Why don’t we defend ourselves?

Originally Posted in Abu Yehuda.

Great swaths of land in the Negev desert near the Gaza strip, agricultural land and nature preserves formerly the habitats of numerous endangered plant and animal species, have been reduced to ash and smoke by Palestinian fire-kites and balloon-borne incendiary devices during the past few weeks. The entire area is blackened with the smoke from fires that are being set faster than Israeli firefighters can put them out.

Our powerful army dithers, ever pursuing its apparent goal of fighting wars without hurting anyone. Today I understand that a car belonging to one of the leaders of the bombing campaign was destroyed by an “airstrike,” probably a drone-launched missile. The car was parked and empty. That’ll teach him.

Israeli officials are afraid of the legal consequences of taking effective action against those who are launching the kites and balloons. They are afraid that they will be dragged into the International Criminal Court (even though Israel did not sign the treaty creating it and does not consider itself bound by its decisions), if the army kills any of the “civilians” that are burning our country. Those under the age of 18 are counted as “children,” and as you know one of the themes of anti-IDF propaganda is the false claim that we deliberately target children.

Purposely burning agricultural land is a war crime. Attacking from heavily populated civilian areas and employing child soldiers are war crimes. Hamas and PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) don’t care, of course. Their whole strategic plan is to take advantage of the fact that Israel considers herself bound by the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and other treaties, while they permit themselves to do anything that will kill Jews.

They don’t do it by themselves. They have help.

Israel is always required to fight an n+1 front war, with n representing the enemies that are shooting at us, Hamas, PIJ, Hezbollah, and the rest. The additional one is the international diplomatic and legal system, led by our “friends” in the European Union.

In the past week, two Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria have been partly demolished, because homes have been found to be built on “private Palestinian land.” This means that – regardless of whether the land was considered state land when the homes were built – a Palestinian claim, sometimes not even by an individual owner, that the land was at one time used for agricultural purposes by Palestinians, has been accepted by Israel’s Supreme Court. The remedy is invariably that any structure that encroaches on such land will be demolished in toto.

Recently, the Knesset passed a law (the “Regulation Law”) that allows the state to financially compensate the Palestinian “owners” when the land was not considered private at the time the structures were built, instead of bulldozing the buildings (this can be tricky, since there usually are no records that might prove ownership in the sense familiar to those living in normal countries). This law didn’t apply in these cases, because the Supreme Court had ordered the demolitions some months ago, before the law was passed. The Court has now frozen the law awaiting its decision on various petitions against it.

Naturally, our European friends and home-grown champions of Palestinian rights were scandalized by this law. “It’s legalized land theft,” they say. This is quite an exaggeration, since the law calls for the Palestinians to be paid above-market value for the land, which they are not using and may not have used for decades (if ever). Eminent domain proceedings in the US, in which an owner can be evicted from property where he is living or using for business, are far harsher. But my guess is that despite this, when the Supreme Court rules on the petitions filed against it, they will overthrow the law.

Now you may wonder who files these petitions, the ones against the Regulation Law and the ones claiming that Israeli structures have been built on “private Palestinian land.” The answer is that there is a whole industry in Israel of “human rights” non-governmental organizations that employs a battery of expensive and dedicated lawyers to fight the State of Israel. Thanks to Israel’s extraordinary system in which any citizen may petition the Supreme Court on almost any matter, regardless of whether he or she is affected by it, left-wing groups like Peace Now, Yesh Din, and others can and do involve themselves in these matters.

But who supports the organizations, pays their staffs and their lawyers? Probably no more than a few percent of Israelis support what most see as their extremist ideology. And yet left-wing NGOs are everywhere, filming and trying to provoke IDF soldiers doing their duty, finding Palestinians who will testify that their grandfathers worked the land on such-and-such a hill where today an Israeli settlement stands, and filing petition after petition in the Israeli courts, particularly the Supreme Court.

The money does not come from Israel. It doesn’t even come from the Palestinians, whose leaders are happy to skim millions from the aid they get from the US and Europe, primarily to live well or put into their Swiss bank accounts. It comes, unsurprisingly, mostly from European governments, where millions of Euros are funneled into organizations like Peace Now, Yesh Din, B’tselem, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, and many others. Somewhat less important donors include the American New Israel Fund and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

These foreign-funded NGOs are active in the Israeli and international legal arenas, as well as the international propaganda campaign to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel. Some explicitly support BDS, despite the official positions of their donors. For example, several of them recently sent a letter to the American Secretary of State calling for an arms embargo against Israel because of its actions to defend its border.

Today the NGO Monitor organization, which keeps track of anti-Israel NGOs and their funding, released a report showing that the European Union has given large grants (hundreds of thousands of Euros) to several NGOs to press war crimes accusations against IDF officers and soldiers and other Israeli officials in foreign courts. This sort of thing may in part explain the timidity of the IDF to take effective action against the arsonists of Gaza.

While our Arab and Iranian enemies have had little success in damaging our Jewish state with wars and terrorism, our European ones have succeeded with their Euros to roll back settlement activities in Judea/Samaria, resulting in the expulsion of Jews from their homes. They have fought tooth and nail against our government’s efforts to deport illegal migrants, whom it rightly considers a demographic and social threat. They have hamstrung the IDF’s response to arson terrorism from Gaza, and turned the main concern of the IDF from defeating our enemies to avoiding legal entanglements.

The message this sends to the terrorists of Hamas, the PLO, and the PIJ is simple: you have a green light – the Jews are too weak to fight back.

There are solutions to these problems. Two years ago, the Knesset passed a relatively weak transparency law requiring some NGOs to report contributions from foreign governments. It needs to be strengthened – in fact, there is no reason for Israel to permit foreign governments to intervene in our domestic affairs at all. Opponents will tell you, precisely inverting the truth, that limiting the influence of foreign-funded NGOs is “anti-democratic,” as if democracy requires subverting the will of Israeli voters! But there is only one reason that such legislation is opposed in the Knesset, and that is because some members are themselves treasonously sucking at the European teat. That has to stop.

The Supreme Court has far too much power and zero accountability. No other democratic country has such a situation. The balance of power between the branches of government must be restored.

The other necessary change is a change of attitude. The more Israel refrains from self-defense because of fear of the legal consequences, the more she will be threatened with such consequences. The cycle must be broken, both because it prevents us from acting and because it broadcasts weakness to our enemies. The arson kites need to be met with deadly force, not endless debate. Jewish residents of the territories should have at least equal rights as Arabs, and not be evicted from their homes as a result of legal catch-22s. Illegal migrants should be deported (see here and here).

The legal and diplomatic decks are stacked against us today, partly because of our own actions. We need to get over it and defend ourselves. Nobody else will.

Israel’s media problem

Published in Abu Yehuda

If endemic irrational hatred of Israel is viewed as a disease, then its primary vector is the Western mainstream media. Although social media have been gaining in importance recently, the traditional media organizations are still the Xenopsylla cheopis spreading this plague.

They had begun to become less and less sympathetic to Israel after the oil shock of the mid-1970s. I started noticing it in 1982, during the First Lebanon War. Never mind that we went into Lebanon because our people in northern Israel were being pounded by rockets, katyushot, fired from Lebanese territory by Yasser Arafat’s PLO. We were blamed for starting the war and sharply criticized for every civilian casualty. And then we were vilified because we didn’t prevent our Christian Phalangist allies from taking (well-deserved, in my opinion) murderous revenge on the PLO.

In 2000, we saw one of the most damaging incidents of fraudulent atrocity reporting, one which was used as an excuse for countless terror attacks, the al-Durrah affair. 12-year old Mohammed al-Durrah was not shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, and probably was not shot at all by anyone, but a Palestinian-produced “news” event, recorded by a Palestinian cameraman, legitimized and transmitted around the world by a (Jewish) French reporter and TV network, ignited a worldwide conflagration of hatred. It was one of the sparks for the Second Intifada, and al-Durrah’s “death” remains a staple of anti-Israel discourse today, despite the ample evidence that it was faked.

In 2002, Israeli forces fought Palestinian terrorists in the Jenin refugee camp, a battle in which 23 IDF soldiers and 53 Arabs, only five of whom were noncombatants, died. The media again – in this case the BBC was the prime villain – accepted fabricated Palestinian accounts as the truth, reporting 500 to 1000 deaths, the deliberate massacre of hundreds of civilians and their burial in mass graves, the destruction of part of a hospital, and more. None of it happened, but that didn’t stop the media from reporting it as if it had. And like al-Durrah, it is still an article of faith in much of the world that there was a massacre in Jenin.

