destruction it wreaks upon Israeli society.”
Note how the alleged testimony of one soldier indicted for manslaughter – and hence, in all likelihood, willing to say anything it takes to avoid conviction – is leveraged to lift a huge crimson brush and paint with it not just his hundreds of thousands of colleagues, but an entire people.  The act of one soldier who (at worst) has unlawfully killed an attempted killer is elevated to the level of horrendous ‘national crime’.

Incidentally, note also the secondary quotation marks (from “you are willful hypocrites…” to “you all are culpable”); those quote marks are there in the original.  Most reasonable people seeing quotation marks will conclude that this is exactly that: a quote, i.e. an exact rendition of Azaria’s words.  But, although I have spent a couple of hours researching, I can find no other source quoting that passage.  Nor is such argument consistent with Azaria’s line of defence, which – as mentioned – is actually based on his perception of threat from the wounded attacker.  I twitted BtS to enquire whether that was an exact quote – but received no reply.

I did find, however, the Hebrew version of the article, published on the popular portal Walla about a fortnight before the English version.  Interestingly, the Hebrew article omitted the quote marks.  Why were they added in English?  Did El’or Azaria actually say the words Ms Novak attributes to him?  Or is this not a quote at all, but rather Yuli Novak’s interpretation of his testimony, words she puts in Azaria’s mouth to help her make her point?  If the latter, then that would constitute yet another attempt at deceit.  Perhaps Ms. Novak would care to elucidate the mystery, by providing the source of her quote?

BtS Executive Director Yuli Novak:
IDF is "a bunch of people who blindly, uncaringly... Who just want to conquer..."

Lies, damn lies and testimonies

But what about the elephant in the room – you’ll ask?  What about the ‘soldiers’ testimonies’ that BtS collects and publishes?  Everything else notwithstanding, do they not point to a problem?

Well, I’ve read those testimonies.  I mean, I’ve read the actual text, not just the sensationalist titles, which often bear little resemblance to the story.  What I read in those anonymous ‘testimonies’ is a lot of hearsay, a lot of innuendo, posturing, bluster, plenty of (generalised, of course) accusations of ‘criminal thinking’, ‘criminal speaking’ and ‘criminal attitude’, but few instances of actual, severe misconduct.  Occasionally – very occasionally! – one finds an instance which (if true!) actually would constitute a crime and would deserve severe punishment.  Of course, one finds things like that (and worse, much worse) in every army.  Which doesn’t mean that they should be tolerated in IDF; and we wouldn’t – given a chance to investigate them.  But of course, that chance is denied when anonymous ‘testimonies’ are used only to denigrate en-masse, rather than scrutinise and correct.

The BtS database includes a total of 590 ‘testimonies’, covering 17 years: from 1997 to 2014.  The current IDF headcount is circa 620,000 (175,000 regular troops and 445,000 reservists).  Tens of thousands of young men and women join the army every year, while others leave and become ‘ex-soldiers’.  Even assuming that all testimonies are genuine (which one has to take on trust, as BtS refuses to produce any verifiable evidence), 590 is a minuscule sample.  But is it even a random (let alone representative) sample?

To figure that out, one should ask: why are all testimonies negative?  Why do they all (100% of them, as far as I can see) paint a negative – and only negative – picture?  How likely is it that hundreds of thousands of people – conscripted from all walks of life, from widely dissimilar social strata, encompassing a broad spectrum of ideological and political views, etc., had nothing positive to say about how they and their colleagues behaved in the army?  How likely is it that they all seem to agree with Breaking the Silence?  Let me tell you: extremely unlikely!  Look at the huge spectrum of opinions one finds in the Israeli media and in the country’s political discourse.  Look at the number of political parties.  Finally, look at Israelis’ voting patterns.

So how come that all the testimonies Breaking the Silence publishes appear to support Breaking the Silence views?  Let me put it bluntly: it looks like the ‘testimonies’ (if indeed they are real!) are cherry-picked.  It looks like they are carefully selected.  Were the BtS ‘interviewees’ pre-selected?  How?  By which criteria?  Are ‘testimonies’ post-selected?  How and why?

