As President Obama prepares to visit Israel later this month, reports from administration officials indicate that he does not intend to focus on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather to discuss regional threats such as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the continuing violence in Syria. But Obama should realize that Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank is an existential threat to its continuity as a democratic, Jewish state — and time is not on Israel’s side.
The urgency of this issue was illustrated by Sergio DellaPergola, a Hebrew University professor and an expert on Israeli population studies, in a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last month. The statistics DellaPergola assembled are clear and their implications are frightening. Right now, the total number of Jews and Arabs living under Israeli rule in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is just under 12 million people. At the moment, a shade under 50 percent of the population is Jewish. In other words, right now — not in five or ten years, but right now — only 50 percent of the people living in the Jewish state and in the areas under its control are Jews. The dreaded tipping point — which advocates of the two-solution have been warning about for years — has finally arrived.
Some argue that this ratio is irrelevant, that Israel’s current demographic balance should not be a source of concern, since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The international community doesn’t buy this argument, though, since they still see Gaza as occupied since Israel controls its airspace and sea space.
But taking Gaza out of the equation does not buy Israel much time, anyway.
“What’s unnatural is the power you have to take three people, terrorists, and take their lives in an instant,” says Yuval Diskin, the 12th director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, during the opening sequence of The Gatekeepers. His blunt testimony sets the grave and mournful tone that defines the rest of this illuminating and devastating film.
The Oscar-nominated documentary, directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, uses interviews with all six living ex-directors of the Shin Bet to paint a stark portrait of the agency and how it figures into the Jewish state’s past, present, and future. For those who haven’t heard of this security service, here are a couple lines from my crib sheet: Imagine the FBI, only tremendously more efficient, brutal, and terrifying. Now, imagine if the war on terror were half a century old, and if we had drone strikes and black sites in Florida and Montana.
That’s what the Shin Bet is like for Israelis.
It’s a juggernaut of counter-terrorism and intel gathering. Shin Bet directors answer directly to the prime minister. The agency’s greatest blunder was their failure to protect Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader who came closest to making peace with the Palestinians, from being murdered by a right-wing Israeli terrorist.
In addition to Israel absorbing scores of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip — proof if ever the UN needed it that the PA is ready for an elevation of its status in the august body — Syrian mortar shells have repeatedly hit (whether or not intentionally is not yet known) the Golan Heights during the past few days. The MSM’s coverage of Israel’s inevitable, albeit restrained, response, provide yet another window into the insidious way in which anti-Israel bias in the media plays out.
Compare, if you will, the following Associated Press headline currently appearing courtesy of Yahoo!:
Israel strikes Syria armor, hiking spillover fears
At first blush, the headline is not particularly outlandish. After all, given the time-honored tradition among despots in the Arab world of seeking to deflect their population’s anger by directing it at the Jewish State, the possibility of the civil war in Syria drawing in Israel is a real concern.
However, followers of how the media covers Israel will note the familiar ring by which “concerns” about “spillover” or “escalation” are only highlighted by the media when Israel responds, even if only in a limited fashion, to violent or military attacks on its territory or population.
For example, by contrast to the Associated Press’ “concern” over spillover following Israel’s response to Syrian shelling, here is how the very same wire service, only a few weeks ago, reported following several days of artillery fire by Turkey responding to similarly “errant” mortar shells from Syria:
Turkey strikes back against Syria shelling
Beirut — The Turkish military retaliated with artillery fire fora sixth straight day Monday after a Syrian shell hit its territory, and Turkey’s president warned that “the worst-case scenario we have all been dreading” is unfolding in Syria and along its borders.
Got that? Turkey, the government of which has been open and aggressive in opposing the al-Assad regime and assisting the groups seeking its overthrow, responds to a single shell with six days of shelling, and the headlines dispassionately report the fact that Turkey struck back against Syrian shelling. They do not scream with “concern” over the risk of spillover or escalation.
Likewise, here is Reuters’ reporting today (as carried in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News) on what is potentially a more ominous harbinger of escalation and widening of the Syrian conflict:
NATO chief says alliance will defend Turkey over Syria
NATO will defend alliance member Turkey, which struck back after mortar rounds fired from Syria landed inside its border, the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a meeting in Prague today.
“NATO as an organisation will do what it takes to protect and defend Turkey, our ally. We have more plans in place to make sure that we can protect and defend Turkey and hopefully that way also deter so that attacks on Turkey will not take place,” he said.
As with the reporting of Turkey’s response to shelling from Syria a few weeks ago, the media’s coverage of this important statement by NATO’s Secretary General shows no concern about possible “spillover” or “escalation”.
That treatment is reserved for Israel, when, despite publicly and otherwise having given every indication of a desire to stay out of the strife in Syria, it responds to multiple shells over several days with a limited response directed at the battery from which the shells were fired. Suddenly now, the AP and its ilk are “concerned”.
Is it any wonder, then, that many of those who rely on the MSM for news coverage of the region, have a distorted view of Middle Eastern affairs?
