Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Terra Incognita: Disingenous Taxation

Terra Incognita: Disingenuous taxation
10/04/2011 22:53

The ultra-wealthy in many countries are claiming that they want to be taxed more, but are they being serious?

Talkbacks (1)
The social protesters that took to the streets in Israel this summer often spoke about increasing taxation on the wealthy, particularly the mega-wealthy who control large parts of Israel’s economy. With the economic crisis that has swept the world this has become a common theme in many countries. Either out of self interest, to deflect criticism, or due to sincere belief that they are under-taxed, some wealthy tycoons have come forward in France and the US, demanding to be taxed more. It is worth examining a few cases of the “tax me more” crowd in order to understand why their claims are partly disingenuous.

American billionaire Warren Buffet in particular has gotten a lot of attention for his call for a new tax on the wealthy. It is his latest ploy to keep himself a media darling and add to his fame as the “Oracle of Omaha.” In a New York Times op-ed entitled “Stop Coddling the Super Rich,” he claimed that he and his “mega-rich” friends were left “untouched” by the latest pain being felt by the American taxpayer. He explained that last year “what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income – and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office.

Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent” (New York Times, August 14) Buffet went on to detail how those earning salaries on a payroll tended to pay much a much higher percentage of their income in taxes than the super-rich.

He noted that 88 of the top 400 income earners in the US reported no wages at all and thus paid no payroll taxes. The Oracle suggested raising taxes on the 236,000 Americans who earn more than $1 million a year in income.

THE BUFFET analysis of the tax system’s inequality has an allure. It doesn’t make sense that someone who earns a good salary, such as $100,000 a year, pays a higher percentage of their income than someone whose income was $1 million from their investments.

But there Buffet’s claim that he pays less tax is extremely disingenuousness. He pays less tax primarily because he has always structured his income to pay less tax. If he wanted to pay his fair share of taxes, like his employees, he could simply pay himself his income as a salary, and thus contribute upwards of 25% of it in taxes. He has always chosen, like most of the mega-wealthy, to retain his income in investment vehicles, such as his own holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential candidate, was another disingenuous tax promoter. He spoke often of the “two Americas... with two sets of books: one for those at the top who get all the breaks, and one for the rest who do all the work.”

He argued that “First, we must write a firm principle into the tax code: the wealth of the wealthiest can never be taxed less than the work of the rest of America. Today, wealthy Americans can shelter unlimited amounts of unearned (investment) income from being taxed at the rate working Americans pay...That’s wrong.” But it turns out Edwards was the king of the tax shelters. In one year he took a salary of only $360,000 from his law practice, but received $26 million in income from special distributions.

Now several wealthy Frenchman have stepped forward to argue for a Buffet tax of their own. Maurice Levy, chairman of the advertising firm Publicis, declared that it is “only fair that the most privileged members of our society take up a heavier share of this national burden... I do not love taxes, but right now this is important and just.”

The billionaire heiress of L’Oreal also chimed in, encouraging the government to tax her more.

It all sounds very nice, but the reality is that it will always be hard for the government to tax the very wealthy. Most wealthy people either inherited their money or they are owners of major businesses. Their wealth is therefore either in a bank account earning interest, or in assets and investments. Enacting a “wealth tax” is difficult. This is always the irony of wealthy people like Mr. Buffet encouraging higher taxes, they want higher taxes and they know that those taxes will never reach them, because the government can’t simply order Mr. Buffet to turn over 10% of his shares in Berkshire Hathaway every year.

The higher taxes debate will always falter on this problem. The government wants to tax people that it can find; going after vague investment accounts, structured partnerships, trusts and overseas numbered accounts is not something tax authorities excel at.

Since, in the case of each mega-wealthy person the way their wealth is structured is unique, it is hard to levy a flat tax on them. However, raising the taxes levied on salaried employees, say people making over NIS 10,000 a month or NIS 80,000 a month, is easy because the taxes are generally collected or withheld at their source, before the wage earner even receives the income. The Warren Buffet Tax and the French wealthy calling on the government to tax them is primarily a ploy to make them look like better people and to encourage the public to continue believing in the empty slogan; “tax the fat cats.”

The writer has a Ph.D from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies

Terra Incognita: Acceptance Committees

Terra Incognita: The acceptance committee conundrum
10/22/2011 21:37

It should not be legal for kibbutzim founded many years ago to be allowed to uphold an institution that is considered illegal in other communities that were founded more recently.

Talkbacks (2)
In March 2011 the Knesset passed a law allowing small rural communities of up to 400 households in the north or south of the country to establish acceptance committees, or to maintain existing ones.. The final version of the law declared that “the acceptance committee will not refuse to accept a candidate for reasons of race, religion, sex, nationality, disability, personal status, age, parenthood, sexual proclivity, country of origin, opinions or political affiliation.”

But since the passage of this legislation, many groups, particularly those involved with the human rights lobby in Israel, have made a commotion. They threaten to petition the Supreme Court, claiming that the law is indirectly, or directly, aimed at discriminating against Arabs.

The Gush Shalom (“Peace Bloc”) organization posted on their website that “the purpose of this piece of legislation is manifestly clear: to provide a legal basis for the establishment of exclusively Jewish communal villages from which Arabs would be excluded, thus bypassing the court rulings prohibiting discrimination against Arabs.”

Writing in Haaretz, Dmitry Shumsky claimed: “There is no choice but to see the Acceptance Committee Law for communities as an expression of the anachronistic return to the open and callous ethno-centric nationalist racism of the old Europe of the previous century.”

Shlomo Molla, the lone Ethiopian MK, claimed the law’s wording, which permits rejecting applicants who do not meet certain social and cultural criteria, would result in discrimination against Ethiopians as well. Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, has argued that the law is “neither Jewish nor democratic.”

In the months following the passing of the law, several other news items have appeared that may have a bearing on the case.

In September, Ahmed and Fatina Zabeidat were finally allowed to take over a plot of land in the community of Rakefet in the Galilee. Five years ago they were rejected by the community’s admissions committee; Fatina was found to be “too individualistic” and Ahmed was said to “lack personal sophistication.” They were deemed “socially incompatible” with the community.

After years of their case wandering its way through the Israeli court system with the support of a number of human rights organizations supported by the New Israel Fund, they won their case.

In September, Kibbutz Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea, announced that it was accepting its first new members in 15 years. The kibbutz had declined so many applications over the years that only 176 members remained, and their average age was 62. For the new members to be accepted a total of two-thirds of the existing members had to vote for their acceptance. The situation in Ein Gedi is similar to that of most kibbutzim in Israel, which have seen their populations age and their numbers decline since the 1980s.

WHAT IS interesting about the stories of Kibbutz Ein Gedi and Rakefet is that both communities maintain longstanding acceptance committees. Rakefet’s has apparently been in place since its founding in 1981, and Ein Gedi’s since 1956.

In fact, it turns out that all the 500-odd kibbutzim in Israel have acceptance committees, as do many other communities, such as moshavim.

It might be fair to estimate that approximately 1,000 communities around the country currently use acceptance committees. Yet the law defining the legality of such committees was only passed in 2011. Why the contradiction? Why the sudden outrage about this law? In reality, the very foundation of Israel is, for better or worse, grounded in the notion of the acceptance committee.

From the very beginning, all communal settlements in Israel were heavily “socialized,” with all sorts of committees and rhetoric about the “social compatibility” of residents.

Acceptance committees have long been part of the social fabric of this country. From tiny settlements in the West Bank established after 1967 to new communities in the Misgav regional council in the Galilee to the oldest kibbutz in the country, the institution has always existed in Israel.

The acceptance committee has also been one barrier preventing the integration of many Jewish (not to mention Arab) groups into the rural environment. It isn’t the main barrier, though.

Many Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews live in urban areas because the government settled them there; they never even thought of how they might like to live on a kibbutz.

The Arab population of Israel, much of which lives in semi-rural villages, has never wanted to move to nearby Jewish communities, preferring to simply expand their existing villages.

The hypocrisy that exists in certain sectors of Israeli society raises a fake outrage about a “segregation” law, a law that merely enshrines what has always existed. The notion of the acceptance committee and all its pseudosociological findings of “social unsuitability” smacks of elitism and in many cases may hide racism behind “cultural” excuses. But this is not the main problem.

The central issue is that when the Supreme Court considers this law it should consider whether the committees currently used by 1,000 communities in Israel are also valid. It should not be legal for kibbutzim founded many years ago to be allowed to uphold an institution that is considered illegal in other communities that were founded more recently. Either all be allowed to have acceptance committees or none should. It shouldn’t be considered “racist” for some and not for others.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Terra Incognita: Robert Ford's Heroic Diplomacy

Terra Incognita: Robert Ford’s heroic diplomacy
10/25/2011 23:09

US envoy to Syria's personal investigation of abuses and his shows of support for protestors is a welcome sign.

The American decision to withdraw Ambassador Robert Stephen Ford from Syria should raise eyebrows, not only because it represents a fundamental fear for his safety, but also because of what he has come to represent.

Through Ford’s courageous use of personal diplomacy, travelling to the most dangerous areas of Syria to show support for the protestors, he has carved out a niche for himself in the region, defying stereotypes about what diplomats can and should do.

On the face of it the ambassador’s position and biography don’t necessarily lend themselves to this type of action. A career diplomat , Mr. Ford, born in Denver, Colorado in 1958, is considered one of the foremost Arabists in the State Department.

He served in the Peace Corps and obtained a BA and MA from Johns Hopkins University before entering the US foreign service in 1985.