It continued in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War. Social media was in its infancy – Twitter had been around for only a few months and Facebook was two years old and limited to colleges and a few corporations – but already there was communication and coordinated incitement via email, newsgroups, and blogs. Still, the mainstream media outdid itself, sucking up and spewing out Hezbollah propaganda, like the famous “Red Cross ambulance incident,” dissected by the intrepid blogger called “Zombie.”

The phenomenon has only increased since then, through our various Gaza conflicts. The media repeatedly ignored the provocations, the thousands of rockets fired into Israeli communities and the kidnappings and murders carried out by terrorists associated with Hamas; and they consistently accepted Hamas’ atrocity stories and casualty figures.

Most recently, Hamas’ attempted invasion at the Gaza fence has been presented as a “peaceful demonstration” at which Israel’s shooting terrorist operatives (53 out of the 62 dead have been identified as members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad) is described in the media as an “indiscriminate massacre of unarmed protestors.” Today, social media has come into its own, creating multiple echo chambers for anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish expression; but the “real” media continues to legitimize some of the worst narratives.

Naturally there is a close relationship between hating Israel and hating Jews, because Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. It’s instructive to recall the “3-D” criteria for determining when criticism of Israel crosses over into antisemitism – I prefer the expression “Jew hatred” – suggested in 2004 by Natan Sharansky: Demonization, Double standards, and Delegitimization.

The mainstream media, with a few exceptions (e.g., the Wall St. Journal and Fox News) is regularly guilty of at least the first two “D’s.” They are notorious for their double standards, especially including a double standard for credulity: almost any claims of Israeli misbehavior, cruelty, or criminality are repeated with little attempt at verification, even when the claim is made by a terrorist organization like Hamas or its sympathizers.

These claims – such as that Israel steals organs from dead Palestinians, a story first promulgated by Aftonbladet, a very “mainstream” Swedish newspaper – are often so outrageous as to be comparable to medieval blood libels, and clearly constitute demonization.

Prime examples of anti-Israel media somewhat more sophisticated than Aftonbladet are the New York Times and – what else? – the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Day in and day out they provide “coverage” of Israel and her conflicts according to the principle that “for Palestinians everything is permitted; while for Israel nothing is excused.” (I apologize for not remembering who said this first).

The New York Times has a history of hostility to Jewish concerns, which according to one book on the subject are a result of the assimilationist ideology of its Jewish publisher. Just as it minimized the Jewish dimension of the Holocaust, today it minimizes the anti-Jewish roots of irrational hatred of Israel.

Ha’aretz is interesting in that it isn’t really a newspaper for Israelis. Its Hebrew print edition and website have a negligible circulation in Israel, while its English-language website ranks about 2,300th among all websites in the US – not up with the Times, whose rank is about 30 (for comparison, Abuyehuda’s rank is about 4.9 million), but not bad at all.

Ha’aretz is the home of Gideon Levy, who writes a column almost every day viciously attacking the Netanyahu government, the IDF, or the 90% or more of Jewish Israeli society that does not live in North Tel Aviv and belong to the academic, media, or “creative” Left. Levy has enormous sympathy for Palestinians and illegal migrants, but none for IDF soldiers, Mizrachi Jews who still remember who their enemies are, or residents of South Tel Aviv whose neighborhoods have been destroyed by said migrants.

Can the mainstream media be fixed? I doubt it. Reporters and editors come from universities where anti-Israel activities are prominent, and tend to study liberal arts, “communications,” or journalism rather than history. Then they join a pool of like-minded individuals who encourage each other to engage in activist journalism. Correspondents in the field are manipulated by very media-savvy operatives from Hamas, Hezbollah, and the PLO who use a combination of threats and inducements to turn coverage in their direction. By contrast, Israel’s efforts are sporadic, poorly funded, and often poorly conceived. The major news organizations use Arab stringers in places like Gaza and southern Lebanon, who are ideologically anti-Israel, susceptible to threats, or both.

Could social media replace it as a reliable source for news? This is even less likely. Social media does have a role to play in keeping the mainstream honest, as illustrated by the Red Cross ambulance incident mentioned above. But if mainstream standards are eroding, social media has no standards at all. It is very subject to manipulation, as was demonstrated during the last election in the US. And efforts to clean it up, such as Facebook’s proposal to measure “trust” in various news sources are likely to make things worse.

There is no overall solution to her media problem, but there are things that Israel could do. One is to increase the available resources and professionalism of her various spokespersons, such as those of the Foreign Ministry and the IDF. Another is to establish worldwide satellite news channels – like Al-Jazeera – broadcasting in multiple languages, which would present accurate news together with entertaining content. This would be extremely expensive, but a drop in the bucket compared with the military budget.

Although Israel’s commitment to free expression prevents us from silencing our “Gideon Levites,” we can at least speak louder and more clearly, in order to ensure that the real story is accessible to anyone who cares to listen.

The Devil is in the Implementation

Yossi Klein Halevi is a wonderful writer. I recommend his book Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation to anyone who wants to appreciate the nuances of Israel’s political tribes.

But like many wonderful Israeli writers on such subjects, his brain is stuck.

It is stuck on the horns of the dilemma Micah Goodman calls Catch-67: if Israel tries to absorb all of Judea and Samaria, it will either have to undemocratically deny the franchise to the Arab population or become an unstable binational state (or both). But on the other hand, if Israel gives up Judea and Samaria, it will have to deal with a security nightmare in which terrorists will be in easy shooting range of Israel’s most populated regions. A Gaza times ten. Neither choice is acceptable. Stuck.

So how does he get unstuck? Like many Jewish intellectuals, he sees the demographic problem as worse than the security problem, and opts for partition. In a recent Wall Street Journal article (unfortunately behind a paywall) he argues that both sides have legitimate aspirations to possess all of the land; but although partition is unjust for both, it is the only practical solution.

I strongly disagree with him about the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations (so does Yisrael Medad, here), but that isn’t what I want to discuss in this post. I want to look at one small piece of the issue that is a show-stopper for everyone that takes a similar pro-partition line: the question of implementation.

Halevi writes,

Like a majority of Israelis—though the numbers are dropping, according to the polls—I support the principle of a two-state solution, for Israel’s sake no less than for the Palestinians. Extricating ourselves from ruling over another people is a moral, political and demographic imperative. It is the only way to save Israel in the long term as both a Jewish and a democratic state—the two essential elements of our being. Partition is the only real alternative to a Yugoslavia-like single state in which two rival peoples devour each other.

But in order to take that frightening leap of territorial contraction—pulling back to the pre-1967 borders, when Israel was barely 9 miles wide at its narrowest point—we need some indication that a Palestinian state would be a peaceful neighbor, and not one more enemy on our doorstep. The practical expression of that goodwill would be Palestinian agreement that the descendants of the refugees of 1948 return to a Palestinian state and not to Israel, where they would threaten its Jewish majority.

We know, and Halevi notes, the depth of Palestinian hatred for Israel and that “the relentless message, conveyed to a new generation by media and schools and mosques, is that the Jews are thieves, with no historical roots in this land.” We know, from our experience with Gaza and South Lebanon, how easy it is for a terrorist organization like Hamas or Hezbollah to establish itself in areas from which Israel withdraws. We know that the geography of the Land of Israel, with the commanding high ground of Judea and Samaria makes a pre-1967 sized Israel almost indefensible.

No Palestinian leadership has ever indicated that it is prepared to give up the “right of return.” Indeed, this idea – that all of the land from the river to the sea has been unfairly taken from them – is the single essential ideological principle of Palestinian identity. Any Palestinian agreement to two-state plans has always been hedged as temporary, as in the PLO’s “phased plan” or Hamas’ proposal of a temporary truce. Palestinian leaders deny that there is a Jewish people, or that it has a historical connection to the land. This implies that there is a strong possibility that the Palestinian side will not negotiate in good faith or keep its side of the bargain.

There are perhaps 400,000 Israeli Jews residing in Judea and Samaria (excluding Jerusalem). Even with land swaps enabling the Jewish communities with the largest populations to remain in Israel, a partition which required Jews to leave the Palestinian parts of the country would require tens of thousands, perhaps more than a hundred thousand Jews to be resettled elsewhere. Leaving aside the manifest injustice of this, it’s clear that once done it is very difficult to undo.

When a concrete concession by one side – the withdrawal of soldiers and civilians, perhaps (as in the Sinai and Gaza) the physical destruction of communities – which is hard or impossible to undo is balanced against a paper commitment to be peaceful by the other, there is little cost to the latter side to renege on the agreement.

