Saturday, 24 October 2009


Love of the Land: Is It Blank?

Is It Blank?

Jennifer Rubin
23 October 09

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the president a report documenting the progress made in the Middle East “peace process.” This report uses many words to explain that there hasn’t been any:

“The Secretary advised the President that challenges remain as the United States continues to work with both sides to relaunch negotiations in an atmosphere in which they can succeed,” a White House official said on background in a statement. “They also discussed the progress that has been made on a number of issues and the path ahead.”

No “Cairo Effect”? Hmm. The president was impatient, we were told, but we’re still “working to relaunch negotiations.” Well, they could make progress. (”‘Would we like to have reached the point to launch negotiations? Of course,’ an official said. ‘Are we satisfied? No. Do we still think it’s possible in a relatively short period of time to get that admittedly preliminary step accomplished? Yes we do, that’s what we’re engaged in.’”) Engaged in working to relaunch negotiations, that is.

Even a “peace process” cheerleader like Aaron David Miller seems to acknowledge that Obama hasn’t helped matters: “Those Israelis who don’t want to move ahead, have a ready made excuse. Between Goldstone, Obama, Abbas’ weakness, and Hamas, dealing with the peace process isn’t a terribly attractive proposition from this Israeli government’s perspective.” But the ultimate “excuse” not to move ahead has been handed by Obama to the Palestinians on a silver platter — the absence of a total settlement freeze (which wasn’t in the cards to begin with).

So what to do? Why, more of the same! George Mitchell (who must get paid by the mile) is jetting back to the Middle East for more meetings. That’s what he and the peace processer do — they meet. Those meetings seem increasingly divorced from the reality on the ground — for example, an emboldened Hamas, a Palestinian Authority without authority to negotiate, a rejectionist Arab world, and a nervous Israel. Maybe it’s time to try something new. The Obama Middle East peace offensive has been a bust, no matter how creatively written or spun Clinton’s report may be.

Love of the Land: Is It Blank?

Love of the Land: Weekly Commentary: Beware of policy recommendations from snake oil believers

Weekly Commentary: Beware of policy recommendations from snake oil believers

Dr. Aaron Lerner
22 October 09

Its worth repeating because it is to fundamental to understanding the policy
recommendations of so many radical leftists - be they academics,
journalists, politicians or politicians-in-waiting in uniform: the true
believers among them hold as an article of faith that a full Israeli
withdrawal to the '67 lines would herald utopian peace.

This is not subject to discussion.

It is not subject to analysis.

It is an article of faith.

What causes otherwise intelligent people to make such a leap of faith?

Yossi Beilin once explained his views to a reporter by noting that he couldn't
see living in a world in which peace couldn't be reached with the Arabs.

There are religions with all kinds of beliefs that appear bizarre to those
not sharing the faith. This faith in withdrawal is no different.

So what's the big deal about a "withdraw-to-the-'67-line-brings-utopian-peace"
religious belief?

If withdrawal believers just went around proclaiming their faith or even
trying to share it like a missionary then the concept would find its place
in public discourse. A place of ridicule among the overwhelming majority of
Israelis. But a place nonetheless.

The problem starts when these believers try to manipulate the policy debate
in an attempt to push policy towards the withdrawal they yearn for rather
than simply proclaiming their faith in withdrawal.

Thus we have withdrawal believers misrepresenting the security consequences
of a given arrangement because they don't think that such questions are
relevant since once Israel pulls out, it will be secure thanks to the fact
that it pulled out.

And we have journalists who are frustrated with non-believing politicians
who they see standing between Israel and peace-in-our-time.

These are not snake oil salesmen.

A snake oil salesman knows his wares are impotent.

These are snake oil believers.

Love of the Land: Weekly Commentary: Beware of policy recommendations from snake oil believers

Israel Matzav: Amnesty to issue report claiming Palestinian Authority not legally functional to enter into contracts

Amnesty to issue report claiming Palestinian Authority not legally functional to enter into contracts

Shavua tov, a good week to everyone.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International will issue a report on the water situation in our region. It goes without saying that the report will claim that we aren't giving the 'Palestinians' enough water.