In the recent J-TV interview, Avner Gvaryahu appears to claim  there's no foul-play:
“It’s silly to think that we have to… err… get specific kind of testimony in order to do our work – we just have to listen to the soldiers…”
Well, I’m an ex-soldier, just like the BtS interviewees allegedly are.  May I testify?  Will BtS ‘listen’ to me, will it publish my testimony?  Or is mine the ‘wrong type’ of testimony, i.e. not the type their donors are willing to pay for?

I’m afraid that Avner’s version is contradicted by several testimonies by former soldiers who were approached by BtS.  For instance, that of Josh Levitan (I have selected this testimony because the UK-born Josh delivered it in English).  Mr. Levitan, who has served during the latest conflagration in Gaza (2014), remembers how he was later approached by a Breaking the Silence activist:
“He wanted to hear that I’ve done something wrong, or maybe there was something that I’ve seen or done, or been part of – that I wasn’t happy about… you know, something that I feel like I shouldn’t have done and perhaps the reason I’ve done it, maybe not because of… through my own choice, maybe I feel I was forced into, something that I didn’t choose to do.”
Josh felt that he was being tricked into saying something he did not actually mean, which is why he ends his video with a warning to other soldiers that might fall victim to BtS tactics.

Nevertheless, ex-soldier Joshua Levitan was interviewed by Breaking the Silence.  He testified that he did nothing wrong – nor was he ordered to.  But if you look for Josh’s testimony among the 590 that BtS has published (including in their latest report entitled ‘This is how we fought in Gaza’)… well, you’re looking in vain.  Breaking the Silence has obviously decided that Josh’s testimony told the ‘wrong story’ – so they did not include it in the report.  How many other such testimonies were discarded because they did not fit the ‘desired narrative’?  This is not honest research, but (at best) cherry-picking data points that support a pre-determined conclusion.  Unsurprising: the five (government-funded) ‘Non-Governmental Organisations’ that paid BtS big money for this report are all ultra-critical of Israel.  Had the research led to the conclusion that the vast majority of IDF soldiers agree with Josh – this would have been the last report they ordered from BtS.

Listen to [which] soldiers?

But let us come back to Avner Gvaryahu’s J-TV interview.  He went on to claim:
“… And if you guys, back in the UK, or my government back in Israel would just listen to the soldiers… we believe we could move forward…”
Sounds grand – but it’s just cheap demagoguery.

In Israel, soldiers (and most of us are or have been soldiers) put their life on the line every time they don the IDF uniform.  They deserve to be heard.  The problem is, Avner’s words are just more deceit aimed at creating the impression that most soldiers agree with him.  We don’t.  If we did, he wouldn’t have to travel abroad to find naïve supporters.

Why would a government (most of whose members have themselves been soldiers) “listen to [a fringe minority of ex-]soldiers”, rather than to the will of the electorate – as governments are supposed to do in parliamentary democracies?

And why would “you guys, back in the UK […] listen to [a tiny minority of ‘specially selected’ former] soldiers”, rather than to the majority of Israelis – who also happen to be ex-soldiers?

Do “listen to the soldiers”, by all means! Just don’t ignore us. Our story may be less newsworthy – you won’t read it in The Guardian.  We are less visible: not paid to ‘break the silence’, we have to earn our bread ‘by the sweat of our brow’.  We are the silent majority; don’t let them break us!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Gewalt yidn! Israel’s democracy in danger – again

In a previous series of articles, I described the cohort of 'Israeli Non-Governmental Organisations’ (NGOs) funded – directly and indirectly – by foreign (mostly European) governments.  We are not dealing with pennies or eurocents here, but with massive finance: according to NGO Monitor (an organisation aiming to research and publicise the extent and influence of such funding)
“European governments provide at least $100 million annually to Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs that utilize these funds for anti-Israel campaigns and promote BDS under a façade of promoting human rights, peace, and capacity building.”
In fact, such enormous funding is without parallel.  NGO Monitor provides the following example:
“in 2014, civil society in Israel received €3,754,133 from EIDHR, and adding NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza €5,630,323 – the majority of which are related to the conflict. In contrast, Ukraine – a deeply flawed democracy with a population roughly five times the size of Israel’s and at the time (2014) a war zone affected by severe human rights violations – received just €3,400,575.”
EIDHR stands for ‘European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights’ – this is just one of the many channels through which money is distributed.