Since 1985 he has been posted throughout the Middle East, most notably in Iraq after the American invasion and in Algeria from 2006 to 2008.

His posting to Syria in late 2010 was considered important because the US had withdrawn its ambassador to Syria in 2005 after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister.

Ford’s work in Syria has almost all taken place against the backdrop of the “Arab Spring.” During his confirmation hearings with the US Senate, before being posted to Damascus, Ford had promised that “unfiltered straight talk with the Syrian government will be my mission priority.”

It is interesting that through June of 2011 he was in fact criticized for doing little to show support for the protestors that Bashar Assad’s regime was gunning down in the streets. Richard Grenell, writing at the Huffingtonpost.com, asked, “Shouldn’t Ford be calling attention to and showing the violence coming from Assad’s government?” He also thought the US should withdraw its ambassador to protest the crackdown.

In early July, however, Ford made an important and visible statement against the actions of the Syrian regime when he visited Hama with the French ambassador, Eric Chevallier. After his factfinding trip, which brought temporary respite to the besieged protestors in the city, he told media that “the violence that the Syrian government is inflicting on Syrian protesters, from our point of view, is grotesque. It’s abhorrent.”

He also articulated a new type of “muscular” diplomacy: “I don’t particularly care [if Syria is angry], because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protesters. I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to... I’m going keep moving around the country. I can’t stop.”

Since July, Ford has been active in articulating opposition to the Syrian regime’s methods and showing support for those who oppose Assad. In September he travelled to meet with Hasan Abdel-Azim, an opposition figure. Pro-Assad protestors surrounded the ambassador’s vehicle, pelted him with tomatoes and eggs and temporarily interdicted his motorcade.

Stephen Ford is not the first US diplomat to find himself in harm’s way. One hundred and eleven US diplomats have been murdered or come to a bad end since 1780. Many died in Pakistan as a result of terrorism and most were not of ambassadorial rank.

One of the most famous cases of an American diplomat being murdered while at his post was that of Vice-Consul Robert Imbrie. Imbrie was beaten to death by a mob in Teheran in 1924 after being mistaken for a member of the Bahai faith. Local Islamists had whipped themselves into a rage, convinced that Bahais had poisoned a well .

Cleo Noel, US ambassador to the Sudan, was killed by Palestinian members of Black September in 1973. The US ambassador to Beirut, Frances Meloy, was murdered in 1977. Adolph Dubs, the US ambassador to Afghanistan was killed in 1979 when terrorists tried to kidnap him.

Ford’s departure from Syria is apparently based on credible intelligence that certain elements wanted him to meet a similar end.

The kind of blunt, heroic diplomacy that Ford has come to represent is a departure from the long-standing practice of US State Department functionaries, especially those considered Arabists, of toeing the line when it comes to dictators and human rights abuses.

Especially in the Middle East, US diplomats have been stricken with what is often termed “clientitis”; staying in a country too long and becoming too attached to it, rather than representing US interests.

US ambassadors in Saudi Arabia have been loathe to condemn killings in the Qatif region, in the Gulf states the US representatives do little to speak out on the mass human rights abuses, which amount to slavery, against foreign workers.

In Iraq, where it has just been announced that Iran and Turkey are both cooperating to suppress the Kurds, including incursions into Iraq, the US has remained silent.

There is obviously a question as to what constitutes going beyond the diplomatic mission’s purview, such as meeting with illegal opposition figures. But Mr. Ford’s personal investigation of abuses and his shows of support for protestors is a welcome sign, one that the US State Department might consider repeating in the future.

The writer received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute of Market Studies.

Terra Incognita: Disgraceful Behavior

Terra Incognita: Disgraceful behavior
11/01/2011 22:53

The desecration of Sammy Ofer’s grave is but the latest in a shameful wave of hate directed at an Israeli success story.

Last week, shipping tycoon Sammy Ofer’s grave in Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery was vandalized. It could have been worse, to be sure. The vandal – no, the savage – drew only a small “price tag” on the grave. But the act was merely the latest in a series of disgraceful behavior directed at the Ofer family over the past six months.

By most accounts the Ofer brothers, quiet and unassuming but massively wealthy, were decent men. Sammy and his brother Yuli were born in Rumania in the early 1920s. Their family came to Mandatory Palestine in 1924 and resided in Haifa. Both men served in the Israeli army, Sammy in the nascent Navy because he had been in the Royal Navy, and his brother in the army. Sammy bought his first ship in 1950 and after his brother left the army, mustering out as a Major, the two men founded a shipping company which would become the basis for the Ofer Brothers Group.

As Nehemia Shtrasler of Haaretz tells it, Sammy Ofer made his bones abroad.

“The truth is that Ofer made his fortune abroad, and only afterward returned to Israel in order to invest the profits here....He left Israel in the late 1960s and went to live in London, where he founded a shipping company that was very successful. He took great risks, took out huge loans and purchased ships during times of crisis, when everyone was afraidli success story.�㛲���ᦗ�Last wl prepared in times of prosperity.”

With his brother Yuli, he acquired other assets besides shipping, including Bank Mizrahi, several chemical and oil businesses and dabbled in real estate. The Ofer brothers became Israel’s wealthiest people and grew their shipping business into one of the biggest in the world. They also gave handsomely to charity.

BUT SOME Israelis, it seems, hated them and felt suspicious of their wealth. They were the rich tycoons, the ones the protestors blame for the high rents and cottage cheese prices. They were the evil capitalists.

In May, the US State Department slapped sanctions on seven companies, the Ofer brothers’ among them, for dealing with Iran and barred them from receiving US export licenses and receiving loans of over $10 million from US financial institutions.

This revelation was accepted without question by the Israeli public, media and politicians, all of whom brandished their knives to strike down the company that could now be accused of putting profits above patriotism.

Israel’s politicians and media experts didn’t bother to digest what the Ofer brothers were accused of – the State Department claimed they didn’t do due diligence when they sold a tanker they owned jointly with another company to a straw company that was in fact acting on behalf of Iran.

Yossi Melman at Haaretz wrote that “the Ofer Brothers Group may be scurrying into damage control in Israel, Singapore, London and Washington, after the United States blacklisted it for trading with Iran, but Israel seems to be doing nothing to enforce international sanctions on Iran.”

Israel’s politicians across the political spectrum demanded an immediate investigation by the attorney-general and Knesset. Shelly Yacimovich of Labor claimed “the prime minister must protect Israel’s economy against such an occurrence and pursue justice against the companies’ owners.” A special Knesset panel was convened to investigate the supposed wrongdoing.

But then the knives were sheathed. The Knesset committee disappeared. The attorney- general did nothing.

Sammy Ofer died in early June. One Obituary read: “Israeli billionaire involved in Iran dealings dies in Tel Aviv.” At his funeral, his son Idan said, “for him, Zionism wasn’t merely an ideal, but a commandment to action.” Sammy’s brother Yuli died in September. Conveniently, the next day the press reported: “US drops Ofer brothers company from Iran Sanctions List” (Haaretz, Sept. 13).

Even though they were in their late 80s, the controversy may have driven the poor men to an early grave.

One thing that’s clear regarding the ordeal the Ofers were forced to go through is that, as far as I can tell, not one politician or media personality has apologized. Why should Shelly Yacimovich, Aryeh Eldad or Nachman Shai, among the accusers, say “we were wrong, it turns out that we jumped to conclusions”?

No, it is easier to have a savage outburst, to accuse men who gave their entire lives to Israel, who devoted themselves not only to the defense of the country but also to making it a world financial power, of wanting some piddling profit from the sale of one rusty tanker to an Iranian straw company.

One wonders, if the Ofers had simply left Israel in 1960 and not returned, building their fortune abroad, where all their money was made anyway, would not their lives have ended differently?

Sammy’s grave would probably not have been vandalized, at least not by his own people. Furthermore he wouldn’t have been hounded to his dying day.

Mr. Ofer couldn’t even donate money in Israel without people castigating him for it.

In 2006 when he had given money to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art he was slandered and libeled so much he withdrew the donation, writing, “Sorry for wanting to contribute, an open letter to the art lovers in Tel Aviv and Israel.”

That is a sad testament to the place the Ofers called home. Why is that? Why can’t Israelis look up to men like the Ofers, see success and feel proud? The Ofers represented one of the best success stories in the region. The country should have produced ten thousand more Ofers rather than producing ten thousand more critics capable of unfounded hateful accusations.

There should be outrage over the desecration at Trumpeldor Cemetery, just as there is outrage at all these heinous “price tag” attacks.

The writer has a Ph.D from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
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Terra Incognita Misbehaving Sciences

Terra incognita: Misbehaving sciences?
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN, Jerusalem Post
11/08/2011 23:42

In light of recent incitement by lecturers, it' s important to examine the freedom of expression and the “right” of academics to engage in extremist speech.

Two weeks ago it was reported that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan had asked police to investigate Ben-Gurion University chemistry lecturer Eyal Nir for incitement because of a call he made to “break the necks” of a right-wing fringe group. The same week, Kent State University Professor Julio Pino yelled “death to Israel” during a lecture by Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi. It is important to examine not only the merits of these cases but also the wider context of freedom of expression and the “right” of academics to engage in extremist speech while at the same time enjoying the presumption that their work with students remains unbiased and uninformed by their sometimes radical views.

