Tuesday, August 12, 2014

American Action or Inaction - We Lose

The New York Times ("U.S. Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel," Aug 11) reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-designated "caliph"of the Islamic world, and the leader of of ISIS, owes his rise to power to U.S. involvement in Iraq.  "Political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action."

The story goes on to enumerate the following "direct" American actions (and inactions):
1.  He allegedly spent five years in an American detention facility.  (The Pentagon maintains, however, that following his arrest in early 2004, he was released that December.)
2.  The American operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006, led to Baghdadi's chance to take power.
3.  The American ouster of Saddam Hussein (Iraq's brutal dictator) opened the lid that had suppressed extremist Islamist movements in Iraq, allowing Baghdadi "the freedom for his radical views to flourish."
4.  The inaction of the U.S. early in the Syrian revolution my have led to the growth of ISIS, according to Rep. Elliot L. Engel (D-NY).

So are we to blame for the turmoil in Iraq and Syria?  Are we largely responsible for the slaughter that is being inflicted on Kurds and Shiites in Iraq by Baghdadi?  So it's  really all our fault?

We seem to be held responsible for the ills of the world whether by our action or our inaction.  We can't win!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What are Israel's Motives in Gaza?

Why is Israel involved in Gaza?  Why is Israel concerned about border crossings?  Why is Israel engaged in controlling access to Gaza from the sea? Why has Israel constructed walls along its borders with Gaza and the West Bank?  Why is Israel expending financial, political, and human capital on these issues?

Is it because Israel is interested in dominating the Middle East, beginning with the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza (with their 4 million Arabs, resulting in a possible Arab majority within the new state?) Is it because Israel is a war-obsessed anti-Arab country with an overwhelming determination to drive all Arabs "into the sea," and to annihilate the Arab population of Gaza and the West Bank?  Is it because Israel is, at its roots, a violently anti-Muslim country?  Is it because the Judaism, as a religion, demands that other beliefs be eliminated and that Judaism is the only way to the truth and to salvation?  Is it because the Jews want to conquer and enslave the Palestinian world?  Is it that Jews are dedicated to the slaughter and starvation of Arab civilians, especially children?  Is it because Jews are an inherently evil people who  want to "rule the world" - the first step being the "taking over" of Gaza and the West Bank?

Or is it because:

Israel is a recognized country, a member of the United Nations, whose borders have been constantly violated, whose land has been threatened repeatedly from its very beginnings, whose inhabitants (both adults and children) have been slaughtered by suicide bombers entering from Gaza and the West Bank, whose population is under constant threat from missiles launched from Gaza as well as from Lebanon, whose neighbors have charters which include destruction of the State of Israel amongst their articles - Israel has a government whose first and foremost dedication is to the protection of its people from constant threats to its very survival?

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Israel, Palestine, Gaza - Some Facts

It probably doesn't make a lot of difference, because many people really don't think it applies to present problems, nor do most people engage in Socratic decision making, nevertheless, I believe the time has come to review a bit of recent Middle East history.  Let's go:

A.  Israel-Palestine

1.  1923 - Palestine, after hundreds of years under Turkish rule, becomes a British mandate - Palestine, at the time, includes what is now all of the West Bank and Gaza.
2.  1947 - The United Nations, under Resolution 181 divides Palestine into two states - one Arab and one Jewish (the term "Palestine" is not used to describe the Arab state).  The Jewish settlement  accepts the terms, the Arabs reject them.  Jordan (then known as Trans-Jordan) annexes the West Bank and it becomes a part of Jordan.
3.  1948 - In May the British mandate officially ends and the British leave Palestine.  On May 14, the Jewish settlement's leader, David Ben-Gurion proclaims the founding of the State Of Israel.  Arab armies attack the new state - eventually losing the war.  An armistice is declared.   A "Green Line" is demarcated, creating an Arab portion including the West Bank (Jordan), Gaza (Egypt), and Golan (Syria).  Jordan resettles its Palestinian refugee population, Syria and Egypt do not.
4.   1949 - Israel is admitted to the United Nations.
5.   1967 - Arab armies mass on Israel's borders starting The Six Day War.  Israel wins and now occupies the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai peninsula and Golan.
6.   1967 - Resolution 242 is passed by the United Nations, resolving that Israel withdraw from "the territories," specifically and intentionally not using the term "all the territories."  Arthur Goldberg, US representative to the UN commented:

“The notable omissions in language used to refer to withdrawal are the words the, all, and the June 5, 1967 lines. I refer to the English text of the resolution. The French and Soviet texts differ from the English in this respect, but the English text was voted on by the Security Council, and thus it is determinative. In other words, there is lacking a declaration requiring Israel to withdraw from the (or all the) territories occupied by it on and after June 5, 1967. Instead, the resolution stipulates withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal. And it can be inferred from the incorporation of the words secure and recognized boundaries that the territorial adjustments to be made by the parties in their peace settlements could encompass less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories.”