But let’s assume that there have been negotiations and both sides have signed an agreement to give up what they consider their historic rights: Israel’s right to settlement in all the Land of Israel, and the Palestinians’ right of return to Israel for the descendents of the refugees of 1948. Now here are a few questions:

  1. Once the IDF has withdrawn from Judea and Samaria and given control to the Palestinians, what happens if they violate their agreement to be a peaceful neighbor? Our experience during the Oslo period argues that they will not keep their word. How will the agreement be enforced? Will we be asked to depend on the UN or foreign powers? Or will Israel need to invade and retake the areas in yet another war? Neither of this options is acceptable.
  2. Sometimes even democratic Western nations don’t live up to agreements after administrations change (for example, consider the Obama Administration’s renegingon the promises in the Bush letters to Ariel Sharon). Autocratic leaders are even less likely to maintain commitments made by their predecessors. What guarantees that the next Palestinian “President” will observe the agreement? And what if, for example, a Fatah administration is replaced by a Hamas one, or even one aligned with the Islamic State or Iran? All of these things are possible.

So we have a one-sided agreement which is almost impossible to undo, with a party that historically does not negotiate in good faith or keep its commitments, whose basic identity opposes such an agreement, which has an unstable autocratic leadership, and which is prone to being overthrown by extremists.

One of the good things about Halevi’s piece is that he understands that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is not in the cards for the near future. There is too much extremism (“on both sides,” he says, but I think it is mostly on the Arab side). And he doesn’t think that “the status quo is not sustainable.” We’ve been sustaining it for 50 (or 70, if you prefer) years, and we can sustain it a bit longer. He seems to agree with Micah Goodman that there is no “solution” that can be implemented next week:

A deepening Israeli-Sunni strategic relationship could evolve into a political relationship, encouraging regional involvement in tempering if not yet solving the Palestinian conflict. One possible interim deal would be gradual Israeli concessions to the Palestinians—reversing the momentum of settlement expansion and strengthening the Palestinian economy—in exchange for gradual normalization with the Sunni world.

Unfortunately, this too is wishful thinking. Regardless of what the Sunni leaders would prefer, the Palestinians are moving in the direction of more extremism, not less. If they don’t get support from Saudi Arabia, they are happy to take it from Iran or Turkey. The Death Factory set in motion by Yasser Arafat maintains itself, and concessions by Israel just encourage it.

I believe that the Jewish state has a legal, moral and historical right to all of the Land of Israel that the Palestinians do not have (although they do have human rights and ought to have at least a limited right of self-determination). I have argued this at length elsewhere. But that’s not the point.

The point is that implementing partition of the Land of Israel would risk national suicide. There’s no rush. Perhaps the best “solution” is not to look for a political agreement, but just to keep the status quo with small modifications as needed. If you must have a program, there are other options than partition for an end game. So could we stop insisting on this one?

Originally Published in Abu Yehuda.

No, it isn’t Kent State on the Mediterranean*

I talked to an American friend yesterday. She is well-educated and interested in current events, and she was concerned about what was going on at the border with Gaza. She read me an AP news account that was in her local paper (probably this one) which explained in the second paragraph that

Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing at least nine Palestinians and wounding 491 others in the second mass border protest in eight days. The deaths brought to at least 31 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since last week.

What is the picture that this evokes?

If I didn’t know better, I would see a bunch of people peacefully holding signs, singing “we shall overcome,” when suddenly a machine gun opens up and mows them down at random, men women and children. The article mentions that “the area was engulfed by thick black smoke from protesters setting tires on fire,” but it is only in the ninth paragraph that we are told that “the [Israeli] military said” that the “protesters” threw firebombs and explosive devices under cover of the smoke,  and that “several attempts to cross the fence were thwarted.”

Let’s analyze some of this.

Are they “protesters” and if so, what are they protesting? Some of them are civilians who are sympathetic with Hamas, or who are young people with nothing more exciting to do, who have taken the free buses provided by Hamas to eat the free lunch provided there. Participants are encouraged to try to break through the border fence, and Hamas is paying them from $200 to $500 if they are injured, and $3000 to families of anyone who is killed.

The civilians  are generally not the ones who are getting shot. Most of those who did are members of the al-Qassam brigades or other military organizations associated with Hamas or other terrorist factions, who a trying to damage or penetrate the border fence, or injure or kill Israeli troops on the other side.

Here is a description from an article by Nahum Barnea, an Israeli journalist who is a bitter enemy of Israel’s present government, and anything but a right-winger:

[IDF officer at the scene:] “There were armed cells among the protestors that wanted to break through the fence to set it on fire, to kidnap soldiers and perhaps break into one of the kibbutzim. There are several people within the crowd, members of Hamas’ elite Nukhba force, who are hiding guns, knives, explosives under their clothes. Their intention was to turn into a fighting force.”

Nineteen or 20 Palestinians were killed on the first Friday, I said.

“One-third of the dead are armed terrorists,” one of the officers said. “Another 40 percent are members of the organizations, including a Nukhba company commander. Most of the others were identified as key instigators. The first person who was killed was a farmer. It was a misidentification by a tank.”

The orders received from the General Staff are clear. A soldier is allowed to fire in three cases: If he is in a life-threatening situation, if he detects damage to state infrastructure [the border fence] and if he spots key instigators. In the last case, he must receive approval from a commander. First, he fires into the air, and only then he shoots towards the person’s body.

“Let’s assume that 400 people had broken through the border fence,” one of the officers said. “We would have had to stop them with fire. At least 50 of them would have been killed. It would have been a strategic event. They would have had to retaliate. We would have had to retaliate. In fact, we are preventing war through our surgical activity.

People in Gaza have much to be unhappy about. Media sympathetic to Hamas usually blame Israel, citing its “blockade” of Gaza. But the blockade is very selective, and does not prevent Gaza from importing food, medical supplies and even construction materials intended to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged in recent wars. Hamas taxes all imports heavily, and appropriates what it wants for its own purposes. Cement and rebar imported for construction of buildings, for example, is diverted to use in attack tunnels dug under the border to Israel, which are intended to infiltrate terrorists and to kidnap Israelis.

The biggest problems for Gaza residents today are the lack of electricity, mostly because of a dispute with the Palestinian Authority, and the availability of clean water and sewage treatment facilities. International donors have provided money and equipment, but resources are consistently diverted to Hamas for military purposes.

But these are not the things they are protesting. The protest is called “The Great March of Return,” and it is on behalf of a “right of return” of the descendents of Arab refugees from the 1948 war to land that has been under Israel’s control since then. Rhetoric is very aggressive. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said that the event marks the beginning of their return to “all of Palestine,” especially Jerusalem, which they say US President Trump had no business recognizing as the capital of Israel.

As everyone knows, the “return” of the millions who claim refugee status would be the end of the Jewish state (and probably the start of a civil war that would rival the one in Syria). In other words, what they are protesting is the very existence of Israel on land that they want for themselves.

I told my friend that Israel had few options. Could they fail to defend the border, close to Israeli communities (as close as 100 meters in some cases)? Palestinian terrorists have on countless occasions showed that they are capable of horrific violence, even slitting the throats of babies in their cribs.

Some commentators have gone as far as to accuse Israel of deliberately “massacring” Palestinians. What they don’t explain is what advantage Israel would gain by doing so. Israel is extremely conscious (too much so, in my opinion) of maintaining an image of a progressive, humane society, and would consider mass or indiscriminate killing of Palestinians a public relations disaster as well as a moral one. The view that IDF soldiers in general would seize an opportunity to kill Palestinians out of sheer hatred – which is apparently assumed by those who suggest that there has been a “massacre” – is a manifestation of the campaign of demonization that Israel and the IDF have been subjected to, and even of a pervasive anti-Jewish worldview.

Hamas, on the other hand, benefits greatly from civilian casualties, which support its narrative of victimization and provide its supporters with fodder for “lawfare” against the IDF and diplomatic sanctions against Israel.

I have recently read several articles which argue that the situation is very complicated and we shouldn’t place all the responsibility on either side. I agree that it is complicated. There are numerous players with influence here, including Israel and Hamas of course, but also the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and notably Iran, which is financing Hamas and sees violence in Gaza as in its interest.

But it isn’t complicated in a moral sense. I have no problem saying that one side is defending itself against invasion, and the other is committing an act of aggression while at the same time victimizing its own people.

It’s a shame that important parts of the American media don’t get this – or don’t want its consumers to get it.


* For those too young to remember, see Kent State Massacre.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda.

Must all our residents be citizens?

Someone asked me a question on Facebook. Social media demands that all answers be given while standing on one foot, and since I’m not Hillel, I’m going to present my answer here, using both feet.

So here is the question (I’m paraphrasing): Isn’t the only just and practical solution to your conflict with the Palestinians to create one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and give everybody equal rights? Make all the Arabs in the region citizens. The fellow added something about a right of return for “refugees” living elsewhere; I’ll get back to that later.