The Nir incident took place in June, 2011, after Israelis marched through Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day. Some of the fringe part of the march included a group that chanted anti- Arab slogans and whose comments were posted on YouTube. Nir saw the YouTube video and linked to it on his Facebook page, with a comment in Hebrew that “gangs of bandits are swarming our country. I call on the world to come and help break these scoundrels’ necks.”

The comment drew criticism and numerous comments on Facebook but Nir stood by what he said. He wrote that the gang in question consisted of a few bullies and that they must be prevented from carrying out their threats.

“I believe my cry to stop them is reasonable,” said Nir.

It is worth noting that Eyal Nir is no stranger to radical politics in Israel. In 2010 he was photographed being arrested by the IDF during a protest at Nabi Salah in the West Bank. Blogger Alison Ramer wrote that “Nir was taken into an army jeep for insulting a soldier with a racial slur.”

Ben-Gurion University has seemingly stood by Nir, noting in a statement: “Dr. Nir published his comments as a private individual, on his personal Facebook page. The university does not take a side in the matter, and therefore justice should be sought in appropriate legal forum.”

Others took issue with the comments immediately, establishing an online petition to have him fired.

THE PROBLEM with Nir’s comments is not whether they constitute incitement under Israeli law, since the incitement law is, in my opinion, flawed. The issue that should be raised about Nir’s diatribe is how it impacts the university environment he teaches in. A review of cases abroad shows that most faculty members who have been fired for things they said had their jobs terminated only in connection to comments made in class or which were directly related to campus activities.

For instance, a Leeds University lecturer was suspended and took early retirement when he gave an interview to a student newspaper suggesting that Africans were less intelligent than Europeans. There do not seem to be any incidents of faculty members having been fired for statements made outside of the university setting.

However, Peter Van Onselen, writing in The Australian, recalled that a colleague once complained to his university about a column he had written. He took the “view that it brought the university [a previous employer] into disrepute, and requested that I be reprimanded for doing the university’s reputation damage,” wrote Onselen.

Do Nir’s comments bring Ben-Gurion University into disrepute? Considering the fact that the university has no shortage of radical leftists who do not hesitate to offer their opinion that Israel is a colonizing, racist country, it would seem that the university’s reputation could not be tangibly changed by these newest comments.

The story of the “death to Israel” comment by Julio Pino, a tenured professor at Kent State, is more nuanced. Pino is a native of Cuba and a convert to Islam. There is some irony in the fact that the visiting Israeli diplomat who drew Pino’s ire is himself a Muslim (Mr. Khaldi is Israel’s first Beduin deputy consul). His outburst took place on campus. Kent State President Lester Lefton condemned Pino’s outburst, however according to the American Association of University Professors, “Calling out a political slogan during a question period falls well within the speech rights of any member of a university community.”

Most respected academics know the value of having their students believe classes are not biased against certain individuals due to race, creed or gender. Since national-religious students in Israel clearly constitute a creed it is certainly possible that these students might feel that Nir’s “break their necks” comment was directed at them and would feel uncomfortable attending his classes. How can one study in such a hostile environment? Could a black student feel comfortable in a class where she knew that the lecturer had written in an op-ed that black activists should have their necks broken? Furthermore, why do academics enjoy a special type of free speech that no other occupation enjoys? Those defending these “outbursts” seem to misconstrue the notion of academic freedom, which means a freedom to research, with the idea that academics have the right to behave in the lowest manner possible, using outbursts that befit the village drunk more than they do a holder of a doctorate. When an academic’s behavior is as savage, unrestrained and brutish as that of someone leaving a pub sloshed at three in the morning, one wonders where our notion of what constitutes acceptable behavior, and speech, went wrong.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Terra Incognita the Pakistan Two Step

Terra Incognita: The Pakistan two-step
09/27/2011 07:14

It is time for the US to downgrade ties with this dangerous "ally."

‘Never before has a US official so publicly linked Pakistan to attacks on Americans. It is a sickening accusation given the fact that the US has been giving Pakistan nearly $2 billion a year, money to fight terrorism, not support it.”

Those were the words Martha Raddatz, senior foreign affairs correspondent at ABC news, on September 22. The man whose name has headlined these revelations is Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he declared: “In continuing to use violent extremism, as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, army and ISI jeopardizes our strategic partnership.”

Sitting beside the four-star admiral was US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who explained that “a very clear message [must be sent] to them and to others that they must take steps to prevent the safe havens that [terrorists] are using [in Pakistan].”

That Mullen made his blunt statement just days before he is due to retire suggests that he was asked to provide the stronger testimony before Congress whereas Panetta, who will remain secretary of defense, would set a softer tone.

The events at the heart of the recent allegations were an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a September 13 attack on the US embassy there. The story that Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, was behind the attacks, through the use of Islamist proxies, was headline news in many newspapers in the West.

The Pakistani press has also reported about Mullen’s comments. This has triggered a series of stories detailing meetings among Pakistani army officers aimed at “meeting amid tensions” with the US. The latest talking point being put forward by Pakistani commentators, such as Interior Minister Rehman Malik, is that the CIA was behind the creation of the Haqqani network.

The Haqqani network is actually a sort of family business that originated in the mountainous southern Afghan region of Paktia, which borders Pakistan’s North Waziristan province. It was founded by Jalaludin Haqqani (born about 1950) and is now run in cooperation with his son. During the 1980s Haqqani initially allied himself with the hardcore Islamist Afghani Gulbeddin Hekmatyar. Later, he found his way not only to Pakistan’s ISI but also to the CIA and US Congressman Charlie Wilson. He received arms and tens of thousands of dollars in US and Saudi aid to fight the Soviets, with much of the money and weapons being channeled through the ISI. This ISI-CIA campaign to throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan was the subject of the famous 2003 book Charlie Wilson’s War, which was later made into a movie.

THE “REVELATIONS” about the role of the ISI in Pakistan and the double game it plays have been common knowledge to anyone reporting about the conflict in the region for more than a decade. The story of the ISA-Taliban relationship has been told in several books and numerous articles by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. In an interview with Harpers, Rashid said, “This lack of US interest [after 2001] coincided with the interests of the Pakistani army: to go after al Qaida, but to allow the Taliban to resettle in Pakistan. Quite soon the Taliban was once again patronized by the ISI.”

Indian intelligence experts have long warned the US and the world that the ISI has been funding terrorist networks in Kashmir and Central Asia since the 1980s. Most recently, however, the US has come face to face with Pakistani complicity to an extent that is hard to ignore. The fact that Osama Bin Laden was found living in a town dominated by the Pakistani military clearly illustrated either the incompetence of Pakistan or it complicity in hiding him.

Some commentators have painted a picture of an ISI that is so autonomous that the Pakistani government cannot be held responsible for its actions. David Rohde at Reuters argues that “instead of blaming all Pakistanis for the action of the ISI, the United States must help moderate Pakistanis reform an out-of-step, out-of-control agency.”

This is a convenient story for those that like to imagine that intelligence organizations such as the CIA are engaged in so many “black” operations that they are a law unto themselves. But to judge from their statements, at least some of Pakistan’s politicians don’t subscribe to this notion, and make no distinction between the ISI and the government.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar responded to Mullen’s allegations by threatening the US: “You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan, you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people. If you are choosing to do so and if they are choosing to do so it will be at their own cost.”

This is the Pakistani quagmire; politicians either blaming the CIA, claiming they are helpless against the power of the ISI, or daring the US to severe ties with them. They accuse the US of “losing an ally” in Pakistan or “alienating” the Pakistani people.

The US government must respond to the reality. The Pakistani people cannot be “alienated,” and the US cannot “lose an ally” it doesn’t have. The US faced the same duplicity when it worked with the South Vietnamese government in the 1960s.

Some argue that the ISI and Pakistan do, from time to time, turn in Taliban commanders.

But the reality is that this should be viewed much like a mafia family that turns in other mafiosi just so that it can get stronger. Pakistan’s government has perfected the two-step, a dance routine where you step in one direction and then end up going the other way. Pakistan hands over the Taliban it doesn’t like, to weaken those factions it can’t control, while holding close to those like Haqqani who have been allies with the ISI since the 1980s. Pakistan paints a picture of a Mexican stand-off with the US, where the US can’t ditch its useless “ally,” but Mike Mullen’s statements may finally point the way to a realistic severing or downgrading of ties with this dangerous, unstable country.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Terra Incognita: Angela Merkel, Stand Strong Against Euro-Bonds

Angela Merkel, stand strong against Euro-bonds!
Jerusalem Post
08/23/2011 22:56

Europe’s stronger economies must keep the financial barbarians at bay.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

The financial barbarians are at the gates of the Euro. Ironically, today it is Germany – home of the barbarians who destroyed Europe’s first common market, Rome – that is standing against the new debt-indulging savages.

In recent days European Union bureaucrats and other commentators have been arguing that a long term solution to the debt problems haunting certain European countries could be found in Euro bonds.

Olli Rehn, EU Economics and Monetary Affairs commissioner, has explained that “These euro securities would aim to strengthen fiscal discipline and increase stability in the euro area through the markets.”

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso has been arguing for months that a common Euro Zone bond might be a good idea. He said in December: “Let us not kill the euro bonds idea for the future, but let us concentrate now on what we can do quickly.”

A 2011 paper by Prof. Nicholas Economides and Prof. Roy Smith at NYU suggested a similar type of bond for Europe called a Trichet bond, after European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet. In this scenario, the EU would issue bonds that could be exchanged for the rotting debt of certain EU nations.