Fortunée Abadie is still haunted by the day in 1947 when mobs stormed the Jewish Quarter of the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, shortly after the United Nations vote that laid the groundwork for the creation of Israel.
Aleppo, a city where Jews and Muslims had lived together for centuries, exploded with anti-Jewish violence. Mrs. Abadie, now 88, remembers watching attackers burn prayer books, prayer shawls and other holy objects from the synagogue across the street. She heard the screams of neighbors as their homes were invaded. “We thought we were going to be killed,” she says. The family fled to nearby Lebanon. Mrs. Abadie left behind all she had: clothes, furniture, photographs and even a small bottle of French perfume that she still misses, Soir de Paris—Evening in Paris.
The Abadie family’s story is moving from the recesses of history to a newly prominent place in the debate over the future of the Middle East. Arab leaders have insisted for decades that Palestinian refugees who fled their homes following Israel’s creation should be allowed to return to their former homes.
Now Israeli officials are turning the tables, saying the hardships faced by several hundred thousand exiled Arab Jews, many forced from their homes, deserve as much attention as the plight of displaced Palestinians. “We are 64 years late,” says Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister. “The refugee problem does not lie only on one side.” Mr. Ayalon, whose father is an Algerian Jew, led a U.N. conference last month sponsored by Israel and dubbed “Justice for Jews From Arab Countries.”
Before the establishment of Israel in 1948, an estimated 850,000 Jews lived in the Arab world. In countries across the Middle East, there were flourishing Jewish communities with their own synagogues, schools and communal institutions.
Life changed dramatically by 1948 as Arab governments declared war on the newly created Jewish state—and on the Jews within their own borders. At the U.N., an Egyptian delegate warned that the plan to partition Palestine into two states, one for Jews and one for Palestinians, “might endanger a million Jews living in the Muslim countries.”
An Egyptian political science professor told an Iranian TV station that, with Allah’s help, ‘Israel will be annihilated’ by 2013.
In an interview with Iran’s state-run Arabic news channel Al-Alam last week, Professor Gamal Zahran, head of the political science department at Egypt’s Port Said University and a former Independent MP, said: ‘Jerusalem is at the heart of the Palestinian cause, and the Palestinian cause is the cause of all Arabs and Muslims. The elimination of the Zionist entity is beyond debate, and the only question has to do with the circumstances.’
Zahran added that ‘the Arab revolutions, which broke out in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen – as well as in Bahrain and elsewhere – generate the people’s hope that one day, Jerusalem and Palestine will return to them.’
Officials say Netanyahu to send missive to Palestinian president detailing Israeli position on borders, security arrangements. Demand for recognition of Israel as Jewish state will wait until advanced stages in negotiations, they say. Palestinian official: Settler activity issue more problematic
A few weeks after the Palestinians are expected to present Benjamin Netanyahu with a missive detailing their conditions for the renewal of peace negotiations, the Israeli prime minister will respond with a letter of his own. Government officials familiar with the document told Ynet Wednesday night it would not include a demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
In the document, Israel will also refer to its demand to maintain control over the Jordan Valley and state that any future Palestinian state must be demilitarized.
Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded that the Palestinian Authority, and particularly its leader Mahmoud Abbas, recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition to the peace talks, just as the premier recognizes the need to establish a Palestinian state.
Senior officials said this demand would not appear in the new missive, adding that the demand will be made only towards the conclusion of the peace negotiations with the PA.
“We are not entering talks with preconditions. They want us to commit to a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. This is a precondition, and we oppose such conditions. Therefore, we will not demand Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state prior to the resumption of negotiations. Now we need to sit down and talk,” one Israeli official said.
The officials said the document, which was shown to members of the US Congress in May 2011, will detail the security arrangements Israel deems necessary for a peace agreement.
A Palestinian official admitted he was surprised to learn that the Netanyahu government has retracted the demand for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, but stressed that for the Palestinians the most critical issue at this juncture is the freezing of settlement construction in the West Bank.
World attention remains fixed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but a distinct, albeit related, conflict smoulders within Israel itself. It might be no less perilous. Jewish-Arab domestic relations have deteriorated steadily for a decade. More and more, the Jewish majority views the Palestinian minority as subversive, disloyal and - due to its birth rates - a demographic threat. Palestinian citizens are politically marginalised, economically underprivileged, ever more unwilling to accept systemic inequality and ever more willing to confront the status quo. Interaction with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further complicates matters as negotiations bump against a core issue - whether Palestinians will recognise Israel’s Jewish character - that further inflames communal relations. There is no easy or quick fix. In the near term, Israel should take practical steps to defuse tensions with its Arab minority and integrate it into the civic order. In the longer run, the challenge to Israeli Jews and the Palestinian national movement is to come to terms with the most basic questions: what is the character of the state of Israel, and what rights should its Arab citizens enjoy?