The catch is that Israel is complying completely with a series of agreements that it entered into with the 'Palestinian Authority' under Yasser Arafat between 1993-95. Amnesty is going to use an innovative way to ignore that reality.

Absurdly, Amnesty claims that Israel is violating the human rights of Palestinian because the Oslo Accords “codified inequality in access to water resources”. According to the authors, the PA and the Palestinian Water Authority have “extremely limited control over water resources in the West Bank. Under the Oslo Accords, [they] merely acquired the responsibility of managing an inadequate water supply…and for maintaining and repairing a long-neglected water infrastructure that was already in dire need of major repairs.”

In other words, Amnesty is saying, that when they entered into Oslo (1993-95), Yassir Arafat and the PLO were incapable of taking their own interests into account and lacked the ability to negotiate and enter into a deal to their own benefit (whether they actually stuck to the deal once entered into is another question). Under contract law, an agreement can be invalidated for a lack of capacity on the basis of infancy, mental illness, or drunkenness. Amnesty must think that the Palestinians involved in negotiating and agreeing to Oslo were children, insane, or wasted if it is advancing such an illogical and silly argument.

The problem is that if they get away with that admittedly silly argument now (and undoubtedly, they will), they will use a similar argument to disavow anything they don't like about a 'final status agreement' down the road. Imagine them using the same argument to get out of provisions that call for demilitarization, end of conflict or Israeli control over border crossings with Jordan.

What could go wrong?

Israel Matzav: Amnesty to issue report claiming Palestinian Authority not legally functional to enter into contracts

Israel Matzav: Mutiny at the Western Wall

Israel Matzav: Mutiny at the Western Wall

Israel Matzav: Breast cancer conference boycott reversed

Breast cancer conference boycott reversed

Remember how the Susan G. Komen Foundation was going to hold a conference on breast cancer research in Egypt and doctors from Israel were going to be banned? The ban is off.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure Pleased to Announce Egyptian Events to Welcome All Advocates, Including those from Israel.

Statement from Nancy Goodman Brinker, Founder, Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Breast cancer advocates from the United States and across the Middle East are meeting in Egypt from October 21-27 for breast cancer awareness events. There have been reports that some of the invited participants would not be allowed to attend these events. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has now received confirmation that all advocates, regardless of their country of origin, are invited to fully participate in events to bring breast cancer to the forefront of public discussion in the Middle East.

That's certainly good news.

Israel Matzav: Breast cancer conference boycott reversed

Israel Matzav: British nuclear monitoring expert 'falls' 12 stories from Vienna building

British nuclear monitoring expert 'falls' 12 stories from Vienna building

Austrian police are investigating the death of a British nuclear monitor who 'fell' 12 stories to his death from a Vienna building.

Early news reports said that Timothy Hampton, who worked for an international monitoring unit called the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), died after falling 12 stories in a building in the Vienna International Center, one of the United Nations' main office complexes in Europe.

Reports said Austrian authorities would order an autopsy. "Everything points towards a suicide, and there are no signs of any third party being involved," a police spokesman, Alexander Haslinger, told the French news agency AFP. Authorities in Vienna have privately indicated to other governments that while suicide is the principal cause of death under investigation, they haven't ruled out the possibility that it could have been an accident or even murder, according to an official source in Washington. Official reports and a former U.N. official indicate that Hampton fell 12 stories down an internal emergency stairwell—from the 17th to the fifth floor—in the high-rise Vienna building.

Some news reports said that Hampton had been involved in the current round of negotiations between Iran, the U.S., and several other Western countries regarding Tehran's controversial nuclear program. However, his participation in the Iran talks could not be immediately confirmed, and a former U.N. official who worked at the Vienna complex said that officials who worked for the CTBTO were normally not supposed to have any involvement with the work of the IAEA, which is based in the same complex and is at the center of diplomatic discussions between the West and Iran.


