Archive for June, 2011

Six Former European Ambassadors Buck The “Fear-Only” Approach to Iran. They Believe World Still Needs To Engage

June 9, 2011 Comments off
President of Iran @ Columbia University.

Image via Wikipedia

What grabs headlines are the constant reports of Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program – including Iranian officials’ announcement just this week of a tripling of Iran’s enrichment potential.  However, a more even keeled, unemotional approach was taken in an op-ed yesterday in the LA Times. Six former European ambassadors (who might actually know a thing or two about understanding and dealing with real-life, living and breathing Iranian diplomats and politicians) call for continued engagement with Iran.  Instead of hyperbole, they calmly review some of the actual facts with regard to Iran’s nuclear program and indicate that by all accounts, Iran appears to have adhered pretty well to the requirements of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (to which Iran is a signatory – unlike some other countries).  The main thrust of their argument, however, is that even while it is important to be watchful of Iran, the world should continue to attempt to engage with them.

“Of course, a dilemma lingers in the minds of most of our leaders. Why offer the Iranian regime an opening that could help it restore its internal and international legitimacy? Should we not wait for a more palatable successor before making a new overture?

This is a legitimate question, but we should not overestimate the influence of a nuclear negotiation on internal developments in Iran. Ronald Reagan used to call the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” but that did not stop him from negotiating intensely with Mikhail Gorbachev on nuclear disarmament. Should we blame him for having slowed down the course of history?

The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany should certainly keep the focus on matters of political and human rights, but they should also try harder to solve a frustrating and still urgent proliferation problem. By doing so, we would reduce a serious source of tension in a region that longs more than ever for tranquility.”

Read the full story here:,0,2564096.story

Jewish Obama Donor Defection Story is Way Overblown

June 9, 2011 Comments off
Barack Obama

Image by jamesomalley via Flickr

Right wing bloggers have been trying to create a story line that some large Democratic donors are not going to support President Obama because of his recent speeches about the Middle East.   On her Commentary blog Contentions, Alana Goodman, said: 

One of the most important Democratic donors in the past two decades, whose generous contributions helped pay for the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C., has indicated that he will not contribute to President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, because of the administration’s stance on Israel.

The thrust of Goodman’s blog post was to continue to build the story that Obama anti-Israel.  And further, that it is hurting is chances of fundraising.

However,  Washington Post’s Greg Sargent decided to follow-up and go straight to the source.  In his blog yesterday, Sargent quoted Saban as follows:

“If solicited, I will absolutely write a check to the level allowed by law,” Saban said. “I don’t agree that he’s anti-Israel.”

Sargent characterized it like this:

Saban told me that he did not view Obama as anti-Israel and that he would donate the maximum to Obama’s campaign if asked. And while he said he had problems with the timing of Obama’s announcement, he stated that he has no problem with the substance of Obama’s position, and said conservatives had misrepresented it in order to drive away Obama’s Jewish support.


An Unprecedented View of the Iranian Green Revolution – The Movie “The Green Wave”

June 7, 2011 Comments off

Saturday night, we were able to attend another moving movie at The Chicago Human Rights Watch Film Festival: “The Green Wave” about the lead-up to the stolen June 2009 Iranian election and the brutal crackdown that followed. 

The Iranian Green Revolution was in many ways the first modern “technological revolution” because of its innovative use of new age social networking tools like blogs, Facebook, Twitter and cell phones.  This movie reflects this same technology.  Although the film contains some moving interviews of journalists, activists and even a moderate Ayatollah, the bulk of the ‘script’ is taken directly from tweets, blog posts and cell phone conversations.  The images are a mixture of animation (a la that used in the Israeli film, “Waltz with Bashir”), the aforementioned interviews, and most riveting, the use of actual cell phone and other video of the events themselves.  Although the events received pretty wide media coverage at the time, the true scope of both the demonstrations themselves and the brutality of the government crackdown did not really come across on the small screen the it does here.  To underline this point, on one of the demonstration days it is estimated that three million people were in the streets.  This is likely the largest peaceful, public demonstration that has ever occurred in human history.  Anyone interested in trying to understand Iran needs to see this film. 

You can still get a chance to see it on Tuesday, June 7 at 6:30 PM at Facets Multimedia, 1517 Fullerton Ave.,    Info is here.

Is President Obama Pro-Israel? Yes, According to AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg

June 7, 2011 Comments off

There have been a lot of arrows slung at President Obama in the last ten days from both sides of the political aisle.  But there is one person, a very unlikely person some would say, who actually lays out the facts about what Barack Obama has done for the State of Israel while he has been in office – the President of AIPAC, Lee Rosenberg (better known as “Rosy”).