“Present holders of sovereign debt will be exchanging low-quality bonds with limited liquidity for higher-quality bonds with greater liquidity.” They also argued that “without a workable EU remedy for the sovereign-debt problems, countries like Portugal, Spain and Italy are being treated by the market, (which so far has ignored the European rescue fund and related efforts to calm the crisis) as potential defaulters.”

The idea being presented is that the EU should issue a form of debt in order that junk bonds can be traded in for higher-quality bonds.

This is sort of like the collateralized debt obligations that allowed supprime mortgages to be resold as “safe” investments – the shenanigan that created the American financial meltdown of 2008. The idea for the Euro bond is only slightly different than the Trichet bond; it supposes that the EU create bonds that the 17-nation EU would be responsible for repaying in order to refinance the debt of countries that can’t keep themselves off the hooch.

GERMAN CHANCELLOR Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have both rejected the idea of Euro bonds. Commentators have pointed out that issuing such bonds might go against the constitutions of member states. It would also increase the power of the EU, and diminish the budgetary independence of the member states.

Goldman Sachs economist Dirk Schumacher noted that it would mean “further change of the institutional setup of the euro zone, with more oversight and control from Brussels.”

Those promoting Euro bonds are trying to push them through the door when European countries are at their weakest. They claim they are the only way to save the Euro.

In essence they are using the crises to forever weaken the rights of hardworking, financially responsible Europeans, pushing through a new financial instrument that would compel the Germans and French to work forever in a form of indentured servitude so that Greek, Italian and Spanish governments can continue to rack up debts. It is a twisted form of Karl Marx’s 1875 creed “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

The Germans and French have the ability, the others have the need.

The problem is that the Germans and French (and other responsible European nations) are already being forced to pay for the mistakes of weaker economies. In May 2010, as part of a rescue package to save European debtor nations, the European Central Bank (ECB) began purchasing the sovereign debt of those countries. So far it has bought 110 billion Euros worth of Spanish and Italian debt. The reason is to keep the borrowing costs of these nations lower, keeping their interest rates lower so they don’t get themselves even deeper in debt. This is a short-term solution of course; the ECB can’t buy debt forever. In fact, the cap on this latest bailout fund is 450 billion euros. But the ECB has been right to try to stem the flow, because some of the rise in interest rates on these nation’s bonds have been caused by speculators.

THE PROBLEM with the EU-bond scenario is that it would make Germany responsible for the actions of others. Greece has managed to rack up debt to a tune of 160% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while Italy’s is at 120%. By contrast, Germany owes just 80% – still a high figure. Germany is Europe’s most productive nation, and the anchor of the Euro, yet it is being pushed into a corner. There is a belief that if Greece or Italy is allowed to default on its debt that the debt contagion would spread to France and then to Germany. To save Germany, therefore, the financial barbarians must be kept at bay.

But the problem is that the barbarians are already inside the gates, and are being allowed, every day, to eat away at the sound policies of other countries. The solution shouldn’t be to give the barbarians a blank check called Euro bonds that allows them to make other nations keep paying for their mistakes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Terra Incognita The Boring Jewish State?

The Jerusalem Post
Terra Incognita: The boring Jewish state?
08/17/2011 00:00

Why is there such a fear of taking Jews to see minorities of Israel? Why fear of them meeting Russians, Yemenites, Moroccans, Ethiopians?

‘I’m Japanese, but every time I go back to the home country, it’s just boring, the whole story of the mythical samurai past. Finally I got an opportunity to visit Japan via a Japanese cultural association with the goal of studying and interacting with the ‘other.’ We met North Korean refugees seeking asylum, Chinese minorities, an American working in a corporate firm, a member of an indigenous minority from Okinawa and gay activists. Only through meeting all these people could I finally appreciate Japan. Japanese-Americans are tired of hearing just Japan’s Japanese history; to relate to their ancient land, they must learn about the ‘other.’”

Of course, these words were never spoken by a Japanese person. How many Japanese-Americans, if they care about Japan, can only relate to it if they relate to the Chinese minorities there? How many Indian-Americans can only relate to mother India by relating to the Parsi minority in Mumbai? How many Iranian-Americans find they can care about Iran only through learning about its Azeri and Baluchi communities? Yet some portion of the world’s Jewish community finds that the only thing interesting in Israel is stories of Beduin, Israeli-Arabs, African refugees and Palestinians.

Israel is just downright boring, so long as it involves stories about the Jews.

Sarah Schonberg echoed these sentiments in an oped in The Forward: “American youth are indifferent to hearing just one story and being told to accept it without question.” She tells how she had little interest in Israel until she attended a Hebrew College trip aimed at introducing American Jews to the “other” there, namely Israeli Arabs. “To overlook a population of this size is akin to ignoring the entire black, Asian, Native-American and multi-racial populations in the US,” she wrote.

Her story is similar to many other stories of Jews who find Israel mundane, unless they can view the country through the prism of social justice and activism for minority rights.

Through generations of living as minorities in the Diaspora, Jews have been at the forefront of fighting for minority rights. It’s no surprise that it was a Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, who came up with the concept of the “other.” So when Jews come to Israel, they immediately want to find the minorities, accustomed as they are to the concept that only minorities are interesting. Because Jews tend to view the concept of what constitutes a Jew through the prism with which they grew up, they also tend to homogenize the Jewish community in Israel. Thus, while Schonberg pays passing heed to the “cultural diversity that makes up the Jewish community in Israel,” she doesn’t mention any Jewish minorities.

The type of fact-finding trip that Hebrew College ran has become increasingly common. The New Israel Fund has been organizing them for a while, bringing Jews from the US to Israel to see the “other” on study tours. A standard trip consists of visits with Beduin, Israeli Arabs, African refugees, more Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Palestinians in Hebron, and maybe, if people are lucky, more Beduin and, as an aside, an Ethiopian Jew.

In transit, the tour leaders point out the “Jews”: hotels in Tel Aviv, wineries in Zichron Ya’acov, everything to present Jews as the wealthiest, “whitest” elite in the country, in contrast to the poverty-stricken, discriminated- against “black” minorities. This plays well to American Jewish sentiments. As veterans in the civil rights struggle, American Jews are used to the dichotomy of white and black, and as fighters for immigrant rights, they are used to the Manichean absolutes of the wealthy and the poor.

The types of trips now being sold, primarily to American Jews, seek to “connect” them with Israel the only way the trip leaders know how: through the “others” with whom Jews feel naturally comfortable.

Contrast this with the Zionistic tours that give Jews “one story.”

But why is there no happy medium? Why is there such a fear of taking Jews to see the Jewish minorities of Israel? Why is there a fear of letting them meet Russians, Yemenites, Moroccans, Ethiopians and haredim, to name a few? The fear on the part of the birthright trips, and those like them, is that Jews might be shocked to see poverty and not think the country a success. The fear on the part of those like the New Israel Fund or Hebrew College is that they might not be able to push their agenda of the “other.”

It isn’t all the fault of the educators; people like Schonberg travel all over the world, and find most countries fascinating without spending all their time among the “other.” In Iran they don’t look for Baluchis, in Japan they don’t look for Koreans, in South Africa they don’t need Afrikaners, in Egypt they don’t want to meet Nubians. They are fine with majority narratives for every country except Israel and America. The cultural milieu from which they come ascribes boring traits to Jews.

There is nothing wrong with introducing people to the “other” in Israel, but it is essential that they see all the others, not just a cookie-cutter image from the West into which Israel is forced to be subsumed so it can be understood.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Terra Incognita: Baseless Hatred of the Haredim

Terra Incognita: Baseless hatred of the haredim
08/10/2011 06:22

It is essential that people search their souls and ask why they acquiesce so easily to canards about the ultra-orthodox community and statements made against it.

One of the central messages of Tisha Be’av, which took place yesterday, is the consequences of Sinat Hinam or baseless hatred. During the period of the Second Temple Jews quarreled so much among themselves that it brought ruin upon the Jewish people.

Today, with the housing protests that have swept the country, it is worthwhile to pause and ponder one type of baseless hatred that is often not acknowledged: hatred of the Ultra-Orthodox or haredi community.


he savage hatred of haredim comes in many forms. It begins with the things people say; how the haredim are “parasites” who don’t pay taxes and don’t go to the army, that they beat their wives and create a “mini- Tehran” in their communities, that they are dirty, smelly “dosim” and that they “infiltrate” the wonderful utopian secular neighborhoods. Oh, and of course, they are ignorant donkeys who hate Zionism and are intolerant of homosexuals, Arabs and blacks.

This hate is on display everywhere in symbolic acts.

Swastikas sprayed on a synagogue in Kfar Yona, where the secular residents fear a haredi “takeover”. The Eruv (wire surrounding a religious community that allows them to carry items on Shabbat) is cut in Kiryat Yovel by self-proclaimed secular resistance fighters. The huge signs erected by Meretz during its campaign for Jerusalem city council in 2008 that read “End the Haredization of Jerusalem.” A student at Hebrew University does doctoral work analyzing how the haredim invaded Kiryat Yovel, as if anyone can imagine an open minded university sponsoring the work of someone wanting to analyze how Arabs “took over” the Wolfson neighborhood in Acre.