The following statements are issued by the Arabs:

"We intend to open a general assault against Israel.  This will be total war.  Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel."  .......Gamal Abdel-Nasser, President of Egypt
"The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence."......Egyptian Radio 'Voice of the Arabs
"I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation."
...............Hafez al-Assad, Defense Minister of Syria
"The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified....Our goal is clear - to wipe Israel off the map.".....Abdur Rahman Aref, President of Iraq

7.   1973 - Yom Kippur War following attacks by Egypt and Syria.  Israel wins resulting in 1975 Sinai Agreement between Israel and Egypt.  (Syria refuses to attend the agreement discussions in Geneva)  Israel withdraws from a large portion of the captured Sinai peninsula. 
8.   1978 - The Camp David Accords result in Israel gradually withdrawing from the entire Sinai peninsula.  Egypt recognizes the State of Israel.  Skirmishes with Syria continue and Israel eventually annexes a portion of the Golan.  Israel continues to "occupy" portions of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan, eventually annexing a portion of Golan (as per Resolution 242), eventually totally withdrawing from Gaza. (see below)
9.   1993 - Oslo Accords divides the West Bank into Areas A, B, C which includes Palestinian control (together with Israeli control) of Area B.  Israel continues settlements in A and C.
10.  2010 - UN grants Palestine "observer status" (similar to the Vatican)

B.  Gaza

1.  1923 - Gaza becomes part of the British Mandate.
2.  1948 - Occupied by Egypt and becomes an "All-Palestinian" government.
3.  1949 - Following the Israel-Egypt armistice it continues as an "All-Palestinian government.
4.  1959 - Egypt occupies Gaza.
5.  1967 - Following the Israeli victory in the 1967 war, Israel occupies Gaza.
6.  1994 - Oslo accords grant Gaza to the Palestine Liberation Organization and Yasir Arafat establishes the headquarters of the PLO in Gaza City.  Israel retains some military forces in Gaza.  Some Israeli settlements are established.  Israel is granted control of airspace and control of sea access to Gaza.
7.  2000 - Palestinian Intafada results in increased Israeli control, including construction of a wall and limited access at Israel-Gaza crossings.
8.  2005 - Israel unilaterally leaves Gaza - both military and civilian.  
9.  2006 - Warring factions established in Gaza between al Fatah and Hamas (declared a terrorist organization by the United States and United Nations) which Hamas wins (at least 600 Palestinians are killed).  Israel closes the borders.
10.  2007 - present - Hamas in Gaza begins arming and firing missiles into Israel.
11.   2014 -  Hamas joins the Palestinian government in the West Bank and increases missile firings into Israel with missiles now reaching points in northern Israel.  Israel institutes military strikes in Gaza.

 Those are the facts.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is There Life in "The Death of Klinghoffer"

 “Here was a wanton murder of a helpless human being. Trying to portray both sides and show they’re not monsters, but human beings who did foul, awful things to advance their cause, shows that it was a horrific event. If by producing this those questions are raised again, is that a bad thing? Discussions need to be had.”

The above quote by Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor,  as cited in the recent issue of the Jewish Daily Forward, was his comment on whether the opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" is, in fact, anti-Semitic.  I guess he doesn't believe it is.  The opera has come under major criticism for its supposed anti-Semitic theme and this criticism has resulted in the cancellation of the Metropolitan Opera's world-wide HD transmissions of the live presentation of the work, scheduled for this November.

I have not seen it, nor do I plan to see it (I am not an opera-person) and have no idea whether the theme is anti-Semitic or not.  If the opera portrays all Jews, by virtue of their Jewishness, as a group that should be despised and perhaps even murdered, this is anti-Semitism.  If the opera justifies and praises the killing of Klinghoffer because he was Jewish - that is a clear form of anti-Semitism.   On the other hand, if it portrays the horrors of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the monstrous results that it may incur, is this really a form of anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitic, or not, the right to stage it should not be in question.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Is It a Disease or Is It a "Condition"