It is very curious to me that the the media, members of Congress, and apparently many members of AIPAC have seemingly ignored Rosy’s very eloquent review of the President’s pro-Israel record:

  • Enhanced military co-operation between the two countries
  • Maintenance of aid to Israel at current levels of a little over $3B per year
  • Request for additional funding of $200M+ for the successful Iron Dome missile defense system
  • Obtaining international support for the most stringent sanctions on Iran to-date (which by the way, despite what many critics have been saying, may be beginning to work – although WSJ front page article on June 2 points to internal domestic political issues, implicitly it would seem that Ahmadinijad’s taking over the Oil Ministry is likely related to issues caused by both oil and financial sanctions)
  • Veto of UN resolution regarding settlements (albeit with alot of hesitation)

Despite this record, the President is being attacked from all sides for making explicit what has been the understood basis for negotiations by virtually everyone directly associated with the current peace process:  “1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps“.  Note: those words form a single phrase.  That was true listening to the speech as well as reading the transcript.  Anyone who claims that he suggested “1967 borders” alone, is simply being deceptive.  This deception is now being used to make Israel a partisan issue.  See Rep. Joe Walsh laughingly outrageous rant in the Daily Caller last week and Bret Stephens similar contentions in the Wall Street Journal.

The real problem is that this masked some actual new content in the speech.  Specifically, this paragraph was virtually ignored:

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

Note these very clear statements:

  1. Reaffirms Israel’s right to defend itself, i.e., not having to trust international or UN troops to provide defense
  2. Reaffirms Israel’s need to prevent weapon smuggling and to secure its borders
  3. Although he does call for “full” withdrawal of Israeli troops, it is within the context of a “phased” withdrawal, and for what I believe is the first time, calls for the Palestinian state to be “non-militarized”
  4. Recognizes that the security arrangements must be effective

These undeniably strong pro-Israel statements are loud and clear.  Why has everyone – Netanyahu, the US Congress, the press, and most importantly, a large portion of the American Jewish Community – ignored them?

Echo of “Hebron” movie – Settlers torch police car during court ordered destruction of outpost at Alei Ayin

June 4, 2011 Comments off

Jerusalem Post reports “Top cop’s car torched during Alei Ayin outpost evacuation“.

Judea and Samaria police warned on Thursday that settlement activists “crossed all lines” when they torched the car of the Binyamin district commander while his officers destroyed a small outpost.

A miniature preview of what will probably be one of the biggest sources of violence if a peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians – trying to remove the settlers in areas not included in the new borders.

A Response To A Recent Comment

June 3, 2011 Comments off

I received a very good comment on one of my most recent posts that deserves an extended response. 

The comment is as follows:

The mistake of the Bush administration was to subscribe to LBJ’s theory that “better to piss from inside the tent……………”, thinking that once Hamas had to pick up the garbage and deliver the mail, they would become more responsible, yet it turns out it just afforded them the opportunity to switch from the mafia to a thugacracy , steal much more which gives them more power to push their #1 agenda: radical Islam and Jihad. Abbas is little better and has shown time and again he is a Holocaust denier and duplicitous. If Israel has a partner in peace even remotely close to Anwar Sadat, this conflict would be settled within 6 months.

You act as if Israel has not lost thousands in their wars of defense and only desires domination. It reminds me of the German-Jewish family standing on the platform before being transported to the camps believing they can’t possibly be such monsters……. ” but, We are German.” This is a time for staying strong as much as we all long for peace.

My reply:

Actually, the history of Hamas post the 2006 election (which as you correctly imply was encouraged by the Bush Administration) is mixed.  Although much attention, including decidedly biased accusations against Israel, continues to focus on Operation Cast Lead, collective memory seems to forget that there was a six month ceasefire agreement signed in June, 2008 which held quite well through November, 2008 (Hamas reduced the number of rockets from about 300 in May to about 20 per month (per NYT report  December 19, 2008) when the rocket fire began again.  The reasons that the cease-fire broke down  was an incursion by IDF troops into Gaza on November 4 to eliminate the threat of a tunnel being dug to the Israeli side of the border presumably to allow for the kidnapping of additional IDF soldiers.  According to the IDF, Hamas responded with 61 rockets on November 5 aimed at Israeli civilian populations, but essentially curtailed the bombardment at noon.  Obviously, each side defended its actions based upon each of their interpretation of the facts.  This essentially was the beginning of the end of the cease-fire, and led to Operation Cast Lead.

 My point here is not in any way to defend Hamas’ use of rocket fire indiscriminately aimed at civilians, nor to question Israel’s right to defend itself militarily (it certainly has that right), but instead it is to address two very important strategic questions: a) whether Hamas can be trusted to comply with any agreements, and b) to consider the strategic effectiveness of Operation Cast Lead.