THE HATRED of the haredi population is greatest among those who preach tolerance. Meretz, a far left political party, campaigns to end the haredi infiltration of Jerusalem’s secular bastions, but at the same time it complains of racism when Jews don’t want Arabs moving into Pisgat Zeev. Righteous people denounce the “acceptance committee law” that allows small communities to reject applicants, but the same people don’t seem to mind if a secular community opposes haredim moving to the area simply because they might change the character of the neighborhood. There was an outcry in the country when Rabbis signed a letter asking people not to rent apartments to Arabs in Safed, but there is no outcry among the ‘civil rights’ lobby when Ram Fruman created the Forum for Secular Communities, whose sole goal is to prevent haredi people from moving to “secular” areas. Fruman says “Our association works on two levels – at the local level, in sharing experience, knowledge and resources; and at the national level, in creating a political lobby that can take the lead with public action.” One imagines if the haredim just disguised themselves as Arabs they would be welcomed by the “open minded” secular elites and their rights to move where they want would be defended at the highest levels.

The hatred of the haredi population transcends all political and ethnic groups in Israel; Arabs, leftists, the national religious, free market liberals, even Ethiopians, all have a generally visceral dislike for the black hat.

Nechamia Stressler, the usually level headed columnist at Haaretz says they offer only “rotten goods, rife with ignorance, superstition.” Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv, described them as “aloof and ignorant people who are growing at an alarming rate.” Yuval Tumarkin, artist and winner of the Israel Prize, once said “when one sees the haredim one understands why there was a Holocaust.”

HAREDIM KNOW they are hated. Aharon Yakter, who lives in Bnei Brak, recalls that “I grew up near Sheinkin street in Tel Aviv until the age of 18. They never yelled 'dos' back then.” But nowadays if a hated haredi shows his face on the trendy street the secular community would feel no qualms about banding together to oppose the “infiltration.” Every Israeli should be ashamed that they speak of the haredim the way they do. There is nothing honorable in denying religious Jews the ability to live where they want.

The myths used to justify baseless hatred of the haredim are legion. One accuses them of not going to the army, but there are an equal number of secular draft dodgers as there are haredi ones, and the secular draft dodgers aren’t forced to attend Yeshiva in lieu of army service. Yet we don’t call the secular population “parasites.”

The student unions and other social organizations rail against funding for Yeshiva students, but that funding, about NIS 135 million for 13,000 students in 2010, provides less than $250 a month to the religious students, similar or less than most secular student scholarships.

The student union complains about equality, but the reality is that the secular public drains the state’s coffers and drinks at the same trough as the haredi public.

And what about hatred of the state, do certain haredi groups (i.e Neturei Karta) hate the state at a greater rate than, say, university lecturers in the Cohn Institute of History and Philosophy at Tel Aviv University? At least the haredi public is not at the forefront of all the ‘human rights’ organizations that support boycotts and accuse the country of apartheid.

BASELESS HATRED didn’t disappear this Tisha Be’av, but it is essential that, at least every once in a while, people search their souls and ask why they acquiesce so easily to canards about the ultra-orthodox community and statements made against it. The haredim aren’t angels, and their community is not a utopia, but then again, neither are any of the communities in Israel. Recognizing that as a starting point will increase tolerance, for the better.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Terra Incognita: The Foreign Worker Catch 22 in Israel

The foreign workers’ ‘Catch-22'
In the Jerusalem Post
07/12/2011 23:21

Rights and Responsibility: The migrant workers who choose to come to Israel are adults. It is time we started treating them as such.

Israel is increasingly living in a catch-22 regarding foreign workers and their rights. First of all, it is considered unacceptable to bind foreign workers to their employers. Second, the courts have determined that foreign workers who get pregnant may not be deported under the previous law that voided their work permits if they gave birth. Third, the courts have determined that it is also illegal to deport foreign workers who have just given birth.

The catch-22 is that the foreign workers are, by default, encouraged to have children in order to stay in the country. Once they have children, it becomes impossible to deport them because of all the petitions against deporting their children. For instance, in March 2011 the Interior Ministry postponed deporting foreign workers and their children because it didn’t want to “disrupt the studies of children enrolled in school.” It appears that once a female foreign worker enters the country, it is almost assured that she will not leave, and that ipso facto she and her children will receive unlimited rights to remain.

DISCUSSION ABOUT the foreign workers, of whom there are thought to be more than 300,000, always revolves around their “rights.” When Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia overturned the policy of deporting those that were pregnant or had just had children, she said “it affects [the worker’s] right to be a parent, to have a family and to support herself. The policy is incongruent with Israeli labor laws that safeguard the rights of the woman both during and after birth.” But why does the supposed “right” to a family transcend the laws of a country where one has chosen to come as a worker? Let’s say, for arguments sake, that the foreign workers didn’t look so “foreign” and didn’t come across in photos as “victims.” If they looked like educated Europeans (still foreign, but not that foreign), would their case be as compelling? Do we have much compassion for a European couple that moves to Israel, for whatever reason, has a child here, and which the state subsequently orders deported for overstaying a visa? Would there be an outcry that the child might be yanked out of school? Be honest with yourself. If it was 300,000 Europeans in Tel Aviv and we read about them being deported, wouldn’t we shrug and say “well, they should have obeyed the law.”

So the reality of the foreign round-about is the feeling that somehow they are not educated enough and don’t look responsible enough to read the law and make responsible choices. This is a very real paternalistic, nay racist, reality. I have had American and European non-Jewish friends who got pregnant here or moved here with their children. They understand the strain they are putting the child under by raising it in a temporary foreign environment. Similarly, Americans and Europeans living in the Gulf Arab states, Japan, Mexico or wherever are not considered victims if they are deported, with their children, for overstaying a visa or violating the conditions of their employment contract.

By deporting foreign workers, their “rights” to a family are not being harmed; they are merely being asked to be responsible adults, responsible toward the law and their children. By always passing the buck and keeping them from being deported when pregnant, and then after giving birth, and then once the children are in kindergarten, the courts are merely belittling them and treating them as irresponsibles who can’t make choices about reproduction.

IN THE face of a wave of foreign workers, sense and responsibility has been checked at the border and incoherent paternalism has become the law of the land. We must look at foreign workers as people like us, and demand that they receive not only certain rights but also bear certain responsibilities. Once responsibility is part of the equation, the catch-22 that has become the norm will begin to correct itself.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Terra Incognita: A Palestinian DInar

A question of the Palestinian dinar
Jerusalem Post
06/21/2011 23:54

Terra Incognita: What currency will the Palestinians use in the wake of their quest to seek recognition for a state in September?

Talkbacks (9)
There is a Facebook page circulating that purports to show an unofficial Palestinian passport stamp designed by an artist named Kahled Jarrar. But Jarrar’s homemade stamp is less important than another pressing issue: What currency will the Palestinians use in the wake of their quest to seek recognition for their state in September?

It isn’t a simple matter, as history will show. After the US declared independence in 1776, it was 10 years before Congress actually approved the use of the dollar as the official currency. And it wasn’t until 1792 that the first US mint, sanctioned by the government to print money, was inaugurated in Philadelphia (then the American capital).

By the time of the Civil War, the question of currency had gained more urgency. Only a month after the Confederate States of America had been formed, it began to issue its own currency in April 1861. As is well known, the Confederate dollar quickly depreciated, since it was not backed by assets, and became virtually worthless by 1864.

To examine the successes and failures of new national currencies, it is worth looking at several examples.

East Timor seems to be a prime case. Slightly smaller than Israel, East Timor is at the end of the Indonesia archipelago. In 1975 its colonial occupier, Portugal, decided to withdraw, and the Timorese declared independence in November of that year. However, only a month later, it was invaded by Indonesia in a campaign of massacre that began 25 years of brutal rule. The UN never recognized Indonesian sovereignty, and declared the country a “non-self governing territory under Portuguese administration.”

In 1999, after Indonesian human rights violations became widely known, a UN-sponsored referendum resulted in the territory becoming independent.

The Timorese got rid of the hated Indonesian rupiah, but instead of adopting their own currency, they began using the US dollar. The imposition of the dollar on the Timorese was completely a product of the UN’s semi-colonial administration that ran the country in 2000, and whose tentacles have never been completely removed. For a brief period, the UN National Consultative Council favored using the Portuguese escudo, but that idea was scratched when it became clear that the Portuguese were embracing the euro. The rupiah couldn’t be retained, not only because it was disliked, but because it was an unstable currency, and it meant East Timor’s future would be tied to the Indonesian economy.

Luis Valdivieso, head of the IMF office in East Timor, said: “I think the main consideration has been one of pragmatic consideration given the fact that t is urgent now [in 2000] to receive the payments on execution of the budget.” Yet the local people wanted their own currency. A coalition of former resistance leaders noted: “We believe the national currency should be an affirmation of independence and sovereignty.”

To no avail; the East Timorese continue to be honorary Americans, in the economic sense.

Kosovo is another case in point. Kosovo became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century, when the Turkish sultan overran what was then part of the Kingdom of Serbia. While it was once part of Serbia or Yugoslavia, a 1999 rebellion by Kosovo Albanians resulted in a bombing campaign by NATO and the occupation of the province by the UN. That year, the UN adopted the German mark as a replacement for the Serbian dinar. Use of the mark led directly to the imposition of the euro when the country declared independence in 2008. Yet, like East Timor, Kosovo remains in many ways a colony of the UN and various NGOs and international organizations. Because Kosovo hopes to join the EU one day, it has been using the euro rather than adopting the Albanian lek, the currency of its ethnically related neighbor.

Somaliland presents a more unique story. A large and sparsely populated country on the horn of Africa, Somaliland was initially colonized by the British. In 1960, after a few days of independence, it joined with Italian Somaliland to form modern-day Somalia. After years of misgovernment and a long running civil war, the territory decided to seek independence, which it declared in 1991. In 1994, Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal inaugurated a new currency, called the Somaliland shilling. The currency was briefly minted in England at the Pobjoy Mint, which prints money for 37 small countries and overseas territories. It doesn’t seem that the currency has been very successful, and it isn’t currently being minted.