How Europe invests in democracy and human rights: bubble size represents EIDHR per capita funding, as per the 2015 Annual Action Programme

This is why I ended a recent article by stating
“As a democracy, Israel should be (and very much is!) open to criticism.  But it should not be a push-over.  The most basic tenet of democracy is, after all, that it is the people that makes the decisions.  ‘The people’ as in ‘those who live, pay taxes and vote in that country’.  To preserve that basic tenet, a democracy has the right (nay, has the duty!) to defend itself – not just against the enemies who want to physically overcome it, but also against the false friends who attempt to undermine it.  It is high time Israel told Europeans, in no uncertain terms, to mind their own business.  And their own (rather heavy!) conscience.”
Well, I don’t know if the powers that be in Israel read my humble articles, but someone decided to do something about it.  The country’s parliament (the Knesset) has just passed an amendment requiring NGOs that rely on foreign governments for more than 50% of their annual budget to disclose that fact on their official reports, adverts and formal communication with elected officials.

The law was proposed by the Justice Minister, supported by the government and lambasted in harsh terms by the opposition.  So far, so good – that’s the role of opposition in a democracy.  The amendment has also been attacked, naturally, by the NGOs in question.  No surprise there, either.

But – here comes the issue – it has also been criticised by foreign powers: the Obama Administration and the European Union.  Both have cried ‘gewald yidn!’ (or the English equivalent), decrying the new law as a threat to Israel’s democracy.

If I had a dollar for each time I heard that Israel’s democracy is in mortal danger – I’d be a millionaire.  Last time I checked, the country was still very much the only democracy in the Middle East – so I guess it has somehow managed to duck those grave dangers.

But hey, one never knows…  So I thought I’d look into the issue, to check whether the Israeli democracy was really on its last legs.

To start with, I read the proposed law in its latest version; I know, I know: I’m such a sad person!  But at least, now I can assure you: the text does not declare any NGO illegal; it does not force them to disband – or else; in fact, it does not impose any restriction whatsoever upon NGOs’ activity.  All it does is require them to state clearly, in their public and official communications, that they are funded by foreign governments – and to list those governments.  But only if that constitutes the majority of their total funding.  If, for instance, just 49.9% of an NGO's budget comes from foreign governments and the balance from non-governmental sources (either Israeli or foreign), then the law places no special requirement on that NGO.

'So what’s the big deal?' you’ll ask.  'How does a mere requirement to disclose information constitute a threat to democracy?'  Well, according to the law’s critics, the new amendment discriminates between left wing and right wing NGOs.  For instance, one such critic – an organisation called Americans for Peace Now (APN), claims that
“The bill requires no transparency from right-wing groups – who are promoting an agenda that lines up comfortably with that of the current government – although they are massively funded by foreign donors.  As such, the clear objective of this bill is to enhance the hegemony of this government’s narrative by silencing dissent.”
Worried, I read the law again.  It says nothing about left, right or centre: it refers to all NGOs, with no regard to their political agenda (or lack thereof).

So I turned again to Americans for Peace Now, for an explanation.  Here it is, from the horse’s mouth: the bill, they say,
“require disclosure […] only with respect to foreign government funding (which goes almost entirely to progressive civil society NGOs and NGOs working on peace and human rights)…”
It does not, on the other hand, require disclosure
“with respect to foreign individuals (who provide massive amounts of funding for right-wing NGOs).”
You got that?  It’s not the Israeli law that discriminates between left-wing and right-wing NGOs.  It’s actually the foreign governments that make that difference: they provide funding only to left-wing NGOs, but not to right-wing NGOs.  Err… why??

As an aside, it seems to me that Americans for Peace Now have committed a bit of a Freudian mistake in their passionate argumentation.  I don’t know about you, but their reference to “left-wing NGOs” and “right-wing NGOs” kinda grates on my ear.  Aren’t charities supposed to be apolitical??  Are these human rights organisations, or political outfits?  If the latter (a conclusion that the left-wing/right wing classification inexorably leads to), then why do foreign governments bankroll political movements – of a particular tinge – in a fellow democracy?