 The facts seem to indicate that Hamas can be somewhat trusted to comply with agreements.  The cease-fire was enforced pretty well by Hamas leadership.  Although the Hamas charter is an abhorrent document that cannot be ignored, and it is clear that there are people both inside Hamas and in other organizations like the Al Aqsa Brigade and the Islamic Brotherhood who clearly continue to seek the destruction of Israel and the killing of all Zionists anywhere in the world, the evidence provided by the cease-fire is that there are more moderate and pragmatic elements within Hamas who were strong enough to control the more radical elements.  In addition to this circumstantial evidence, I have heard the same from people who have met directly with Khalid Mashaal and other Hamas leaders.  My argument is that both Israel and the United States are better off supporting the moderate elementsRejecting these moderate elements only strengthens the hands of the radical elements.  That is seemingly not in Israel’s long-term best interests.

This is actually supported by evaluating the current situation post-Cast Lead.  Reports indicate that there are now twice as many rockets (with both enhanced range and guidance systems) in Gaza as there were before Operation Cast Lead.  Would it have been better or worse without Operation Cast Lead?  No one can say.  But I think that one can say that the strategic threat from Gaza is much worse today than it was in July-October, 2008 during the cease-fire.  As Secretary of State Clinton said during her speech at the 2010 AIPAC Policy Conference, technological developments are not necessarily on the side of the Israelis.  Iron Dome is an amazing technological success.  But I don’t think it is a strategic success.  Why?  Each Iron Dome missile reportedly costs close to $35-50,000.  Each of the 40,000 Hamas’ rockets (and presumably a similar number of Hezbollah’ rockets on the Lebanon border) cost hundreds of dollars each, let alone artillery and morter shell.    So, even without a nuclear weapon, Iran’s de facto control of these organizations poses a very real existential threat to Israel’s population today.  I have heard all of the arguments against “linkage” and I agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause of Islamic jihadism, however that it does not automatically follow that the converse is not true.  That is, I think that the creation of a Palestinian state could be the biggest blow to Iran’s aim for increased hegemony in the region .  (But that is an entirely separate topic).

A Very Difficult Movie: “This is My Land…Hebron”

June 2, 2011 Comments off

Last night I attended a screening of “This is My Land…Hebron” at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Facets Multimedia. The award-winning film by Giulia Amati & Stephen Natanson not only records various day-to-day encounters between Palestinians and the 600 or so Jewish settlers living in the old city of Hebron, but also intersperses commentary from all sides of the conflict.  On screen interviews include Palestinian and settler residents as well as commentary by folks like a journalist, a former Knesset Member, various B’tselem officials and former IDF members from Breaking the Silence.

[Note: The film is being rescreened, today, Friday, June 3 at 8:30PM at Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton]

It is a very powerful and disturbing movie.  As with most documentaries, it is clear that the filmmakers have a point of view, and it is impossible to tell what lies on the cutting room floor.  Nevertheless, the virulent anger, hatred and racism of the settlers is palpable.  Their very real belief that this land was given to them by G_d is clearly authentic. But the negative energy which springs from this belief is as icily scary as anything seen in the Exorcist.  And this fear is not the result of any manipulation by the filmmakers, but from the fiery hatred in the settlers eyes, the stones and garbage thrown from their hands, and the profane venom spewing from their mouths.


The Human Rights Watch Festival continues through the 9th. You can see a schedule here – and Saturday night’s film “The Green Wave” comes highly recommended.

By providing an animated backdrop for the urgent blog posts and tweets that became a lifeline to Iranian pro-democracy activists, The Green Wave recounts the dramatic events of the most severe domestic crisis in the history of Iran.

Dir. by Ali Samadi Ahadi, Germany/Iran. 2010, 80 mins. In English and Farsi with English subtitles.
From the widespread hope of political change in Iran through the 2009 elections to the brutal suppression of the mass protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, The Green Waverecounts the dramatic events of the most severe domestic crisis in the history of the Islamic Republic. In May 2009, the youthful green-clad crowds were enraged and the atmosphere was explosive. Yet Election Day in June was a disappointment on a massive scale. The film recounts the ways in which the authorities violently crushed the protests that took place directly thereafter and exposes the arrests and interrogations that followed in intense detail.Interweaving animated blogs and tweets, video footage caught by those present, and extensive interviews, The Green Waveis a remarkable portrait of modern political rebellion, an exposé of government-sanctioned violence, and a vision of hope that continued resistance may galvanise a new Iran.Danny Postel, editor of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future, and Kaveh Ehsani of DePaul University will be here for a Q&A after the 7 pm screening on Saturday, June 4th.Trailer    Official site    Guardian UKShowtimes:
Sat., June 4 at 7 pm purchase tickets
Tues., June 7 at 6:30 pm purchase ticketsXTicketWeb
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