Another breakaway republic, Western Sahara, was governed by its colonizer, Spain, until decolonization in 1975, when Morocco and Mauritania occupied the country.

The local independence movement briefly attempted to create its own currency called the Sahwari paseta, pegged to the old Spanish paseta.

Other countries have successfully established currencies. The post-Soviet states that gained independence in 1990 have mostly created their own currencies. Latvia, for instance, re-instituted the lats – once used in 1922 – to replace the ruble.

Perhaps it is interesting to look at Israeli history to see how a new currency can be created. The British invaded Palestine in 1917, but continued to use the Ottoman lira alongside the Egyptian pound until 1927.

In that year the Palestinian pound was introduced, and was pegged to the British pound. After independence, it took Israel four years to fully adopt the Israeli lira. By contrast, the Jordanians adopted the dinar in 1949. The Palestinian pound continued to circulate in the West Bank until 1950, when it was replaced by the Jordanian dinar, and in Gaza until 1951, when it was replaced by the Egyptian pound.

What do the Palestinians think they will use as a currency? On May 31, The Washington Post reported that there was some discussion about replacing the shekel, which is used in Gaza and the West Bank.

Jihad al-Wazir, governor of the Palestinian monetary authority, has noted that “all options are open.”

Some argue for bringing back the Palestinian pound. Others prefer a closer connection to the Jordanian dinar. One Palestinian woman with whom I spoke dismissed my confusion: “Won’t it be a Palestinian lira?”

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Interview with Alvin Rosenfled

An interview with Alvin Rosenfeld,

Can we preserve the history, integrity of the Holocaust?
06/21/2011 00:07

The Holocaust is “exploited for political or commercial gain,” engineered to “suit popular tastes and made into award-winning entertainments.”

Talkbacks (7)
The Holocaust is under siege. It is “exploited for political or commercial gain.” It is engineered to “suit popular tastes and made into award-winning entertainments,” and it is “embattled in ugly disputes about comparative victimization” – vulgarized, trivialized, contextualized. While some want to compare it to the plight of unborn children (abortion), others want to compare it to what has befallen the Palestinians.

Prof. Alvin H. Rosenfeld has placed himself astride the path of this out-of-control destructive tendency, attempting – as he writes in his book The End of the Holocaust – to articulate the “changing perception of the Holocaust within contemporary culture,” Rosenfeld is well-placed, as chair of Jewish Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington and director of the Indiana University Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, to set the record straight.

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In an interview, he describes how this publication is a product of a lifetime of engagement with the subject.

“This book came from 40 years of reading Holocaust literature,” he says. “I’ve been writing on the subject for many years, but the deeper I go, the more I come to see a huge gap between how the Holocaust has been represented to the public in pop culture and other mass forms of dissemination, and what our best writers have said about it.”

Rosenfeld argues that many of these great writers, such as Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel and Jean Amery, “came to a sense of futility about their own work and a sense of despair. What was at the feet of that desolate feeling? I became convinced that it had to do with their perception that the Holocaust was being misrepresented and misunderstood. I set out to analyze this discrepancy.”

Levi died in 1987, and Amery died in the 1970s.

A good portion of the distortions of the Holocaust came after their deaths, so in fact they were concerned about a different distortion, one they saw in their own lifetimes.

“In both of their cases, what troubled them most of all was the response in Germany and the return of anti-Semitism, especially on the political Left,” says Rosenfeld. “Both of them identified with the Left, and they were surprised by [anti-Semitism’s] return.”

Emblematic of how the Holocaust can be distorted was the Bitburg affair. President Ronald Reagan planned to visit Germany in 1985, and he decided to visit a military cemetery in Bitburg that commemorated German war dead. This brought to the fore what Rosenfeld describes as “an extraordinary tension in historical awareness [and] moral evaluation” in America. Why should a US president pay respects to German war dead and ignore the Holocaust on a visit to Germany? But was this just a phenomenon of 1985? After all, a consciousness of the Holocaust has not diminished, and belief that the German soldiers were victims of the war has not grown.

Rosenfeld feels strongly that this is not the case: “Within Germany itself, the sense of victimhood has been developing very strongly over the last decades. While Germans in the main do acknowledge the crimes of the period, more and more, there has been a tendency to see themselves as victims, both of Hitler and of the firebombing campaign [by the Allies]. Some have gone so far as to call that a bombing holocaust. Reagan, in characteristic American fashion, wanted to put the past behind, to ‘move forward’ as Americans say. Reagan saw Holocaust memory as interfering with that relationship.”

The End of the Holocaust critiques “the steady domestication of the Holocaust [that] will blunt the horrors of this history and, over time, render them less outrageous, and ultimately less knowable.”

Is there a way to both communicate the history of the Holocaust to a mass audience and preserve its integrity? The author agrees that it is a tough question.

“My suggestion is for people to read the very best writers and see the very best films,” he says in the interview. “Pop culture gives us versions of the Holocaust, but the versions are often not as strong as the better accounts we have. We need to reconnect the Holocaust to history; it becomes disconnected in mass media and mass entertainment. I set out to describe and analyze the problem, but I’m not wise enough to come up with a solution.”

The problem of mass culture and the Holocaust inevitably brings up the controversy of Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds, which presents a fictionalized account of Jewish avengers who kill Hitler. Rosenfeld doesn’t object to this extreme fictionalization, noting that “it’s entertainment.”

One of the quintessential books dealing with the Holocaust is the diary of Anne Frank. But few are aware that Frank’s legacy was altered, partly by her own father, Otto, as Rosenfeld writes, “to place a preponderant emphasis on hope, peace and the advancement of tolerance.”

Pop culture consumers seem to prefer hope-driven narratives, but perhaps a greater dose of reality is necessary.

“Americans are ready to face up, to a certain degree, to crimes of the past, but they don’t want to feel that they can’t get beyond them. But we are talking about genocidal crimes of mass murder. It is difficult to look at that and come out with messages that are hopeful,” he says. “Americans require hopeful endings. Those who create Holocaust productions know that and do what is necessary to end on an up note, rather than a down note.

Schindler’s List is a very powerful film that has done a great deal to educate about the Holocaust, and it ends in a Catholic cemetery with the sun shining.”

Another of Rosenfeld’s themes is that “for most people, a sense [of] the Nazi crimes against the Jews is formed less by the record of events established by professional historians than by individual stories and images.” However, at the same time, he recounts all the abuses to which the Holocaust has been subjected by certain revisionist scholars, such as Norman Finkelstein. There is thus a paradox-driven tension: While mass media do not convey the perfect image of the Holocaust, they may sometimes convey a much better message than the distortions it has undergone at the hands of Hannah Arendt, Finkelstein, Ward Churchill and a long list of intellectuals.

The author thinks the central problem is that “Holocaust studies has become embattled. There is the notion that those of us who teach courses on the Holocaust are too parochial, as if there is something illegitimate even to treat the Holocaust by itself. They argue that it should be seen in the wider framework of genocide studies and racism. I deal with some of that in the book in the chapter called ‘The End of the Holocaust’... There are scholars who are saying the Holocaust must be relativized, contextualized, universalized. If we can do that correctly, it is for the good, but we certainly have the right to understand it in its own terms.”

Where the book most excels is in recalling certain cases that are indicative of larger trends. One of the most egregious of these is the way Frank’s Jewishness was removed from certain productions of her diary “to the point of deracinating her.” Furthermore, in a German translation, all references to her German-Jewish origins and the Germans as persecutors were removed. Rosenfeld explains that these changes are “known among some scholars, but it is not widely known... The diary that this young girl wrote is an important document.”

How the Holocaust is transmitted to future generations is important. Rosenfeld notes that “one of the issues I dealt with [in my research was] Holocaust memory, and how it is distorted and vulgarized. I am keenly aware that we are living in a time of resurgent anti-Semitism. One of the writers covered in the book who I knew personally was Primo Levi. In his last book, in the conclusion, he wrote[that] ‘it happened, therefore it can happen again.’ I found those words haunting – not that I expect a second Holocaust to occur tomorrow, but one must be aware that it can happen again, and one way to have that happen is to undo its original happening.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Terra Incognita Europe Re-discovers its borders

Terra Incognita: Europe rediscovers its borders
05/17/2011 22:47

The mass of people making their way to EU countries as a result of the Arab Spring has tested the wisdom of the EU’s Schengen Agreement.

Every once in a while, people rediscover something they previously knew. The greatest symbol of this phenomenon was Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens, completed in 1511, which showcased how Renaissance Europe was breathing new life into Greek philosophy. But one might also look to Columbus’s “discovery” of America. Not only had it obviously already been discovered by people crossing a land-bridge from Asia, but there is compelling evidence that the Vikings even had a colony at Newfoundland in the 11th century.

Now it seems Europe is rediscovering its borders after 25 years. In 1985, on the Moselle riverboat Princess Marie-Astrid, five European countries signed the Schengen Agreement. Under its conditions, West Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands would abolish passport checks in favor of visual surveillance at border crossings. The Schengen Area was incorporated into the main body of European Union laws, known as the acquis communautaire, in 1997. This meant that all EU member states would be bound by these conventions, which basically abolished many functions associated with borders. New EU member states must implement the convention, that calls for free movement of goods and people.