Israel Matzav: British nuclear monitoring expert 'falls' 12 stories from Vienna building

Israel Matzav: Livni lauds J Street

Livni lauds J Street

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has sent a letter to the pro-'Palestinian' J Street lobby commending it on its upcoming 'conference.' The group has been shunned by the Israeli government.

The discussion of what best advances Israel's cause should "be inclusive and broad enough to encompass a variety of views, provided it is conducted in a respectful and legitimate manner," Livni wrote in her letter to J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami.


Livni is also not attending the conference due to schedule constraints, but she wrote in her letter that senior Kadima party members would be present.

"I believe most American Jews support Israel and want to see it thrive as a Jewish and democratic state," Livni wrote in her letter. "Like you, I believe ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by realizing the vision of two nation states living side by side in peace and security is in the best interests of Israel, the United States, the Palestinians and the region as a whole."

She added that members of the pro-Israel community may not always agree on everything. However, she said, "I do believe that we must ensure that what unites us as Jews who are committed to Israel's future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state is far greater than what separates us."

Sorry, but I believe that Livni is dead wrong about this. Does she really want to stake Kadima out as giving validity to opposing sanctions against Iran, favoring a 'total settlement freeze' (including Jerusalem), and otherwise acting as a mouthpiece for the Obama administration's misguided policies in our region?

No, she doesn't, because most Jewish Israelis on the Left oppose all of these positions taken by J Street.

But Livni is languishing in the opposition - she is rarely in the news, and the government is able to do whatever it wants in the Knesset. I suppose that she is desperate for exposure, and since she doesn't look like Bar Refaeli, this is the only way she can get it.


At Real Clear World, Kevin Sullivan denigrates the letter to the point of making it meaningless.

I think this conference is one of those events that people living and working in Washington think is really, really important, but in the long run doesn't mean a heck of a lot. It seems to me that because J Street has to compete inside the beltway with already established heavy-hitters such as AIPAC, its supporters are going to take small victories—like, for instance, a really formal and distant letter from Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni—and inflate it into something of undeserved value.

I think Michael Goldfarb makes a fair point:

Livni refused to come in person, refused to do a live satellite appearance, refused to do a taped message. Instead she wrote a letter -- and even then she's careful to say that she and J Street do "not agree on everything."

Right, which makes the gushing over said letter even more bizarre. What would the reaction be if a significant Israeli official actually decided to attend? Would there be fainting at the Grand Hyatt?

Israel Matzav: Livni lauds J Street

Israel Matzav: The price of a nuclear deal with Iran

The price of a nuclear deal with Iran

At Foreign Policy, Michael Singh talks about the price of the deal currently being discussed by the P -5+1 with Iran to have Iran send low enriched uranium to Russia and France to have it enriched for medical use.

Like all purchases of information, however, this one comes at a cost. The P5+1 have had to accept the uranium enrichment which Iran has conducted in recent years in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. Even if it ultimately does not reach a deal to send its LEU abroad, Iran will surely seek to pocket this concession and declare a measure of victory. Similarly, by presenting the admission of IAEA inspectors to the until-recently-covert Qom enrichment plant as a concession, Iran gains tacit international acceptance of a facility built in defiance of its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. If the P5+1 accepts this fait accompli and negotiates to limit rather than eliminate uranium enrichment in Iran and to monitor rather than shut down the Qom facility, the result could be a dangerous one for the stability of the Middle East and the viability of the global nonproliferation regime.

Another cost of the current U.S. initiative is that it risks demoralizing Iran's ascendant political opposition by bolstering the regime at a time when its legitimacy at home appears to be waning. Given that an internal transformation in Iran may be the best hope for long-run peace and stability in the region, any action that risks delaying it could be costly indeed. None of this is to say that the current approach should not be tried, given the paucity of attractive options; it is simply to say that it is not free. At some point the purchases of information must end, and a decision must be taken. A pharmaceutical company that conducts many clinical trials but sells no drugs eventually finds itself out of business.

Here in Israel, there is discontent with the deal currently being discussed in Vienna.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak broke Israel's official silence on a draft plan to ship one load of Iranian uranium abroad for enrichment, saying Thursday night there was a need to halt all uranium enrichment on Iranian soil.

