In the New Yorker, Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi excoriates Israel’s “collective punishment” in Gaza, and our complicity in it. “[T]he United States puts its thumb on the scales in favor of the stronger party. In this surreal, upside-down vision of the world, it almost seems as if it is the Israelis who are occupied by the Palestinians, and not the other way around. In this skewed universe, the inmates of an open-air prison are besieging a nuclear-armed power with one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world.”
And before the Jon Stewart heads start popping up to accuse Khalidi of rabid anti-Semitism for questioning the targeted bombing of civilian infrastructure, see also Roger Cohen’s recent piece in the NYT:
“What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state…that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.” This.
When Gaza erupted in 2009, I posted about how we needed here in America “the type of broader range of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that you can find it…say, Israel. It’s both embarrassing and extremely counterproductive for our nation to be seen — and to continually be used — as a knee-jerk diplomatic dupe that will always blindly support policies initiated by the most conservative factions in Israeli politics.”
Well, not much seems to have changed in Washington, unfortunately. Bibi Netanyahu is still the Dubya of Israel (tho’ these days Andrew Jackson comes to mind), still doing all he can to destroy any hope of a two-state solution. His government is offering up absurd defenses for murdering civilians that we wouldn’t countenance for a second if they came, from, say, Russia. And, as usual, we — and we alone — are backing their play at the UN.
Still, whether it is social media, a generational shift, or just shock at the scale of death and destruction happening, at least a broader discussion about the conflict is breaking out here in America this time.
Let’s hope it continues. Despite all the heat that’s shed on this topic, we should all at least be able to agree that there is such a thing as a wildly disproportionate response, and the IDF killing 1200-odd civilians who have nowhere left to evacuate to, in a bombing campaign with no end in sight, should probably qualify. At the very least, we can stop footing the bill for these sorts of atrocities.
By utilizing (as I understand it) the transitive properties of quantum entanglement, scientists in Israel manage to link two photons that never exist at the same time. “It’s really neat because it shows more or less that quantum events are outside our everyday notions of space and time…This sort of thing opens up people’s minds and suddenly somebody has an idea to use it in quantum computing or something.”
In similar news, and as seen in the comments of Charlie Pierce’s post on this subject, a dig in the center of London uncovers the ancient Roman city beneath. “The area has been dubbed the ‘Pompeii of the north’ due to the perfect preservation of organic artefacts such as leather and wood. One expert said: ‘This is the site that we have been dreaming of for 20 years.'”
“I can’t think of a surer way to lose both our national soul and the struggle against terrorism. Yes, Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Palin, there’s a cultural-political offensive afoot to undermine our civilization. And you’re leading it.” Slate‘s William Saletan reviews the current GOP jihad against a potential mosque near Ground Zero (not to be confused with the mosque that’s already been there for 40 years.) But, on the bright side, at least now we know not to take the ADL seriously anymore. (See, by way of contrast, J-Street’s statement.)
Gee, I wonder why (and as if we need another crisis right now.) All the facts aren’t in yet on what happened — in international waters — yesterday on the humanitarian-aid flotilla headed to Gaza. But, right now Slate‘s Fred Kaplan seems to be on the right track: “Israel’s storming of the Mavi Marmara, killing at least nine Free Gaza activists and wounding several more, was an act of jaw-gaping stupidity–strategically and tactically, even leaving aside morally.“
And morally, there are obvious problems too. As Peter Beinart — continuing his recent heterodoxy — explained today: “[T]he embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve…There’s a name for all this: collective punishment.” Also of note: today’s J-Street response: “This shocking outcome of an effort to bring humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza is in part a consequence of the ongoing, counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza…We urge President Obama and other international and regional leaders to take today’s terrible news as an opportunity to engage even more forcefully in immediate efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“
I agree, and I hope our immediate actions in the wake of this flotilla fiasco (I feel like I’m using that word a lot lately, and yet it continually applies) — watering down the UN resolution and working the phones for Israel — are being done with an eye to the long game of bringing peace to the region, not just the usual, reflexive circling of the wagons.
“Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster — indeed, have actively opposed — a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.“
Making the rounds this week, and making a break from his former boss Marty Peretz, former TNR editor Peter Beinart laments the “failure [re: conservatizing] of the American Jewish establishment.” (See also the follow-up interview.) An interesting piece, but Beinart — who, by the way, is wrong often — seems to have neglected to mention the very welcome formation of J Steet. They seem to be way ahead of him on this.
z’[W]ith Reagan, the prophecy appreciation part of his brain functioned quite independently of the part that started wars (there’s nothing in the Old Testament about Nicaragua or even Grenada). Bush seems to have taken the threat of Gog and Magog to Israel quite literally, and, if this story can be believed, to have launched a war to stop them.“
One rather frightening story from a few days ago: As if the recent “Onward Christian Soldiers” war reports in GQ weren’t Crusadery enough, it appears that Dubya explictly invoked the End of Days to convince Jacques Chirac to get involved in the Iraq War, making his appeal Christian-to-Christian about the unholy dangers of Gog & Magog. Uh, really? (Apparently, Chirac has confirmed it.)
Given what little I know about what’s going on, that’s basically my view of it as well. On the one hand, Israel is responding to an untenable security situation — Hamas rockets being fired into neighborhoods and cities — that we wouldn’t tolerate for a second. (In fact, we invaded Iraq on a much flimsier security pretext.) Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Israel is trying to run the table right here right now, in the twilight moments of the Dubya presidency, because they know they have carte blanche from 43 to do what they will. And I suspect this particular neocon-run advance, like all the rest of ‘em in recent years, is doomed to failure — if anything, I’d wager, it’s just swelling the ranks (and the coffers) of Hamas.
Regardless, the Obama administration and Secretary of State Clinton are going to have their work cut out for them. I’m not one who believes particularly that conflicts with roots in millennia-long religious strife can get “solved” in one or two US presidential terms. But let’s at least hope, under their watch, we can start to achieve the type of broader range of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that you can find in…say, Israel. It’s both embarrassing and extremely counterproductive for our nation to be seen — and to continually be used — as a knee-jerk diplomatic dupe that will always blindly support policies initiated by the most conservative factions in Israeli politics.
It’s not just here at home. Sen. Obama takes the Americans Abroad primary 2-1 (65%-32%), winning most of the countries around the world (Ex-pats in Israel and the Philippines opted for Clinton.) Thanks, Kris, and all the other Obama voters out there across the seas. Update: Clinton did well in the DR as well.
“The consequences of Bush and Rice’s passivity were disastrous. Israel didn’t lose the war, but it didn’t win, either, and that’s what it had to do to maintain its image of invincibility, which has long deterred hostile neighbors from contemplating aggression. Hezbollah didn’t win, but all it had to do was not lose, and it clearly achieved that goal, enhancing its reputation as the power that had stood up to the Zionists and faced them down.” In his discussion of the recent Mideast summit in Annapolis (which publicly aimed to kickstart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and privately aimed to pry Syria further away from Iran), Slate‘s Fred Kaplan brings up a crucial — and missed — opportunity for diplomacy last year, during the Israel-Lebanon crisis. “(By the way, this may have been the genesis of a new Israeli verb, lecondel—in Hebrew, ‘to Condel,’ short for ‘to Condoleezza’ — meaning, as the New York Times’ Steven Erlanger has explained, to come and go for meetings that produce few results.)” And, speaking of political linguistics, it turns out that Annapolis, however picturesque, might not have been the best place to hold the summit — In Arabic, “Annapolis” roughly translates to “I am the Police.”
“If you’re really worried about Iran, do you want to put your faith in the United States, the country that bungled Iraq? If you really care about Islamic fundamentalism, do you want to be led by the country that, distracted by Iraq, failed to predict the return of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan?” Why has the world soured on America of late? The real reason, argues Slate‘s Anne Applebaum and the data she surveys, is that, thanks to seven years of Dubya, we’re starting to look incompetent. “And even if the surge works, even if the roadside bombs vanish, inept is a word that will always be used about the Iraqi invasion.“
“Seen the arrow on the doorpost saying, ‘This land is condemned, all the way from New Orleans to Jerusalem.’ I traveled through East Texas where many martyrs fell, and I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.” Or Kind Willie Clinton, for that matter…a belated happy birthday to our ex-president, who turned 60 yesterday.
“Once again, Bush demonstrated that he doesn’t understand what makes young democracies flourish or why Hezbollah has appeal even to many nonterrorists. He doesn’t seem to realize that democratic governments require democratic institutions and the resources to make them thrive. He evinces no awareness that the longer Israel bombs Beirut into oblivion, the harder it becomes for Siniora (who has few resources) to retain legitimacy — and the easier it becomes for Hezbollah (which has many more resources) to gain still greater power.” Slate‘s Fred Kaplan parses yet another dismaying press performance by Dubya regarding the current international scene.