Still, what about APN’s basic argument?  Why does the law refer only to funding by foreign governments and does not apply also to donations by foreign individuals?  Well, individuals are fundamentally different from states and governments.  As an individual, I can give money to whoever I please; it’s my private money.  Not so a government; it operates with public money.  Which is why an individual is entitled (in law and in practice) to privacy; conversely, governments are required (in law and in practice) to exhibit transparency and be open to public scrutiny.  Hence, there is a reasonable argument that a requirement to publish names of individual donors might spook them; it would amount to an infringement of their privacy.  Not so in the case of governments, to which the opposite principle applies: the duty of transparency, rather than the right to privacy.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary (an Irish national, i.e. a foreign individual as far as the UK is concerned) is reputed to have used his own and his company’s money in support of the ‘Remain’ campaign.  ‘Leave’ campaigners must have resented that, but nobody said it’s illegal.  But what if the government of Ireland (a foreign country with interests not necessarily aligned with those of the UK) would have done the same?  What if – say – Israel’s government would have donated tens of millions of pounds to organisations promoting Brexit?

There is another issue, too.  See, I always thought (and most people do, I’d guess) that ‘NGO’ stands for Non-Governmental Organization.  But how ‘non-governmental’ is an organisation if the majority of its funds come from governments?  At the very least, the public is entitled to know that this or that particular Non-Governmental Organization is… rather governmental in terms of its finances.

Americans for Peace Now disagrees, however:
“this bill clearly portrays Israeli civil society organizations – organizations that obey the law and work to advance an agenda that differs from the current government’s worldview – as ‘foreign agents’ which are disloyal to the state, which represent foreign interests, and which act to undermine the state and its institutions. This bill does not only seek to stigmatize these progressive groups but also seeks to humiliate them by demanding that they stigmatize themselves through slapping a ‘warning label’ on their public communications.”
Well, “Israeli civil society organisations” have every right “to advance an agenda that differs from the current government’s worldview”.  Nobody disputes that right – I certainly don’t!  What raises eyebrows, however, is the fact that the majority of their funds are contributed by foreign governments.  One would think that “Israeli civil society organisations” would be able to raise the funds needed for their operation from within that civil society.  Moreover, since the fact of the matter is that they don’t, that they are mainly bankrolled by foreign governments, why should that fact be concealed from the “Israeli civil society” – i.e. from the Israeli public and its elected representatives?

Since Israel is a democracy, “Israeli civil society organisations” can (and should!) question government policies; they have the right to criticise them and claim that they are bad for the country.  But those organisations cannot at the same time demand to be themselves above scrutiny.  Doesn’t the Israeli public have the right to question their wisdom – and, yes, even their loyalty?  After all, foreign governments – even friendly ones – are driven by their own national interests, which are not necessarily aligned with and may even drastically diverge from Israeli interests.  Shouldn’t the Israeli public be given the tools to question and decide for themselves whether a particular organisation claiming to speak for the “Israeli civil society” really does?

Furthermore, if those “Israeli civil society organisations” consist of “progressive groups” of loyal patriots “that obey the law”, then what do they have to hide?  How does disclosing the source of their funding – in a format easy to grasp by the public – “stigmatise” them?  Since when does the truth (nobody disputes that it is the truth) “humiliate”??

The lady doth protest too much, methinks!  It would seem that somewhere, somewhere deep inside, those “Israeli civil society organisations” feel that what they do, while legal, is not exactly… shall we say… cool.  It may be kosher, but it stinks.

If that is how they feel, I think they are right.  In fact, a similar conclusion has recently been reached by a bipartisan US Senate inquiry.  It found that the Obama Administration (through the Department of State) funded an NGO called One Voice.  In turn, that NGO used the funds to campaign (through an “Israeli civil society organisation”, of course) against Benjamin Netanyahu, during the latest parliamentary elections in Israel (2015).  The Senate inquiry found that the transaction had been legal – no US law had been infringed; it just wasn’t ethical, fair or democratic.  In other words – kosher, but stinking to high heaven.  Both the Democrat and the Republican Party co-chairs criticised the Administration, with the latter stating:
“The State Department ignored warning signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards.  It is completely unacceptable that US taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed — immediately after the grant ended — against the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East.”
Sorry, “Israeli civil society organisations” – but I don’t see at all how the new law is undemocratic.  That doesn’t mean I have no problem with it – I do.  I suspect it’ll be ineffective.  Money is fungible and it is all too easy to move it around and disguise its sources.  As I’ve explained elsewhere, charities such as Oxfam get a huge chunk of their budgets from the British government and the various purses it controls.  So when Oxfam funds – say – Breaking the Silence (as it did), is that to be counted as government money or not?  How about if Oxfam funds a charity which bankrolls a programme with another charity which pays a third charity to commission a report from “Israeli civil society organisation” Breaking the Silence?  You get my drift…