"This agreement, if it is signed, will set Iran's accumulation of enriched material back by about a year," Barak said during a speech at President Shimon Peres's Israeli Presidential Conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

"However, if they don't stop enrichment, then the only result will be that Iran has gained the legitimacy to enrich uranium on its soil for civilian purposes, in clear opposition to the interlocutors' and our understanding that their true plan is to attain [military] nuclear capability," he said.

"So, I repeat, what is required is a halt to enrichment in Iran, not just an export of the enriched material to build fuel rods," the defense minister said.

It's actually worse than that. The deal sets Iran back by a year on the presumption that the low enriched uranium that they are sending abroad - which is about 80% of what they are known to possess - is in fact 80% of what they have. But they could have other low (or even high) enriched uranium that is unknown to the IAEA 'international community.' (I struck the IAEA because so long as ElBaradei is in charge, I don't believe it would necessarily tell anyone if Iran has undisclosed uranium stockpiles).

Herb Keinon of the JPost adds:

Barak's comments reflect the belief that the plan does not address the three fundamental issues that have been enshrined in various UN Security Council resolutions on Iran: that all Iranian enrichment activity be suspended until confidence is restored that the nuclear program is for civilian purposes only; that there be increased verification from the IAEA supervisors; and that there be transparency, meaning questions and explanations to a wide array of outstanding questions posed by the IAEA.

Read the whole thing.

What could go wrong?

Israel Matzav: The price of a nuclear deal with Iran

Israel Matzav: 'If it happened to us, what would we do to Israel'?

'If it happened to us, what would we do to Israel'?

You may recall the post I did last week about the Turkish television series Ayrilik (Separation) that made IDF soldiers out to be genocidal murderers in a movie shown on a 'family channel' in prime time.

In Thursday's Hurriyet Daily News, Mehmet Ali Birand asks his countrymen how they would react if there were a television series in Israel that made similar accusations against Turkey. My guess is that there would be a lot of Muslim seething....

If it were us, we’d destroy Israel

For a moment let’s put ourselves in Israel’s place and ask ourselves:

- How would we react if Israeli TV broadcast a story that is half reality, half fiction about Turkish soldiers in Southeast Turkey forcing villagers to eat feces or showing unsolved murders or some real events that are on trial in court?

We would devastate Israel. We would arrange a movement and place a wreath on synagogues. Let’s tell the truth, wouldn’t we do that? Don’t you dare say NO.

Well, they would certainly try to destroy Israel. But Israel would never show a series like that - we're too politically correct. It's far more likely that a Muslim country would try to destroy us for showing a romance between a Jew and a Muslim, something our television stations are far more likely to show.

The article also discusses the government's role in Turkish television. While he excuses the series as an accident, as Harry Truman was wont to say: The buck stops here, and the Turkish government is responsible for what goes on their airwaves.

As you might suspect, there are also some nasty, anti-Semitic comments.

Read the whole thing.

It should be noted that Turkish television did cut some scenes from the second episode, which was shown on Tuesday:

A scene showing Israeli soldiers shooting a row of blindfolded Palestinians was cut from the second episode, broadcast on Tuesday, Selçuk Çobanoğlu told Milliyet daily. “Each broadcaster has its own regulations of supervision. … We don't have objections to this situation,” he said.

Çobanoğlu rejected accusations that the series incited hatred against Israel, insisting that the main theme was about love, which “will become more obvious in the upcoming episodes,” he said.

And then there's this little tidbit.

Meanwhile, Hürriyet daily reported on Thursday that “Ayrılık” also caused tension to rise between Turkey and Iran.

TRT failed to pay the balance due for the hotel bill in Tabriz, Iran, where some of the scenes were shot. The Iranian foreign ministry stepped in and gave Turkey a diplomatic note.


By the way, the picture at the top is Turkish 'basketball fans' burning an Israeli flag at a game that took place during Operation Cast Lead.