There are several exceptions. Norway and Iceland are not part of the EU, but are signatories to the Schengen agreement. England and Ireland, both of which are part of the EU, have an opt-out right under the Schengen agreement, which means they maintain the right to determine who enters their countries from other EU states. By 2008, 25 states had eliminated their internal borders. Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, are still in the process of implementing the Schengen agreement. All countries have the right, under Article 2.2 of the treaty, to temporarily suspend the agreement, usually for less than 30 days, if they feel their national security is threatened. France re-imposed some restrictions in the wake of the 2005 bombing attacks in London. Several countries have imposed border checks due to large sporting events like the World Cup, apparently to interdict soccer hooligans.

Problems with Schengen have begun to wear on those states that have embraced it. The UK and Ireland have complained that workers from Eastern European EU countries have exploited the agreement to move in, take over jobs and get benefits. In one comment on a travel website named vegabondjourney.com in 2010, a man wrote: “come in to uk thay [sic] let every polish person in even if thay carnt [sic] speak english, any one can claim benifits [sic] so why not everyone.”

The problem with Schengen is that it applies to all members of the EU, but each country still has the ability to grant residency, citizenship and refugee/asylum status to individuals without consulting the other countries. This means that a person obtaining asylum in one country may end up as a burden on another. Many of those wishing to immigrate or work in Europe come from Africa and the Middle East, and usually attempt to cross into Europe via Greece or Italy. Their intention is to get through the border controls that these “front line” states have in place and, once in Europe, exploit the open borders to move where they want. This means that all the internal European countries must rely on the efficiency and zealousness of Italians and Greeks – qualities for which neither country is particularly known – to safeguard their immigration laws.

The flood of refugees from North Africa in the aftermath of the revolution in Tunisia and the rebellion in Libya has put huge strains on the agreement. In February, the Hungarian president of the EU summoned the interior ministers of several member countries to “look at ways of preventing Arab refugees from flooding Europe. They acknowledged that this is not only a problem for member states in Southern Europe, but also for the entire EU,” according to a report on europa-nu.nl.

In April, Italy granted around 20,000 Tunisians temporary residency permits. Prior to this, the 20,000, almost all men, had been the responsibility of Italy’s border police, who were forced to house them on Italian islands to which they had fled. But the day after the men received EU permits, they began moving to Tunisia’s former colonial ruler, France, where some had family ties.

In response, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office declared that “the governance of Schengen is failing. It seems there is a need to reflect on a mechanism that will allow a temporary suspension of the agreement, in case of a systemic failure of an external (EU) border..., to intervene through a provisional suspension, until such time as the weakness is corrected.”

France saw itself being invaded by unemployed men, some of whom began living in parks in Paris and elsewhere. Sarkozy initially attempted to close the Italian border to the Tunisians, but under pressure from human rights groups and warnings from the EU, he opened it again. Now Denmark has gone further than France, re-imposing checkpoints and customs at its land border with Germany and the bridge that links it to Sweden. Fifteen other EU member states support curtailing the most liberal policies of Schengen.

Andrei Fedyashin of the newspaper RIA Novosti commented that “it appears that Europe has succumbed to good old xenophobia.”

A May 14 headline at the Independent screamed, “Europe is in danger of eroding one of its greatest achievements,” and the editorial claimed that “making it easier for EU member states to close their borders is the worst possible response.”

Yet the Schengen agreement itself was, in a sense, xenophobic. It was initially signed by countries with a common history (Rome, Charlemagne), political system (democracy), economic status (wealthy) and religion (Christianity) – before the advent of mass African and Middle Eastern immigration. Right-wing and Euroskeptic parties such as Finland’s True Finns and the Freedom Party in The Netherlands are demanding that illegal immigrants and legal asylum-seekers not be allowed to overrun their countries. They are right; large numbers of immigrants place a disproportionate burden on small countries, eroding their cultural norms.

Europe is rediscovering its borders, and in doing so, it is realizing that common sense demands that a country not rely on its neighbors to guarantee its security or culture.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Terra Incognita: The Revolution Won't be Democratic

Terra Incognita: The revolution wont' be democratic
Jerusalem Post 04/19/2011 23:57

There was never a second Arab Awakening as it was never bounded by ideas, not even the democratic-Islamic ones.

Talkbacks (2)
There will be no great democratic revolutions in Egypt, Libya or Tunisia a year from now. What are the signs? Let’s start with the obvious. US President Barack Obama has wished the people of the Middle East a happy Passover. He claims that the story of Pessah is being relived today in the “modern stories of liberation” taking place in the Middle East: “This year, that ancient instruction is reflected in the daily headlines, as we see modern stories of social transformation and liberation unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa.”

If Obama said it, there’s good reason to think it won’t happen. It isn’t because I don’t like Obama. Obama is great; a great orator, a crowd pleaser, a man who warms the hearts of many. But he tends to speak rather than do, in the apparent belief that history will record his words and forget that they were empty. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize without doing anything peaceful. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and that didn’t happen (it would have been a real Pessah miracle if he had brought terrorist inmates from the American base in Cuba to trial). He talked about getting America completely out of Iraq and doing something about Bin Laden in Pakistan, and that hasn’t transpired either.

But it isn’t just because Obama has been talking about freedom that we can be assured freedom is far away. If we go back and read the headlines about Egypt, we see that the usual good-natured, well-intentioned souls were telling us about how exciting it was to see what was happening in Tahrir square.

REMEMBER LARRY Derfner’s claim that “the incredibly brave people in Egypt inspire just about everyone in the world except us [Israelis].” Or Nicholas Kristof, of The New York Times, claiming that “a crude stereotype lingers that some people – Arabs, Chinese and Africans – are incompatible with democracy… [but] The record is that after some missteps, countries usually pull through.”

Let’s just put it mildly: those people who are inspired by the Egyptian revolution are the people I’d least trust to tell me which way the wind is blowing.

Why? Because they are so often wrong. Some of them are part of the same Michael Foucault dialectic that thought the Iranian revolution was going to produce progressive liberal democracy. Today’s Foucault – the anti-Israel University of California feminist philosopher Judith Butler – has claimed that “If the Muslim Brotherhood is elected to positions in [the Egyptian] government, and the elections are free and unconstrained, then that is a democratic outcome.”

The same progressive feminist philosopher has claimed “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.”

If the Butlers and Foucaults are so often on the side of totalitarian religious fanaticism in the guise of democratization, then it is hard to believe that we will see democracy in the Middle East, precisely because totalitarian religious fanaticism is not conducive to democratic institutions. In fact, this is what people have missed in Indonesia, which has often been held up as an example of where the Middle East might go.

Indonesia is not a great democracy. It is a country where ethnic and religious hatreds are common. Just recently, pornography was banned – not anti-democratic in itself, but part of a larger conquest of the public square by moralizing Islamists. A 19th-century Islamic religious movement called Ahmadiyya, that has many followers, has been banned in parts of the country. Democracies, at least the good ones, generally don’t ban whole religious sects.

The New York Times has done some excellent reporting on what the masses of inspired people got wrong about Egypt. Michael Slackman documented in late March that “religion has emerged as a powerful religious force” in politics, and the Muslim Brotherhood has been “transformed into a tacit partner with the military government.”

It turns out that all those who shouted, like canaries in the mine, about the role of the Brotherhood are being vindicated.

THE LATEST actions of the military in Egypt, banning Mubarak’s political party and jailing a blogger who “insulted” the military, are not very democratic. The same is true in Libya. The Times reporter C.J Chivers noted on April 6 that Libyan rebels are “less an organized force than the martial manifestation of a popular uprising.”

Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera thinks “They are the worst army I’ve ever seen in the field, absolutely incompetent.”

How are things going in Tunisia? We don’t know. Syria? There, the nepotistic leaders are killing people, and neither Al- Jazeera nor the US State Department seem to care. Bahrain? The kingdom is on the brink of outlawing its Shia opposition, and is sending thugs house--to-house to roust them out. The failure of the revolutions in the Middle East is not the fault of all the well-wishers. It isn’t really the fault of the secular progressive youths, the rock throwers, the Islamists or the feeble boastful rebels in Libya with their bulging ammo belts. The fault lies in the fact that there was never a second Arab Awakening. It was never bounded by ideas, not even the democratic-Islamic ones that Judith Butler tells us we should embrace. Sometimes riots produce successful revolutions, witness the Boston Tea Party in 1770 or the bread riots before the French Revolution.

But rebellion without ideas is like mortar without bricks – just a bunch of grey crap.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Terra Incognita 140: Islamism, Sex and the Old South

Terra Incognita: Sex, Islamism and the Old South
04/05/2011 22:54

The relationship between conservative Muslim societies, slavery and prostitution is more common than one thinks.

In a shocking article in Harper’s Magazine Lawrence Osborne tells of a “Pilgrimage of Sin: Booze, bombs and hookers in Islamic Thailand.”

He regales his readers with the seeming contradiction between Malay Islamists in southern Thailand and the brothel culture they patronize. He meets five Muslim Malay men from Malaysia who have crossed into Thailand to visit the Pink Lady brothel. The five come from a southern state where Shari’a law has been enacted, and where the government considers Valentine’s Day “synonymous with vice activities.”

The author interviews local Malay men (southern Thailand has a large Malay minority), and finds that while they support the Islamist insurgents who murder Buddhist priests and kill policemen, they also love the female Buddhist prostitutes at the Pink Lady.