Update: “Scholars who enter the chambers of power should use their training as a tool to help them make decisions. Condi Rice is using hers as a chant to wish away the consequences.” In a related piece, Kaplan examines Condoleeza Rice’s tendency to hide behind her PhD when faced with tough questions. Well, she may be a “student of history,” but as Sean Wilentz noted earlier, she’s never been a very good one when you get right down to it (although, to her credit, she has been very busy creating work for future members of the profession.)
“‘What about Kofi Annan?’ Bush asked Blair. ‘I don’t like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens.’” Dubya and Tony Blair get caught (apparently) off-guard and on tape discussing the escalating crisis in the Middle East. “Bush said that he feels ‘like telling Kofi to get on the phone with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and make something happen. We’re not blaming Israel, and we’re not blaming the Lebanese government.’” (A lot of news sources seem to be fronting Dubya’s use of the S-word — “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.” — but, really, who gives a shit about his language?) “Bush also told Blair that he would be sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region soon. ‘She’s going,’ Bush said. ‘I think Condi’s going to go pretty soon.’” Update: Watch it online, just to get a sense of how boorish and out-of-his-depth our president seems on the world stage. (Exhibit B: Dubya’s ill-fated and cringeworth back-rub attempt.)
More grim news in the world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket department: So, obviously, there now seems to be a full-fledged firing war going on between Israel and Hezbollah, one which has already set back Lebanon years and threatens to bring in Syria and Iran as official combatants (a.k.a. Hezbollah‘s main backers) if it keeps up. For his part, other than having Bolton spike a UN resolution condemning Israel for “disproportionate use of force,” Dubya has been basically AWOL in terms of world leadership — in fact, he’s been more effusive about a German pig of late than he has a conflagration that threatens nothing less than full-scale war across the Middle East. Where have you gone Bill Clinton, our nation turns it lowly eyes to you?
A belated happy 230th Independence Day to you and yours, and here’s hoping the recent spate of scary news (North Korean missiles, incipent war in Gaza) didn’t detract too much from the festivities in your parts. (Also, with regards to more joyous fourth of july rocket launches, congrats to the crew of Discovery STS-121 on a successful return to space yesterday.)
“We say that this fake regime [Israel] cannot … logically continue to live.” How ’bout some WWIII grandstanding to go with your Monday coffee? In a press conference early this morning (EST), Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes more freakshow statements about Israel, and Israel, rightly, is not amused: ‘Of all the threats we face, Iran is the biggest. The world must not wait. It must do everything necessary on a diplomatic level in order to stop its nuclear activity,’ [Defense Minister Shaul] Mofaz told a conference on Iran at Tel Aviv University. ‘Since Hitler we have not faced such a threat,’ he added.”
“God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.” Although Dubya is personally dismissing the report as “wild speculation”, The New Yorker‘s Sy Hersh argues in a terrifying piece that the administration is actively planning for “regime change” in Iran, and — no joke — the use of tactical nuclear weapons (particularly “bunker-busters”) is on the table.
No doubt about it, this is trouble. A nuclear Iran would represent a grievous threat to the region (and particularly Israel), and must be prevented by diplomatic means if at all possible. But, after the Iraq WMD debacle, this administration has become the boy who cried wolf, and — just as the US is facing perhaps its thorniest diplomatic issue yet, neither our European allies nor many US observers trust Dubya’s motives or credibility any more, to say nothing of his basic competence. (“Speaking of President Bush, [one] House member said, ‘The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.’.”) And, needless to say, if Dubya and the neocons screw this one up, the consequences for both the entire Middle East and the war on terror — as well as our own homeland security — could be nightmarish. “If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us…If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.“
Update: ““I’m announcing officially that Iran has now joined the countries that have nuclear technology.” The situation darkens with Iran’s successful (increased) enrichment of uranium. “Iran had previously enriched uranium to a level of about 2 percent, using a smaller cascade, and separately enriched uranium to about 15 percent during laser experiments in 2002. Bomb-grade uranium must be enriched to a level of well over 80 percent…Though it is technically possible, most nuclear experts agree it is unlikely Iran would be able to make bomb-grade uranium with the[ir current] 164-centrifuge cascade.” Still, Russia and Britain are decrying the advance, and Secretary Rice wants “strong steps” by the UN Security Council in reply.