There could be an acceptable one-state solution. But it could not be created by simply making all the inhabitants citizens with equal rights in every respect.

First, there is an assumption here that every country must be like Canada or the United States, a state of its citizens. But Israel is not that. It is the nation-state of the Jewish people. That implies that there must be a difference between the status of Jews and other citizens. We go to great lengths to insist that Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel have exactly equal rights, and that is true – up to a point. But in some important respects it is not. I can call my Jewish cousin in America and invite him to come and live in Israel, and the government will allow him to do so and even give him special benefits. An Arab citizen cannot do this. This is a fundamental point, an explication of what it means to say that the state belongs to the Jewish people and not merely to everyone who lives here, even if everyone has the right to be represented in the Knesset.

The nation-state of the Jewish people, if it allows all of its citizens to vote must have a Jewish – no, a Zionist – majority. If it did not, then the Knesset could vote to remove the special status of the Jewish people. There is a dispute about the how many Arabs there actually are in the region, although it is relatively certain that Jews would still be a majority, especially if Gaza weren’t included. But the Arabs would have the support of left-wing Jews and maybe political opportunists a well. There would be massive campaigns (paid for by European governments and the New Israel Fund, no doubt) to promote reducing the Jewish majority, changing the symbols of the state, or even weakening or repealing the Law of Return. It could happen.

The Jewish state is a refuge for Diaspora Jews who are persecuted, but it is also a reservoir and an incubator of Jewish culture. Today, given the degree of assimilation in the Diaspora, it is possible to imagine the Jewish people disappearing from history if there were not a Jewish state to nurture and nourish it. The Jewish character of the state is, even today, under attack, and it is imperative to protect it.

Does this mean that Israel must never consider annexing Judea and Samaria, land that arguably (and there are many arguments) belongs to Israel and must remain under our control for strategic reasons, out of fear of losing its Zionist majority? Not necessarily.

In some countries, the great majority of the inhabitants are citizens. But this is not true in general, especially in the Middle East. In Jordan and Saudi Arabia, only about 70% are citizens, in Lebanon 75%, and in Bahrain, 48%. An extreme example is Qatar, where less than 15% of the residents are citizens.

But, you say, most of these countries aren’t democratic. Well, in ancient Athens, where the word ‘democracy’ originated, only 10-20% were citizens. But I get the point. It is more democratic when a greater percentage of the population shares the rights and duties of citizenship. Nevertheless, in the fractious Middle East, where ethnic conflicts are the rule rather than the exception, real democracy is often theoretical rather than real. Both Lebanon and Iraq are theoretically democratic republics, but their elections play out along strict ethnic lines, and it would be hard to say that “democracy” greatly benefits their inhabitants.

Democracy is not an absolute. What it means and how it is implemented varies from place to place and from time to time. Even the most democratic of countries place limitations on immigration, on suffrage (consider that in most states of the US, convicted felons have restrictions placed on their right to vote, some of them permanent), and on eligibility for naturalization of non-citizens. In my opinion, given the stresses placed on Israel by the hostility of its neighbors – indeed, the hostility of much of the world – it is miraculous that it is as democratic as it is, particularly in respect to the full civil rights enjoyed by its 1.5 million Arab citizens.

One of the most liberal policies associated with citizenship is the practice of automatically granting it to any child born on national soil. Interestingly, even in the developed world, citizenship by birthright is uncommon: only 30 countries (out of 194 UN member nations) automatically grant citizenship to children born on their soil, with the most prominent among them being the US and Canada. None are in the Middle East. Pakistan is the only country in Asia which grants this right (but there is an exception if the father is considered an “enemy of the state”).

My Facebook acquaintance mentioned a “right of return for ‘refugees’ living elsewhere.” This demand, repeated ad infinitum by anti-Zionists, is legally indefensible and practically unacceptable. It is not supported in international law. In addition, the unsustainable definition of Palestinian refugee status as a hereditary property is not applied to any other refugee population. It was invented – along with policies of preventing the resettlement of the refugees or their descendants anywhere but Israel, encouraging the growth of this population (today more than 5 million), and indoctrinating them with the idea that some day they would “return to their homes,” as a cruel exploitation of innocent people as weapons in the continuing war against the Jews.

At this point, what is supposed to be “just and practical” becomes the elimination of the Jewish state and its replacement by yet another Arab-dominated state added to the 22 already existing in the region. It seems reasonable to assume that the Jews of Israel would not sit still for this, and so it should be clear that this plan, supposedly a peaceful solution, would actually lead to war.

While an argument can be made that the Arab population of Judea and Samaria has some kind of right of self-determination that is not actualized – although it can also be said that today the rule of the autonomous Palestinian Authority does constitute self-determination – a full actualization of what Palestinians see as their rights would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. That is, self-determination for the newly-created “Palestinian people” would come at the expense of Jewish self-determination, and possibly of the survival of the Jewish people.

And I admit that I’m biased. I admit that I care more for my people than for the Palestinians. A lot more, and not just for the obvious reason that the Palestinian Arabs have been particularly unkind to us for the past 100 years or so. There is a human drive for cultural self-preservation just as there is for individual self-preservation, although it may be suppressed in unhealthy cultures – just as unhealthy individuals sometimes lose the will to survive, or even commit suicide.

So let’s assume that at some point in the future Israel were to annex Judea and Samaria. I can find no legal, moral or practical reason for automatically granting citizenship to all the Arab residents, as my interlocutor suggests, and plenty of reasons not to. Indeed, it only seems reasonable in view of the extreme and violent hostility of much of the Arab population of the area to Israel and Jews, that Israel should follow Pakistan’s example and exclude “enemies of the state” from citizenship.

The Left argues that either we accept a partition of our country according to the 1949 armistice lines or something close to them – and lose our ability to defend the country – or we will get their disastrous version of a one-state solution. But there are numerous other possibilities, and one of the keys to developing them is the understanding that not every resident must be a citizen.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda.

The Narrative

Maybe arguments are not important. Maybe, as Jonathan Haidt (video, 1 hr. 32 m.) says, logical arguments are window dressing used to justify conclusions forced upon us by deep-seated emotional motivations. Maybe those who demand that we “free Palestine” on US campuses and UK streets simply disdain the Jewish people and their state. Maybe we should just tell them to go to hell and maintain our military deterrent capability.

Maybe. But the arguments against Israel all rest on the foundation of the Palestinian Narrative. Just in case there is anyone left who can be persuaded by facts and logical reasoning, it’s important to refute the Narrative. And in case the concept of international law hasn’t been so perverted by the perfidious UN and our enemies in Europe and the Mideast as to be completely worthless, it’s important to do so in order to provide a basis for legal rulings and diplomatic resolutions by international bodies.

Most importantly, in order to dispel the doubts planted in the minds of our remaining friends (few as they might be) by the propaganda pervading all kinds of media, educational institutions, churches and liberal synagogues, charities, and so many other institutions, it is imperative to refute the Narrative.

The Narrative has various forms and incarnations, which may be more or less persuasive. But they all make several main false claims:

Claim: The Palestinians were here first. They are natives; we are colonists. They have aboriginal rights. Sometimes they even claim to be descendants of Canaanites or Philistines who predated the Exodus from Egypt.
Claim: European Jews came to Palestine as a result of the Holocaust and stole the land belonging to Palestinians.
Claim: The actions of Israel amount to ethnic cleansing or even genocide against the Palestinians.
Claim: The definition of Israel as a Jewish state constitutes apartheid.
Claim: There is a “right of return” in international law that entitles the descendants of Arabs that fled in 1948 to “return to their homes” and/or receive compensation.
Claim: There is a “right of resistance to Israeli occupation” that justifies everything from rock-throwing to bombing buses and pizza parlors.

There is much more, but I think these are the most essential claims of the Narrative. It provides the basis for international legal and diplomatic attacks against Israel, as well as support for a Palestinian state on the grounds of aboriginal rights and self-determination.


The claim to aboriginal rights – which implies the right to live in one’s historic homeland as well as some degree of self-government and title to ancestral lands – is claimed by both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples (yes, there is a “Palestinian people” – I’ll get to that). Both peoples claim to be the extant people with the longest connection to the land. In order to decide between them we need to ask 1) how long have these peoples existed, and 2) to what extent are they connected to the land?

In the case of the Jewish people, there is evidence of the existence of a people with a unique language and religion who self-identified as yehudim (Jews) for at least several thousand years. The Bible tells about  their migration to the land of Israel and tells a story whose protagonists are God, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel. Their religious rituals express the yearning of those exiled to return to the land, and have done so for hundreds of years. Even the Qu’ran refers to a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel.