Israel Matzav: 'If it happened to us, what would we do to Israel'?

The Torah Revolution: Let's turn the IDF into a Jewish army

The Torah Revolution: Let's turn the IDF into a Jewish army

Sefer Chabibi Deepest Torah: NOACH; A CHANGE IN THE NATURE


by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Let's see. Take two of every species. Seven pairs of the kosher (clean) species (Gen 7:2). And take food for them all as well. Lions and tigers, leopards, panthers and bobcats are all carnivores by nature. And yet they ostensibly were vegetarian while on board the ark. Otherwise the antelope, elk, sheep, zebra and deer would nowhere be found once the hatches were opened.

Maybe even Noah and his family might be missing as well!

Where else do we see allusions to dietary tranformation? At the eschaton, the end of days, when Isaiah's oft misquoted prophetic vision of the "lion and the lamb" shall come to pass:

Isaiah 11:6-9, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion..."

In other words, there will one day be a complete evolutionary leap in creation with a change in the basic drives and instincts throughout the animal kingdom, including man. Just as in the short time aboard the ark, so too in the future will this vast and magnificent transformation occur.

The seven Noahide laws are a key stepping stone towards mankind's moral evolution. Murder, incest/promiscuity, kidnapping/stealing, blasphemy, idolatry, cruelty to animals, and judges/law courts/police. These seven categories are symbolically represented by the seven colors of the rainbow, the sign of the Covenant with humanity.

The messianic age will reveal all that lay submerged and hidden from the time of Creation and the Noahide Creation redux. The Ohr Haganooz, the hidden supernal light from the time of Creation, the light that existed prior to the creation of the heavenly bodies, will one day be revealed. The temporary change in the carnivorous nature of the animal kingdom will become a new and permanent condition. Finally, the waters of the earth will one day become sweet. In Gen 8:2 it says vayiSaCHRu maayanot tehom. This is usually translated as "the waters of the deep were sealed." But the root of vayiSaCHRu is sucar, meaning "sugar," in Hebrew.

Basically, this means that the words of Torah, which are often compared to water, will one day transform the world and all that is in it only when their message is sweet. The whole world will be drawn to G*d's word when those who live it and teach it are its worthy bearers and convey its sweetness through their thoughts, words and deeds. By the same token, when its message is blurred by the misdeeds of its bearers, it sets the clock back and delays the final redemption. May we, the descendants of Noah, who in his righteousness merited redemption in his day, come to know the true and sweet redemption in our own.

Shabbat Shalom!
Good Shabbos!

Sefer Chabibi Deepest Torah: NOACH; A CHANGE IN THE NATURE

Report: Israel, Iran Meet in Cairo - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Report: Israel, Iran Meet in Cairo - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Expert: Iran Buying Time with Shoddy Deal - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Expert: Iran Buying Time with Shoddy Deal - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Goldstone Challenges Obama over Bias Claims - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Goldstone Challenges Obama over Bias Claims - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Israel Plans Major Excavation at Western Wall - Inside Israel - Israel News - Israel National News

Israel Plans Major Excavation at Western Wall - Inside Israel - Israel News - Israel National News

Unprecedented IDF Mutiny at Kotel - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Unprecedented IDF Mutiny at Kotel - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

From Destruction to Renewal in 12 Hours - Inside Israel - Israel News - Israel National News

From Destruction to Renewal in 12 Hours - Inside Israel - Israel News - Israel National News

Thousands of Israeli, American Soldiers begin 'Juniper Cobra' - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Thousands of Israeli, American Soldiers begin 'Juniper Cobra' - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

RubinReports: New Book: Barry Rubin, Guide to Islamist Movements

RubinReports: New Book: Barry Rubin, Guide to Islamist Movements

RubinReports: White House on Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing--Can't Remember Who Murdered 241 Americans

White House on Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing--Can't Remember Who Murdered 241 Americans

[Please subscribe. There's too much news from the Middle East to miss a single article; and too little good analysis in the media to miss a single analysis.]