Thanks to the ugly public machinations of Casino Jack and Boss DeLay, GOP courting of the “September 12″ vote stalls out. “‘September 12 Republicans’ were Jewish Democrats and independents who would switch their allegiance because of their concern over national security and their appreciation of President Bush’s stalwart support of Israel.“
“The bigger problem is that U.S. funding will discredit the very people we seek to encourage. Many Iranians, perhaps even a majority, despise their rulers. They yearn for democracy. To a degree unmatched in any other Middle Eastern nation besides Israel, they even like the United States. However, as anyone who knows anything about Iran’s history would emphasize, these same Iranians deeply distrust outsiders — including American ones — who try to interfere in their domestic affairs…By openly calling for regime change and backing it up with money (however trifling a sum), the Bush administration is playing into Ahmadinejad’s hands.” Slate‘s Fred Kaplan assesses the Dubya administration’s new Iran strategy, and finds that they’re repeating the same amateurish tone-deafness that helped propel Ahmadinejad into office in the first place. (Perhaps Dubya might get it if someone reminded him of the Guardian‘s experiment in Ohio in 2004.)
If at times somewhat turgid, Steven Spielberg’s Munich, which I caught this afternoon, is a lively and admirable piece of filmmaking. For the most part, it works as both an expertly-told cloak-and-dagger thriller and a timely rumination on the moral consequences and violent blowback that accompany vengeance as an anti-terror policy. (Indeed, the film infuses Spielberg’s dramatic strengths with contemporary gravitas much more smoothly and profoundly than this summer’s War of the Worlds, which, like Tom Cruise’s earlier Collateral, seemed like it’d be a better movie until taking a tremendously ill-conceived jag in the second hour.) Still, while Munich is assuredly a very good film, ultimately I think the gears grind a bit too loudly at times to consider it a great one.
After a chilling retelling of the horrible events that forever marred the 1972 Olympics (told mostly through newsfootage at first, with reenactment filling in the details later on) and a grim strategy session presided over by Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen), the film introduces us to Avner (Eric Bana), the family man-cum-Mossad agent assigned to head one of Israel’s deep-undercover response teams. Comprised of embittered wheelman Steve (Daniel Craig), nebbishy bombmaker Robert (Matthieu Kassovitz), resigned forger Hans (Hanns Zichler), and conflicted clean-up man Carl (Ciaran Hinds), Avner’s team crisscrosses various scenic European vistas, clumsily dealing death to the alleged perpetrators of the Munich tragedy. (One would think an assassination squad that included James Bond, Julius Caesar, and the Hulk wouldn’t have as much trouble as they do here.) But as the (terrorist and collateral) body count piles up and Avner’s hunters become the hunted, these agents of vengeance increasingly question the righteousness of their retribution, and wonder whether the costly murders they’ve perpetrated have made any dent in the war against Black September.
The acting in Munich is universally good, with special marks going to Bana and his colleagues, particularly as their early relish for the job shades into reluctance and, eventually, paranoia and abject horror. (Mathieu Amalric and Marie-Josee Croze are also memorable as a French information dealer and Dutch assassin respectively.) And, for most of the film, Spielberg’s direction is exquisite. Still, sadly, there are some flaws — The pacing of Munich noticeably lags in the middle hour. And, more troubling, the film seems to strain visibly at times to seem arty and high-minded. For every few import-laden scenes executed with a deft touch (for example, the sequence in which Avner’s team shares a safehouse with a PLO cell), there’s one where the symbolism seems just a tad inflated. (Particularly egregious in this regard is the, ahem, climax, which intercuts the Munich massacre with scenes of a tortured-looking Avner having sex with his wife. What, exactly, does this mean? Are love and war meant to seem oppositional or synchronous? Is this union the “home” that Israel must protect, or what? Whatever the intended message, the scene comes across as not only opaque but overblown.)
Still, not to miss the forest for the trees, Munich is a movie well worth-seeing, the rare thriller that’s not afraid to grapple with today’s thorniest political questions, and without insulting the audience’s intelligence by giving easy, simple-minded answers to seemingly insoluble problems. The film may at best be a long triple, but, to his credit, at least Spielberg is swinging for the fences.
“The West has given more significance to the myth of the genocide of the Jews, even more significant than God, religion, and the prophets.” In the world-gets-even-scarier-department, Iran’s hardliner president publicly indulges in Holocaust denial. Clearly, Iran is living up to its axis-of-evil appellation these days, but remember: Ahmadinejad’s election was in part blowback from Dubya’s amateurish and tone-deaf Middle-East policy in the first place. At any rate, it’s clear that our Iran situation is worsening, and that Iranian possession of nukes could be a very frightening scenario.