There is a large amount archaeological evidence for the Jewish presence in the land of Israel back to the First Temple period (before 587 BCE), and even as far back as 1200 BCE. There is also genetic evidence that most of those today calling themselves “Jews” have a common origin. The strong taboo against intermarriage with non-Jews testifies to their belief that they are not just a religious group, but a nation. Their common origin, language, religion, customs, and – very importantly – self-identification establishes them as a people or nation.

What about the Palestinians? The fantasies about Canaanites and Philistines are just that, with those peoples gone centuries before the Common Era. Before the mid-1960s, the Arabs of Palestine did not even identify as a separate people, considering themselves part of the greater Arab nation. After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Palestinian Arab leadership argued that those parts of the empire which were to become the Palestine Mandate were actually “southern Syria,” with no unique political identity. The Palestinian Arabs themselves did not have a unique language or religion, and their origins were multiple. Although some were probably descended from native Jews or from the original 7th century Arab conquerors of Palestine, many Arab clans came much, much later.

Allen Hertz notes that disease, war and famines had greatly reduced the population in Palestine by the early 19th century, but

…from time to time, there have also been repeated waves of fresh migrants drawn from various ethno-religious groups, whether from adjacent regions or further afield. …

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, regional rulers like Zahir al-Umar (Bedouin), Ahmet al-Jazzar (Bosnian), and Mehmet Ali (Albanian) invited farmers and other Muslim migrants from Egypt, the Balkans, and elsewhere to help repopulate the land. In addition, there were always newcomers who arrived without authorization. For example, from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Bedouin from neighboring regions significantly migrated to the Holy Land, where some became sedentary, as encouraged by the Ottomans.

In the second half of the 19th century, the Ottoman government from time to time sponsored settlement in the Holy Land by Muslim refugees — such as Tatars, Circassians, and Chechens who had to flee their homelands due to widespread Russian persecution. Thus, we can readily understand why the detailed article on greater “Palestine” in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (though egregiously omitting the Druze) refers to no fewer than twenty ethnic groups. Namely, listed among the locals are Arabs, Bedouin, Jews, Persians, Afghans, Nawar, Turks, Turkomans, Armenians, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Bosnians, Motawila, Kurds, Circassians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Algerians, and Samaritans. …

The 1930 Hope Simpson Report, the 1937 Peel Commission, and the local administration’s 1946 Survey of Palestine all agreed that there was not much effective control of land frontiers which, during the interwar period, remained mostly open to undocumented Arab migrants seeking opportunities in Western Palestine. The attraction there was the Jew-driven local economy which was famously rising faster than in the neighboring Arab countries. …

It is probably true that with a few exceptions, most of today’s Palestinian Arabs are descended from people who migrated into the region no earlier than 1830.

What finally melded the disparate collection of “Palestinians” into a Palestinian nation was opposition to the Jewish state. But even after 1948, Palestinian Arabs still saw themselves as part of a greater pan-Arab nation, and only after 1967 – under the tutelage of the KGB, which explained the public relations value of becoming a movement of national liberation – did they begin to refer to themselves as a nation.


The claim that the Jews colonized Palestine as a result of the Holocaust is popular, because it is usually followed by the argument that “native” Palestinians ought not to suffer as a result of the crimes of Nazi Germany. There is some irony inherent in this, when one considers that the leader of the pre-state Palestinian opposition to Jewish sovereignty, Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, aided Hitler by recruiting Muslims to serve in the SS and broadcasting Nazi propaganda in Arabic from Berlin for much of the war.

But not only were Jews present in Palestine since biblical times and more appropriately called “native” than the Arabs, but the idea and implementation of Jewish sovereignty began long before the Holocaust. Indeed, the pre-state yishuv had most of the institutions necessary for a sovereign state that could properly provide protection and services for its citizens in place by the 1920s and 1930s.

It should also be pointed out that the Jews did not take control of Palestine from the Arabs. There was never a Palestinian administration; the Ottoman Turks were supplanted by the British colonialists, and it was the British that were thrown out by the Zionists. One way to describe the events in Palestine in the first half of the 20th Century is as a struggle by the Jews to reestablish sovereignty and the Arabs to prevent them from doing so.

Land was not stolen from the Arabs by the Zionist settlers. It was purchased, at exorbitant prices, from landlords who were either absentees or rich local Arabs. It is true that after the War of Independence, land that had been abandoned by Arabs who fled was appropriated by the new government and became state land, which was then often leased to Jews. This was to some extent morally problematic, but it is hard to see what else the state could have done – especially considering the hostility of much of the Arab population, which had just been defeated in a war that would probably had ended in another genocide of the Jews if it had gone the other way.


The claim that Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing or genocide is an important part of the Narrative. The accusation of genocide is easily refuted: in 1960 there were about 1.3 million Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean; by 2015 this number had grown to about 5.1 million. By contrast, the real genocide of the Jewish population in Europe by the Nazis reduced it from 9.5 to 3.8 million between 1939 and 1945. The “evidence” given for genocide consists of anecdotes about individual Palestinians who were killed – almost all of these in conflict with police or IDF forces – or casualties in war. In neither case was an effort made to kill Palestinians simply because they are Palestinian, and indeed, the IDF takes unprecedented measures to protect enemy civilians in wartime.

Entire books have been written about the 550,000 – 700,000 Arab refugees who fled their homes before or during the 1948 war (about 160,000 remained and ultimately became citizens of Israel). However, it seems clear that only a minority of the refugees were expelled by Israeli soldiers; the majority left out of fear of the fighting, especially as a result of false rumors of Jewish brutality (I would call it psychological projection: they expected the Jews to do what they would have done in similar circumstances). By contrast, every single Jew in those parts of Palestine that were captured by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 was either killed, driven out at gunpoint, or forced to flee.


The claim that Israel is an apartheid state also does violence to the language, and to the history of South Africa where actual apartheid existed. Palestinians and their supporters say that the fact that Arabs in Judea and Samaria do not live under the normal Israeli legal system and do not have the right to vote constitutes apartheid. Some even say there is “apartheid” inside the Green Line because of discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.

In Judea and Samaria, at least 95% of the Arab population lives in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Theoretically they can vote in PA elections, although the PA hasn’t held one in 9 years, for reasons of its own. But although the PA is something less than a state, without an army or control of its borders or airspace, it does control the economic, social and cultural life of its population. It is responsible for policing, education, media, public health, and more. The PA is another country for all practical purposes. No Jews live in those areas. Indeed, Jews are forbidden by Israel to enter PA-controlled areas for their own good, since they are likely to be lynched.

Real apartheid, as it was practiced in South Africa, consisted of parallel societies for whites and “coloreds.” Every aspect of life was regulated according to skin color. Within the Green Line, Arabs and Jews have the same rights, including the right to vote and hold political office. There are no segregated drinking fountains or beaches as in apartheid South Africa. Jews and Arabs are not forbidden to marry or have relationships. There is a certain degree of social separation which is not legally mandated, but is a result of cultural differences, and some discrimination. But as those who lived in apartheid South Africa will testify, there is simply no comparison.

Israel is a Jewish state, which means several things. One of the most important is the Law of Return, which allows a Jew anywhere in the world to come to Israel and acquire citizenship. Yes, there is no “law of return” for Palestinians. But this is not apartheid. Any country has the right to establish rules for immigration, and it can use any criteria it wants to. All Israeli citizens have equal rights, but not everyone in the world has an equal right to become a citizen.

“Jewish state” also means that Israel has a state religion, Judaism. There are numerous countries that have state religions, including all Arab countries, the UK, Finland, Italy, and numerous others. Judaism has a special status in Israel, with a government funded Ministry of Religious Services that provides financial assistance to Jewish institutions. However, there is little or no interference with the practice of other religions.


The claim that there is a “right of return” for Arab refugees is one of the most contentious claims in the Narrative. There is no such general right in international law; although the Geneva Conventions call for humane treatment of refugees, there is no requirement that they be returned to their place of origin. Further, the UN treats Palestinian refugees differently from any other refugees in the world, by allowing refugee status to be hereditary. The original 550,000 – 700,000 Arab refugees of 1948 have thus grown to 5 or 6 million today (depending on whom you ask). The Arab countries in which the refugees reside – including the PA – refuse to countenance any solution for these people other than “return” to “their homes” in Israel.

The right of return (or compensation, for those who prefer not to return) is sometimes said to be guaranteed by UN General Assembly resolution 194. But the resolution is non-binding, and applies equally to Jewish refugees. It says that refugees “wishing to … live in peace with their neighbors” should be allowed to return “home,” and certainly was not intended for grandchildren yet unborn to do so. It also calls for Jerusalem “to be placed under international control.”