Legislation is a good thing.  Over-legislation isn’t.  And when it comes to foreign interference, legislation is often toothless and weak.  It is defensive.  And – as Israeli soldiers know and Israeli footballers unfortunately don’t – sometimes offence is the best type of defence.  The way to put an end to foreign – especially European – subversion is not to protest and legislate, but simply to establish, quietly but effectively, that two can play at this game.

Take for instance Spain.  The country is a major donor to “Israeli civil society organisations” – including extreme-left fringe outfits such as ICAHD.  Israel can return the compliment by providing funds to secessionist movements… err… civil society organisations in Catalonia and the Basque Country.  Not directly, of course – but through a charity funding another charity…

Peaceful protest on the streets of Barcelona. Not funded by Israel.

France is another country that seems to care deeply for Israel’s civil society.  Certainly more than it does for its own Roma population, which faces widespread, systematic racism, discrimination and even persecution by the authorities.  Morality will surely oblige Israel to fund French civil society organisations fighting France’s rampant antiziganism.

British police forcibly evict inhabitants of the Dale Farm travelers’ camp.

And so on…  Don’t worry, this won’t cost a lot of money: political activists are cheap – one can buy a dozen for the cost of one honest worker.  And they specialise in generating maximum noise for the buck.  Once a few European countries get a taste of their own medicine, I’m sure that brutal, 'anti-democratic’ legislation will become unnecessary.  A gentlemen’s agreement between fellow democracies is a much better solution.

Because Israel’s democracy is indeed under threat.  Not from Knesset’s legislation, of course; but from the anti-democratic, subversive practices of some ‘friendly foreign governments’.  Well, every stick has two ends; and old Hillel said it well:
“What is hateful to you, do not unto your neighbor.”
Those ‘friendly governments’ could do with a reminder.  After all, what are friends for??

Friday, 8 July 2016

Chilcot, Israel and the Kiss of Judas

احذر عدوك مرة وصديقك ألف مرة فإن انقلب الصديق فهو أعلم بالمضرة

Beware of an enemy once and of a friend a thousand times, because a duplicitous friend will hurt you more. (An Arabic proverb)

I admit: I expected the Chilcot inquiry to be just another sop.  If nothing else, the inordinate length of time it took seemed to bode no great desire to reveal unpleasant truths.  So, had I been asked a couple of weeks ago, I would have expressed low expectations from that inquiry; and I would have been wrong.

Sir John Chilcot, Chair of the Inquiry
True, like the biblical Jacob, we had to wait seven years for this bride; it cost us more than £10 million.  In taxes, not in sheep, goats or camels.

But at least the bride is lovely and wise.  Sir John Chilcot and his team have done good, serious work.  That’s not to say that their report should be seen as The Ultimate Truth – far from it.  Inevitably, the assessments, judgments and conclusions are all subjective, coloured by the authors’ own experience, beliefs and ideological inclinations.  But a huge body of evidence has been uncovered; and the analysis (while far from infallible) is also quite useful.

The Chilcot Inquiry findings will no doubt fascinate people for years and maybe decades to come.  As usual, the honest historian in search of truth and understanding will be followed by the ‘revisionist’ seeking to justify preconceived ideas for the sake of publicity, royalties and tenure.
Even before that, an army of journalists and politicians will exploit the report – without reading it, of course – to further their own interests and careers.  The most unscrupulous ones have in fact already  started to do just that – before the ink has had a chance to dry on Sir Chilcot’s signature.