By Barry Rubin

The White House has just released a very routine but still quite disturbing declaration by President Barack Obama. And it goes like this:

"On the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, we remember today the 241 American Marines, soldiers, and sailors who lost their lives 26 years ago as the result of a horrific terrorist attack that destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The military personnel serving in Beirut were there to bring peace and stability to Lebanon after years of internal strife and conflict. The murder of our soldiers, sailors, and Marines on this day on 1983 remains a senseless tragedy....In remembering this terrible day of loss, we are at the same time hopeful that a new government in Lebanon will soon be formed. We look forward to working with a Lebanese government that works actively to promote stability in the region and prosperity for its people."

The problem is not so much the wording of the declaration but the context in which it's issued. After all, the president of the United States has access to U.S. intelligence. And U.S. intelligence knows:

--That the bombing was carried out by cadre of Hizballah under the guidance of Syria and Iran.

--Today, attacks are being carried out against U.S. military personnel in Iraq under the guidance of Syria and Iran, and

--Iran is trying to stage such attacks in Afghanistan.

--In addition, Iran's current minister of defense was the head of covert operations at the time that these were killing U.S. citizens.

--Hizballah was involved in other attacks on U.S. citizens and servicemen in Lebanon.

--It is also the anniversary of the killing of three U.S. security agents by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who the Palestinian Authority never punished and Hamas is now protecting. There is no apparent effort by the U.S. government to bring these killers to justice or to press the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to cooperate in doing so or to punish them for not doing so.

All of these forces, however, are left anonymous. No one is named for involvement in that "horrific terrorist attack." And, of course the attack was not "senseless" but part of an Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah campaign to take over Lebanon and drive U.S. influence out of the region. In fact, it was counted as a great victory for these forces since it showed America's vulnerability to being hit by terrorism--an inspiration for September 11?--and did succeed in paralyzing the U.S. effort in Lebanon. Ultimately, this lead to the withdrawal of the peace-keeping forces altogether, paving the way for Syria's turning Lebanon into a satellite state for two decades at a great financial and strategic profit. .

None of these attacks were perpetrated by al-Qaida, the only group that remains a target of this administration's version of a war on terrorism, a phrase which is no longer used.

It is bad enough the administration doesn't say any of this. Is it aware of these factors at all?

Indeed, the president's advisor on terrorism is on record as saying that Hizballah is no longer a terrorist group, which opens the door for U.S. contacts in future.

This raises the question of the declaration's final sentence. Let's repeat it:

"We look forward to working with a Lebanese government that works actively to promote stability in the region and prosperity for its people."

While negotiations are complex and ongoing, the government being discussed for Lebanon would include a large contingent of Hizballah cabinet ministers and would give Hizballah veto power over government decisions.

Now it could be argued that this would not constitute, in U.S. eyes, a goverment promoting stability and prosperity. But who knows? Without even naming Hizballah as an adversary, however, the implication is that the United States does not oppose a government including Hizballah, which is one more step to having such a government.

Consider just one such additional case. Colonel William Richard Higgins, kidnapped by Hizballah men while serving with UN peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon in 1988, horribly tortured, turned over to the Iranians and murdered. Does the White House remember him?

So 241 U.S. servicemen died 26 years ago. Who killed them? Will the murders be punished in any way or will the groups and states that stood behind the attack be rewarded? On this, the declaration is silent.

RubinReports: White House on Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing--Can't Remember Who Murdered 241 Americans

RubinReports: And speaking of making fools of the American media...

And speaking of making fools of the American media...

[Please subscribe to this blog that isn't awed by dictators.]

By Barry Rubin

Many years ago I read a true story about the visit of the American novelist William Faulkner to Japan. At one point, Faulkner made a joke and the translator, who was putting his talk into Japanese for the audience, merely said: "Mr Faulkner has just told a joke. Would you all please laugh."

I imagine some American columnist or TV "personality" meeting with a radical Arab or Iranian leader and breathlessly reporting the scoop that he is really a very nice person and wants world peace. (Actually, I don't need to imagine it as I've seen it many times.)