The claim that there is a “right to resist Israeli occupation,” and that such a right justifies Palestinian terrorism against Israel, is a perverse and entirely bogus claim. One formulation argues that the “right” comes from the UN’s 1960 decolonization declaration, and the 4th Geneva Convention. The argument is that because of the illegality of the occupation under the 4th Geneva Convention, Palestinians are subjected to “subjugation, domination and exploitation,” a violation of their human rights forbidden by the decolonization declaration. But together with “the basic right of all human beings to resist their being killed and harmed, and a society to take armed actions to protect itself”  this supposedly implies that “all Palestinian attempts to lift the yoke of Israeli oppression” are legitimate.

This is sheer nonsense, from start to finish. Judea and Samaria are not colonies, they are disputed territories that are arguably legitimate parts of Israel. Even if you believe that they are “occupied territories,” the 4th Geneva convention does not make the occupation illegal. And we mustn’t forget that at least 95% of the Arab population there is ruled directly by the PA, not by Israel. The so-called “resistance” is a murderously violent campaign whose objective is to cause the Jewish state to collapse so it can be replaced by an Arab-dominated one.

But supposedly this argument is strong enough to legitimize murder, even mass murder as has been committed multiple times by Palestinian terrorists!


The Narrative is seductive to the uninformed, especially if they are predisposed to support the underdog, whom they believe to be the Palestinians.

Perhaps that’s the final falsehood of the Narrative. The poor, oppressed Palestinians vs. mighty Israel. But of course for all these years they had the entire Arab world with its seemingly infinite oil money behind them. And of course the Europeans, who never met a Jew they didn’t (openly or covertly) dislike.

But now the geopolitical situation is changing, and the Arab nations have bigger problems than the pesky Jews (who never really were a threat to them anyway). The Europeans may not have noticed it yet, but they do too. Much bigger problems.

Maybe now is the time to deploy facts and logic against the Narrative?

Originally Published in Abu Yehuda

The Death Factory

Israel and the Jewish people have no enemy more vile than the PLO and its dominant faction, Fatah.

The PLO was founded in 1964 by the Arab league as a “Palestinian” organization whose goal was the “liberation of Palestine through armed struggle.” In 1969 it was taken over by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group, which has controlled it ever since. In 1993-4, the Oslo agreements between Israel and the PLO created the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the areas in which 95% or more of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria live. The PA is run by the PLO (despite the victory by Hamas in the last PA election, held in 2006) and its Chairman is Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the head of the PLO and of Fatah.

Probably more Israeli Jews have been murdered by the PLO and its factions than any other terrorist group, including Hamas and Hezbollah. The PLO has gone out of its way to kill Jewish civilians and especially children, as it did in the Moshav Avivim school bus massacre (very interesting link), the Ma’alot massacre, and the Bus of Blood incident (also called the Coastal Road massacre). Here is a list of PLO “operations” until 2004. There have been plenty more since.

In the early 1990s the PLO was isolated in its exile in Tunis and other places, with few recent terrorist atrocities to its “credit” (the ugly Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985 was an exception). But in 1993, the so-called “architects of Oslo” – Yossi Beilin, Yair Hirschfeld, Ron Pundak, Uri Savir, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres – negotiated an agreement with the PLO which recognized it as the legitimate representative of the “Palestinian people,” and brought PLO terrorists back to Israel to form the PA. Here is how historian Efraim Karsh described the result:

For Israel, it has been the starkest strategic blunder in its history, establishing an ineradicable terror entity on its doorstep, deepening its internal cleavages, destabilizing its political system, and weakening its international standing. For the West Bank [sic] and Gaza Palestinians, it has brought subjugation to the corrupt and repressive PLO and Hamas regimes, which reversed the hesitant advent of civil society in these territories, shattered their socioeconomic wellbeing, and made the prospects of peace and reconciliation with Israel ever more remote.

In their naiveté and delusive wishful thinking, the “architects” believed Arafat’s assurances that he had renounced terrorism and would change the PLO Covenant to delete those articles calling for the violent destruction of the Jewish state. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had his doubts, but could not oppose the fait accompli from the start without being seen as “against peace,” and he soon came under massive pressure from US President Clinton to make a deal.

Arafat immediately began his double game of talking peace in English to the international community and inciting violence in Arabic to his people. Karsh notes,

The next eleven years until Arafat’s death on November 11, 2004, offered a recapitulation, over and over again, of the same story. In addressing Israeli or Western audiences, the PLO chairman (and his erstwhile henchmen) would laud the “peace” signed with “my partner Yitzhak Rabin.” To his Palestinian constituents, he depicted the accords as transient arrangements required by the needs of the moment. He made constant allusion to the “phased strategy” and the Treaty of Hudaibiya—signed by Muhammad with the people of Mecca in 628, only to be disavowed a couple of years later when the situation shifted in the prophet’s favor—and insisted on the “right of return,” the standard Palestinian/Arab euphemism for Israel’s destruction through demographic subversion.

The supposedly renounced terrorism continued, with Arafat secretly providing funds to terror operatives and even cooperating with Hamas (the one thing they seem to be able to agree upon is the value of killing Jews). After the failure of the Camp David and Taba talks in 2000-1, Arafat sparked the vicious Second Intifada in which the PLO and Hamas together murdered more than 1000 Israeli Jews, mostly civilians, and in which more than 3000 Palestinian Arabs lost their lives.

Most importantly, as soon as he took power Arafat opened what I call the Death Factory, the systematic indoctrination with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda of Palestinian Arabs in schools and mosques, and via official PA and Fatah newspapers, radio, TV, and websites. More than mere propaganda, the Death Factory teaches Arabs, especially young people, that the greatest achievement in the life of a Palestinian is to kill as many Jews as possible, even – especially – if the killer becomes a martyr in the process. The greatest Palestinian heroes are such martyrs, like Dalal Mughrabi, a young woman who took part in the Bus of Blood massacre. Countless schools, squares, sports facilities, and so on are named after Mughrabi and other exemplars of Palestinism. Hamas, following Arafat’s lead, opened its own Death Factory, featuring children’s TV programs and kindergartens where the children are taught to hate and encouraged to kill as soon as they are able.

Arafat’s successor, the Holocaust-denying, Jew-hating Mahmoud Abbas, has been careful not to be caught directly ordering terrorism. But he continued and expanded the Death Factory, and often lauds captured or martyred terrorists as heroes. In addition to Palestinian nationalism and appeals to Arab honor, traditional antisemitic themes both from the Islamic and European traditions are included. Although the PLO under both Arafat and Abbas has promised numerous times to stop such incitement, it has never done so.

Today, social media have become a force multiplier, amplifying and disseminating the message. In fact, as a result of the autonomous nature of social media, it is doubtful that the Death Factory could be shut down completely even if the PA and Hamas would stop incitement in its own media and schools.

If this were not enough, the PA scandalously pays salaries to the families of terroristsimprisoned by Israel for security offenses, or killed while attempting acts of terrorism. The monthly payments are proportional to the length of the sentence, so the family of a mass murderer who has received multiple life sentences will be paid the most. The PA also will pay to build a new house for the family of a terrorist whose home is demolished. Despite great international pressure – after all, practically all of the PA’s money comes from international donors – Abbas has said that he will never end the program, which in 2016 paid $318 million to the families of “martyrs” and prisoners.

The combination of lifetime indoctrination and incitement with financial incentives has led to a situation in which almost every Arab from the PA, and even some Arab citizens of Israel, have become potential murderers, and in which it is becoming increasingly dangerous to walk the streets or to wait at a bus stop. Arab children as young as 13 have perpetrated terror attacks. Although there has been anti-Jewish terrorism in Israel from the period before the founding of the state, the prevalence of “sudden jihad syndrome” by Arabs unaffiliated with terror groups is unprecedented.

There is no easy solution that doesn’t involve using a time machine to go back to 1993 and intercept the Oslo folly, but there are some things that should be obvious by now:

First and foremost, we must realize that the PLO is an enemy of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Jews are being murdered regularly by Palestinian Arab terrorists because they are encouraged and paid by the PLO to do so. In effect the PLO has “taken out a contract ” on the Jewish people. Paying a hit man to kill someone is considered murder in civilized countries, and his refusal to stop doing this makes Mahmoud Abbas a murderer. He should be arrested and imprisoned.

We can’t completely shut down the Death Factory because it will continue via social media. But surely we can stop incitement on PA media. TV and radio stations that incite murder or transmit anti-Jewish material can be put off the air. Newspapers can be closed down. Websites can be blocked. We don’t need to ask permission; just do it.