But there is one aspect revealed by the inquiry which has so far completely escaped attention; which has not even been touched by the journo-political Commentariat.  And yet, reference to that aspect was obvious even in John Chilcot’s public statement, which accompanied the release of the report on 6 July 2016.  Says Sir John:
“On 28 July, Mr Blair wrote to President Bush with an assurance that he would be with him ‘whatever’ – but, if the US wanted a coalition for military action, changes would be needed in three key areas.”
The Commentariat herd has focused its entire attention on Blair’s promise to support Bush “whatever”.  But it’s worth taking in the entirety of John Chilcot’s statement.

What was that “coalition for military action” that Blair was so keen to organise?  And why was he that keen?  A look at the written records gives us the answer: Blair wanted to cover his proverbial bottom, in case the sh** hit the fan (as it eventually did).  On 28 July 2002, Blair wrote in his message to US President Bush:
“The US could do it alone, with UK support.  [but]  If we win quickly, everyone will be our friend.  If we don’t and they haven’t been bound beforehand, recriminations will start fast.”
Blair’s message details the potential dangers:
“The danger is, as ever with these things, unintended consequences.  Suppose it got militarily tricky.  Suppose Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties.  Suppose the Arab street finally erupted, eg in {CENSORED}.  Suppose Saddam felt sufficiently politically strong, if militarily weak in conventional terms, to let off WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction].  Suppose that, without any coalition, the Iraqis feel ambivalent about being invaded and real Iraqis, not Saddam’s special guard, decide to offer resistance.  Suppose, at least, that any difficulties, without a coalition, are magnified and seized upon by a hostile international opinion.”
Throughout his message, Blair advocates a political and military coalition as an antidote against those “any difficulties”.  And not just any old coalition, but one that would include Arab countries; just like in Bush Senior’s First Gulf War.

On the face of it, this made sense.  After all, many an Arab dictator feared and loathed Saddam Hussein; his military might and (especially) popularity on the Arab street threatened their royal thrones and gilded presidential armchairs.  But Arab tyrants are good negotiators; their power and very survival depends on astutely playing other people’s ambitions and fears, hopes and worries.  Accustomed to play by the rules, Western politicians are no match for such predatory instincts.  Tony Blair was easily persuaded that the West needed to pay a price for the Arabs’ militarily ineffective but politically convenient cooperation.  What price?  Well, the Arab autocrats needed to throw their hapless subjects a bone; and in the world of tyrants, where power is admired as the supreme value, that means being able to declare a victory.  Not just against a fellow Arab dictator, but against the habitual scapegoat – Israel.  So the Arab dictators persuaded Blair that the West needed to pay for their cooperation and that the currency needed to be Israel’s security.  As usual, the entire thing was to be disguised under the euphemism ‘progress in MEPP’ – the Middle East Peace Process.  In Blair’s own words:
“The Arabs may support but are far less likely to do so, if MEPP is where it is now.  When I met {CENSORED} and said we would do Iraq, he said: ‘fine – just do it with total force’.  But when we started later to talk about MEPP, he said he was far more optimistic about it.  ‘Why?’, I asked.  ‘Because obviously, with Iraq coming up, the US will put it in a quite different place, he said.  When I said, we couldn’t guarantee that, he looked genuinely shocked.  Then Iraq would be a very different proposition, he said.”
For anyone familiar with Middle Eastern negotiation euphemisms, a deal had been offered: the West would be allowed to “do Iraq” if the Arab dictators could, to at least some extent, ‘do Israel’.  If we needed proof that ‘MEPP’ was all about imposing a "movement" that was "contrary to Israeli worries", we get that from another Blair-to Bush message, dated 11 October 2001:
“This is the huge undercurrent in this situation.  It is the context in the Arab world.  The trouble is it’s damn difficult, though your comments on a Palestinian state and {CENSORED}  […]  It will be very tough, but we need a big, new initiative.  I wonder if we could do as follows: pull out every stop to halt terrorist activity on the Palestinian side or at least have Arafat so clearly trying, that it’s obvious to all; then use this break in the weather, to launch a new talks process, effectively accepting at the outset that the outcome will be 2 states living side by side.  {CENSORED} involvement and it’s your call but, for what it’s worth, I have believed for 2 years now that the US just can’t take the strain of this alone; and that contrary to Israeli worries, the {CENSORED} into a reasonable deal.  After all, it’s the {CENSORED}.
If we showed movement here, the Arab moderates would regain the upper hand quickly.”
We do not know who “the Arab moderates” were in 2001.  Did they include Egypt’s President Mubarak?  The absolute monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Jordan?  Perhaps Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, the (then) newly enthroned President-for-Life of Syria?