But this television network piece on Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Asad is priceless. I couldn't stop laughing. It is the mother of all puff pieces. In fact, the state-controlled Syrian newspaper the next day must have been headlined: "President Asad meets with really stupid American journalist."

Here's how one of my readers sums up the interview (which I think was in 2007)\:

""When you were student in England, you rode the bus?" Wow.

"You talked about the internet. You like video games?"

"Do you have an ipod. What's on it?"

"And you're a country music fan. Faith Hill... Shania Twayne."

"And American movies."

"You like true stories?"

These are the actual questions she asked.

My personal favorite was when the American journalist said--with absolute awe and hero worship in her voice--"He knows everything about American politics!"

Goodness, who does she think Asad is, Obama?

Haven't these people ever heard of staff briefings? Like when a journalist is going to interview a national leader there are people to prepare him for the questions.

True story. A famous American columnist once told me that he had interviewed Dan Quayle, an American politician made much fun of for allegedly being dumb. But he was quite surprised at how much Quayle knew.

Asked I, "What did you talk about?"

"Defense issues," replied the columnist.

"And did he know you were coming to interview him on that subject?"


Hmmm. Staff briefings beforehand. I've written and given some of them myself. Best thing in the world other than having a teleprompter with all the words written on it.

Yet aside from this general goofiness, there is also some mystique--call it the Che Guevera complex--that clings to murderous tyrants, at least if they aren't pro-American ones. Perhaps it is because these are men of action who fascinate journalists, who just watch other people doing stuff, or policy wonks, whose main adventure is to go to academic conferences.

Or maybe it is also Third World worship. But reporters who would jump all over an American politician, accuse him of lying, and pummel him with tough questions seem to go all to pieces when encountering some truly horrible tyrant (as long as he's anti-American) as if they were meeting Brad Pitt or Angela Jolie. Come to think of it, if Brad Pitt or Angela Jolie met Asad or Ahmadinejad or Arafat they'd probably ask for autographs.

RubinReports: And speaking of making fools of the American media...

RubinReports: Middle East: LIsten to What They're Saying, in their own language, not English

Middle East: LIsten to What They're Saying, in their own language, not English

[Please subscribe for all-original articles on the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy, and other hot topics.]

By Barry Rubin

Here’s a tip for understanding the Middle East. For Arabic-speaking countries and groups, there are two parallel lines of discourse going on: one in English, one in Arabic. The English-language one is directed outward at the West; the Arabic-speaking is for the direction of policymakers, opinionmakers, and the masses. Not surprisingly, the first is more moderate; the latter, more radical.

The exact proportions vary with each country or movement. But even in Egypt, a large-scale recipient of U.S. aid, the state-controlled newspapers publish an almost unending stream of anti-American hate propaganda. A key problem, however, is that most Western policymakers, opinionmakers, and journalists either don't take non-English talk seriously or aren't even aware of it.

In contrast, democratic states like Israel or America says basically the same thing in both languages, with at most very small variations. Perhaps that's one reason why many or most Westerners aren't aware of the wide gap that exists in other societies.

The variation between true and false discourse—though sometimes in the same language—is, of course, quite ancient. In the "Communist Manifesto" of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote:

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.”

But this was before the Age of Public Relations. Even the Communists quickly became masters of saying two contradictory things simultaneously. If they were still around today the Communists would have defined themselves as a race and called anyone who opposed them a racist or, more likely, would have coined the term Communophobia. But I digress.

Here’s a fun example of how doublespeak is done:

The Soviet leadership addressing the Polish people in 1920:

“Our enemies and yours deceive you when they say that the Soviet government wishes to plant communism in Polish soil with the bayonets of the Red Army.”

And now here’s the Soviet leadership addressing the Red Army in 1920:

“Over the corpse of Poland lies the road to world revolution. On bayonets we will bring happiness and peace to laboring humanity.”

I think you get the point. Back to the Middle East of today. The more radical the group—as with Hamas or al-Qaida, for example--the higher the proportion of radical statements made in English. They just don’t care. Hizballah is a little more devious.