The relationship between Islamism, sex trafficking and prostitution is more common than one thinks. The 9/11 hijackers, Maj. Nidal Hasan of the Fort Hood massacre and radical preachers Abu Hamza al-Masri and Anwar Awlaki were all frequenters of strip clubs or prostitutes.

A RECENT article in The New York Times by Aubrey Belford reveals the latest twist in “Indonesia’s culture war between peddlers of titillation and Islamist conservatives.”

Ody Mulya Hidayat, an Indonesian Muslim filmmaker, has found a new secret to success – cast Japanese porn stars, with their clothes on, in his B movies like Evil Nurse 2. Aubrey writes that “many in Muslimmajority Indonesia will pay to see foreign porn stars perform – clothed – in local films. Just don’t expect Indonesians to own up to it.”

Why the obsession with Japanese porn stars in the “conservative” society of Indonesia, where porn is illegal and volunteer religious police routinely harass women for not dressing in appropriate Islamic attire? Perhaps the answer can be found in the deserts of Sinai.

A December 13 report entitled “Hostages, Torture and Rape in the Sinai Desert” by Physicians for Human Rights in Israel revealed that African migrants were branded, whipped and routinely raped by the Sinai Beduin. One young woman from Ethiopia related that the Beduin “would take me into the front of the pickup and do whatever they liked with me. The distress of this was too much for my husband.”

A third of the women interviewed by PHR claim to have been raped, and it is thought that many more are raped but, due to the shame, do not tell interviewers about it.

But when you go to the Sinai, the Beduin tell you they are a conservative Muslim society. They circumcise young girls, and their women are swaddled in embroidered black hijabs. So why does this “conservative” society engage in sex crimes against migrants? The same migrants in Israel are not raped by their employers, at least not that we know of.

THE ANSWER may lie in Iraq and the Gulf states. A recent article by the BBC related that “Ugandan women were trafficked into domestic slavery in Iraq.”

The report found 146 women who signed up to work in the country. Upon arrival they found they had been sold to Iraqis for $3,500. One woman recalled that she had been forced to work from 5 a.m. to midnight. She was also raped. Other women that Anna Cavel interviewed were raped as well. But Iraq is a conservative society. The women wear the black abaya, and since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the country has become more religious.

The story continues in the Gulf states. Many of the female domestic slaves (“servants”) imported from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere are subjected to sexual abuse. According to the Nepalese embassy in Saudi Arabia, “A majority of these women are raped, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted and have endured inhumane behavior.”

Lawrence Osborne, in his article on Thailand, related that some of the brothels in Bangkok were frequented primarily by Saudis and Gulf Arabs – people whose own countries either banned women from driving or have imprisoned Europeans “caught” making out on beaches.

All the stories related here have one thing in common.

A conservative culture claims moral superiority, but subjects members of other cultures to dehumanizing treatment and sexual abuse. It doesn’t seem like it can all coexist. But a very similar society existed in the American Old South.

The Old South was a conservative place, with a culture in some ways similar to what is found in the Islamic world. It was a society of large families that guarded the honor of their women. It imported servants and slaves, and took pride in its hospitality.

Historian David Hacket Fischer relates in his excellent book Albion’s Seed that this patriarchal society “condemned as unnatural and even dangerous to society” single men and women, and that arranged marriage was common.

The Byrd household of 18th-century Virginia may have been typical. The slaves were beaten and burned with hot irons. “Women were held to the strictest standards of sexual virtue. Men were encouraged by the customs of the country to maintain a predatory attitude toward women.”

William Byrd II kept a diary of his sexual exploits.

In a month-long debauch he “played with Mrs. Chiswell and kissed her on the bed... I neglected my prayers... we saw Molly King, a pretty black girl...[and] Jenny, an Indian girl, had got drunk and made us good sport... at night I asked a negro girl to kiss me... came to Mrs. Johnson and rogered her twice...I went to Mrs. Fitzherbert’s... walked away and picked up a girl whom I carried to the bagnio [bathroom] and rogered her twice very well... endeavored to pick up a whore but could not.”

Byrd would not be out of place in today’s Islamist states, where conservative laws, slavery, rape and sexual avarice can all be found in the same place.

Byrd’s diary reveals both his religious feelings – he complains often of “neglecting” his prayers – and his outright disregard for sexual mores. The “negro” and “Indian” women he encountered, the prostitutes and domestic white servants, were all fair game because of his sense of entitlement.

Is there any reason to think that the Beduin of Sinai or the Malays of southern Thailand feel differently?

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Terra Incognita Marwan Barghouti, Amos Oz, Haim Oron and a tale of darkness

Marwan Barghouti, Amos Oz, Haim Oron and a tale of darkness
03/29/2011 22:47
Jerusalem Post; http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=214328

Terra Incognita: The next time someone decides to invite Oz or Oron to speak, they shouldn’t waste time; they should cut to the chase and invite Barghouti himself.

Talkbacks (12)
Assaf Harofeh Medical Center did something strange recently. It invited an author who dedicated and sent a copy of his book to a terrorist to speak at a ceremony for outstanding doctors. The doctors at Assaf Harofeh have often treated victims of terror.

On September 9, 2003 eight soldiers were killed and 32 wounded in a suicide bombing near the hospital entrance. So how did it come to invite a speaker who consorts with terrorists whose victims the doctors might treat? The answer is not simple. The author happens to be the country’s most famous writer, Israel Prize laureate Amos Oz. On March 16 Yediot Aharonot reported that Oz had sent a book to convicted Palestinian terror leader Marwan Barghouti. He had become aware that Meretz MK Haim Oron was in the habit of visiting Barghouti in prison, and Oz asked him to take a copy of his 2002 book A Tale of Love and Darkness. The book is a namedropping account of the author’s early life on Kibbutz Hulda, where he met many lions of the early Zionist movement. It also discusses his family’s successes, failures and passions.

Oz sent Barghouti an Arabic translation with the inscription: “This story is our story. I hope you read it and understand us better, as we attempt to understand you. Hoping to meet soon in peace and freedom.”

On March 24 it was announced that Assaf Harofeh had cancelled the affair. Reports noted that “a senior doctor threatened to disrupt the ceremony” if Oz attended. After the cancellation the “free speech” alarm was sounded. Haaretz reported that a senior doctor claimed“it is hard to believe that because of one doctor who has certain political opinions, they revoked Oz’s invitation to the conference... That’s political interference in hospital matters.”

Gideon Levy condemned the “really sick” hospital’s “censorship” and Soviet-style “witch-hunt,” adding: “Heaven forbid if Oz wants Barghouti to get to know us better. But in 2011 Israel, this was enough to provoke aggression and censorship. Now it isn’t just Barghouti who is labeled as a monster, but Oz, too.”

Levy called Oz “a middle-of-the-road, profoundly Zionist and patriotic author” who should make us all proud because his works have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Oz also “dares” to speak truth to power, writing in The New York Times in June that “Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea – a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians.

No idea has ever been defeated by force.”

I DON’T know what Oz’s personal feelings are for Barghouti. But the facts are clear. Barghouti was born in 1959 in a village north of Ramallah. He comes from a large, well-known Palestinian family. He joined Fatah at 15 and co-founded its youth movement. He was a long-time militant and student activist, eventually receiving both a BA and MA. During the second intifada he led Fatah’s most militant sections – Tanzim and the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The brigades were responsible for killing more than 100 people, mostly civilians inside the Green Line, between 2001 and 2006. Barghouti was arrested in April 2002 and convicted of five counts of murder.

So why did Israel’s leading author support giving this man freedom? Why, furthermore, did a hospital invite such an author to speak? Why does it appear that only one leading doctor protested against this person giving the keynote speech? Why is it considered “political” to ban Oz, but not political to invite him? No one wants to censor Oz. He is entitled to his opinions. He can send his book to whomever he wants: Islamists, neo-Nazis, jailed members of the Ku Klux Klan, the African warlord Charles Taylor. But why must his opinion be forced upon doctors whose job is to save lives? Why must his opinions be forced upon public institutions, whether hospitals, high schools or universities? There is a fetishism in the support Barghouti receives. Oron is a major supporter. In a March interview he gave to Haaretz, the interviewer, Gidi Weitz, noted that “in the past few years, Oron has visited Hadarim Prison, in the center of the country, every few weeks to see his friend Marwan Barghouti.”

Oron believes Barghouti is a great supporter of the Israeli Left – a “super-significant figure” like a Nelson Mandela, a “partner for dialogue” who does not renounce his “right to an armed struggle.”

It seems to me that Oron and his friends support Barghouti partly out of a sense that history will judge them like it judged the Afrikaners who sat down with Mandela. They also support him because they believe only he can unify the Palestinians. But does it seem strange that within Israel there are so many wellknown, cultured, progressive Jewish voices who not only want to befriend a murderer but also believe it is important to unify Hamas and Fatah? Barghouti is a super-significant figure. But just because he can unify Palestinians doesn’t mean Jews should support him. It would be like Turks supporting the jailed Kurdish nationalist Abdullah Ocalan. It would be like the Palestinians supporting the release of Jewish nationalist settlers under the theory that only they can unify Israel against the Palestinians.

Oron and Oz work on behalf of the Palestinians to get Barghouti released. Oron calls Barghouti a “moderate,” but he is only moderate like Mussolini was moderate compared to Hitler or Lenin was moderate compared to Stalin. Barghouti is like summer at the North Pole; it is moderate compared to winter.

The next time someone decides to invite Oz or Oron to speak, they shouldn’t waste time; they should cut to the chase and invite Barghouti himself. At least that would be honest. And moderate.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.