But what is clear is that Tony Blair was in search of a "reasonable deal".  Only problem was – in his mind it needed to be reasonable from the point of view of the USA/UK interests in Iraq; and that meant disregarding "Israeli worries" to keep the "Arab moderates" happy.

Now, let us remind ourselves what was going on at the time – in 2001-2002, when Tony Blair was so nonchalantly advocating the brushing aside of those annoying “Israeli worries”.

The Camp David Summit (Bill Clinton, Arafat, Ehud Barak) had ended in July 2000, with no agreement.  In January 2001, Arafat was finally forced to put in writing the Palestinian official response, rejecting out of hand the so-called Clinton Parameters which had offered Palestinians a state in 100% of Gaza Strip and 95-97% of West Bank, plus 1-3% of swap land from pre-1967 Israel.
Arafat also refused to budge during the Taba negotiations, despite the offer being reiterated, detailed and expanded.

Even while the negotiations at Taba were going on, a campaign of terror against Israelis was unfolding.  It cost the lives of 207 Israelis in 2001 and 457 in 2002.  There were 40 suicide bombings in 2001 and 47 (i.e. roughly one every week on average) in 2002.

Memorial for the victims of the Dolphinarium suicide bombing. 21 Israeli youngsters (the majority teenage girls) were killed in June 2001 by a 22-year-old Palestinian terrorist. 

As his message to Bush proves, Tony Blair was well aware of the situation and of the basis for “Israeli worries”; he did not believe that Arafat was “clearly trying” to “halt terrorist activity on the Palestinian side”.  In fact, in yet another message to Bush (in December 2001), he was stating, in reference to the wave of Palestinian terrorism:
“The issue is not whether [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon takes tough action.  He is bound to and so would any of us in this situation.”
Needless to say, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians had nothing to do with Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s regime.  So, was Tony Blair truly naïve enough to believe that this conflict (rather than, for instance, the lack of freedom and democracy) was the context in the Arab world”?  Doubtful; he was just cynically willing to pay for Arab benevolence with Israeli blood and tears.

Nor was Blair’s attitude new and unheard of.  The cooperation of Arab dictators in the First Gulf War (among them Mubarak of Egypt and Assad Senior, father of the current Syrian president and a prodigious murderer in his own right) had been ‘rewarded’ with the Madrid Conference, in which Israel was forced to ‘negotiate’ (read: face in a public or semi-public showdown) simultaneously with Syria, Lebanon and a joint PLO-Jordanian delegation, under the watchful co-sponsorship of United States and the Soviet Union.

These days, Blair’s 2001-2002 cynical manoeuvre has become a typical Western (or at least European) approach.  Why else would the European Union still refer to the (stubborn, but low intensity) conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as ‘the conflict in the Middle East’?  Isn’t the conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Islam an infinitely more suitable candidate to that title?  Shouldn’t the EU seek to initiate (let alone progress) a Middle East Peace Process for that conflict, which is many centuries old, has resulted in millions of casualties, involves a huge swath of territory including at a minimum Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and is a colossal threat to world peace?

Like Tony Blair in 2001-2002, current European politicians are keen to buy Arab dictators’ connivance at Israel’s expense.  In addition, they hope to ‘sweeten’ the bad taste left by their efforts to keep Muslim refugees out of Europe and to ‘endear’ themselves to their own already large and restive Muslim minority.

The problem with that tactic – besides, that is, its stench of advanced moral rot – is that it won’t work.  Despite what crypto-racist Europeans may think, brown Muslims are not stupid.  Sure, moved by a mistaken sense of Islamic solidarity and/or by anti-Semitic prejudice, some of them may raise their lips in praise for Europe’s cynical policies towards the Jewish state.  But, even when yelled at the top of the voice, such praise only comes from the lips.  In their hearts, many Muslims (both in the Middle East and in Europe) will be thinking: ‘if they do that to Israelis, whom they call their friends, how will they ultimately treat us?’