For over six decades, Israel’s Palestinian citizens have had a unique experience: they are a Palestinian national minority in a Jewish state locked in conflict with its Arab neighbours but they also constitute an Israeli minority enjoying the benefits of citizenship in a state that prizes democracy. This has translated into ambivalent relations with both the state of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and beyond. They feel solidarity with their brethren elsewhere, yet many Arabs study in Israeli universities, work side-by-side with Jews and speak Hebrew fluently - a degree of familiarity that has only made the discrimination and alienation from which they suffer seem more acute and demands for equality more insistent.
Since 2000, a series of dramatic events have both poisoned Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and reinvigorated its Palestinian minority. The collapse of the peace process and ensuing intifada harmed Israel’s relations with not only Palestinians in the occupied territories but also its own Palestinian minority. As Palestinians in Israel organised rallies in solidarity with Gazans and West Bankers, Israeli Jews grew ever more suspicious of their loyalty. Palestinian citizens’ trust in the state plummeted after Israeli security forces killed thirteen of their own during protests in October 2000. A rapid succession of confrontations - the 2006 war in Lebanon; 2008-2009 Gaza war; and 2010 bloody Israeli raid on the aid flotilla to Gaza - further deepened mistrust, galvanising the perception among Israeli Jews that Palestinian citizens had embraced their sworn adversaries. Among Arabs, it reinforced the sense that they had no place in Israel. Several have been arrested on charges of abetting terrorist activity. Meanwhile, the crisis of the Palestinian national movement - divided, adrift and in search of a new strategy - has opened up political space for Israel’s Arab minority.
President Barack Obama launched into a passionate defense of his policy on Israel, accusing critics of distorting the facts on his Middle East record. Again.
Obama, speaking at a Union for Reform Judaism event in Maryland, doubled-down on his record, saying that no administration has done more in support of Israel’s security.
“Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise, it is a fact,” the president said. “America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is unshakeable — It is unshakeable.”
“As president, I have never wavered in pursuit of a just and lasting peace — two states, two people,” Obama said. “That is our shared vision.”
He clarified that lasting peace can’t be imposed from the outside, but ultimately Israelis and Palestinians need to come to agreement on divisive issues.
“The fact that peace is hard can’t deter us from trying,” he said. “Don’t let anyone else tell a different story … Those are the facts.”
The president has struggled to shake the perception among some voters that he is hostile or indifferent towards Israel. A Republican-leaning group ran a full page ad in the New York Times today, asking “Why does the Obama administration treat Israel like a punching bag?”
Two recent incidents have underscored the tensions between the administration and supporters of the Jewish state. The president was caught in an open mic gaffe disparaging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And more recently, Republicans have called on the administration to fire the U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman for controversial remarks on anti-Semitism and Israel.
The pipeline has been a target for attacks by anonymous saboteurs since the overthrow of Mubarak in February, although the first pipeline attack took place days before he was ousted by an uprising.
Egypt and Israel have signed a 20-year natural gas deal by which Egypt would export gas to its neighbour. The deal was unpopular with the Egyptian public and critics argued the Jewish state had been offered gas at prices that were too low.
By semi-popular demand: I’m Curious to why any Jew (or the Israeli state!) Would Cozy up to Evangelical Christians.
I am still intensely curious about what it is that would make any Jew cozy up to Evangelical Christians whose only aim is to see them all betrayed by the Anti-Christ and then die horribly (except for the converted) so as to bring about the new Thousand Year Reign of Jesus…(hmm that sounds familiar from somewhere Reign=Reich?…naw getting too close to a Godwin?)
I have been there, I have been one of them, I was raised as one of them, Jews are misguided and ignorant fools who will not acknowledge that the messiah of their own prophecies has come and gone and they just misinterpreted their own scripture so badly that they were unable to recognize Jesus for what he was.
With the re-establishment of a Jewish state all we lack now is the rebuilding of the Temple to start the doomsday clock to Armageddon which these people actually hope and pray for almost daily. I know that idiots make all kinds of end of the world predictions and second coming of Jesus predictions all the time, don’t let that fool you.
The vast majority of fringe evangelicals in the United States are waiting with baited breath for the only thing that can satisfy the prophecies that they have been taught. The rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. That starts the doomsdays clock, from there on everything (they think) can be predicted almost to the day, until the very final cataclysmic end of the world. (actually it supposedly can be predicted exactly to the day once Israel signs a protection treaty with the anti-Christ, but that is the subject for another post).
Why glad hand and pander to people whose only reason for supporting you is the secret hope of blissfully watching you die in agony later? The Christian Right will support Israel (and so will the Christian Left) right up to the point that Solomon’s temple is re-built after that you are on your effing own. We will sit here on our side of the ocean and watch and wait for the Anti-Christ to come bail you out, at least as long as the Christians have control of the government anyway.
These people do not support Israel, they want to see Israel destroyed, because that is all part of Gods plan…sigh.
I would hope that the Israelis actually understand all this, because they better — their lives may some day depend on it.