Insofar as the PLO is our enemy, we are not obligated to cooperate with it in any way. In fact, we are at war with the PLO, and cooperation with the enemy in time of war is treason. We should not transfer funds to the PA – which is the PLO under another name – or grant work permits to its citizens. We should encourage our allies to stop funding the PA as well.

We have gotten used to cooperating with the PA because we believe it keeps a lid on terrorism, but what that means is that we are allowing ourselves to be extorted by blackmail and threats. And regardless of our subservience, terrorism continues and grows over time, since we never defeat our enemy.

We don’t have a time machine that would enable someone to snatch the pen out of Rabin’s hand, but recognizing the seriousness of the mistake we made is the first step to fixing it.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda.

One reason Americans are often wrong about Jews and Israel

In 2014, the media watchdog organization CAMERA put up a billboard on Times Square accusing the NY Times of “slanting the news.”

Nothing has changed; in fact, today the Times is listing so severely to port that I’m surprised to see it still afloat. I have picked a couple of articles, both by Times staffers, to prove my point.

One is a “News Analysis” article by Jonathan Weisman*, an editor in the Times’ Washington bureau, called “Anti-Semitism Is Rising. Why Aren’t American Jews Speaking Up?”

Weisman is rightly concerned. Jew-hatred is becoming increasingly popular and moving closer to the mainstream in the US. Extremists on both the Right and the Left are finding it easier to speak in ways that would have been taboo only a few years ago. Anti-Jewish hate crimes have increased sharply in recent years as well. So you would think Weisman would have plenty of material.

But in 1052 words, all he is able to talk about is the so-called “alt-right,” as exemplified by a couple of right-wing conspiracy theorists, Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec.

I am sure Weisman isn’t making up stories about the hate mail he is getting, and that much of it has anti-Jewish themes. But can you write about antisemitism without mentioning the Imams who have called for the murder of Jews from their pulpits? Can you write about it without mentioning the harassment of Jewish students on college campuses by members of organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine, some of whom openly express admiration for Hitler? Can you write about it without discussing the prevalence of Jew-hatred in the black community, and the “intersectional” embrace of Jew-hater Louis Farrakhan by the progressive movement?

Weisman and the Times couldn’t, or didn’t want to. Instead, he praises the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center (which, like him, is blind to left-wing and Muslim Jew-hatred) and attacks Jewish organizations for being – get ready – “focused on Israel!”

If the vinyl banners proclaiming “Remember Darfur” that once graced the front of many American synagogues could give way in a wave to “We Stand With Israel,” why can’t they now give way en masse to “We Stand Against Hate”?

I don’t see a lot of liberal synagogues standing with Israel these days, but that is another topic. Weisman closes with a suggestion for American Jews: they should “[embrace] Judaism as a vital part of America pluralism — and [find] the spiritual meaning in the religion,”  which seems to mean that they should replace Judaism with political progressivism, a trend that has been underway for some time among liberal American Jews.

* David Gerstman informs me that Weisman is also the genius responsible for the Times chart that highlighted in yellow those lawmakers who opposed the Iran deal who were Jewish.


Now let’s to turn to another Times staffer, the venerable Isabel Kershner, the Times’ Jerusalem correspondent. In a “news” article in the Middle East section of the paper, she tries to explain why “In Israel’s Poorer Periphery, Legal Woes Don’t Dent Netanyahu’s Appeal.” Recent polls are showing PM Netanyahu’s Likud surging ahead, despite his unpopularity in the trendy parts of Tel Aviv. So Kershner goes to the not-so-trendy Kiryat Malachi (city of angels) where the mostly mizrachi [Jews who immigrated to Israel from the Middle East and North Africa] population supports him. How can it be that they simply don’t care about the corruption investigations underway against “Bibi, as he is lovingly nicknamed?”

One explanation would be that people who remember, or whose parents remember, the treatment Jews received at the hands of the Muslims among whom they lived don’t trust the Israeli Left, which keeps trying to give away parts of the country to the Arabs in the name of “peace,” which the Arabs will never provide. In other words, it is a disagreement over policy, and Bibi (even those who do not love him call him “Bibi”) has managed to stand firm against pressure from the US and Europe to commit suicide. It also doesn’t hurt that he is taking a tough line against Iran, that on his watch the economy has boomed, that he has made some major diplomatic gains for the “isolated” Jewish state, and that he has kept us out of major wars.

The corruption investigations, the details of which have been leaked on a daily basis to the media, have a smell of contrivance about them. It may turn out that some of the accusations are at least in part true, but most supporters feel that these are small matters, no politician is perfect, and his overall performance on the most important issues has been excellent.

That would be the simple answer. It explains why Bibi is popular everywhere in Israel, except among the bitter left-wing politicians that used to run the state and their academic, cultural and media partners. The real mystery Kershner should explore is not why he has so much support in the periphery, but rather, why they hate him so much in North Tel Aviv.

But Kershner misses the obvious, and implies that the answer is to be found in identity politics, the historical grievance of the mizrachim against the Ashkenazi establishment, and perhaps in quaint North African religious beliefs. After describing her visit to the tomb of the Baba Sali (a mystical rabbi revered by the Moroccan Jewish community) and talking about amulets, she might as well have echoed Barack Obama’s 2008 remark that working-class voters “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them…”

But the words of her (very articulate, by the way) interviewees refute this implication:

Like Mr. Begin, Mr. Netanyahu is Ashkenazi, while the current leader of the center-left Labor Party, Avi Gabbay, is the child of Moroccan immigrants. But Netanyahu supporters deride Mr. Gabbay as a political novice and disregard his ethnic origins.

“We are not racists,” Mr. Ayyash [Yehuda Ayyash, 58, a greengrocer in the blue-collar town of Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel] said. “We are rightists.”

And the police investigations of Netanyahu?

“We are all Bibi,” said Erez Madar, 33, a hairdresser in Kiryat Malachi. “Let him have a cigar. He deserves an airplane.”

Indeed, most of us agree, which is why we keep voting for him.


Sometimes people ask me why liberal Americans are often so wrong about anything connected to Jews or Israel, despite the fact that they are seemingly obsessed with these subjects.

Maybe the answer is that so many of them read the NY Times.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda

Will Israel keep the draft?

The conflict over drafting Haredim has given birth to a coalition crisis that may yet bring about new elections. A good account of the political twists and turns can be found here, if you really want to know the details. But what about the whole question of the IDF, the draft and its place in Israeli society?

The situation of the Haredim is a highly visible part of the problem. In 1947 Ben-Gurion made a deal with the Agudat Yisrael party, which represented the more observant elements of Orthodox Judaism in the pre-state yishuv, which established a “status quo” for matters of religion and state. In return, party leaders agreed not to oppose the declaration of the state.

The agreement was very general and Ben-Gurion promised that details would be worked out in the constitution for the state that was supposed to be written in the next few months. Needless to say, no constitution was written, and the uneasy status quo developed informally over the years. In 1948, during the War of Independence, Ben-Gurion agreed to exempt some 400 exceptional yeshiva students from the draft, as long as Torah study was their sole occupation (the torah umanuto arrangement). As time passed – and as the religious parties often held the balance of power in coalition governments – the arrangement expanded, until tens of thousands of Haredi young men were exempted(61,000 in 2010, the latest figure I could find).

The Supreme Court found the current situation unconstitutional in 1998, and the legislative and judicial wrangling has continued until today. Recent attempts to draft Haredim against their will gave rise to massive, sometimes violent, demonstrations. The latest proposed draft law, a compromise that is supposed to end the current crisis, has been described as saying “Haredim will enlist in the IDF, unless they don’t feel like enlisting in the IDF.”

One can understand why secular and national-religious people who are asked to give up three years of their lives plus the possibility of a month of reserve duty every year until they are 40, object to the free ride given to the Haredim, many of whom are by no stretch of the imagination “scholars.” For their part, the Haredim claim that the accommodations made by the army for their religious lifestyle are insufficient, and they view the draft as antisemitic persecution.

Some Haredi men are choosing to be drafted, but they are few and their communities treat them badly. The solution, however, can’t be to try to coerce them by threats of jail time, because they will find other ways to escape from service and will certainly contribute nothing until they do.

Over the years, geopolitical and technological changes have resulted in a reduction of the period of regular service, a lowering of the age at which one is released from reserve duty, and a reduction in the amount of reserve duty. When I served in the 1980s, I was called for six weeks every year with no exception; two weeks of training and four weeks of duty. Today, most men and virtually all women are not called in any given year and the number of days they serve when they are called is smaller.