An article by Dr. Aaron E. Carroll in today's NY Times (The Trouble With Labeling a Health Problem a Disease, June 2) contains important information regarding the over-treatment of "conditions" that are often just variations of a normal physiology, but that have often been termed "diseases," and how the mere labeling of an individual with a "disease" often causes unnecessary life-style consequences.  What follows is the final conclusion, which I believe bears repeating:

"Allowing the medicalization of normal variations in physiology to be transformed into 'treatable conditions' is leading to unintended consequences.  We're spending billions of dollars on treatments that might not, or don't work.  We're making people worry when they don't have to.  And we may be causing actual health problems in the process.  Our job as doctors is to make sick patients healthy not to make healthy patients sick."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bloomberg, Democracy, and the Woolly Mammoth

In his recent commencement address to Harvard graduates, Michael Bloomberg emphasized how democracies function by empowering the propagation of all ideas, whether liberal or conservative, and followed by chastising universities for their apparent one-sidedness in promoting an  overwhelmingly liberal ideology.  He also emphasized the importance of the acceptance of evidence-based science and cited an interesting example of the lack-thereof using the following little-known fact.

An eight year old girl wrote a letter to her state representative in South Carolina, suggesting that the state adopt the woolly mammoth as the "official state fossil."  (Apparently many states have adopted such "state fossils.")  Though agreed to by both houses of the state legislature, an amendment to declare that this fossil was, in fact, created by God on the sixth day of creation, was seriously considered prior to adoption.  After some debate, the amendment was rejected and the bill subsequently was passed without amendments.

If a democratically elected legislature had, however, decided that evolution is not science, and that the state fossil was created by God on day six of creation,  what is one to do.  As Winston Churchill is said to have said (and I paraphrase, I think) "Democracy is the worst form of government....... except for all the others."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Visa Waivers and Anti-Semitism

In a recent article in The Times of Israel (Apr 25) Abraham Foxman, the outspoken National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized the policy of the United States for continuing to deny Israel admission to a list of countries for which the United States has waived tourist visa requirements.  "The current visa refusal rate for Israelis is at 9.7%.  To be admitted to the visa waiver program, a 3% rate or lower is required.  Data for Israelis aged 21 to 26 shows a rejection rate as high as 32%." (US Dept of State Spokesperson Julia Frifield, as quoted by the Times of Israel, Apr 25)

Foxman accuses the State Department of refusing to add Israel to the waiver list because of American concern for Israeli spying following the Jonathan Pollard affair.  The State Department explained that  reasons for visa refusals are primarily related to an increase in the number of young Israelis entering as "tourists" but then working illegally, and Israel's refusal to treat Palestinian-Americans wishing to enter Israel as it treats other Americans.  Other reasons are said to be the absence of US statutory requirements concerning certain data-sharing agreements and the issuance of e-passports.  (I am not, however, denying that espionage might be included as an additional reason.)

The U.S. State Department lists only 38 countries where tourist visas are not required. The only country in the Western Hemisphere (recently added, by the way) on the list is Chile - even Canada is not included.  No African country is included, and only five Asian countries make the list.

Foxman, however, asserting that these visa issues are primarily related to espionage, concludes that the State Department seems to "draw on false stereotypes that Jews are disloyal citizens and cannot be trusted."  Fear of Israeli spying, says Foxman "taps into prejudice."  In other words, the government of the United States, in its tourist visa-waiver policy, is anti-Semitic - strong words making strong allegations.

Anti-semitism should not be the first thought when evaluating an attitude, or a nation's policies towards Israel.  Even singling out Israel for criticism when there are other countries even more deserving of admonition, should not automatically be construed as anti-Semitism. (After all, even  Israelis themselves often attack their government's policies!) Such statements may be unfair, but are not necessarily anti-Semitic.  I am not contesting that some Israel-directed criticism may be anti-Semitic,  only that one should not attach this label without further scrutiny.  Criticizing a "wrong" is always "right" even if other "wrongs" are not included in that critique. However, refusal to include those other "wrongs" when challenged, indicates true prejudice.

Israel is a state, not a people.  Criticism of a state is limited to its policy and is not a criticism of its people.  Criticizing Vatican policy should not be thought anti-Catholic, criticizing Russian policy should not be considered anti-Russian, criticizing North Korean policy should not be be considered "anti-Korean."

Israel is the "Jewish State," but it is not the Jewish Nation and it is not the Jewish People.  All Jews - in Israel and elsewhere - comprise its peoplehood and its nationhood.  Unsubstantiated and stereotypical criticism of Jews, prejudicial restrictions or untoward treatment of Jews, or just plain prejudicial hatred of Jews - that's anti-Semitism.