As for Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a member of the Communist Manifesto school on that one, but Tehran gets a lot of mileage with a relatively few lies.

But why do should we believe the Arabic more than the English? Let me limit the answer to three of the most important points:

First, the Arabic dialogue establishes the main principles and the limits of what is acceptable. An example is the Palestinian debate. How is the Palestinian Authority going to accept a two-state solution based on ending the conflict, security guarantees, and settling all Palestinians in their own state if nobody even dares say that in Arabic? Exceeding the boundaries can get you killed, cost you your position, have you branded a traitor, and give your enemies ammunition against you.

For a Palestinian politician to say that Israel has ever done anything good and honestly seeks compromise peace is something like a Republican male politician putting on a dress and marching down the street with a poster proclaiming the virtues of Joseph Stalin. In Mississippi. On the Fourth of July. In the middle of an American Legion picnic.

That’s why it is almost impossible to find a moderate statement by any Palestinian leader in Arabic—and I’ve read many thousands of them. Two examples come to mind: when Arafat was making a televised speech from Gaza which he knew was being closely watched and an angry Palestinian general when they entered Hebron complaining that people who committed terrorist acts caused damage to the economy.

During the peace process era, by the way, when Arafat was to give a speech in front of an American Jewish audience, leaders of a dovish Jewish group edited the lecture to make it more palatable. That’s what I mean by lying for peace. Thinking that if you misrepresent the facts on the basis of wishful thinking somehow everything will work out ok in the end.

Second, discussion in Arabic encompasses a huge volume of statements made in all sorts of situations. In contrast, each English-language remark is crafted with a specific purpose in mind—to communicate to Western public opinion or governments.

Third, experience shows overwhelmingly that what is said in Arabic corresponds to what countries and groups actually do.

I fondly recall my biggest success ever with the New York Times. Meeting with an open-minded journalist, I pulled out a huge pile of translations from the Arabic—U.S. government ones from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service which in the pre-computer era used to take up large spaces on my bookshelves—and showed him what was actually being said by Palestinian groups, far more hardline than the American media was reporting. He wrote up a front-page piece on it. Ah, those were the days!

Today, MEMRI plays a very important role in bringing the Arabic discourse to Western attention. In fact, it has been so successful precisely because these facts are so distant from what is expected and reported in the media. Not only does it translate the many extremist statements but also the far fewer moderate writers who say divergent things.

Now, here’s why you have to study carefully the primary sources (original, Arabic-language material and not just what the Western media say). Someone always spills the beans. After all, you have to keep the troops’ morale high and prove you haven’t sold out.

So here’s a MEMRI translation of an interview given by Walid Sukariyya, a Hizballah member in Lebanon’s parliament. He tells it like it is.

Syria’s stance on peace with Israel? It’s just for “tactical bargaining chips.”

How does Syria fight America? “Since, for obvious reasons, Syria cannot [conduct] a confrontation through direct resistance it has opened [its] border with Iraq to all the resistance fighters of Al-Qaida, even though it does not share their ideology.”

Notice, he said al-Qaida. And of course that’s, as I’ve previously reported but which is pretty obvious, one of the main affiliations of the Iraqi insurgents. So, in other words,

--Syria is working with al-Qaida (this should not be a controversial statement but in the Western debate it’s considered as such).

--Al-Qaida is dedicated to the destruction of America and the West.

--Therefore, Syria is an enemy and even under the narrow definition of what used to be called the “war on terrorism”—which is now only against al-Qaida—Syria is on the other side.

Finally, “This is why Damascus supports the resistance – because it does not want to confront the enemy itself.” Right, Syria (and Iran) use Hamas and Hizballah to fight Israel without risk to themselves. And they won’t stop doing it.

Thanks, Walid. And let that be a lesson to all of you out there: Listen to what people in the Middle East actually say, especially when they are speaking their own language.

MEMRI translation, from Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London) October 19, 2009. Special Dispatch No. 2612 October 22, 2009

RubinReports: Middle East: LIsten to What They're Saying, in their own language, not English
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