Seen tonight with Jarhead: The trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Munich, with Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, and Daniel Craig, on the aftermath of, and Israeli response to, the murders at the 1972 Olympics. From this brief clip, it looks to be a very timely meditation on means and ends in the war on terror.
As if the revelations of Syria’s role in the Hariri assassination weren’t disturbing enough, now the recently-elected president of Iran, a state with nuclear ambitions, is making nightmarish and freakshow statements reasserting the goal of Israel’s destruction. With rhetoric escalating and five years of Dubya’s “with-us-or-against-us” diplomacy helping to shore up hardliners across the Middle East, it seems Iraq may soon be the least of our problems in the region.
“‘Viewing Israel’s response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy adds a human dimension to a horrific episode that we usually think about only in political or military terms,’ [Spielberg] said. ‘By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff we find ourselves in today.'” War of the Worlds complete, Steven Spielberg moves on Vengeance.
Moving a long-awaited project closer out of development hell, George Lucas approves the new Indy IV script. If Harrison Ford also approves, Indy IV could get a 2006 start, after Spielberg finishes both Vengeance, his Munich Olympics film with Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, and his Liam Neeson Lincoln biopic, based on a forthcoming book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
As many of y’all know, despite being a PhD student here at Columbia, I very rarely post about the newsmaking disputes that occasionally roil our campus. (Does it reflect badly on my academic gravitas that I spend more time at GitM discussing national politics, movie trailers, and online Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out knockoffs than ideological dust-ups closer to home? Well, so be it.)
That being said, two links of note. First, in the Financial Times, Ian Buruma — with the aid of one of my colleagues, Moshik Temkin — offers what I thought was one of the more sober-minded summaries I’ve read of the recent MEALAC controversy at Columbia. As he puts it, “racism exists, but not all Israeli policies towards Palestinians, however harsh, are inspired by racism. And…not all criticism of Israeli policies is the result of anti-Jewish prejudice. Yet these are the terms in which modern political debates are increasingly couched..”
Second, regarding the recent one-week graduate student strike on campus (which I voted against, due to concerns not unlike the ones I held last year, but respected by not crossing the picket and reviewing paper drafts from home), The Nation‘s Jennifer Washburn offers a write-up which connects the two buzz issues of unionization and academic freedom and includes an unearthed internal memo, signed by provost (and my dissertation advisor) Alan Brinkley, which suggests possible punitive measures to prevent future strikes.
I’ve already written about this at length on the (no longer) internal grad-student-historian listserv, and don’t really feel like getting into it in depth again here. Suffice to say that, while the document does seem uncharacteristic of Prof. Brinkley (as an aside, it reads like it was written by a member of his staff, although obviously it still carries his imprimatur), I am neither surprised nor all that dismayed by this memo. In the face of our continued strike actions, it seems perfectly appropriate to me for the administration — and the university provost, for that matter — to brainstorm both positive and punitive ways to mitigate future disruptions. All this means is that, come the next strike, it may well be time for the rubber to hit the road, and for graduate students who believe in unionization to make real financial sacrifices for our beliefs, as strikers in any other line of work are forced to do. (Of course, given that none of these proposed measures appear to have been enacted this time around, perhaps not.)
In fact, I think there’s actually a silver lining here for pro-union graduate students. For one, I expect this memo will do more to galvanize the movement than all of last week’s ill-conceived strike. For another, perhaps a heightened sense of what a strike actually constitutes might encourage more out-of-the-box thinking and political calculation by union leadership, rather than the “strike-only, strike-first” ideology that afflicts the upper echelons of our organization at the moment. To use an analogy I’m kinda fond of (for obvious reasons), the only way to get to Mars is by spaceship, but you don’t send it before it’s good and ready. Right now, our Mission Control keeps hitting the launch button before we’ve plotted a trajectory or even built the darned thing.
Update: I’ve since been informed in a personal e-mail that I’m both a “Brinkley apologist” (because I clearly don’t share the vitriol of the Palpatine Unmasked contingent) and a “scab.” (Shouldn’t have looked at those drafts, I guess…) You see, this is exactly why I post about Arthur Dent here much more than I do Columbia inside-baseball. Which reminds me, that Frusion Punch-Out link was via Usr/Bin/Grl.
Alright, enough partying…let’s get it on! In keeping with the conclusions of Sy Hersh’s recent New Yorker piece, Cheney stops by Imus before the inauguration to rattle the saber at Iran (using Israel as the bad cop.) I can see it now — Iran: We’re really pretty sure this time they’ve got WMD. Update: Iran rattles back.