Especially during periods of mass immigration, army service has served to integrate new arrivals into Israeli language and culture, exposing young soldiers to elements of the population that they might not otherwise meet, and serving as an object lesson in the costs of defending the nation. Universal service guarantees a degree of military literacy which makes it possible for Israelis to understand security-related issues, and vote more intelligently on them. Compare this to the US, where many citizens don’t even know anyone who serves in the nation’s professional army. And in opposition to criticism that calls Israel a “militaristic” nation, the first-hand knowledge of war that most Israelis have make it the opposite, a profoundly peace-loving nation.

But there are some downsides to universal conscription, and as time goes by they are becoming more serious. Not every draftee belongs in the military or can be of use to it, and the IDF has to spend a great deal of time and money finding something useful for them to do, warehousing them, or getting rid of them. One can only imagine the difficulties of integrating tens of thousands of unhappy Haredim who can’t eat the kosher food provided by the army and who can’t interact with women as in secular or even non-Haredi Orthodox society, assuming that it were possible to draft them.

Because the number of recruits is so large compared with the needs of the IDF, the length of regular service has been reduced to 32 months for men and two years for women. This means that resources have to be expended on training of new recruits for jobs that they will only be qualified to do for a few months.

Many observers have said that Israel would be better off with a fully volunteer, professional army. The money that would be saved by reduced training of new recruits could be spent on better equipment and good pay for soldiers who would do their jobs for long enough that their expensive training would be justified. It’s argued that modern warfare requires more highly trained specialists and fewer “grunts” who can be given a rifle and pointed in the general direction of the enemy.

One objection to this is that Israel can’t afford a large enough standing army to protect it in the event of an emergency. In the past, virtually the entire able-bodied male population could be called up to fight. But if conscripts were replaced with a professional army, then there would no longer be a pool of trained reservists who – as happened in 1973 – could join their units at a moment’s notice, ready to fight.

On the other hand, with the reduction in training of reservists in recent years, the mass emergency call-up may already be a thing of the past. And perhaps those who believe that in present-day conditions it will not be needed are right.

Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing religious politician who is nevertheless a strong libertarian, makes this suggestion:

The solution is simple: Israel must stop funding tens of thousands of soldiers who are not really needed and do nothing but make more work and expense for the system. Everybody should be drafted for a brief training period of one or two months. The IDF will choose the cream of the crop, who will remain in the army of their own free will for a long period of time. Those soldiers will get the best training and will receive excellent salaries.

The universal training period will at least produce some familiarity with military life, terminology and capabilities, even if it will not produce a supply of “grunts” to be called up in an emergency.

Any changes in this area would have to be made very slowly and thoughtfully. Today, army service is connected with almost every aspect of everyday life in Israel. Unlike the US, students usually defer their studies until they finish their service, and therefore take them more seriously. Employers hire people that they knew during their service, or who served in particular units. Young people often meet their future spouse during their time in the army. The first thing someone asks about a man who wants to work for them or marry their daughter is “what did he do in the army?” (No, they do not ask that about women – yet).

Paradoxically, some of the best things in Israeli life come from the years of compulsory servitude dictated by universal conscription. But the IDF is already moving in the direction of professionalization. The combination of increasing population size and the evolution in the nature of warfare make it unavoidable. Perhaps the revolt of the Haredim will speed up the process.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda

Israel’s right of self-defense

When I was in elementary school, I was disciplined for hitting another pupil after he hit me. That I remember the details of the incident clearly 60-odd years later is an indication of how strongly I perceived the injustice of it. I believed my action was justified as necessary self-defense to stop an unprovoked attack. The school principal disagreed.

One of the most strongly felt principles in Western morality and jurisprudence is the right of self-defense. It is permissible in most places to kill an attacker when a person feels that his own life or that of a family member is threatened. A person is not required to allow himself to be harmed or killed, even if the action he is forced to take to protect himself would be otherwise immoral or illegal.

There are strong arguments that even convicts have a constitutional right to employ violence in self-defense in the pervasively violent environment of American prisons. Prisons are inherently violent and dangerous, and the authorities are not able to protect the prisoners’ rights given budgetary and other constraints. But incarceration does not include a requirement to commit suicide, which in many cases is what failing to defend oneself in prison means.

There is the well-known Talmudic dictum, “If a man comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first” (Sanhedrin 72:1). And even Islamic  shari’a recognizes a right of self-defense (although a non-Muslim may not be able to exercise it against a Muslim for other reasons).

The right of self-defense is also recognized internationally between states. The UN Charter (Ch. I, Art. 2.4) says that members “shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” But the last article (51) of Chapter VII, which defines how the UN itself may use force to stop aggression, includes this exception:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. [my emphasis]

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its 1996 Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Use or Threat of Nuclear Weapons, took note of “the fundamental right of every State to survival, and thus its right to resort to self-defence, in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter, when its survival is at stake.” The Court argued that in such a case, as long as they are used in concurrence with international humanitarian law (in particular, the principles of necessity and proportionality), even nuclear weapons could not be ruled illegal!

The right of individual self-defense derives from the most basic of human rights, the right to life. And as the UN Charter and ICJ opinion quoted above indicate, international law recognizes also a national right to life.

I believe that the Middle East, like an American prison, is an inherently violent and dangerous place, and that all states – even one unwelcome to its neighbors – have the right to defend themselves when attacked, using whatever means are necessary to do so. Even, when there is no other option, nuclear weapons.

A lot is packed into the words “when attacked.” For example, in 1973, Israel’s enemies crossed cease-fire lines and attacked Israeli positions, acts that unambiguously constituted an “attack.” In 1967, Egypt expelled UN peacekeepers from the Sinai, massed armored divisions on the Suez Canal, announced that they would “annihilate” the Jewish state and “slaughter” us (here is a recording of Radio Cairo threatening genocide in Hebrew), and closed the Strait of Tiran, which in itself was an act of war. Technically Israel fired the first shot on June 5, but from a practical and legal standpoint, Egypt and Syria were the aggressors.

The situation today is not as clear. Iran, operating through proxies, has built an offensive capability in southern Lebanon over the past decade, and now is doing the same in Syria. It has threatened us with genocide and financed terrorists of all stripes. But its buildup has been gradual and it has not yet taken actions equivalent to the expulsion of the UN peacekeepers from the Sinai or the blockade of the Strait of Tiran. At some point the line will be crossed, and Israel will need to take military action.

Unfortunately, the attitude of the international community – as expressed in UN resolutions, NGO reports, media content, and institutions like the ICJ – does not grant to Israel the same right of self-defense that every other nation is given.

Even when Israel has been  attacked, as by the massive flood of Hezbollah rockets in 2006, or the rocket barrages from Gaza in 2008, 2012 or 2014, the Islamic-European-NGO-media axis has defined Israel as the aggressor and even accused her of war crimes for her responses. These accusations, based on cooked numbers and reports coming directly from Hamas, Hezbollah, or other severely biased anti-Israel sources, were even echoed by US President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials.

Israel’s efforts to reduce collateral damage in these campaigns were unprecedented, and the resultant protection of civilian life and property was far better than the US and its NATO partners have been able to achieve in various recent conflicts. But the war crimes accusations against us stuck nevertheless.

The ICJ, whose very careful and comprehensive opinion on the use of nuclear weapons was quoted above, also produced one in 2004 on the subject of Israel’s security barrier. In this highly politicized opinion, The Court reiterated all of the usual Arab and European talking points, calling the barrier illegal and declaring that Israel must dismantle it, pay compensation to all those “injured” by it, and so forth (fortunately, the Court does not have the power to force Israel to follow its advice).

Israel argued that the existence of the barrier and its location were intended to protect her population from armed attacks. But the Court simply rejected this without any investigation of the facts or attempt to rebut Israel’s claims of military necessity. It misinterpreted Article 51 of the UN Charter, saying that since Israel “controlled” the territories, she did not have a right to protect herself from armed attacks from them. And there were other significant deficiencies. Here is a small part of the criticism leveled against the decision by the one dissenting justice, Thomas Buergenthal (the only American on the Court):

All we have from the Court is a description of the harm the wall is causing and a discussion of various provisions of international humanitarian law and human rights instruments followed by the conclusion that this law has been violated.

Lacking is an examination of the facts that might show why the alleged defences of military exigencies, national security or public order are not applicable to the wall as a whole or to the individual segments of its route. The Court says that it “is not convinced” but it fails to demonstrate why it is not convinced, and that is why these conclusions are not convincing.

The shoddy, negligent reasoning and extreme political bias of this document – compare it to the nuclear weapons opinion discussed above –  is a striking testament to the obsessive treatment of Israel as a pariah state, denied the most basic right of any nation or person, a right that arguably must even be provided to prison inmates: the right of self-defense, and thereby of survival.

I’m indebted to Allen Hertz for many of the thoughts in this post.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda.