Monthly Archives: May 2009

Of course Israeli opponents of peace are extremists

Everyone who opposes peace in the Middle East based on two states should be clear about what alternative they favor. The status quo has almost no defenders whatsoever. The broad outlines of a two state agreement have been clear for many years, with lots of details to be worked out but no real confusion about the basic arrangement. Opponents of such an agreement tend to be extremely vague about what it is they actually endorse. This is because specificity either reveals the fantastical and implausible nature of these alternative versions of the future, or, even more significantly, the deep extremism behind almost all rejections of a two state agreement, which is the only plausible means to achieve an end of conflict in the foreseeable future.

Palestinian Islamists often speak in terms of a single Islamic state from the river to the sea, but they are extremely vague about what that would look like, beyond the fact that it would be a Muslim theocracy. Alternatively, they sometimes also speak in terms of a long-term “hudna” or truce with Israel, lasting between 10-80 years depending on who is speaking and to what audience, to be followed by an unspecified eventuality (undoubtedly the resumption of armed hostilities). One-state advocates in British and American universities propose a single, democratic state in all of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, but they are exceptionally vague about what, in practice, this would look like, what form it would take, or any other detail beyond the idea that it would replace the state of Israel with another state.

Because of the difficulties facing the realization of Palestinian national rights and the many years a frustrated peace negotiations, Palestinians opposed to a peace agreement with Israel have become increasingly vocal and active, although they remain extremely vague about what it is that they are actually advocating and how it would work in practice, let alone how they propose to achieve their aims. Islamists rely on armed struggle, one-state advocates on “boycotts, sanctions and divestment.” These are in fact the twin pillars of traditional Arab opposition to Israel, and there is no serious reason to suspect that violence or boycotts will be more successful in the next 60 years of the conflict than they were for the last 60 years of it. So, while Palestinian opponents of an agreement with Israel are becoming increasingly vocal, they don’t actually propose any plausible alternative strategy for the Palestinian national movement.

Among Israelis, opponents of a two state agreement have generally been less organized and vocal because they have relied on the government itself to lead opposition or at least obstruction to the prospect of Palestinian statehood, and busied themselves with colonizing or policing the occupied Palestinian territories. Given the significant momentum towards peace being developed by the new Obama administration in the United States, and the extremely skeptical international reception of the potentially rejectionist new Netanyahu Cabinet in Israel, Israeli opponents of peace have been making some unusually visible public relations efforts to promote their own “visions” for the future. What they have to say has been exceptionally revealing (which is probably why they have, in the past, preferred to remain more quiet). Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely organized a conference entitled "Alternatives to the Two-State Outlook," which was designed to coincide with the end of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent visit to the United States during which President Obama made American support for a two state agreement crystal clear. The Jerusalem Post reports that, “The event was intended to send a message that opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state was common among mainstream Israelis and politicians not considered extremist.“

If these people are not considered extremists, they certainly should be. According to the Post, Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon used the conference to try to explain “why efforts to find a solution to the conflict must stop.” He ruled out the creation of any “Palestinian entity,” and said that he prefers that the conflict be “managed” rather than resolved. Netanyahu’s former bureau chief, Uri Elitzur, proposed annexation of the West Bank, making all Palestinians there Israeli citizens, but “Israel first needed to draft a constitution formally enacting that Israel would always remain a Jewish state.” I will not insult the reader’s intelligence with any detailed explanation of what a ridiculous contradiction this is. Shas chairman Eli Yishai proposed his own five-year “hudna,” after which unspecified future developments could be considered (presumably including either war or peace). Adi Mintz, a former chairman of the Settlers’ Council, proposed annexing most of the West Bank and that the “1 million people living in the remaining 38% of the West Bank would become Jordanian citizens and Israeli residents, and would administer themselves” – whatever that means. Many other speakers endorsed the idea that Egypt and Jordan respectively could be made to once again assume responsibility for Gaza and parts of the West Bank that Israel does not wish to retain, in spite of the fact that this would be totally unacceptable to their national interests.

All of these ideas are absolutely preposterous. They reflect the preference of Israeli extremists for continued conflict rather than territorial compromise, and an absolute determination to continue the occupation into the indefinite future, giving way to eventual annexation. Ya’alon knows perfectly well that the conflict cannot be “managed,” but that instead it has and will continue to only deteriorate in the absence of a peace agreement. His arguments may be couched in the language of “security,” but they plainly reflect a fanatical attitude based on the desire to continue to colonize occupied Palestinian lands and to never relinquish Israeli control of them. Since it is antithetical to the only means through which Israel can achieve both peace and security, the idea that this is some sort of “security” argument can only appeal to those who already accept the overriding necessity of continuing the occupation and refusing to allow Palestinians their independence.

Ideas at this conference that center around forcing Jordan and Egypt to assume responsibilities for parts of the occupied territories that Israel does not wish to continue to rule, while take what it wants permanently, apparently reflected the opinions of most speakers. They are non-starters, because neither Jordan or Egypt will possibly accept such a situation, as it would be absolutely incompatible with the Jordanian and Egyptian national interests.

This is the litmus test by which all ideas about peace in the Middle East need to be judged: are they at all compatible with the minimal national interests of the parties involved? If not, they have no possibility of success and are red herrings rather than real proposals. This is the problem with all the alternatives to a two-state peace agreement – they are all not compatible with the essential national interests of one or more of the parties involved, and therefore cannot be accomplished.

All of these Israeli rejectionist ideas are implausible and unachievable because they are not in the minimal national interests of the Palestinians, the Jordanians or the Egyptians. Palestinian ideas about an Islamic or post-ethnic democratic state in the entire territory are nonstarters because they are antithetical to fundamental Israeli national interest.

Only peace based on two states corresponds to the minimal national interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention Jordan, Egypt and the other Arab states, and the United States as well as the rest of the international community (with a few rather unpleasant exceptions). Israelis who reject the idea of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel in peace and security are as much extremists, and at least as dangerous to a peaceful future, as Palestinians who refuse the prospect of peace with Israel. These forces have much more in common with each other than they do with anyone seeking peace and a reasonable compromise. Of course they are extremists, and they should be clearly identified as such. In order to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it is going to be necessary to marginalize those who would oppose it at all costs based on political or religious fanaticism and a refusal to compromise.

With friends like Robert Spencer, Israelis need no enemies

Robert Spencer’s hypocrisy knows almost no bounds. Today on his website,, which is one of the most extreme and vicious Islamophobic sites on the Internet, Spencer attacks President Barack Obama for seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Spencer condemns the consensus that has emerged in the United States generally, and more importantly in the White House and the Congress, based on “the conviction that it is in the United States’ as well as Israel’s interest to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." He claims that, “The Obama White House does not ever seem to consider the proposition that the Palestinians might fight on until they achieve the total destruction of Israel, and that the jihad doctrine of Islamic supremacism mandates that they pursue no other course.” 

There are two points worth making here. The first is that Spencer himself is a religious fanatic driven by a pathological animosity towards Islam and the Muslims, which informs his views on everything in the world, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that Spencer and his cohorts are guilty of everything of which they are accusing Palestinians and Muslims: a refusal to compromise and recognize the national rights of one of the two national communities in Israel/Palestine based on religious intolerance, demonization of one of these communities, extreme political fanaticism stemming from those two attitudes, and the denial of the indisputable history of one of the two peoples. Spencer’s grounds for opposing President Obama’s Middle East peace efforts are therefore a form of neurotic projection: he is attributing to large numbers of other people, most of whom do not share these beliefs, his own intransigent, religiously fanatical and politically extreme attitudes opposing peace and compromise. 

Spencer is a textbook study in Islamophobic bigotry, and his own views are completely independent of any facts about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Instead they derive entirely from his well-established animosity to Islam and all Muslims, and his perception that the conflict is a religious war with the Palestinians representing the forces of Islam. Spencer seems to harbor a weird fantasy that he is some kind of holy warrior in an epic and explicitly Christian religious battle against Islam as a faith, a conflict most plainly described in his ghastly book "Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics." Spencer flatly declares that, “Although there are undoubtedly millions of virtuous Muslims, Islam itself is an incomplete, misleading, and often downright false revelation which, in many ways, directly contradicts what God has revealed through the prophets of the Old Testament and through his Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.” He adds, “Islam constitutes a threat to the world at large,” and that “Islam is not merely a religion; it is a social and political ideology…” The foreword to the book bluntly states that it is “especially for those Christians who want to submit to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations.” Translation: Spencer is determined that everyone in the world should eventually come to adhere to his religious ideology, another accusation he frequently levels at all Muslims. 

Spencer is therefore incapable of seeing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for what it is (at least thus far): a struggle for land and power in the same small territory between two, competing ethno-national communities with incompatible national narratives and aims. He is also therefore incapable of understanding this political conflict is resolvable by political means, and actually has a vested interest in having the conflict continue, intensify, and become increasingly driven by the same kind of extremist religious passions that inform his own work. He is the moral and political equivalent of those Muslims around the world who urge the Palestinians to keep on fighting Israel until the last child in Gaza. 

While there are no doubt many Palestinians and other Muslims who do see the conflict through the lens of a Muslim Brotherhood, or other fanatical, interpretation of “jihad,” most do not. Solid majorities of Palestinians in every single opinion poll and survey over the past 20 years have been in favor of peace with Israel based on two states – the same position that has become formal US policy and an international consensus on the issue. Even after Hamas-backed candidates won a parliamentary majority in January 2006 with 44% of the vote, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians continued to support a two-state agreement and urged both Fatah and Hamas to negotiate with Israel to that end. 

The more important point, however, is that, like the Jerusalem Post op-ed on which I commented yesterday, Spencer’s posting does not recognize that political and religious extremism exists and can readily be found on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Many Israelis, and friends of Israel both on the Jewish right and among Christian fanatics (including Spencer himself) categorically oppose Israeli territorial compromise with the Palestinians. These include not only the settler movement and its supporters but also many former and present Israeli cabinet ministers (such as the present Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon and possibly also the current Prime Minister), and many leading Israeli institutions, organizations and prominent citizens. 

Spencer knows this perfectly well, since he is a friend and passionate supporter of exactly these people. His own site promotes the Israeli maximalism of the worst sort. His sidekick, Hugh Fitzgerald, to take only one instance, in 2008 blogged on Jihadwatch that, “What the Israelis cannot do is give up one more inch of the ‘West Bank.’” The Jihadwatch position on Palestinian national rights is simple: “Israel must give up nothing more. It should have permanently annexed in June 1967 everything it took…” All of this is justified on religious grounds moreover, although it is framed in anti-Muslim rather than Jewish extremist or Christian millennialist terms. Spencer’s site also makes a habit of denying the history and national identity of the Palestinian people, referring to them as “the so-called ‘Palestinians,’” and frequently suggests that most Palestinians are the descendents of recent immigrants from other Arab states (a ludicrous suggestion popularized by Joan Peter’s hoax “From Time Immemorial.”) So, Spencer’s website also engages in the very kind of historical denial the Jerusalem Post article was complaining about yesterday in regard to Jewish connections to Israel, as well as the same kind of religious and political extremism he falsely alleges characterizes the attitude of Palestinians generally. 

I have said in the past of fanatical Muslims — ranging from virtual nonentities such as the Oakland preacher Abdel Malik Ali to more dangerous figures such as the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who are happy to urge Palestinians to continue the conflict with Israel at whatever price (to the Palestinians) in order to satisfy their own personal religious zealotry that, with "friends" like these, the Palestinians need no enemies. Precisely the same is true in this case. With "friends" like Robert Spencer, and all those who urge Israel to continue the occupation and the conflict into the indefinite future no matter what the cost, and to refuse to accept a reasonable compromise involving the creation of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel, the Israelis too have no need of any additional enemies.

Denying history is unacceptable for both peoples

This op-ed in the Jerusalem Post complains about the fact that some Palestinians deny a historical Jewish presence in Palestine, and of course that is a problem. But the article has nothing to say about the mountains of Israeli and pro-Israel propaganda which holds that there is “no such thing as a Palestinian people,” that “there has never been a country called Palestine,” and that the Palestinian national identity and movement is an anti-Semitic and Nazi plot. Such sentiments have appeared in the Jerusalem Post in the past, and in many other Israeli newspapers. They are commonly found on pro Israel sites on the Internet, including David Horowitz’s repulsive and outrightly racist (Horowitz himself rarely refers to the Palestinians without describing all of them as “Nazis”). It is the theme of the film “Obsession,” which the right-wing Israeli organization Aish HaTorah spent millions of dollars distributing free copies of during the last American presidential campaign in a transparent effort to frighten people away from voting for President Obama. It is also the subject of numerous fraudulent books, including Joan Peters’ notorious hoax “From Time Immemorial,” which continues to be a mainstay of anti-Palestinian propaganda among some pro-Israel types. in other words, there is no monopoly on this kind of exclusivist denial of the other’s history, as suggested in the Post op-ed.

Obviously, it is ridiculous and counterproductive for any Palestinians to deny the Jewish link to Israel and Palestine. But it is as least as absurd, if not more so, for friends of Israel and Israelis to deny the very existence of the Palestinian people and national identity, or dismiss the whole thing as an anti-Semitic plot. And, given that there is a secure and thriving Israeli state and no Palestine, the denial of Palestinian history, identity and rights is even more politically problematic than similar obscurantism among Palestinians. It is particularly problematic given that there is presently an Israeli government that is resisting even the idea of the creation of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel, and cabinet members who are organizing conferences to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

It would be more useful if Israelis and Palestinians, and their friends around the world, spent their time educating their own constituencies about the validity of the national narratives and rights of the other people, rather than simply complaining about their recalcitrance. Clearly, there is plenty of important work to be done in this regard on the Palestinian side, but at least as much, if not more, to be done on the Israeli and pro-Israel side.

What does Ali Abunimah really believe?

Ali Abunimah, a coauthor of numerous articles and monographs with me in the past but whose views have shifted radically in recent years, has become a difficult guy to pin down because he now tailors his statements to appeal to different audiences in different media at different times. He adopts one set of attitudes in interviews with major national publications, another in papers for the Palestine Center, a third in postings on his Electronic Intifada site, and a fourth, and I think most honest posture, in his twitter tweets. Indeed, its not really possible to fully understand what Abunimah’s real thinking is without consulting these tweets in which he has been letting his guard down and allowing those who pay attention to get a close glimpse of his actual agenda, which is decidedly not a pretty picture (not all the tweets referenced below are still archived on the twitter site, but they are all accurate and amply documented).

This is significant because, riding a wave of optimism due to the firm stance adopted by President Obama and his administration regarding the need for a Palestinian state and an end to Israeli settlement activity, Abunimah has today taken positions in the New York Times and the Nation that are quite incompatible with his otherwise stated attitudes and views.

In today’s Times, he is quoted as follows: “’Hillary Clinton’s statement was notable because the language was stronger than we’ve heard in years,’ said Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of ElectronicIntifada, a Web site that analyzes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘And clearer than we’ve heard in years. But the burden of proof is still on them. If it’s just going to be strong statements, that’s not enough.’”

This is the same Hillary Clinton that he recently referred to in a tweet as, “Hillary Clinton, pimp of the Arab regimes.” And the same New York Times that he wrote a few days ago, “might as well be published by the Israeli consulate in New York.” As for Obama, after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Abunimah denied that there was any change afoot whatsoever, twittering that, “When it comes to Palestine, we get the same old crap from Obama.”

In an article posted on the Nation website today, Abunimah poses as someone who can see some potential hope and benefit in the President’s stance and the direction of US policy, while remaining skeptical, writing that, “Obama has told Netanyahu firmly that Israel must stop building settlements on expropriated Palestinian land in the West Bank, but such words have been uttered by the president’s predecessors. Unless these statements are followed by decisive action — perhaps to limit American subsidies to Israel — there’s no reason to believe the lip service that failed in the past will suddenly be more effective.”

But there is no reason to believe that Abunimah wants it to be more effective, as he has expressed enthusiasm and strong support for the very same Israeli ultra-right that is now the target of pressure on settlements and Palestinian statehood from the President and his administration. After the recent Israeli election, Abunimah gushed that, “I am just so pleased that Netanyahu has placed impossible conditions in front of the ‘two-state solution.’ Go Bibi!” Before the election, his own endorsement was unequivocal: “I hope Avigdor Lieberman wins Israeli election big.”

During the US election campaign, Abunimah tried to sabotage Obama’s chances against both Clinton and subsequently McCain by loudly complaining that when he was a state senator in Illinois, Obama had supposedly expressed more sympathy for the Palestinians than he came to as he aspired to national office. This version of events was disputed by Rashid Khalidi, who knew Obama much better at the time, and was clearly intended to have the dual effects of alienating Arab-American voters by suggesting that Obama had “sold out” to the Israel lobby and Jewish-American voters by suggesting that Obama had “secret” pro-Palestinian sentiments that he was now disguising. By many accounts it was Abunimah who leaked the video of Obama at a Palestinian-American event to the LA Times that the McCain campaign tried to use in a last minute effort to discredit Obama. After Obama became President, Abunimah complained that, “Arab politicians say the most tired, clichéd things about Obama. Some of them still think he isn’t in the pocket of AIPAC!!!” He has also referred to the President as a “bastard” and asked, “Is everyone still enjoying Obama’s ‘hope & change’ massacres in Afghanistan?”

Abunimah has also spent a great deal of effort in recent years attacking and denouncing those who worked to change US policy on issues like the settlements as quislings, collaborators, traitors, neocons and the like. He has defended the most recalcitrant elements in Hamas and encouraged its most obstructionist and counterproductive attitudes, with sentiments like, “’Hamas: We will never recognize the enemy.’ Let’s hope they keep their word.” A March 2009 article by Abunimah and his father Hassan accused Hillary Clinton of “sabotaging” Palestinian reconciliation talks (yes, the same Hillary Clinton who he now tells the Times has impressed him), and urged Hamas not to agree to the conditions of the Middle East Quartet. This is hardly surprising, given that he is opposed to both peace and negotiations, instead endorsing, “Liberation through resistance not ‘peace’ through ‘negotiations.’"

His admiration for Hamas leaders is often gushing: “Nothing better than a live interview on Aljazeera with a top Hamas official. They are always so eloquent and clear.” As for the leadership of the even more extreme Islamic Jihad organization, his enthusiasm seems to go beyond the political. In one of his earlierst and perhaps most unguarded tweets, Abunimah wrote, “I think [Islamic Jihad leader] Ramadan Shallah is super intelligent, eloquent and hot.” Yes, hot.

All those who are hopeful about the current shift in US policy and attitudes towards the occupation and the settlements must know that these have occurred in spite of the best efforts of Abunimah. That he now seeks to adjust his positions, at least in venues such as the New York Times and to some extent the Nation, in the context of a positive shift in political dynamics that he has condemned others for seeking and done his best to thwart should not fool anyone. His long record of online writings, above all his amazing and highly revealing tweets, amply demonstrate what Ali Abunimah really believes.

When Western professors drink the Islamist Kool-Aid

This is a great example of what sometimes gives academic scholarship a very bad name in the non-academic world. [Note: almost as soon as this posting went up on Ibishblog, the link to the paper became inoperative, but can still be accessed online in cached form, see citation below] This genius of a professor attempts to argue that there is no such thing as Arab secularism, except among a “Westernized-globalized class” which is not only inauthentic, but is also by definition an agent of imperialism and “Orientalism.” The essential idea here is that because secularism as an aspect of contemporary political life originally arose in a European context, it is therefore not only alien to the postcolonial world, apparently especially the Middle East, it is also by definition a mechanism of Western colonialism and Christianity. The plain implication is that Islamists are “authentic” whereas Arab secularists are simply co-opted tools of Western culture and authority and part of an “inauthentic” elite that is alienated from its own history and culture, and all aspects of genuine popular sentiment. The author even tries to Shanghai the ever-abused Edward Said as an authority for the view (not original to himself, but still preposterous) that “Secularism is Orientalism. And Orientalism is Christianity.” If there is anything that defined Said’s thinking and his intellectual and political affiliations it is his passionate commitment to secularism in all its forms. He even described his methodology of literary criticism as “secular criticism.” Since Said spent much of his career promoting “secular criticism” against habits of thought arising from Orientalist traditions, one can only imagine how he would have reacted to the suggestion that what he was doing was, in fact, not only Orientalism, but also, at its heart, religious Christianity.

As with so much of low-level academic discourse, this pigs-breakfast of a paper attempts to dress up an extremely simple and indeed simplistic idea – in this case, that Arabs are naturally and authentically religious and that secularism is not only alien but hostile to the Arab way of life – and dress it up in all kinds of laughable jargon and dubious citations. The title of the conclusion, “when/where time becomes space,” is extremely provocative, to the point that it ought to be impossible to write something banal on the subject (this proves not to be the case). The problem is that this formulation has absolutely nothing to do with what the author is trying to say, it just sounds sexy. All he is a really doing is supporting the idea that Hamas is an “authentic” and legitimate political movement that supposedly represents the Palestinian majority, whereas secular nationalists in the PLO are simply agents of colonialism and “Christianity.” This guy has obviously not bothered to consult the trajectory or the ebb and flow of Palestinian opinion polls over the past, say, 10 years.

All of this is itself fetishizing and indeed entirely “Orientalist” (in the worst sense of the word) in that it, in effect, posits an essential characteristic to Arab culture and political life (religious affiliation, not to say fanaticism). It takes sides in the current major political and social divide in the Arab world firmly on the side of the most reactionary and authoritarian forces, that is to say the religious ultra-right, and stigmatizes anyone who would suggest that religious heterogeneity in Arab societies mandates that reasonable government ought to be neutral on matters of religion (that is to say, a properly secularist point of view).

Worse still, it makes one of the most fundamental errors to be typically found in academic writing on postcolonial realities: it treats modernity as if it were an à la carte menu in which the postcolonial world (or the academic in question) can simply pick and choose which elements of modernity it wishes to pull off the shelf and put in its basket, leaving others for the next customer. Quite obviously, it doesn’t work that way. Social, economic and political modernity, which is and has been an ineluctable and pervasive force in the colonial and postcolonial worlds, carries its own inbuilt logic of connections, dichotomies, causes and consequences. It is absolutely ridiculous to take one troublesome aspect of modernity in a postcolonial environment (in this case secularism in the Arab world) and dismiss it as an inauthentic imposition of Western colonialism, as if all or many of the other aspects of modernity were somehow less “inauthentic” or less of a tool of colonialism. Modernity is a package deal; you take it or leave it. And, since pre-modern formations were generally unable to successfully resist or remove colonial domination, and for many other reasons, the embrace of modernity in the postcolonial world has been irreversible for well over 100 years.

However, the very dumbest aspect of an incredibly dumb argument is this author’s apparent belief that contemporary Arab Islamism (or other religious politics) are somehow less influenced by European culture, colonialism and modernity than are secular nationalist forces. The only way to arrive at this conclusion is to fall hook, line and sinker for a completely ahistorical and obviously fraudulent claim on the part of Islamist parties to be resurrecting or continuing some form of premodern, precolonial tradition in the face of the “onslaught of Western culture.” In fact, of course, all forms of Islamism in the Arab world (and beyond) are entirely the products of modernity and the postcolonial experience, as least as much as secular nationalism ever was. Islamists are not trying to “return” to anything, they are building something entirely new and entirely modern, however reactionary and obscurantist, and they know it.

Is it possible to imagine the Muslim Brotherhood movement and network of political parties arising outside of the context of an emerging Arab modernity and without crucial influence of the Leninist revolutionary model? How can any form of Salafism, even apolitical religious versions, be read as anything other than a product of the same colonial and postcolonial realities that also and equally gave rise to secular nationalism at the same moment? Is it possible to imagine Ayatollah Khomeini’s “vilayyat e-faqih” innovation, which is a complete departure from all traditions of political-clerical authority in the Islamic world, arising in any other context than Iran’s postcolonial modernity? Al-Qaeda, as a virtual organization that often exists more on the Internet than anywhere else, is positively postmodern. Plainly, all of these gestures are as much a consequence of modernity as they are some kind of reaction to it, and while they certainly claim forms of superior cultural and religious “authenticity,” it requires a genuinely profound ignorance to accept these fatuous assertions.

The reality is that all political formations in the contemporary Arab world, including Palestine, are the products of the postcolonial experience and emerging forms of modernity. They are equidistant from both tradition and from colonial and Western influences, and claims of “authenticity” are transparent propaganda designed to appeal to credulous and politically unsophisticated constituents. Sadly, some Western professors are not only drinking, but have developed a positive addiction, to this particular brand of Kool-Aid.

[ the paper in question is:
Roger Heacock, “Of the Advantages (and Perils) of the Deficit of Securalism in Contemporary Palestinian Political Culture,” in Roger Heacock (ed.), “Temps et espaces en Palestine,” Beyrouth, Liban, Institut français du Proche-Orient (“Études contemporaines,” no. 25, p. 293-305), 2008.]

ATFP was right to keep focusing on the settlements over the past year

Daniel Byman of Georgetown University points out in Laura’s posting mentioned below, “Over the past 15 years, settlements have gone from being seen in Washington as an irritant, to the dominant issue.” I think this is very well put. The Obama administration is absolutely right to be focusing with crystalline intensity on the question of the settlements. The settlements are a dagger aimed at the heart of peace based on two states, the only plausible option for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They make the border much more difficult to draw, continuously expand the belligerent constituency in Israel that opposes peace, undermines Palestinian and Arab confidence in Israeli intentions, and for all these reasons and more undermine both the viability and the credibility of peace negotiations. It’s clear that President Obama, Secretary Clinton and others in the administration and in Congress have come to understand this. It is not, of course, clear yet whether or not they will be able to convince Israel to engage in a meaningful halt to settlement activity, but strong American engagement on the issue is probably the only way to prevent the Israeli government from digging the hole ever deeper.

For many months now my colleagues and I at the American Task Force on Palestine have been focused intently on the question of settlements and the need for a freeze. Over the past year or so, we decided, to put it politely, not to so much as visit the powder room without emphasizing the need for a settlement freeze. At the height of the Gaza war on January 8, 2009, ATFP President Ziad Asali spoke at a major conference organized by the United States Institute of Peace conference at the Washington Convention Center, and even at that time of violence and chaos pushed the question of a settlement freeze to the forefront. He said, “This issue of a settlement freeze should be on the top of the new Administration’s agenda,” and indeed it now is – much to the discomfort of the settlement, greater-Israel, pro-occupation and anti-peace constituency.

Numerous well-informed and serious minded people questioned the wisdom of foregrounding the issue of settlements at such a time. In retrospect, I trust that the logic of our refusal to be deterred from continuously returning to this central theme even during times of active conflict has now become apparent to all.

Shock and horror: Ibish was on a radio show!

I see that the some of the more alert denizens of the Arab-American blogosphere have discovered, one month later, that I engaged in a well-publicized radio program with Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles on Middle East peace. The only thing surprising about their outrage is how long it took them to find out about it.

Naturally, the program raised the ire of As’ad AbuKhalil of the California Hezbollah Support Network, who as usual accuses me of working for Muhammad Dahlan (of all people!) I have never met or in any way communicated with Dahlan, with whom I have no connection whatsoever. To apply his own twisted “logic,” AbuKhalil has apparently been personally tasked by Hassan Nasrallah to speak for all sectarian Lebanese Shiites. AbuKhalil himself engaged in a colloquy with an Israeli diplomat in San Francisco recently, which was a virtual textbook of pointlessly obnoxious, completely counterproductive and puerile self-gratification. Clearly, this individual imagines himself to be the drum major in some sort of grand Arab march to oblivion, although the ranks behind him are entirely a figment of his own imagination.

Angry complaints also came from the Hamas Fan Club at the University of Chicago, also known as Ali Abunimah, who twittered, “Who asked ATFP’s Hussein Ibish (not-Palestinian) to ‘negotiate’ for Palestinians & surrender their rights?” This nonsense about “surrendering rights” aside, I work for and with all-Palestinian leadership and Board of Directors of ATFP, if he hasn’t figured that out already. Of course, the fact that I am Lebanese by both birth and dual citizenship never bothered Abunimah during the many years in which we collaborated and co-authored in opposition to the occupation and in support of Palestinian independence (a position he has now completely abandoned, in favor of, as he puts it, a “go Bibi!” pro-Netanyahu approach). Now that we disagree, my background is suddenly not only relevant, but disqualifying. Contrary to claims made in some of these tweets, I have never “passed myself off as a Palestinian,” even if some journalists have made this mistake, although I’m proud to work for a Palestinian-American organization. Indeed, I remember firmly demurring several years ago when the late Hisham Sharabi, at a formal meeting he was hosting, referred to me as “an honorary Palestinian.” I told him and the entire group present that in my view this is a meaningless expression, but that it is my honor to serve the dual and compatible causes of Palestinian national rights and peace in the Middle East.

And where would Larry and Moe be without Curly? On cue, and with their usual sophistication and maturity, the scintillating intellectuals at Kabobfest chimed in with this epic fail. This, of course, is the same blog that has in recent weeks denounced the arrest warrant issued against the president of Sudan for massive war crimes in Darfur, rushed to the defense of a Somali pirate and lauded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s lamentable speech at the UN racism conference in Geneva.

It might be argued that if one is to have critics, it is best that they are slightly unhinged, so such preposterous blog postings and tweets do no harm whatsoever to me personally. However, the attitudes and sentiments that they promote reflect precisely how and why the Arab-American community has so effectively and for so long marginalized and defeated itself. We know precisely what this idiotic approach produces: nothing. Clearly it is high time for something more serious and more effective, and that is a theme that will no doubt become a regular feature of future postings this site.

Why I am starting this blog

Ever since I came to Washington DC 10 years ago and began working on Arab-American issues at the national level, people have been encouraging me to start a blog. For complex reasons, I never have until now. However, the proximate cause for beginning this blog deserves mentioning at the outset. Recently, a visiting scholar from North Africa at the Wilson Center came to see me to seek my advice on a project. She was attempting to study Arab-American political engagement by looking at community newspapers around the country, and was predictably dismayed by the quality and quantity of comment and analysis to be found in these publications. As we spoke, she began to wonder whether expanding her project to include Arab-American political blogs might produce a richer database that could form the basis of her research. She asked me if I could point her to the major Arab-American blogs on the Internet. 

This question threw the rather grim reality into sharp relief. I tried in vain to think of any reasonable, constructive and intelligent Arab-American political blog. In the end, I told her to take 24 hours and see what she could come up with on her own, as I did not want to take responsibility for pointing her in the direction of any of the well-known and frequently updated existing Arab-American blogs of which I am aware. Frankly, it was impossible to think of any major Arab-American blog that is not maintained by angry idiots, political extremists or overgrown juvenile delinquents. The next day she called me up and recited the same list of blogs I would have given her, and it was obvious that she recognized immediately that this commentary, if you can call it that, was not likely to add any depth to her project. My impression was that she had pretty well decided to change focus altogether given the paucity of serious social or political analysis either in print or online. 

I’m not sure what happened to her project, but this exchange led me to the conclusion that something needed to be done. My intention in this blog is to add a serious, responsible and constructive perspective to the Arab-American blogosphere, to reflect the universal values in which I deeply believe, and to provide a much-needed corrective to irresponsible and destructive rhetoric of many varieties, including political extremism of the left and the right, bigotry including both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, opposition to peace in the Middle East, and religious fanaticism of all stripes. It is my hope that readers will find the commentary and analysis that is forthcoming to be interesting and engaging, even if they do not always agree with it. Above all, it is my hope to add a thoughtful, sincere and positive voice to the shrill din that passes for much of Arab-American political discourse online, that will reflect my decade of experience working in Washington DC and, I believe, the often-unrepresented views of many people in our community who want to seriously engage with our fellow citizens, our government and our political system.

Don’t abide hate; Student groups promote intolerance by inviting Muslim extremist to speak (with Brian Levin)

The Press-Enterprise

It is regrettable that Amir Abdel Malik Ali has become a regular speaker at Muslim student events on several southern California college campuses, including, recently, UC Irvine and UC Riverside.

Ali is a convert to Islam and an imam at an Oakland mosque who has expressed overtly anti-Semitic views and bizarre conspiracy theories, especially regarding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He is noted for incendiary rhetoric regarding “Jewish control” of the media, although he appeared deeply confused about who is Jewish when he wrongly cited Rupert Murdoch as an example. Ali’s rhetoric is often implicitly violent, and, by any standards extreme and intolerant.

Though Ali is frequently invited to speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his only qualifications regarding the complexities of the Middle East appear to be his religious and political fanaticism. Ali is not only categorically anti-Israel, he has also denounced the Palestinian national leadership as “Uncle Tom Palestinian leaders.”

“Silence is Consent” was the title of one of Ali’s recent talks at UC Irvine — an ironic reminder for responsible Muslim Americans to vocally reject the idea that he is a worthwhile contributor to the dialogue about the Middle East.

It seems that national and California Muslim-American organizations have not succeeded in convincing these student groups that by inviting speakers such as Ali, they do palpable damage to the interests of the Muslim-American community.

Student groups will ultimately do what they like, but if responsible leaders fail to take a public stand against this kind of speech, the silence will indeed be taken as “consent.” The organizers of these events should ask themselves what they hope to achieve by inviting Ali to speak, and what they think the political consequences are likely to be.

It is immoral and counterproductive to promote extreme and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Moreover, it is impossible to take a serious and effective stance against “Islamophobia” while promoting or condoning anti-Semitism. These two forms of bigotry are intimately connected, both thematically and historically. Neither the Jewish community nor the Islamic community can advance its legitimate interests or perspectives by promoting fear and hatred of one another.

Intolerant views and defamation only serve to discredit any cause. In this case, invitations to speakers such as Ali discredit rather than promote the Palestinian cause. In addition, extremist speech by such otherwise marginal figures helps to feed fear and hatred of the Muslim-American community, especially when it is endorsed through repeated invitations by large student organizations.

At a time when an increasing number of Jewish American individuals and organizations are recognizing that the occupation in Palestine is bad for Israel and the United States as well as for the Palestinian people, supporters of Palestine and friends of Israel should look for common ground rather than waste time hosting religious and political fanatics.

Historically, there has been little scope for common ground between American friends of Israel and American friends of the Palestinians. However, with a growing consensus nationally and internationally about the urgent need to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel in peace and security, unprecedented opportunities for cooperation are beginning to emerge. The development of a common purpose in favor of peace requires goodwill and outreach on both sides.

Rhetoric that clings to an outmoded “zero-sum” analysis that pits Israeli and Palestinian interests as irreconcilable and diametrically opposed, even though the future of both peoples depends on peace, is bad enough. Speakers who engage in demagoguery and spread anti-Semitic and violent ideals poison the national interests of the Palestinian people and their supporters in the United States. With “friends” such as Amir Abdel Malik Ali, the Palestinians need no additional enemies.

Muslim Americans, including student organizations, should steadfastly reject anti-Semitic language. This would best serve their own interests, the interests of the legitimate causes in which they believe, and the interests of our country. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”